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People v. Stafford

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

June 19, 2018

DAVID P. STAFFORD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Woodford County No. 02CF26 Honorable John B. Huschen, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Harris and Justice Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In August 2003, a jury found defendant, David P. Stafford, guilty of four counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (2) (West 2002)) and one count of first degree felony murder (residential burglary) (id. §§ 9-1(a)(3), 19-3(a)). In October 2003, the trial court sentenced defendant to natural life in prison (id. § 9-1(b)(6)(a)-(c)). Defendant appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion when it sentenced him to natural life in prison. In February 2006, we affirmed defendant's sentence. People v. Stafford, No. 4-03-1011 (Feb. 23, 2006) (unpublished order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 2 In June 2013, defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition alleging his life sentence was unconstitutional under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), because he was 17 years old when the crime was committed and his life sentence violated the eighth amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII). The State filed a motion to dismiss defendant's postconviction petition, which the trial court granted. Defendant appealed, arguing (1) his natural life sentence was void because it was not authorized by statute and (2) under Miller, his discretionary life sentence was imposed without individualized considerations of youth and all that accompanies it. In September 2016, we affirmed the dismissal of defendant's postconviction petition. People v. Stafford, 2016 IL App (4th) 140309. Defendant filed a petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.

         ¶ 3 In November 2017, the supreme court denied defendant's petition for leave to appeal but issued a supervisory order (People v. Stafford, No. 121393 (Ill. Nov. 22, 2017) (supervisory order)) directing us to vacate our prior judgment and consider the effect of People v. Holman, 2017 IL 120655, on the issue of whether defendant's sentence violates the eighth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII) and determine whether a different result is warranted.

         ¶ 4 Both defendant and the State have now filed supplemental briefs with this court. Defendant has also supplemented the record to include defense exhibits admitted into evidence at his sentencing hearing, which were not part of the record at the time of our original disposition. In accordance with the supreme court's directive, we vacate our prior judgment and reconsider in light of Holman. We again affirm the dismissal of defendant's postconviction petition.

         ¶ 5 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 6 A. Trial

         ¶ 7 The evidence presented at trial showed Cherie Gillson was murdered in the bedroom of her Eureka, Illinois, home on March 6, 2002. The victim had at least 45 discrete stab wounds in multiple locations, including her face, arms, legs, and stomach. A doctor testified, based on several of the wounds, "severe" force had been used. The victim's nine-year-old son was asleep in the basement at the time of the killing. The victim's son found his mother later in the morning and called for help. On March 7, 2002, the victim's neighbors informed the police they found a blue leather jacket, stained with blood and with dark hair caught in the zipper, in their yard. Defendant's father later identified the jacket as belonging to defendant.

         ¶ 8 On March 17, 2002, the police recorded defendant's confessional statement. Defendant, then 17 years old, claimed he went into the victim's home to steal videotapes. Defendant stated he knew the victim, as she was a school bus monitor, and she had previously let him borrow videotapes. He thought he heard a sound coming from one of the bedrooms. He grabbed a knife from the victim's kitchen in case he was discovered. Defendant opened the door to the victim's room and stabbed her in the stomach when she walked toward the door. The victim hit defendant, which enraged him, and he continued to stab her. Defendant lay down next to the victim as she died. Defendant stated he held her and said, "Good-bye bitch." After he determined the victim was deceased, he went into the kitchen to wash his hands and proceeded to steal videotapes from her entertainment center. Defendant later said he did not know what he would have done if the victim's son had walked into the room. After defendant's confessional statement, the police conducted a search of his bedroom. The police found two videotapes, which matched the tapes defendant said he had taken from the victim's home. Defendant's fingerprints also matched the latent prints found on the victim's remaining videos.

         ¶ 9 The jury found defendant guilty of four counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2002)) (counts I, II, III, and IV) and one count of first degree felony murder (residential burglary) (id. §§ 9-1(a)(3), 19-3(a)) (count V) for the stabbing of Cherie Gillson.

         ¶ 10 B. Sentencing

         ¶ 11 On October 6, 2003, the trial court held a sentencing hearing. The court received a presentence investigation report (PSI) and its addendum. The State presented testimony and a victim impact statement from the brother of the victim. The State also presented a supplement to the PSI. The defense presented testimony from the probation officer tasked with preparing defendant's PSI and defendant's father. The defense also presented five exhibits of documents previously provided to the probation officer tasked with preparing the PSI.

         ¶ 12 In 1987, when defendant was two years old, his parents divorced. Defendant's father was given custody, and he later remarried. Defendant had a number of behavioral issues while in his father's care. On one occasion, he was caught playing with his penis on a school bus. On another occasion, he took a knife from home onto the school bus. In 1993, when defendant was eight years old, a teacher reported defendant had social and emotional problems: he liked to play he was stabbing people, and he said when he grew up, he wanted to be a murderer. That same year, defendant was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and found to have a full-scale intelligence quotient (IQ) of 75.

