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People v. Gill

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 3, 2018

STEVE W. GILL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois, Appeal No. 3-15-0594 Circuit No. 13-CF-487 Honorable Paul P. Gilfillan, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Defendant, Steve W. Gill, appeals following his conviction for aggravated arson. He argues on appeal that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant also argues that the circuit court erred in failing to suppress certain pieces of evidence at trial. Further, defendant urges that he was denied a fair trial. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The State charged defendant by indictment on September 25, 2014, with aggravated arson (720 ILCS 5/20-1.1(a)(1) (West 2012)) and residential arson (id. § 20-1(b)). The indictment alleged that defendant knowingly damaged the house of Timothy Rayner by fire on June 19, 2012, when he knew or should have known that one or more persons were present within the house.

         ¶ 4 Defense counsel filed a motion to quash the seizure of defendant's clothing from the Pekin hospital and suppress the clothing as evidence, arguing that the seizure did not meet any exceptions to the warrant requirement. In a separate motion, defendant sought to quash the seizure of his truck from a parking lot in North Pekin on the same grounds. Defendant also filed motions arguing that the seized evidence should be excluded on the grounds that the seizures were executed by East Peoria law enforcement officials, who were without authority to execute those actions in those particular locations.

         ¶ 5 The circuit court held a suppression hearing on March 13, 2015. At the hearing, Detective David Catton of the East Peoria Police Department testified that he came on duty at 8 a.m. on June 19, 2012. Catton soon thereafter received a phone call from Sergeant Brian Despines, informing him that there had been a house fire at approximately 3:30 that morning. Despines notified Catton that defendant was a suspect, and that he had been transported to the hospital from the Denny's restaurant in North Pekin. Catton first went to Denny's, then, at approximately 10 a.m., to the scene of the fire. He testified that the inside of the burned house smelled of gasoline. He also noticed that a Jeep parked in the driveway of the house smelled of gasoline. Inside the Jeep, Catton noticed a gas can and white rags "similar to the rags that I found in the truck at Denny's."

         ¶ 6 Catton testified that he went to the Pekin hospital at approximately 2:15 p.m. on June 19, 2012, to speak with defendant. At the hospital, Catton was accompanied by Assistant Chief John Knapp of the East Peoria Fire Department, East Peoria arson investigator Eric Duckworth, and State Fire Marshal's arson investigator Shane Arndt.

         ¶ 7 Upon arriving at the hospital, Catton and the other investigators met with Jeffrey Lickiss, who was the nurse attending to defendant. Lickiss told Catton that upon intake defendant had smelled of gasoline. Lickiss escorted the investigators to what Catton described as a common area on the seventh floor of the hospital. Lickiss retrieved defendant's clothing for them. Catton initially testified that Lickiss retrieved the clothing from "behind the counter on that floor." Catton also testified: "[T]he nurse got the clothing that was behind the counter of [defendant]." Later, Catton agreed to defense counsel's assertion that Lickiss had retrieved the clothing "from behind the counter."

         ¶ 8 Catton testified that Lickiss had retrieved the clothing at the investigators' request, but he did not remember which specific investigator asked for the clothing. The clothing was then laid out upon the floor so that Arndt's canine could perform a free air sniff. After Arndt told Catton that the canine had alerted, Arndt took the clothing into custody.

         ¶ 9 After the canine free air sniff, Catton and Arndt went to speak with defendant. Catton testified that defendant's room was "right where we were standing" and the door was open. Lickiss indicated which room was defendant's room, and Catton, who was familiar with defendant, could see him through the open door. Catton described defendant's room as a single occupancy, agreeing when counsel referred to it as a "private room."

         ¶ 10 Lickiss testified that he first saw defendant on the day in question when other hospital personnel needed assistance removing his clothing and establishing IVs. Defendant was lying on a bed in a private room. When Lickiss first entered the room, he asked if defendant had been in an automobile accident, noting the odor of gasoline. Lickiss assisted in the removal of defendant's clothing, and temporarily placed them on the floor in the corner of the room.

         ¶ 11 A nurse told Lickiss that the police wanted to speak to him. Lickiss assumed that the nurse had told police of his observation of the odor of gasoline. Lickiss then left the room and went to the nurses' station, where he told a police officer that he had smelled gasoline. Lickiss then testified: "He wanted the clothing, so we went back into the room and bagged up the clothing. And I think there was a brief discussion as to whether it should be put into plastic or should be put in paper because the personal belonging bags we have are plastic." The following colloquy ensued between defense counsel and Lickiss:

"Q. And so was any of the clothing taken from behind a counter?
A. I believe that we took the clothing from the room, put it in bags and took it to the nursing station.
Q. Why did you do that?
A. To get it out of the room and then to put it in a centralized secure area.
Q. And did you remove them from the nurse's station after that?
A. I gave them to the police officer from the nurse's station."

