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People v. Belanger

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

July 9, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THOMAS W. BELANGER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Wayne County Nos. 15-CF-150, 15-CF-153, 15-CF-154 Honorable Michael J. Molt, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellant Paige Clark Strawn, Law Office of Paige Clark Strawn, P.C.

          Attorneys for Appellee Hon. Kevin Kakac, State's Attorney, Wayne County Courthouse, Fairfield, IL 62837; Patrick Delfino, Director, Patrick D. Daly, Deputy Director, Kelly M. Stacey, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor,

          PRESIDING JUSTICE BARBERIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cates and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BARBERIS, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 After a bench trial, the defendant, Thomas Belanger, was declared a sexually dangerous person (SDP) under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (Act) (725 ILCS 205/0.01 et seq. (West 2014)) and committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for care and treatment. On appeal, the defendant argues that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the he was an SDP. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. Background

         ¶ 3 In August 2015, the defendant was charged with one count of criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/11-1.20(a)(1) (West 2014)), one count of aggravated assault (720 ILCS 5/12-2(c)(1) (West 2014)), two counts of unlawful restraint (720 ILCS 5/10-3(a) (West 2014)), and three counts of aggravated domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.3(a-5) (West 2014)). The criminal sexual assault charge alleged that the defendant committed an act of sexual penetration by the use of force against his fifth wife, D.B. The defendant later entered not guilty pleas to all charges.

         ¶ 4 While charges were pending, the State filed a petition to proceed and for evaluations in lieu of criminal prosecution under the Act. The State alleged that the defendant had an extensive criminal history that included the following: aggravated battery and sexual assault in 1989 of S.E., a 14-month-old family member, where the defendant stomped on her pubic area and anally raped her; escape and theft of a motor vehicle in 1990; aggravated battery and sexual assault in 2002, where the defendant tied up a man and anally penetrated him with a broomstick; and multiple acts of sexual violence against D.B., including one incident where he gagged her with a bandana, bound her hands, forced her to kneel while he beat her with a belt, and then raped her.

         ¶ 5 The Wayne County circuit court appointed Dr. Daniel Cuneo, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Dr. Angeline Stanislaus, a forensic psychiatrist, to conduct independent examinations of the defendant and render separate opinions on whether the defendant qualified as an SDP, as defined by the Act. Following the evaluations, the State filed a petition to declare the defendant an SDP, pursuant to the Act. The petition alleged that both Drs. Cuneo and Stanislaus had concluded within a reasonable degree of medical and psychiatric certainty that the defendant met the criteria as an SDP. The petition also alleged that the defendant suffered from a qualifying mental disorder for at least one year prior to the filing of the petition, that he had criminal propensities to commit sex offenses and acts of sexual molestation of children, that he had demonstrated criminal propensity by his past actions, and that he was substantially likely to engage in future acts of sexual violence if not confined. Prior to trial on the State's petition, the defendant waived his right to a jury trial.

         ¶ 6 A. Dr. Cuneo

         ¶ 7 In April 2016, the defendant's bench trial was held. Dr. Cuneo, the State's first expert witness, testified to the following. Dr. Cuneo was a licensed clinical psychologist primarily employed by the court systems in multiple counties throughout southern Illinois. Dr. Cuneo had conducted numerous sex offender risk assessments and sexually violent person evaluations but acknowledged that the defendant's case was his first SDP evaluation. In preparing the defendant's evaluation, Dr. Cuneo had referenced the defendant's clinical and mental health records, criminal history, social history, and prior fitness evaluations.

         ¶ 8 Dr. Cuneo first conducted a mental status examination of the defendant to determine whether the defendant suffered from the requisite mental disorder. In doing so, he initially determined whether the defendant was feigning symptoms or responding truthfully to his inquiries by primarily relying on the defendant's documented mental health history. Dr. Cuneo testified that the defendant had "admitted every psychiatric symptom posed to him" and claimed to have suffered from hallucinations since childhood, which Dr. Cuneo noted was inconsistent with the defendant's mental health records. According to Dr. Cuneo, the defendant's mental health records, dating back to 1975, revealed that the defendant had always denied experiencing hallucinations. Dr. Cuneo concluded that the defendant's thinking was "somewhat paranoid in nature" but not delusional. Moreover, Dr. Cuneo noted that the defendant's past mental health treatments had been intertwined with the defendant's criminal activities, which Dr. Cuneo explained was particularly important because the defendant never voluntarily sought treatment unless legally required.

         ¶ 9 Dr. Cuneo also addressed the defendant's mood disorders. Often, the defendant would turn his "anger inward" and then become depressed and suicidal. In fact, the defendant told Dr. Cuneo that he had attempted suicide over 100 times, which was consistent with his previous hospitalization records. Additionally, the defendant's clinical records showed numerous examples where he turned his anger outward and lashed out toward others with rage. In particular, the defendant admitted that he had attempted to kill the boyfriend of his ex-wife, A.B., with a baseball bat, broken A.B.'s jaw, and sexually abused her for several hours. The defendant ...


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