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People v. Morales

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

June 11, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ISMAEL MORALES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 CR 3180, Honorable James B. Linn, Judge, presiding.

          HYMAN JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Mason and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HYMAN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Ismael Morales was convicted, along with five codefendants, of the 2007 murder and robbery of Francisco Reyes. We have decided a number of appeals involving this offense. See People v. Roman, 2016 IL App (1st) 141740 (affirming first-stage dismissal of Daniel Roman's postconviction petition); In re Omar M., 2014 IL App (1st) 100866-B (direct appeal of minor codefendant, affirming adjudication and disposition); People v. Lopez, 2014 IL App (1st) 102938-B (direct appeal of codefendant Carlos Lopez, remanding for a new trial); People v. Roman, 2013 IL App (1st) 102853 (direct appeal of codefendant Daniel Roman, affirming conviction and sentence); People v. Roman, 2013 IL App (1st) 110882 (direct appeal of codefendant Martin Roman, remanding for a new trial); People v. Morales, 2012 IL App (1st) 101911 (Morales's direct appeal, affirming conviction and sentence). Here, we are concerned with Morales's appeal from the circuit court's first-stage dismissal of his postconviction petition.

         ¶ 2 In that petition, Morales claimed that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose the existence of an agreement between the State and its main witness, Francisco Garcia, for the State's assistance in Garcia's immigration matters in exchange for his trial testimony. The petition also raises a claim of actual innocence based on the affidavit of Victor Redding, who claimed to have witnessed the attack on Reyes and claimed to know that Morales was not one of the participants.

         ¶ 3 We find the petition makes an arguable claim of a Brady violation. We reverse the first-stage dismissal of Morales's postconviction petition and remand for second-stage proceedings consistent with the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2016)).

         ¶ 4 Background

         ¶ 5 Our decision in Morales's direct appeal (and the appeals in his codefendants' cases) sets out the details of the offense and the case history in detail. Morales, 2012 IL App (1st) 101911, ¶¶ 3-15. We reiterate only the facts necessary to understand the claims in Morales's postconviction petition.

         ¶ 6 At trial, Garcia and his wife, Sylvia Ortiz, testified that, in the early morning hours of December 23, 2007, they saw Morales, Daniel Roman, Martin Roman, Omar M., and Carlos Lopez congregate beneath their second-story apartment window. They watched as the group went across the street to the parking lot of a tortilla factory where the victim was driving a forklift.

         ¶ 7 Garcia and Ortiz saw several members of the group pull the victim off the forklift. All five of the assailants started to kick and punch the victim. During the attack, a sixth person, known to Garcia only as "Menace," arrived and joined the group. Eventually, they took the victim's billfold from his pocket.

         ¶ 8 Garcia testified that Martin Roman then went across the street and picked up a concrete rock and brought it back to the parking lot of the tortilla factory. He saw Martin Roman drop the rock on the victim the first time, but could not tell who did it the second time "because there are three who have [a] similar slim build." On cross-examination, Garcia described a prior statement he had given to an assistant state's attorney, asserting that Carlos dropped the rock on the victim one time and Morales dropped it another time. He also explained his involvement in Omar M.'s trial where he had testified that "[i]t was Carlos and another one [who hit the victim with the rock] which I can't indentify because they were all skinny."

         ¶ 9 In November 2015, Morales filed this postconviction petition, claiming a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), for the State's failure to disclose an agreement with Garcia that the state's attorney's office would assist him in his immigration matters if he testified in the prosecutions against Morales and his codefendants. In support of his claim, Morales attached two documents: a letter from the state's attorney's office to the Immigration and Nationality Service (INS) and a transcribed voicemail from Garcia to the state's attorney's office.

         ¶ 10 The letter from the State to the INS reads, in its entirety:

"Immigration and Nationality Service Re: Fernando Garcia
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to you in connection with Mr. Garcia's ...

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