from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 12-CF-2977
Honorable Victoria A. Rossetti, Judge, Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Spence concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
HUDSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE
1 After a bench trial, defendant, Michael S. Axtell, was
convicted of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West
2012)) and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. On
appeal, he contends, first, that his conviction must be
reduced to involuntary manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9-3(a) (West
2012)) because the State did not prove beyond a reasonable
doubt that he knew that the act that caused the victim's
death created a strong probability of death or great bodily
harm to her (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2012)). Second, he
contends that the trial court erred in admitting a statement
that the victim made shortly before the fatal incident.
Third, he contends that, if his conviction is affirmed, the
judgment order must be corrected. We affirm the judgment as
2 Defendant was charged with murdering Tammy Stone on the
evening of October 4, 2012. At the time, they were residing
in her house in Antioch with their son, Michael, and Jordan
Johnson, Stone's son by another man. Defendant and Stone
had a daughter, Meghan, who lived elsewhere. The indictment
charged defendant with striking Stone about the body, knowing
that his acts created a strong probability of death or great
bodily harm to her.
3 The State moved in limine to admit several
statements as exceptions to the hearsay rule. Only one is at
issue here. According to the State, Jordan would testify as
follows. On the evening of October 4, 2012, he heard Stone
and defendant yelling. He then saw Stone lying unconscious on
the kitchen floor. He returned to his room. Stone regained
consciousness, ran into his room, and told him, "
'We need to find the phone or [defendant] is going to
kill me.' "
4 As pertinent here, the State argued that the statement was
admissible under the exception to the hearsay rule for
spontaneous declarations, because (a) there was an occurrence
sufficiently startling to produce a spontaneous and
unreflecting statement-i.e., defendant's attack
on Stone, (b) there was insufficient time for her to
fabricate the statement, and (c) the statement related to the
circumstances of the occurrence. See Ill. R. Evid. 803(2)
(eff. Jan. 1, 2011); People v. Williams, 193 Ill.2d
306, 352 (2000). Defendant argued that Stone's statement
was not a spontaneous declaration, in part because it did not
relate to a preceding occurrence. Without explanation, the
court ruled that Stone's remark was admissible as a
5 At trial, the State first called Meghan. She testified as
follows. She was 21 years old and lived with her grandmother
in Lake Villa, where she had resided on October 4, 2012.
Defendant and Stone had never married; shortly after Meghan
was born, defendant moved out of state. In 2011, he and Stone
resumed their relationship, and he moved in with her,
Michael, and Jordan.
6 Meghan testified that, on October 4, 2012, she, defendant,
and Stone went to lunch at Chopper's Bar and Grill. After
an hour, Stone and Meghan went shopping while defendant
stayed at Chopper's. When they finished shopping, Stone
and Meghan returned home. Defendant and Jordan were there;
Michael was not. At some point, Stone asked Meghan to
accompany her and defendant to Yvonne's, a restaurant in
Ingleside, but she declined and went home. Later that
evening, she and her friend Jenna Rice visited Joe Janusz in
Round Lake Beach.
7 Meghan testified that, while she was with Joe and Jenna,
she received a call on her cell phone from Stone. Stone was
crying and said that "she got her ass beat" by
defendant. Jenna drove Meghan and Joe to Stone's home.
Meghan exited the car. Stone was standing outside. She had a
black eye. Meghan entered the house through the garage,
locked the door to the house, then passed through the laundry
room and into the kitchen. She saw defendant, who was on the
couch in the living room.
8 Meghan testified that she asked defendant why he had put
his hands on Stone. Defendant said that "she grabbed his
nuts." Meghan replied that he still had no right to hurt
her. Meghan entered the living room. Defendant stood up and
approached her. Stone, Jenna, and Joe entered, having been
let in by Jordan. Defendant and Stone started arguing. Meghan
told defendant to get his things and move out. Defendant
pushed her; she pushed him down, pinned him to the loveseat,
and struck him. Joe pulled her off. At Stone's request,
Jenna called the police. Meghan, Jenna, and Joe walked to the
9 Meghan testified that she heard a loud thud and ran back
into the house. From the kitchen area, she could see into the
living room and down the hallway. Defendant was exiting
Stone's bedroom, closing the door behind him. As he
crossed Meghan's path, she asked what the noise had been.
He responded, " 'nothing.' " Meghan opened
the bedroom door. Stone was lying unconscious on the floor.
Meghan shook her and spoke to her but got no response.
Jordan, Joe, and Jenna soon entered. They put Stone onto the
bed and turned her head to the side, because "she was
kind of choking on her spit" and having trouble
breathing. Her eyes were rolling back into her head. Jenna
called the police, and the other three left the room.
