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People v. Gore

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 18, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHARLES C. GORE, Defendant-Appellant.

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

          JUSTICE O'BRIEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice McDade specially concurred, with opinion.

          OPINION

          O'BRIEN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Charles C. Gore, appeals from his convictions for home invasion and aggravated domestic battery. He argues that the circuit court violated his right to a public trial when it closed the courtroom to the public in order to address a question the jury had asked during its deliberations. Defendant also argues that the State's participation in the court's inquiry into his pro se claims of ineffective assistance of counsel requires remand for a new Krankel hearing. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The State charged defendant with attempted murder (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 9-1(a) (West 2014)), home invasion (id. § 19-6(a)(2)), and aggravated domestic battery (id. § 12-3.3). Collectively, the indictments alleged that Melissa Stenger was a member of defendant's family and that defendant entered Stenger's dwelling place, knowing that she was home, and stabbed her in the neck and chest. Defendant filed a notice of the affirmative defense of self-defense.

         ¶ 4 The evidence adduced at trial showed that defendant and Stenger had been in a relationship for 14 years and had a 12-year-old daughter together. They ended their relationship in early 2014. Following the separation, defendant briefly lived in the couple's home while Stenger and their daughter lived with Stenger's father. Eventually, defendant moved into an apartment, and Stenger moved back into the home. Stenger believed defendant owed her money for various expenses, including unpaid bills and some of her personal property, which he had not returned.

         ¶ 5 Stenger testified that the night before the incident in question, she spent time with a man. The man slept over at her house that night. The next morning, after the man had left, Stenger was in the bathroom when she heard the front door to the house unlock. Defendant entered the bathroom and confronted Stenger about the man. Defendant hit Stenger in the head, knocked her down, and began choking her. He dragged her by the hair to the kitchen, where he grabbed a knife from a drawer. They struggled over the knife, and Stenger cut her finger. She distracted defendant by telling him that her father had just arrived at the house. When defendant went to check, Stenger stood up and realized she had been stabbed. She ran to a neighbor who called 911.

         ¶ 6 Stenger was in the hospital for six days after the incident, recovering from a stab wound to her throat, two stab wounds to her chest, and a cut on her hand. A blood spatter expert testified that blood found on defendant's shoes indicated that the shoes must have been close to the source of the blood.

         ¶ 7 Defendant testified that he went to the house that morning to retrieve some of his property. Stenger had told him earlier that week that he needed to remove all of his belongings from the house. He knocked and entered the house. Immediately upon seeing him, Stenger demanded the money she was owed. She screamed at him, demanding $800, and grabbed his sweatshirt. When defendant told Stenger he was leaving, Stenger grabbed a knife from the kitchen. She began swinging the knife at him. A struggle ensued, and Stenger pushed defendant over a chair. When defendant got up, he saw a pool of blood. He speculated that Stenger had been stabbed or cut when she was swinging the knife. Defendant was eventually able to leave.

         ¶ 8 Following closing arguments, the jury retired to deliberate. The court went back on the record when the jury asked a question. The court stated: "They have a question, and I'm reviewing that question in the presence of the defendant and his counsel and the state's attorney." The question asked, with regard to the attempted murder charge, when the requisite intent had to be formed. The parties agreed that the court would answer the question by telling the jury that "it doesn't matter when [the intent] occurred" and then reading a pattern jury instruction regarding intent.

         ¶ 9 The jury was brought into the courtroom, at which point the court stated: "Let the record show the jury is in court, but we are, I guess, kind of in open session, because I've closed the courtroom to outsiders. Because the jury has a question, I consider that to be a private matter." The court then answered the question in the manner agreed to by the parties.

         ¶ 10 Later, the court went back on the record when the jury asked a second question. The court again explained that all parties were present, as was the jury, but "everyone else" had been excluded from the courtroom. The question asked for a transcript of Stenger's testimony. The court informed the jury that there was no transcript, but that the audio recording of her testimony could be replayed if the jury so wished. In a subsequent-apparently written-question, the jury asked specifically whether Stenger had testified that defendant went to the front door before or after the stabbing. The court used this question to narrow down the portion of Stenger's testimony that would be replayed. With the judge and parties still in the courtroom with the jury, the audio recording from portions of Stenger's testimony was replayed.

         ¶ 11 The jury found defendant guilty of home invasion and aggravated domestic battery, but not guilty of attempted murder.

         ¶ 12 After the verdict but prior to sentencing, defendant filed a pro se motion seeking that the court allow counsel to withdraw and either appoint new counsel or allow defendant to represent himself. In his motion, defendant accused counsel of incompetence, alleging that he had failed to move for a mistrial and to subject the State's case to adversarial testing.

         ¶ 13 The court heard defendant's complaints at a subsequent hearing it referred to as a "Franks hearing." Defendant detailed his allegations against counsel, including counsel's perceived failure to provide him with discovery materials. After a long discussion on the issue that included the State, the court prompted defendant: "[I]s there anything else that [defense counsel] did or failed to do *** that you feel caused him to fall below the standard and that if he had done it right or not done it wrong, it would have changed the jury's verdict?"

         ¶ 14 Defendant noted that counsel had been on medication, was incoherent, and was "in and out." He continued: "I mean he's missing viable testimony in the trial." The court did not ask counsel to weigh in on this allegation, however, it asked the State for its input. The State's reply, which spans nearly two uninterrupted pages of the report of proceedings, emphasized that counsel had multiple assistants during the trial and that counsel had actually won an acquittal on the attempted murder charge. The State commended counsel's performance at trial.

         ¶ 15 The court, in turn, commended the performance of counsel's assistants. It further declared: "I really can't make a good argument against his approach because as the prosecutor has indicated, he won." The court ultimately rejected defendant's claim, concluding: "[Counsel] was sick but he put up a hell of a fight and ...


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