         Lickiss testified that he did not seek defendant's consent to turn over the clothing because he was unintelligible and not in a state to give consent.

         ¶ 12 Lickiss further testified that all of the events in question occurred on the first floor of the hospital, in the emergency room (ER). He testified that he had been involved in two recent cases involving the securing of clothing, one of which occurred in the ER, and one of which occurred on the seventh floor. Lickiss recalled that the incident on the seventh floor involved an arson investigator. The ER incident, which Lickiss was testifying to, occurred around 5 a.m. Lickiss did not recall the clothing being laid out on the floor.

         ¶ 13 Arndt testified that he was an arson investigator for the Illinois State Fire Marshal's arson division. He was notified around 3:30 a.m. on June 19, 2012, of a fire in East Peoria. The course of his investigation led him to the Pekin hospital around 2:30 p.m. He went to the hospital with Catton, Knapp, and Duckworth. Upon arrival, Arndt went to "a nurse's station next to a room." He did not recall which floor they were on, but did remember later that he "went down" to retrieve his canine. He noted that it was "just a hospital room, " and not the ER. He described the nurses' station as a large counter with several rooms adjacent to it.

         ¶ 14 From the nurses' station, Arndt observed defendant lying on a bed, alone in the room. Arndt did not enter the room at that time. Someone-though not Arndt himself-then requested the clothing. Arndt retrieved his canine. Arndt recalled that the clothing was brought to the front of the nurses' station in a single plastic bag; he could smell gasoline when the clothing was first removed from the bag. The canine performed a free air sniff of the clothing. This occurred on the floor in front of the nurses' station. Arndt testified that the canine alerted to the front pocket and leg area of a pair of jeans, but not anywhere else that he recalled. Arndt removed all the clothing from the hospital, with the exception of a pair of boots.

         ¶ 15 The circuit court denied defendant's motion to suppress. In so ruling, the court commented:

"I think that issue has been addressed quite clearly in the cases cited with regard to people's clothes in hospitals. To me there's no distinction between an [ER] and a nurse's station on a particular floor. This decision might even be the same even if it was in the defendant's hospital room, but we're not dealing with that situation today."

         ¶ 16 At a later court date, the circuit court entertained the parties' arguments relating to the jurisdiction of authorities to seize defendant's clothing from the hospital in Pekin and his truck from North Pekin. The court agreed that East Peoria does not adjoin either of those towns, as it is separated from both by the village of Creve Coeur. Nevertheless, the court found that officers retain authority or jurisdiction to investigate offenses and conduct seizures in nonadjoining municipalities.

         ¶ 17 On May 28, 2015, the circuit court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress the seizure of his truck. At that hearing, defendant testified that on June 19, 2012, he was at a Denny's restaurant between 4 and 5 a.m. He had driven his 1994 Dodge truck to the restaurant and parked it in the lot. Defendant testified that at some point while eating his breakfast, he "became unconscious." The next thing he remembered was waking up in a private room at the Pekin hospital. Defendant testified that he was released from the hospital around 6 p.m., at which point his brother drove him back to Denny's to retrieve his truck. When he arrived, his truck was no longer in the parking lot.

         ¶ 18 The State did not call any witnesses at the hearing, arguing that the burden was on defendant. The State argued that "there [was] sufficient evidence from Detective Catton's previous testimony that he had probable cause to seize the Defendant's vehicle."

         ¶ 19 On May 29, 2015, the State filed a document titled "People's Supplemental Attachment to Response to Motion to Quash Seizure of Motor Vehicle Without Probable Cause." Attached was a copy of Catton's complaint for a search warrant for defendant's truck. The complaint alleged that at approximately 8 a.m. on June 19, 2012, he located defendant's truck.[1] Catton swore in the complaint: "I observed a gas can and several items of clothing in the back of the truck in plain view, as well as rags which were similar in appearance to those found in [the] Jeep." Catton also swore that the truck resembled the one he later saw in surveillance footage. The truck was towed to the East Peoria Police Department at 9:34 a.m. The complaint for search warrant was dated July 9, 2014.

         ¶ 20 The same day, May 29, 2015, the circuit court issued a written order denying defendant's motion. Specifically, the court found that Catton had probable cause to seize the truck.

         ¶ 21 On June 3, 2015, defendant filed a motion to reconsider and an objection to the State's supplemental attachment of the search warrant complaint. Defendant argued: "The State chose to not call the Detective Catton [sic] to the stand to avoid his cross-examination, but are attempting to use his written words as a substitute." Defendant objected to the warrant complaint being used as evidence at the hearing.

         ¶ 22 The circuit court agreed that if it considered as evidence the information provided via Catton's search warrant complaint, defendant should be afforded an opportunity to cross-examine Catton. The court ordered Catton to appear for that purpose.