10 Jenna testified as follows. While she, Meghan, and Joe
were at Joe's house, Meghan received a call and said that
they needed to go to Stone's house. Jenna drove them
there. As she pulled into the driveway, she saw that Stone
was standing outside. Jenna, Meghan, and Joe exited the car.
Meghan ran to the attached garage and inside the house. Jenna
and Joe approached Stone. Stone had a bruise on her left
cheek, with some swelling. Jenna eventually went to the back
door of the house, where Jordan let her, Stone, and Joe in.
11 Jenna testified that, after going inside, she saw Meghan
and defendant arguing in the living room. Stone pulled Jenna
aside and showed her the swelling near her left eye and
cheek. Jenna then saw defendant and Meghan fighting. Stone
told Jenna to call the police. Jenna left as Meghan was
pinning defendant. Outside, she called the police and
remained on the line. She reentered the living room and saw
that Joe had pulled Meghan off defendant. Jenna, Meghan, and
Joe went to the garage. As she left, Jenna saw defendant and
Stone enter the bedroom.
12 Jenna testified that, in the garage, she heard a loud
thud. She, Meghan, and Joe ran back inside, where they saw
defendant leaving the bedroom. He passed them and had a brief
exchange with Meghan. Jenna and Joe entered the bedroom.
Stone was lying on the floor. Meghan and Joe moved her to the
bed and tried to get her to open her eyes and talk, without
success. Remembering that she had left her car running, Jenna
ran out and saw defendant entering it. She reached in, turned
off the car, and took the keys. As she turned around, she saw
defendant walking away. She reentered the bedroom. Stone was
still not moving. Jenna and Joe went outside. Soon, the
13 Jordan testified as follows. On October 4, 2012, at about
4 p.m., he came home from school. Defendant was on the living
room couch. Stone was in her bedroom. Jordan went to his room
and played a game online. Defendant and Stone left the house
and returned at about 8 or 9 p.m. Jordan was in his room with
the door closed and a headset on. He could hear defendant and
Stone arguing in "the other end of the house."
Jordan then heard a loud thud from the living room. He left
his room. Stone was on the floor next to the couch, crying.
Defendant was at the other end of the couch, his feet near
her head. He was not helping her. Jordan asked what had
happened. He got no response and returned to his room.
14 Jordan testified that, shortly afterward, he heard
yelling, followed by a second thud. He left his room. Stone
was lying on the floor between the kitchen and the living
room. Her head was about two feet from defendant, who was
sitting in a chair. He was looking down at Stone but not
helping her. Stone did not appear conscious. Jordan dragged
her to the living room. He returned to his room, closed the
door, and resumed his game.
15 Jordan testified that, perhaps five minutes later, Stone
entered his room. Over defendant's objection, Jordan
testified that she told him, " 'help me find my
phone. [Defendant] is going to kill me.' " He found
Stone's phone, and she called Meghan. When Meghan
arrived, Jordan had returned to his bedroom. Hearing Meghan
yell, he left his room. He saw Meghan tackle defendant and
get on top of him; Joe pulled her off. Jenna called the
police. Everyone but defendant and Stone went to the garage.
16 Jordan testified that, while in the garage, he heard
"a loud thud from across the house." He, Meghan,
Jenna, and Joe reentered the house. Defendant was walking
away from the bedroom. Jordan and the others entered the
bedroom. Stone was unconscious on the floor and was making
sounds like snoring. She was not moving or responsive. Later,
the police arrived.
17 Joe testified as follows. On the evening of October 4,
2012, he, Stone, and Jenna drove from his house to
Stone's house. As Jenna pulled into the driveway, Stone
was outside nearby. She had a bruise on her face. Meghan
exited the car and ran inside. The door from the garage to
the house was locked, so Joe, Jenna, and Stone went around
the back, where Jordan let them in. Defendant and Meghan were
inside. They were yelling at each other. Defendant started
arguing loudly with Stone. He and Meghan got into an
altercation; Joe pulled Meghan off defendant.
18 Lieutenant Michael Keller of the Lake County sheriff's
office testified that, shortly after midnight on October 5,
2012, he arrested defendant, who was walking on the shoulder
of Route 173. Detective Craig Somerville arrived and placed
defendant into his squad car. Somerville testified that, on
the ride to the station, defendant appeared intoxicated and
said, among other things, "[W]hat would you do if
somebody grabbed your nuts like Tammy did." At the
station, defendant was questioned by Sergeant Kevin
Eckenstahler. The interview was recorded.
19 Eckenstahler testified that he asked defendant what had
happened. Defendant responded that, when he and Stone
returned from Yvonne's, Stone started "talking
shit." During a break, Somerville took several
photographs of defendant. Eckenstahler and Somerville gave
defendant a change of clothes and left the room. While alone,
defendant continued to talk, calling Stone names and saying,
" 'I need to figure this out, self-defense.'
