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People v. Sandifer

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

December 14, 2017

GREGORY SANDIFER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CR 16380 Honorable Clayton J. Crane, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Burke and Justice Gordon concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Gregory Sandifer was convicted of first degree murder of his three-year-old son, Jaivon, and attempted first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated domestic battery of M.J., Jaivon's mother. The trial court sentenced defendant to natural life in prison for the murder, a consecutive term of 25 years' imprisonment for attempted murder, and concurrent prison terms of 18 years for sexual assault and 7 years for domestic battery.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress his statements because his severe pain and pain medication administered to him at the time of his statements rendered him unable to knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights and make a voluntary statement. Defendant also contends, and the State agrees, that his conviction for aggravated domestic battery must be vacated under the one-act, one-crime rule because it is based on the same physical act as the attempted murder conviction. Finally, defendant argues that his life sentence is excessive because it fails to take into account his nonviolent criminal history. We vacate the aggravated domestic battery conviction and affirm defendant's three remaining convictions and sentences in all other respects.

         ¶ 3 Defendant was charged with first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated domestic battery, aggravated battery, and aggravated unlawful restraint. Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress statements he made to police and Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Karin Sullivan while in custody and undergoing treatment at West Suburban Medical Center. Defendant alleged that due to his medical, mental, and psychological state, he was incapable of understanding and appreciating his Miranda rights, and therefore, his statements were not voluntary or knowingly and intelligently made. He specifically noted that he had been given the pain medications morphine and Dilaudid. Defendant argued that his medical condition was so severe that it should have been obvious to the police and the ASA during their conversations. Defendant asserted that all of the statements he made were elicited in violation of his constitutional rights.

         ¶ 4 At the hearing on defendant's motion, the State called Armita Mabeza Butardo, a registered nurse at West Suburban Medical Center, who testified that on September 2, 2011, defendant was transferred to her unit from the emergency room for treatment of a comminuted fracture to his right ankle, which was broken into pieces. About 4:30 p.m., Butardo conducted an initial mental assessment to determine defendant's levels of consciousness and pain. While in the emergency room, defendant had been given two doses of morphine, one at 12:16 p.m. and the second at 3:12 p.m. Butardo's assessment lasted 30 to 45 minutes, and defendant answered her questions correctly. Butardo determined that defendant was oriented to time, place, and person. He was alert, calm, showed no signs of confusion, and his vital signs were stable.

         ¶ 5 Following the assessment, defendant indicated that his level of pain on a scale of 1 to 10 was a 12. At 5:55 p.m., Butardo gave defendant a third dose of morphine. She monitored defendant for any adverse reactions, and after 20 minutes, defendant reported that his pain level had only decreased to a 10. Consequently, at 6:15 p.m., Butardo gave defendant a dose of Dilaudid. She remained with defendant until 7:30 p.m., and during that time, he ate his dinner, was alert, oriented, and responsive, and showed no signs of confusion. Defendant did not have any adverse reactions to the medications.

         ¶ 6 Butardo explained that both morphine and Dilaudid are opiates and narcotics that relieve pain by altering the brain's perception of pain and reaction to it. The drugs may decrease a person's respiratory and pulse rates, causing them to feel sleepy. Both medications become effective about five minutes after being administered, and their half-life is two hours, at which time they reduce their level in the blood to half of the initial volume. Dilaudid is the stronger of the two medications and reaches its peak in 20 to 30 minutes, allowing patients to feel better sooner as compared to the morphine. After defendant received the medications, he was not sleepy, his eyes were not closed, and he was responsive to Butardo's questions.

         ¶ 7 That evening, some police officers asked Butardo if they could question defendant. She advised them that she had given him pain medication, and they then spoke with him. Afterwards, at 10 and 10:45 p.m., Butardo observed that defendant was alert and coherent. At 10:45 p.m., defendant stated that he was still in pain, and Butardo gave him another dose of morphine, after which he remained alert and responsive. Butardo did not observe any change in defendant's mental state after receiving any of the doses of medication. Defendant only complained about pain with his ankle and did not report any other pain.