         ¶ 23 Upon testifying a second time, Catton elaborated on his conversation with Despines when he first came on duty. In addition to the previously provided details, Catton testified that Despines told him a Jeep parked in the driveway of the burned house smelled of gasoline and contained a gas can that did not belong to the occupants of the house. Defendant was a suspect, due to an altercation between him and an occupant of the house earlier that morning. Despines told Catton that defendant's truck was in the Denny's parking lot and had a gas can in the back. Catton drove to Denny's, where he noticed defendant's truck in the parking lot, with a gas can in the truck bed.

         ¶ 24 Catton admitted there had not been a determination that the fire was arson until after Catton had defendant's truck towed. Catton did not learn that information until approximately 10 a.m., when he spoke to the arson investigator. Catton could not make any connection between the gas can in the Jeep and the gas can he observed in the bed of defendant's truck.

         ¶ 25 The circuit court denied defendant's motion to reconsider, finding Catton had probable cause to seize the truck.

         ¶ 26 At trial, Tim Rayner testified that on June 19, 2012, he lived at 118 West Bluff Street in East Peoria. At the time, Rayner was living with Star Ashley, who was dating one of Rayner's friends. Rayner and Ashley were watching movies in the house around 10 p.m. on June 18, 2012, when a man in a truck arrived, looking for Ashley. The man and Ashley had an argument outside the house about money.

         ¶ 27 When the argument eventually ended, the man left in his truck. Later, after receiving a phone call, Ashley asked Rayner to drive her to the Creve Coeur police station. Rayner drove her to the police station in his Jeep and waited outside. Ashley returned to the Jeep approximately 45 minutes later, and they returned to the house on Bluff Street. Rayner parked his Jeep in the driveway. He fell asleep on the couch around 3 a.m.

         ¶ 28 Rayner was awakened later by the sound of his smoke alarm. When Rayner awoke, he felt "[a] lot of intense heat" and saw heavy black smoke. He noted: "The kitchen was blazing pretty good." He woke Ashley up, and they left the house. As they left the house, Rayner noticed that one of the kitchen windows "had a hole in it."

         ¶ 29 Rayner was shown a series of photographs of his Jeep. The photographs showed a gas can on the front passenger-side floorboard and a rag on the front driver-side floorboard. He testified that neither of those objects was in the Jeep when he parked it upon returning from the police station. Rayner also testified that after the fire, his Jeep emitted a strong odor of gasoline.

         ¶ 30 Mark Ehlke, an officer with the Creve Coeur Police Department on June 18, 2012, testified that he was on patrol that night when he responded to a theft call at the Ragon motel. The individual who made the theft complaint was defendant. Defendant told Ehlke that Ashley had taken $310 from his pocket while he slept earlier that day. Ehlke testified that, while he was speaking with defendant, defendant did not emit any particular odors. Ehlke called Ashley, who met him at the police station. He did not arrest Ashley, and allowed her to leave the station around 11:18 p.m.

         ¶ 31 Duckworth testified that he was an arson investigator with the East Peoria Fire Department. He testified that he arrived at the scene of the fire at 5:05 a.m. In his investigation, he noticed that the Jeep parked in the driveway of the house smelled of gasoline and had a small gas can on the front passenger-side floorboard. Inside the house, Duckworth determined that the fire had originated in the kitchen, against an exterior wall.

         ¶ 32 Duckworth also noticed physical evidence in the front yard of 112 West Bluff Street, two houses from Rayner's house, in the direction of Meadow Avenue. Duckworth testified that he "found some debris that had been burned that had burned in two different spots. Also, next to one of the debris marks, I found a Bic lighter."

         ¶ 33 Duckworth testified that, as part of his investigation, he interviewed neighbors living directly across the street from Rayner's house. The neighbors turned over surveillance footage from their home security system. The surveillance video was played in court. At the 4:48:53 mark in the video, a dark figure can be seen moving about the vicinity of the house across the street. Twenty-one seconds later, that house erupts into fire. An individual carrying a burning object runs into the street from the area of the house and runs down the street, to the right from the perspective of the camera. After running down the street for about 12 seconds, the individual throws the burning object from his person and continues running off screen. A small fire where the discarded fiery object was thrown remains on screen. Emergency vehicles can be seen arriving approximately eight minutes later.

         ¶ 34 Duckworth explained that the street seen in the video is Bluff Street, and that the burning house is Rayner's. Duckworth further explained that the individual in the video was running away in the direction of Meadow Avenue and that the area in which the individual discarded the fiery object corresponded with the yard in which Duckworth found burnt debris. He also testified that the time stamp in the video was one hour and 26 minutes fast, meaning the dark figure moving around Rayner's house is first seen at 3:22 a.m. Based on the surveillance footage, the odor of gasoline in the home, and laboratory results indicating the presence of gasoline, Duckworth concluded that the fire had been intentionally set.

