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People v. Bennett

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

December 11, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ANGELO BENNETT, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 CR 1260001 Honorable Carol M. Howard, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Simon and Mikva concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HARRIS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, the trial court found defendant-appellant, Angelo Bennett, guilty of first degree murder in the shooting death of Charles Jones and guilty of attempted first degree murder in the shooting of Kathy Bias. The trial court also made a finding that defendant used a firearm in the commission of both crimes. The trial court sentenced defendant to 45 years for the first degree murder with the firearm enhancement and 31 years for the attempted murder with the firearm enhancement. Defendant's posttrial motions were denied and this timely appeal followed.

         ¶ 2 Defendant raises three issues on appeal. Defendant argues (1) the trial court erred in rejecting his claim of self-defense, (2) the trial court erred when it did not reduce his convictions because of the presence of mitigating factors, and (3) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to successfully argue for either the affirmative defense of self-defense or the presence of mitigating factors.

         ¶ 3 Based on the record before this court, we find no errors with the proceeding before the trial court and affirm defendant's convictions for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder.

         ¶ 4 JURISDICTION

         ¶ 5 On March 31, 2015, a trial judge found defendant guilty of the first degree murder in the death of Charles Jones and guilty of attempted first degree murder for shooting Kathy Bias. On May 27, 2015, defendant moved for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The trial court then sentenced defendant. A notice of appeal was filed on the same day. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 603 and 606, governing appeals from a final judgment of conviction in a criminal case entered below. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; Ill. S.Ct. Rs. 603, 606 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013).

         ¶ 6 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 7 On May 25, 2013, around 2:00 a.m., the victims, Charles Jones, and his girlfriend, Kathy Bias, were driving in his Maserati around the Goose Island area of Chicago when they collided with another car. Jones pulled over immediately, as did the other car. Jones exited his vehicle and the driver of the other car, who Bias would later identify in court as the defendant, exited his vehicle. There was also a passenger in defendant's car, Efrain Melecio, a longtime friend and staff sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. Melecio remained seated in defendant's vehicle.

         ¶ 8 Jones walked to the front of his car, saw the damage on the passenger side, and let out an expletive. Melecio observed that Jones was "visibly upset" about the damage to his car. Jones and the defendant began talking to each other, and Bias exited Jones's car, called 911, and walked to the back of defendant's car to get his license plate number. As Bias stood talking to the police on her phone, defendant jumped back into his car and drove away from the scene. Bias informed the 911 operator that the defendant had just left the scene, but Bias was instructed not to pursue the defendant and instead head to the nearest police station.

         ¶ 9 In the defendant's car, Melecio told the defendant to let him out because "he did not want to be involved in the situation." Defendant stopped, and both he and Melecio exited the car. Melecio realized he left his phone in the car and asked defendant to unlock it for him. Melecio retrieved his phone. At the same time, defendant grabbed something from his car, walked over to a car parked on the street and placed the object underneath it. Melecio did not see the object. While defendant and Melecio were outside of the car, Jones and Bias pulled up to them.

         ¶ 10 Jones exited his vehicle and approached the defendant asking why the defendant had fled the scene. During this exchange, Jones grabbed the defendant and defendant grabbed Jones. Melecio saw Jones begin striking defendant in the head and observed some kind of metallic object in Jones's hand that Melecio believed to be a set of keys. Both Bias and Melecio saw blood coming from defendant's head. At some point, Bias walked behind the defendant and went through his pockets to see if he had any identification.

         ¶ 11 As the defendant and victim continued to struggle, Melecio walked over to the parked car defendant had approached earlier to see what defendant had placed underneath the vehicle. Melecio observed that it was a silver revolver and left it there. Melecio then told the men to let go of each other or he would call the police. When the pair continued to struggle, Melecio told them they had five seconds to break it up and began counting down from five. The two men stopped and looked at him allowing defendant to break free. Defendant moved toward where he had placed the gun. Jones did not follow him. The defendant bent down, stood back up, and then proceed toward Jones in a manner Bias described as "aggressive." The defendant had his hands behind his back concealing the gun. When defendant was about an arm's length away from Jones, defendant raised the gun and shot Jones. At the time, Bias saw Jones standing with his hands in the air. After the shot, Bias noticed that Jones was "woozy." Jones fell to the ground and defendant shot him again in the face.

         ¶ 12 After the shots, Bias ran to the Maserati and got in the driver's seat. As Bias attempted to put the car in gear, the defendant came to the passenger window and shot her in the back. Bias managed to shift the car into gear and started driving forward. Defendant got back into his car and directed Melecio to get in, but Melecio refused. Bias reversed and checked on Jones. She called the police, and both she and Jones were transported to the hospital. Jones later died from his gunshot wounds.

         ¶ 13 Melecio was scheduled to fly to Reno, Nevada, later in the day to meet up with his fiancé before reporting for duty. Before departing Chicago, Melecio called and sent text messages to defendant asking to meet. When they met up, Melecio told the defendant that he needed to turn himself in but the defendant refused. Melecio asked defendant what happened to the gun and defendant informed him that he broke it down into pieces and threw them over a bridge at different locations.

         ¶ 14 After arriving in Reno, Melecio received a call from attorney John Miraglia, who indicated that he represented the defendant. Melecio and Miraglia spoke briefly about the shooting but Melecio terminated the conversation because it made him uncomfortable. Following the conversation with Miraglia, Melecio called the Chicago police department. Melecio spoke with Detective Robert Garza and informed him that he had witnessed the shooting. Detective Garza requested that Melecio return to Chicago immediately. Melecio flew back to Chicago and was interviewed by Garza. Melecio told Garza that defendant shot both Jones and Bias.

         ¶ 15 Defendant was charged with first degree murder in the death of Jones and attempted first degree murder in the shooting of Bias. Defendant proceeded to a bench trial, where the State called both Bias and Melecio. Both Bias and Melecio gave a similar description of events consistent with the above, though their accounts did differ in some respects.

         ¶ 16 In her testimony, Bias denied seeing any item in Jones's hand during the struggle with defendant but did admit that Jones sometimes carried a knife with him. She denied that immediately following the crash Jones was angry about the damage to his car. She did not see Jones strike the defendant in the head and testified that she observed Jones and defendant "holding" each other. On cross-examination, Bias admitted that she might have told police that Jones and defendant "tussled" for about two minutes, but she denied that Jones had lifted defendant off the ground.

         ¶ 17 Melecio disagreed with Bias and indicated that Jones struck defendant between 10 to 15 times with a metal object he thought was keys. He told Detective Garza that Jones's attention turned to him at one point and that Jones did look at him but said nothing. He had also told the detective that Jones and Bias were unarmed, that the fight "paused" before defendant went to retrieve the gun, and that he never heard ...


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