         ¶ 8 The State then called Chicago police officer Timothy Adams, who testified that he assumed guard duty over defendant while he was being treated in the emergency room at West Suburban Medical Center. Although defendant remained handcuffed, Adams denied interfering with any medical treatment. He also denied initiating any conversations with defendant about what had happened or why he was in custody.

         ¶ 9 Between 1:15 and 2:05 p.m., while Adams and defendant were alone in the emergency room, defendant asked the officer several questions about what had happened that day. Adams replied that he did not know what happened and he was only there to keep watch over defendant. The officer did not ask defendant any questions. Defendant remained silent for awhile, then told Adams that he remembered getting into a fight with his girlfriend and getting a knife from the kitchen and stabbing her. Adams could not recall if defendant said that his girlfriend jumped out of the window or was pushed out. Defendant stated that after his girlfriend went out the window, he decided that he was going to kill himself, and he was going to take his son Jaivon with him. While lying in the hospital bed, defendant closed his eyes and made a stabbing motion as though he was reenacting the incident. Adams demonstrated that motion by holding his left hand up at waist level and moving his right hand back and forth with a clenched fist. Adams explained that as defendant made this motion, he smashed his handcuffs against the bedrail in a very forceful motion. Defendant then calmed down and said that he ran out of the apartment and the police took him into custody. Defendant's statement to Adams lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.

         ¶ 10 When Detective Thomas Kolman arrived at the hospital, Adams told him what defendant had said. Kolman then spoke with defendant with Adams present. Adams denied that defendant appeared confused or disoriented at any time during their interaction. Adams also explained that he did not memorialize defendant's statement in a written report because he waited for Kolman to question defendant. If defendant had changed his story in any way, Adams would have written a report recounting the version defendant had told him. Adams acknowledged that he never advised defendant of his Miranda rights.

         ¶ 11 The State then called Detective Kolman, who testified that when he arrived at the hospital, Officer Adams told him that while he was guarding defendant, defendant stated that he had stabbed Jaivon and M.J. Kolman spoke with the emergency room nurse to see if he could question defendant about what had occurred that day. Kolman explained that he wanted to know if defendant was medically able to answer questions, if he was medicated, or if he was going to be taken into surgery. About 2:50 p.m., Kolman spoke to defendant with Adams present.

         ¶ 12 Kolman advised defendant of his Miranda rights, and defendant agreed to speak with him. Throughout their conversation, which lasted half an hour, defendant's demeanor and mental status was fine. Defendant's answers were responsive to the questions asked. He did not appear sleepy or confused, nor did he appear to have any trouble understanding the detective.

         ¶ 13 Defendant told Kolman that he, M.J., and their son, Jaivon, went to Northeastern Illinois University to register M.J. for classes. When they returned to M.J.'s home, defendant and M.J. argued about babysitting duties. The argument escalated into a physical altercation, and defendant shoved M.J. into a front bedroom and ordered Jaivon to go to a rear bedroom. Defendant stated that he threw M.J. down onto the bed, climbed on top of her, and removed her clothing. Defendant then went to the kitchen, retrieved a knife, and returned to the bedroom where he engaged in sexual intercourse with M.J. Defendant stated that he stabbed M.J. once, and they struggled for control of the knife. M.J. gained control of the knife, then went to the living room and threw it out the window. M.J. attempted to leave, but defendant blocked her path and would not allow her to go. M.J. then went to the same window where she had thrown out the knife and tried to go out the window. Defendant either threw a television at her or shoved a television into her. M.J. then jumped out the window and landed on the concrete below.

         ¶ 14 Defendant told Kolman that at some point, Jaivon entered the living room and witnessed a portion of the fight. Defendant retrieved a second knife intending to commit suicide, and decided that he would take Jaivon with him. Defendant stabbed Jaivon with the knife in the foyer and dropped that knife. Defendant retrieved a third knife and exited the apartment through the back door onto a porch. After observing dogs in the yard, defendant jumped into the neighbor's yard and injured his ankle. Defendant then walked into the alley, entered an open garage, and hid inside that garage until he was confronted by the owner. At that same moment, the overhead garage door opened, and the police took him into custody. During this interview, defendant never complained about any pain or his physical condition, nor did he ever state that he wanted to terminate the conversation.