         ¶ 13 In 1997, when defendant was 12 years old, a teacher noted defendant spoke with great bravado regarding how he attacked a peer and sent him to the hospital, cut an adult with a beer bottle, and threatened another adult with a gun, and he threatened a female student with a knife. That same year, defendant's father sent defendant to live with his mother in Iowa because he was having marital issues and living in a car. Since her divorce with defendant's father, defendant's mother remarried and had two additional children. Shortly after defendant arrived in Iowa, he began sexually assaulting his two younger brothers, ages 8 and 10. Defendant was taken into care, and a petition for a child in need of assistance was filed. While in care, defendant had numerous sexual issues; for example, he was fixated on sexual subjects, accused a roommate of sexually abusing him, and complained to staff he masturbated to the point of soreness. On May 9, 1997, defendant was adjudicated a child in need of assistance.

         ¶ 14 A May 13, 1997, psychological evaluation noted defendant "came across in the interview as perhaps mildly mentally limited *** because[, ] although he seemed alert, aware[, ] and able to comprehend ***, his responses were at times a bit inappropriate[, ] *** say[ing] exactly what was on his mind-although at times it might have been better left unsaid." Defendant tested at a full-scale IQ of 75, which placed him in the lower fifth percentile compared to other 12-year-olds. He had a fairly good fund of information and an ability to learn by what he hears. He also had reasonably good awareness of social situations, where he learned by observation. Defendant, however, needed improvement in areas reflecting abstract reasoning. His abstract reasoning scores were "low enough to put [him] into the profoundly limited range and this often means that there is some brain dysfunction as a result of a drug overdose quite probably from the time he was being carried [in utero]." The evaluator found Defendant's IQ "can be [a] fairly permanent limitation that will keep him from making significant academic progress, but his auditory learning skills should be good enough to help him get through high school."

         ¶ 15 On June 10, 1997, defendant was ordered to go to a mental health institute for an inpatient psychiatric evaluation due to a strange discussion with his guardian ad litem referencing Satan. Defendant was diagnosed with conduct disorder and parent-child problems. The staff observed he had an inflated self-esteem, bragged about sexual conquests, and bragged about his knowledge of gangs.

         ¶ 16 From ages 12 to 17, defendant was placed in approximately 13 facilities and shelters in Iowa, which he claimed was due to "anger and voices in [his] head." In July 1997, defendant was placed in a psychiatric medical institute for children, where he was hospitalized for two weeks due to a major episode of aggression. In its evaluation, the institute noted defendant was of above average intelligence and diagnosed him with major depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder (childhood onset type). Defendant was consistently unable to comply with the rules, was caught in sexually inappropriate situations, was prone to stealing, and showed no remorse for sexually abusing his brothers. Defendant assaulted a female staff member, which ultimately led to his unsuccessful discharge.

         ¶ 17 In May 1998, defendant began a court-ordered perpetrators program. Defendant was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct disorder (childhood onset type). In October 1999, defendant was discharged, and it was the staff's opinion defendant would continue to commit sexual crimes against those whom he saw as weaker than him without close supervision.

         ¶ 18 In February 2000, defendant was placed in another perpetrator program and was discharged after a month because the staff was unable to provide protection to the community and residents due to defendant's "violent fantasies." He was then placed at a mental institution. Once stabilized, he was discharged to a shelter, where there were incidents of inappropriate touching.

         ¶ 19 From December 2000 to August 2001, defendant temporarily lived with his father and attended a special education program. In March 2001, defendant was diagnosed with having mood swings with secondary anger and depression. In July 2001, defendant's father requested defendant be placed in a shelter due to his inappropriate sexual and criminal behavior. Defendant's father stated defendant was stealing underwear from his stepmother and other people in the community and stole videotapes from a local police officer. Defendant also broke into a home, where he stole money and expensive stereo equipment.

         ¶ 20 From August 2001 to December 2001, defendant was placed in a shelter, where he received psychiatric treatment. The staff noted he did very well controlling himself, no longer appeared to be depressed, no longer had sexual fantasies, and was meeting his anger management goals.

         ¶ 21 In December 2001, defendant's father stated he was not employed and wanted defendant to return home, where he could supervise him and arrange for his counseling. The temporary home arrangement was successful, and his father stated defendant was doing very well. Defendant's father noted defendant began to act strangely in March 2002. He noted defendant would leave the house in the middle of the night, and one time he walked around the house with a baseball bat for no reason. ...

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