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People v. Whitfield

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

June 8, 2018


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County No. 14CF1090 Honorable James R. Coryell, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Steigmann and DeArmond concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Wesley Lawrence Whitfield, was convicted of aggravated battery of a child (720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(b)(2) (West 2012)) and sentenced to four years in prison. He appeals, arguing (1) portions of his videotaped interrogation were improperly admitted at his trial and played for the jury and (2) the State improperly impeached a defense witness. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In September 2014, the State charged defendant with two counts of aggravated battery of a child (id.). It alleged defendant caused bodily harm to his two children, N.W. and S.W., by repeatedly striking N.W. (count I) and repeatedly striking and burning S.W. (count II). In January 2015, defendant waived his right to counsel and began representing himself.

         ¶ 4 The record reflects defendant filed several pretrial motions, including two motions addressing his bond. In January 2015, he filed a motion for bond reduction or a recognizance bond. At a hearing that same month, defendant's father, Luther Whitfield, testified on defendant's behalf. Luther agreed he received a call in September 2014 regarding defendant's "case." He learned defendant had been charged and the amount of his bond. The State declined any cross-examination, and following defendant's testimony on his own behalf, the trial court granted the motion and lowered defendant's bond.

         ¶ 5 In June 2015, defendant filed a motion for a recognizance bond. In July 2015, the trial court conducted a hearing on that motion and other pretrial motions filed by defendant, including a motion to suppress evidence. Relative to the motion for a recognizance bond, Luther, again, testified on defendant's behalf. He stated defendant's children had been in a car accident approximately a week before the date of the alleged offenses and defendant's arrest. According to Luther, the accident resulted in N.W. receiving medical care. Luther suggested the charges against defendant were based on injuries the children likely sustained in the automobile accident. Further, he testified he attempted to obtain medical records related to the accident for defendant but was unable to do so. Ultimately, the court denied defendant's motion.

         ¶ 6 In August 2015, defendant's jury trial was conducted. The record reflects the matter proceeded to trial on only count I, charging defendant with the aggravated battery of N.W. Count II, setting forth the charges related to S.W., was dismissed on the State's motion.

         ¶ 7 At trial, Laura Cole testified she was the maternal grandmother of N.W. and S.W. Her daughter Nicole was the children's mother and had been in a relationship with defendant. On October 4, 2011, the day N.W. was born, Nicole passed away. Thereafter, defendant was the primary caregiver for both children. At the time of the alleged offense, N.W. was two years old.

         ¶ 8 In September 2014, Laura resided in Wisconsin but traveled to Decatur, Illinois, with her daughter Markeena Cole to meet with defendant and visit S.W. and N.W. Laura testified she and Markeena arrived at defendant's home at around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. on September 3, 2014. She visited with her grandchildren and asked defendant if the children could stay the night with her at her hotel. Initially, defendant refused; however, at the encouragement of a friend, he allowed Laura and Markeena to take the children. Laura recalled that, although the weather was sunny and the temperature was 85 or 90 degrees, N.W. was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans.

         ¶ 9 After leaving defendant's house, Laura, Markeena, and the children visited Thelma Lawson's home, which Laura described as "the kids' cousin['s] house." While at Lawson's home, Laura heard S.W. say " '[d]addy whip [N.W.] like this' " and saw S.W. demonstrate "how [N.W.] got a whipping." Laura then raised N.W.'s shirt and saw "the welts and everything on him." She showed what she discovered to Markeena and Lawson.

         ¶ 10 Ultimately, Laura took N.W. to the hospital. She testified the police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) were called, and S.W. and N.W. were taken into protective custody. In October 2014, Laura relocated to Decatur "for [her] grandkids." At the time of trial, both children were in her care.

         ¶ 11 During her testimony Laura viewed photographs, which she testified depicted the appearance of N.W.'s injuries on September 3, 2014. She denied that any of the injuries shown in the photographs occurred between the time she picked N.W. up from defendant's house and when she took N.W. to the hospital.

         ¶ 12 On cross-examination, Laura acknowledged that she had tried to gain custody of S.W. and N.W. in the past. Further, she agreed that, prior to her arrival in Decatur, defendant told her during a telephone conversation that the children had recently been in a car accident. Also, Laura acknowledged that, after discovering N.W.'s injuries at approximately 8:30 p.m., she went to her hotel before taking N.W. to the hospital.