         ¶ 15 About 7:30 p.m., Kolman returned to the hospital with Detective John Fuller, and after meeting with ASA Sullivan, the three of them went to defendant's room. Before entering, they spoke with nurse Butardo to see if defendant was still able to understand and answer their questions. About 7:56 p.m., they entered the room, and Sullivan advised defendant of his Miranda rights. Defendant appeared to be fine and agreed to speak with them. He was no longer wearing handcuffs. Defendant answered the questions in a conversational manner and did not appear to be sleepy or confused. His answers were responsive to their questions, and Kolman had no concerns about defendant's mental status during this interview, which lasted 35 to 40 minutes.

         ¶ 16 Defendant retold his story of what had occurred, which was substantially the same as the statement he earlier gave to Kolman. Defendant added that he was angry about M.J. going out with her friends, going to the gym, and leaving him to watch Jaivon. Defendant said that M.J. made fun of him and talked down to him, and he became "very, very angry with her." M.J. also told defendant that he should take Jaivon to his house. Defendant said that was when he became angry and pushed M.J. into the bedroom. During this interview, defendant recalled stabbing M.J. several times. M.J. broke free from defendant and said that she would not call the police, but he did not believe her. Defendant said that he gave M.J. the knife hoping that she would stab him, but instead, she threw it out the window.

         ¶ 17 Defendant also added that M.J.'s remark about taking Jaivon with him stuck in his head, and he decided to take Jaivon with him by killing him and committing suicide. Defendant stated that he stabbed Jaivon numerous times. He added that when the neighbor confronted him inside the garage, defendant hid the knife and drank a soda that he found inside a refrigerator. At some point, defendant stated that M.J. hit him in the face or head with a hammer but then said that he was not sure if the object was a hammer.

         ¶ 18 Following this interview, defendant agreed to give a videotaped statement, which was recorded about 9:33 p.m. Kolman testified that defendant was fine at this time, and there was no change in his demeanor or mental status.

         ¶ 19 On cross-examination, Kolman stated that the interview was a combination of defendant answering questions and providing his own answers in a narrative. He acknowledged that both the emergency room nurse and nurse Butardo told him that defendant was taking pain medication. Kolman testified that during the first two interviews, defendant spoke in a normal tone and his eyes were open. He acknowledged, however, that during the videotaped interview, there were a couple of occasions where defendant's eyes appeared to close and ASA Sullivan asked defendant to open his eyes. Kolman explained that defendant seemed a bit more fatigued at the time of the video statement, but he was still cognizant in answering questions, even with his eyes closed.

         ¶ 20 The State presented defendant's videotaped statement, which the trial court admitted into evidence. The court then continued the case so that it could view the video before ruling on defendant's motion. On the next court date, the court stated that it had viewed the video "not for the purposes of what actually was said in the video, but to observe whether or not Defendant's actions were voluntary on the night in question."

         ¶ 21 The court found that during the first interaction, when defendant made statements to Officer Adams, defendant "spontaneously" stated what he believed had occurred and made those statements voluntarily. The court then stated:

"This case really comes down to the voluntariness of the Defendant's statement in question. There's no question as I watched the video where I could personally observe the Defendant that he had discomfort, he was in pain during portions of this. His eyes, at times, were closed. The State's Attorney prompted him to open his eyes, did give an explanation at one point that it helped him by keeping his eyes closed to visualize what he was talking about.
Also indicate [sic] in the very beginning of the video, with the State's Attorney, he was extremely quiet. It was difficult to hear him. I had to adjust my volume several times. But when he got to that portion of his statement which reference to the actual act of being with his son, he was-the volume was substantial, substantially different than what the initial interview occurred.
The State's Attorney, Ms. Sullivan, was moving through the interview, attempting to get yes and no answers, and the Defendant wasn't letting her get away with yes or no answers. He added great detail to many of the questions that she asked him at that point.
And finally, when asked about what he thought about the influence of the drugs that he was taking, he said he thought the drugs were making him talk faster.
Although I recognize he was in discomfort, I recognize he was taking drugs, I don't find that the statement was anything other than voluntary, on the night in ...

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