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People v. Phillips

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

February 21, 2018

DEMETRIUS PHILLIPS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois. Circuit No. 11-CF-268, The Honorable Walter Braud, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Holdridge dissented, with opinion.


          McDADE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The defendant, Demetrius Phillips, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2010); 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1 (a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 2010)) and was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. On appeal, Phillips argues inter alia, that his statement to police was improperly coerced such that the circuit court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. We reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 Jasmine Anderson gave birth to a son on July 23, 2010. Phillips was the minor's father, and the family lived together in an apartment. Phillips did not have a job, and he would watch the minor when Anderson was at work. The minor died under suspicious circumstances on December 10, 2010; while in the hospital for the two weeks prior to the minor's death, it was learned that the minor had multiple injuries, some of which were recent and some of which were old. His injuries included two skull fractures, fractured clavicles, hemorrhaging behind an eye, and bleeding on the brain. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that the minor died as result of blunt force trauma.

         ¶ 4 On March 30, 2011, Phillips was charged by information with first degree murder. Phillips was arrested and taken to the Rock Island Police Department where he was interviewed and ultimately made an inculpatory statement to the police.

         ¶ 5 On July 15, 2011, Phillips filed a motion to suppress his statement to police. Phillips argued that he did not give the statement knowingly and voluntarily and that it was "the result of coercion, deceit, trickery, and false promises on behalf of the investigators."

         ¶ 6 At the hearing on the motion, the recordings of Phillips's interview were introduced into evidence. In total, three police officers had questioned Phillips during the interview: Benjamin Meiresonne, Larry Hufford, Jr., and Leo Hoogerwerf. No more than two of them were in the interview room at any given time with Phillips. The interview lasted from approximately 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and included breaks for the restroom, food, and water. Phillips, who was then 18 years old, did not have an attorney or family member present at any time during the interview.

         ¶ 7 At the outset of the interview, Phillips was shown a copy of the first degree murder charge and was told that he was under arrest. Phillips began to cry. Phillips was told that this was his last chance to tell the detectives what had been going on. Phillips asked to see his mother several times over the next few minutes, but those requests were denied. He was told that he could see his mother once the interview was done. Phillips was told that the detectives were there to help him, not to hurt him, and Phillips was read his Miranda rights. Phillips said that he understood those rights, and he was told to sign a sheet of paper that indicated he understood the rights as they were read to him. Phillips signed the sheet without any attempt at reading it first.

         ¶ 8 Over the next approximately 45 minutes, Phillips and the officers discussed what had transpired with the minor over the week leading up to his death. It was after this discussion that the detectives took a more aggressive approach to the interview. Phillips was told that the cause of the minor's death was not an accident and that the minor had been shaken. For the next hour or so, Phillips continually denied that he shook or otherwise injured his son.

         ¶ 9 At around 1:15 p.m., which was over two hours into the interview, Hufford entered the room and began aggressively interrogating Phillips. Variously, Hufford told Phillips that he was trying to save Phillips's life and that a lot of things could change going forward, including the first degree murder charge. Hufford also asked Phillips if he knew what happened to baby killers in prison and stated that Phillips's life would not last long as a baby killer in prison. Hufford also told Phillips that unless he told the truth, neither God nor the minor would forgive him.

         ¶ 10 At approximately 1:29 p.m., Phillips asked if he could have a few minutes. Approximately 10 minutes later, he began telling the detectives about how he could not get the minor to stop crying so he tossed the minor onto the bed. However, he bounced off the bed, hit his head on the nightstand, and fell to the floor. Later, after Phillips had further discussed the incident with the detectives, he was allowed to see his mother. During their brief time together, Phillips's mother asked him several times whether he told the truth to the police. Phillips either answered no or shook his head to indicate no every time she asked him that question. Phillips's mother was escorted out of the interrogation room shortly thereafter, and one of the detectives asked Phillips why he had lied to his mother. Phillips said that he did not lie to her.

         ¶ 11 Meiresonne was the first of the three officers to testify at the hearing. He testified that during the investigation into the minor's death, on several different occasions, Phillips voluntarily provided the officers with varying suggestions of how the minor could have been fatally injured. Meiresonne stated that on one such occasion, Phillips requested to speak with him and another detective to tell them that he had done research and reviewed the minor's prior medical records. He presented the officers with information on spina bifida and hydrocephalus as possible explanations of the bleeding in the minor's brain. Meiresonne noted that the format in which the information was provided was comparable to a research paper. He stated that he had, however, investigated and learned from medical records and from a doctor that the minor did not have spina bifida.

         ¶ 12 Meiresonne further testified that at the start of the interview Phillips knew he was under arrest. He had been provided a copy of the arrest warrant that listed the charge of first degree murder and a $1 million bond. Meiresonne noted that this warrant could be seen on the interview table in the video. Additionally, he stated that Phillips was calm, collected, and polite before entering the interview room, but after being informed he was under arrest for murder, he became visibly upset and cried loudly.

