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People v. Stockton

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

July 20, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
KATIE LIN STOCKTON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 09-CF-2414, Honorable John R. Truitt, Judge, Presiding.

          SCHOSTOK JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Jorgensen concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHOSTOK JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Katie Lin Stockton, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Winnebago County summarily dismissing her petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2016)) seeking relief from her conviction of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2004)). We affirm.

         ¶ 2 The victim of defendant's crime was her newborn daughter. Defendant entered a nonnegotiated guilty plea and was sentenced to a 50-year prison term. The body of defendant's daughter was discovered in December 2004 on property owned by defendant's mother and stepfather. The child, who had been born alive, was wrapped in clothing and had been placed in a plastic bag. Either hypothermia or suffocation from the clothing or plastic had caused the child's death. Evidence at defendant's sentencing hearing established that she was questioned by police and that she denied that the child was hers. It was not until 2009 that police obtained a DNA sample from defendant showing that she was the child's mother. DNA testing showed that John Craig was the father. In the course of the investigation, police discovered the decomposed remains of two infants in bags in the trunk of defendant's car. Genetic testing established that defendant was the mother of the two infants and that Craig was the father of one of them. Both were full term at birth, but it could not be determined whether they were born alive. Several witnesses testified that the bags in which the infants were found contained liquid from decomposition, as well as maggots and insects.

         ¶ 3 Winnebago County Coroner Elizabeth Fiduccia testified that she and the sheriff of Winnebago County gave the child found in 2004 the name Crystal. She explained that the child was found near Christmas on a crystal-clear night. They took the child's handprints and footprints so that, when the child's family was identified, they would have "something to hold onto because they knew this child was real and it would make it more real if they saw it." Craig testified that defendant told him that she was carrying his child. She later told him that she had a miscarriage. When Craig learned that the child had been born alive, he named her Mariah Renee.

         ¶ 4 The State presented numerous photographs of (1) the child at the site where her body was discovered in 2004, (2) the child's autopsy, (3) the child in an open casket with stuffed animals, (4) the child's headstone, and (5) the decomposed remains of the infants later found in the trunk of defendant's car. The State introduced evidence that there were places such as hospitals, police stations, and fire stations where defendant could have left a newborn without fear of punishment.

         ¶ 5 According to the presentence investigation report, defendant had been convicted of forgery in 2008 and was sentenced to probation. In addition, the State presented evidence that defendant had been dismissed from a job due to suspicion that she was stealing money from her employer.

         ¶ 6 Defendant's mother, Lisa Landsee, testified for defendant. According to Landsee, defendant had a son when she was in her early twenties. In 2004 or 2005, Landsee suspected that defendant was abusing drugs and alcohol. In 2008, defendant was incarcerated. After her release, defendant lived with Landsee. Defendant helped around the house, took care of her son, and had three jobs. In her statement in allocution, defendant apologized for what she had done and asked for forgiveness.

         ¶ 7 In imposing sentence, the trial court noted that there was no evidence that the children whose remains were found in the trunk of defendant's car had been born alive. Accordingly, the court stated that it would not consider the remains as evidence of an uncharged crime. However, the court indicated that concealing the remains in her car was arguably the act of a "deranged individual." As noted, the court sentenced defendant to a 50-year prison term.

         ¶ 8 Defendant moved to reconsider her sentence. The trial court denied the motion, and defendant appealed. Because trial counsel failed to properly comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (eff. Feb. 6, 2013), we remanded for proceedings in compliance with that rule. On remand, the trial court again denied defendant's motion to reconsider her sentence. On appeal, defendant's attorney moved to withdraw as counsel pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), and People v. Jones, 38 Ill.2d 384 (1967). We granted the motion and affirmed the trial court's judgment, noting that "there is no indication that, in any respect, the trial court erred in what it did or did not consider" at sentencing. People v. Stockton, No. 2-14-1259 (2015) (unpublished summary order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23(c)). Defendant subsequently filed the pro se postconviction petition giving rise to this appeal.

         ¶ 9 We begin our analysis with a brief summary of the general principles governing proceedings under the Act. In People v. Meeks, 2016 IL App (2d) 140509, ¶ 3, we observed as follows:

"Under the Act, a person imprisoned for a crime may mount a collateral attack on his conviction and sentence based on violations of his constitutional rights. [Citation.] Within 90 days after a petition for relief under the Act is filed and docketed, the trial court must examine the petition and either summarily dismiss it or docket it for further proceedings. [Citation.] If the trial court finds that the petition is 'frivolous or is patently without merit,' the petition will be summarily dismissed. [Citation.] Summary dismissal is proper if the petition 'is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or a fanciful factual allegation.' [Citation.]"

         Any claim of substantial denial of constitutional rights not raised in the original or an amended petition is forfeited. 725 ILCS 5/122-3 (West 2016). We review a summary dismissal ...


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