" Eckenstahler returned, told him that Stone had died,
then left. Defendant expressed disbelief, cried, and said
that he had done nothing. Eckenstahler returned and resumed
the interview. Defendant said that Stone bruised the area of
her left eye when she fell off a kitchen chair and landed on
her face. The DVD of the interview was played in court.
20 Brian Dekind testified that, on the evening of October 4,
2012, he was a volunteer paramedic and was dispatched to
Stone's home. As he entered, he saw a sheriff's
deputy performing CPR on Stone, who was lying face-up on the
bed. The deputy and Dekind moved her onto the floor and
continued CPR. An ambulance arrived and took Stone to a
21 The State called Dr. Nancy Jones, whom the court qualified
as an expert in forensic pathology. On direct examination,
she testified as follows. On the morning of October 5, 2012,
she performed the autopsy on Stone. Afterward, she learned
that Stone had lost consciousness at least once before the
incident in the bedroom. A concussion could have caused the
loss of consciousness, had it been sufficiently severe. A
concussion is "a brain injury without physical evidence
of an injury." It does not produce contusions or
bleeding but disrupts the nerve impulses between the brain
and the rest of the body. A person who sustains a concussion
is more susceptible to another concussion, which can be more
severe even with less of an impact.
22 Jones testified that the autopsy began with an external
examination, which showed several blunt-trauma injuries.
Stone had a fresh bruise with swelling around the area of the
left eye and cheek, some abrasions on her left arm, bruising
on her right shoulder, and minor impact injuries on her
extremities. The bruising to her left cheek was not
consistent with a fall.
23 Jones testified next about the internal examination. She
found a "subgaleal hemorrhage, " i.e.,
bleeding on the left parietal region of the top of the scalp.
Otherwise, the skull appeared normal; there were no
fractures. Next, Jones removed the skull cap. She immediately
noticed a "subarachnoid hemorrhage, "
i.e., bleeding on the surface of the brain itself.
The bleeding "feathered up along the side over the top
of the brain, " and the brain was swollen. She had the
area photographed, then removed the brain. There was
considerable bleeding on the interior surface of the brain,
concentrated around the brain stem.
24 Jones testified that, to locate the source of the
bleeding, she removed the brain completely and washed away
the blood to expose the vessels at the base of the brain,
known as the circle of Willis. The circle of Willis supplies
blood to the brain. Two vertebral arteries that run up the
spinal column meet at the brain stem to form the basal
artery; this artery continues forward, with "different
branches coming off the cerebral arteries, posterior cerebral
arteries." The overall pattern is a rough circle with
vessels going to the right and left sides of the brain. Jones
discovered a laceration, specifically a longitudinal tear, in
the right posterior cerebral artery. She had it photographed,
then removed the circle of Willis so as to preserve it in
25 Jones identified and described six photographs taken
during the internal examination. The photographs were
admitted into evidence. Jones testified that one photograph
(People's exhibit No. 59) showed the vicinity of the
tear, which she had marked with scissors. She noted that the
artery was intact at the point of the scissors and slightly
onward but that the photograph showed the ragged and
irregular portion of the artery where it was split. Jones
testified that another photograph (People's exhibit No.
60) showed "the bony ridges that are present over the
base of the skull which can cause lacerations or tears of the
blood vessels at the base of the brain if the brain moves
inside the skull."
26 Jones testified that a subarachnoid hemorrhage can be
caused by the rupture of an aneurysm. An aneurysm is a
weakening of the blood vessel wall, causing it to expand, and
can result from turbulent blood flow, hardening of the
arteries, or repetitive impact to the blood vessel. The first
two kinds are the most common. The first normally occurs at
branch points in blood vessels; the laceration to Stone's
artery did not occur at a branch point. Jones examined the
circle of Willis for an aneurysm but found none. She did not
notice any congenital defects in the vessels or anything
unusual for a woman of Stone's age (40).
27 Jones testified that, once a person suffers the type of
arterial laceration that Stone received, death is very rapid,
especially with the great bleeding present in her case.
Although Stone was intoxicated when she died, that played no
role in her injury.
28 Jones testified that, to a reasonable degree of scientific
certainty, Stone's death was caused by "a
subarachnoid hemorrhage due to a lacerated cerebral artery
due to blunt head trauma due to assault." She explained
that, to bring about such a chain of events, the
assault's impact must cause the head to hyperextend and
rotate. With the head extending backward, the blood vessels
stretch; with the rotation, the brain moves across the base
of the skull and exposes blood vessels to the danger of
running across the bony ridges at the base of the skull. A
blood vessel can tear because it is stretched too far or
because it makes contact with a bony ridge. It is quite
possible for all of this to occur without leaving any
external sign of ...