         ¶ 13 Markeena testified similarly to Laura, stating she and her mother traveled from Wisconsin to Decatur on September 3, 2014, to visit S.W. and N.W.; defendant reluctantly allowed them to have the children overnight; and they initially took the children to Lawson's home. While at Lawson's home, Laura showed Markeena injuries on N.W. Markeena testified N.W. had been wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants although it was "[b]urning hot" outside and close to 90 degrees.

         ¶ 14 After noticing N.W.'s injuries, Markeena, Laura, and the children went to a hotel and "kind of sat down and decided what would be the best thing to do about the situation." Markeena concluded that the children should not be returned to defendant and that they needed to "get some help." She stated they then took the children to the hospital. Markeena denied that N.W. was injured while in her and Laura's care. On cross-examination, she acknowledged that Laura had tried to gain custody of the children in the past.

         ¶ 15 Dr. Edward Leon testified he was an emergency room physician in Decatur and treated N.W. at the hospital in the early morning hours of September 4, 2014. According to Dr. Leon, he observed injuries on primarily the left side of N.W.'s body-specifically, on N.W.'s arm, back, buttocks, and left leg. He stated the injuries consisted of bruising and what appeared to be "belt marks." Dr. Leon estimated that the injuries were inflicted "within a few days" and opined they were "consistent with being whipped with a cord or a belt."

         ¶ 16 On cross-examination, Dr. Leon testified he first examined N.W. around 12:30 a.m. He recalled that the children's grandmother was present and was concerned about child abuse. Dr. Leon testified he was not aware that the children had been in a car accident approximately a week prior to their hospital visit. On re-direct, Dr. Leon testified the injuries depicted in a photograph of N.W.'s left arm did not appear to be consistent with a car accident. On re-cross-examination, he opined the injuries depicted in the same photograph appeared to have been inflicted "within days" rather than within the course of several hours.

         ¶ 17 City of Decatur police officer Jason Danner testified he went to Decatur Memorial Hospital on September 4, 2014, in response to a report of child abuse. Upon his arrival, he spoke with Laura and made contact with N.W. Danner stated he observed injuries to N.W., which he described as follows: "[N.W.] had welts up and-or looped-shaped welts all up and down his arms, his legs. He had bruising and scars on his back and abrasion-an old abrasion on the side of his hip." Danner identified photographs he took of N.W.'s injuries at the hospital. He testified the photographs fairly and accurately depicted how N.W.'s injuries appeared on September 4, 2014. Ultimately, the photographs, contained in People's exhibit Nos. 2 through 19, were admitted into evidence.

         ¶ 18 Danner further testified that on September 5, 2014, defendant was taken into custody. At police headquarters, he made contact with defendant and read him the Miranda warnings (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)). Defendant indicated he understood his rights, and he agreed to speak with Danner. According to Danner, defendant asserted that he did not "beat his kids; he only spank[ed] them."

         ¶ 19 On cross-examination, Danner explained differences in some of the photographs that depicted the same area of N.W.'s body as the result of different camera angles and different lighting. Further, he testified he was not aware that the children had been in a car accident in the week before the events at issue and defendant did not inform him of a car accident at the time of their interview.

         ¶ 20 Police officer Josh Whitney testified he responded to Decatur Memorial Hospital on September 4, 2014, and was advised by Danner that defendant was suspected of causing injury to N.W. Whitney contacted defendant by telephone and told him to come to the hospital. He testified he explained to defendant that the police needed to talk to him about his children. According to Whitney, defendant stated he would be there but never showed up. Police officer Tyler Nottingham testified he arrested defendant on September 5, 2014.

         ¶ 21 Police officer Kyle Daniels testified he interviewed defendant on September 5, 2014. Initially, he reminded defendant of the Miranda warnings, and defendant agreed to speak to him without having an attorney present. Daniels testified he recorded his interview and informed defendant that he was being recorded. The hour-long audio and video recording was then played for the jury. Daniels agreed that the recording was complete and accurate "except for certain edits that were made to remove dead time and to remove discussion of another incident." Further, he ...

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