         ¶ 13 Meiresonne noted that he advised Phillips of his Miranda rights, both verbally and in writing, prior to the start of the interview and that Phillips waived those rights. He indicated that Phillips had no questions, demonstrated no confusion or lack of understanding of his rights, and at no time requested to have an attorney present or to end the interview. Phillips appropriately answered questions related to his age (18) and grade level (eleventh) at that time. Meiresonne stated that he "was articulate, polite" and "appeared to understand what was going on." He said Phillips had been given Miranda warnings on four prior occasions and on this occasion Phillips reviewed the written Miranda warnings for about 30 seconds before signing the waiver. The signed Miranda waiver was admitted into evidence without objection.

         ¶ 14 Meiresonne testified that he never told Phillips he would be free to leave if he told the officers what happened to the minor or that he would not be prosecuted. He acknowledged telling Phillips that "you can talk to your mother when we're done. We've called her and told her to come get you in a little while, all right?" and that "this is your last opportunity to tell us what happened." He stated that he had misspoken regarding Phillips's mother coming to get him and said that he had assured Phillips multiple times throughout the interview that he would be allowed to talk to his mother. Meiresonne stated that he had a theory of what had happened and affirmed that a truthful answer from Phillips would be his admission to having committed a violent act upon the minor. However, he stated that he did not invite Phillips to confess in exchange for seeing his mother. He noted that if Phillips had invoked his constitutional rights, the interview would have ended.

         ¶ 15 Meiresonne acknowledged that he heard Hufford say to Phillips, "[w]hat do you think is going to happen to you in prison? It [is] mandatory life, and your life won't be long as a baby killer in prison. Stay online when you get a chance in the county jail, and see what happens to baby killers in jail."

         ¶ 16 After several hours of questioning, Meiresonne stated Phillips admitted that he injured the minor on November 22, 2010. He told the officers that Anderson was at work and he was alone with the minor. Because the minor was fussy and could not be consoled, he tossed the minor onto the bed. The minor bounced off the bed, hit his head on the nightstand, and fell to the floor. Phillips picked up the minor, called Anderson to obtain the medical card, and took him to the emergency room. Meiresonne stated that Phillips told him the minor was slipping in and out of consciousness, crying, and vomiting. After he confessed, Phillips asked if he was going to see his mother. Meiresonne said he told him that he would be allowed to speak with her.

         ¶ 17 Hufford was the next officer to testify. He authenticated the video recording of the interview for admission. He then testified that Phillips had been arrested on March 30, 2011, right after he had appeared in court on an unrelated civil matter. He went through regular booking procedures and was placed in a locked interview room for some time before Meiresonne and Hoogerwerf arrived.

         ¶ 18 Hufford stated that Meiresonne was the lead investigator and that no single officer was present for the entire interview. He noted that he did not personally enter the interview room until after a couple of hours into the interview but that he had observed the interview over the video feed from the start. He stated that Phillips was given the first degree murder arrest warrant, which also stated the bond amount, and received Miranda warnings. He noted that Phillips signed the Miranda waiver and did not indicate a lack of understanding or that he did not wish to participate in the interview. Hufford stated that Phillips appeared to be sober, healthy, and able to understand the interview. He characterized Phillips as extremely articulate and noted his own son, who was the same age and attended school with Phillips, was not as articulate or intelligent. Hufford testified "there was nothing even close" to an indication Phillips lacked understanding or wished to stop the interview.

         ¶ 19 Hufford further testified that during the six-month investigation preceding Phillips's arrest and interview, he had advanced differing causes of how the minor could have been injured. He noted that Phillips suggested yet another possibility of how the minor could have been injured during the interview prior to admitting that he injured the minor.

         ¶ 20 Hufford admitted that he was angry during the interview. He acknowledged that he made the statement regarding what would happen to Phillips in prison and admitted his words were a "little rash." He said his purpose was to elicit the truth, to "invoke [sic] an answer." Hufford stated that in making the statement he meant that "it was going to be rough for [Phillips]" and "that his life wouldn't be much as an 18-year-old person, as a baby killer, as I say in there, in prison. People don't respect those kind of people."

         ¶ 21 Hufford testified that this was a fraction of his full statement and that at the time he had made the statement he was "done with the *** made-up stories" and was "trying to be in his face, get his mind thinking about how serious it is that he's sitting there." Hufford said "at no point was [he] ever trying to scare him or threaten him to say something." Hufford stated:

"Shortly after the context where it says: 'See what happens to baby killers in jail you show no'-I was speaking to [Phillips]. And I was saying: 'you show no remorse whatsoever, and that makes me angry, because you're the same age as my son. And I just had a long talk with your mom, you know what she told me? I told her that I would talk to her when-that you could talk to her when you were done, and she said: you tell him to tell the truth. I said: ma'am, we've been trying to make him tell the truth for six months. It's out of my hands now.
By not telling the truth, not only are you losing your life, [the minor is] gone, and you can't tell-finally tell the truth and make him come back. You can't make up some story and make them come back. But you can explain to the public and the citizens of the State of Illinois why this happened and why you have remorse, if you have any, or if you do. There are things that need to be explained to the people.' "

         ¶ 22 Hufford stated he was attempting to tap into Phillips's guilt to get him to show remorse and let go of what he was keeping inside in hopes that it would all go away. He testified that "at no time ever did [Hufford] say, 'say something, say anything, so we can go home' *** There was nothing even close to that ever said anywhere." He repeatedly told Phillips he wanted the truth. Hufford stated Meiresonne ...

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