         ¶ 35 The next day, Duckworth went to Go-T's tavern, which was at the corner of Bluff Street and Meadow Avenue, seeking to review its surveillance footage. After viewing the surveillance footage, Duckworth returned to the tavern the next day, June 21, 2012. In a grassy area next to the building, Duckworth found a gray hooded sweatshirt with burn marks on one of the sleeves. Inside a pocket of the sweatshirt was a Bic lighter.[2] Duckworth did not note the size of the sweatshirt.

         ¶ 36 Catton testified that he came on duty at 8 a.m. on June 19, 2012. Around that time, he received a phone call from Despines, informing him that there had been a "suspicious" fire in the overnight hours, that there was unexplained gasoline and a gas can in a Jeep, that defendant was a suspect, and that defendant's vehicle was at Denny's in North Pekin. Catton testified that he found defendant's vehicle, a 1994 Dodge truck, in the Denny's parking lot. In the bed of the truck, Catton observed a blanket, a spare tire, a gas can, bar and chain oil, and a tow strap. Catton arranged for defendant's truck to be towed. Catton accompanied the truck to the tow yard and took photographs. The photographs show a large white blanket in the section of the truck bed closer to the cab, as well as fading paint in a jagged or zigzag pattern on the truck's hood. At a later date, Catton obtained a search warrant for defendant's truck. The search revealed a Bic lighter under the truck's front seat.

         ¶ 37 Catton went to the scene of the fire around 10:30 a.m. Catton observed an odor of gasoline emanating from the Jeep parked in the driveway, as well as a gas can and a white rag on the front floorboards. He testified that the Jeep was open-that is, it likely had a canvas top, but the top was not attached. Catton noted that the rag was similar to those he saw in the bed of defendant's truck.

         ¶ 38 Catton also viewed the surveillance footage from Go-T's tavern collected by Duckworth. Footage from two different camera angles was played in court. Catton provided extensive testimony throughout the viewing of the surveillance footage. Defense counsel objected, arguing that Catton was interpreting the video, and that the video should instead speak for itself. The court overruled the objection.

         ¶ 39 The first camera angle shows a street, with a building across that street next to a streetlight. A truck makes a right turn off the road toward the camera at 3:06 a.m. After making the turn, the truck pulls out of sight in the upper left area of the screen. Approximately 12 minutes later, a dark figure can be seen emerging from the general area in which the truck turned out of sight, and walking across the street. Catton explained that the street in view is Meadow Avenue and that the area under the streetlight to which the dark figure walked is the intersection of Meadow Avenue and Bluff Street. Five and a half minutes later, a figure crosses the street in the opposite direction. About two minutes later, a vehicle-of which only a slight portion can be seen-emerges from the lower right portion of the screen and turns right onto the road.

         ¶ 40 The second camera angle is fixed on a door to a building, which Catton explained was the back door to Go-T's tavern. Just after 3:06 a.m., a dark-colored truck pulls between the door and the camera, then slowly drives off screen to the right. At 3:09 a.m., the truck backs up in the opposite direction. There are contents in the bed of the truck, including a large white area toward the cab-end of the bed, but nothing can be discerned in great detail. Just before 3:25 a.m., the truck's headlights come on, and it turns right as it approaches the door. When slowed, the video seems to show a zigzag pattern on a portion of the truck's hood.

         ¶ 41 Catton testified that there were several indentifying characteristics on the truck in the surveillance footage that matched defendant's truck. He testified that the zigzag pattern on the hood of the truck in the video matched the pattern of paint fade on the hood of defendant's truck. Catton also testified that the taillights on the truck in the video were recognizable as those of a Dodge Ram truck. He also observed a white blanket and a tire in the back of the truck in the video, matching the contents of defendant's truck.

         ¶ 42 Catton testified that defendant called him three days after the fire, enquiring about his truck. Catton asked defendant to come to the police station. Defendant never came to the station, and Catton was not able to locate him. After a search warrant was issued, Catton retrieved defendant from Louisiana, Missouri, in June 2014.

         ¶ 43 At trial, Lickiss testified that around 6 a.m. on June 19, 2012, he received a request from the ER at the Pekin hospital to assist with a patient. Lickiss identified that patient as defendant. Lickiss assisted in removing defendant's clothing and dressing him in a hospital gown. When Lickiss first walked into the room, he noticed the odor of gasoline. After removing defendant's clothing, Lickiss placed the clothing in the corner of the room.

         ¶ 44 Lickiss testified that he got off duty around 7 that morning. Lickiss returned to the hospital for his next shift around 2 p.m. the same day. At that point, defendant was in room 707 of the intensive care unit (ICU). Lickiss recalled ...

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