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People v. Galvan

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Six Division

June 14, 2019

JOHN GALVAN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 87 CR 8638 Honorable Timothy Joyce, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Delort and Justice Cunningham concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Defendant-petitioner John Galvan appeals from the dismissal of his third-stage successive postconviction petition. On appeal, petitioner contends that the trial court erred where it (1) misapplied the standard and made improper factual findings in denying petitioner's actual innocence claims and (2) failed to address several of petitioner's arguments in denying his due process claims. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, grant petitioner's third-stage successive postconviction petition, and remand.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 For purposes of this appeal, we will include only a brief summary of the facts related to the crime and subsequent trial because those facts are described in detail in both petitioner's direct appeal (People v. Galvan, 244 Ill.App.3d 298 (1993)), and petitioner's appeal from the circuit court's grant of the State's motion to reconsider its motion to dismiss petitioner's postconviction petition (People v. Galvan, 2012 IL App (1st) 100305-U).

         ¶ 4 On September 21, 1986, at approximately 4 a.m., there was a fire at 2603 West 24th Place in Chicago that killed two young men, Guadalupe Martinez and Julio Martinez, who resided with their family in the upstairs apartment of the building. Their siblings, Blanca Martinez (Blanca) and Jorge Martinez (Jorge), escaped. Investigators suspected arson. Petitioner and two other men, Arthur Almendarez and Francisco Nanez, were arrested nine months after the fire and charged with aggravated arson and first degree murder. Following a jury trial, petitioner, who was 18 years old at the time, was convicted of aggravated arson and the murder of the two people who died in the fire. He was sentenced to natural life in prison without parole.

         ¶ 5 Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion to quash petitioner's arrest and suppress his confession. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Detective James Hanrahan testified that he learned about petitioner's involvement in the fire from a June 7 interview with a witness. Michael Almendarez (Michael), codefendant Almendarez's brother, testified that about nine months after the fire, he was taken into custody between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. and questioned by police officers about the fire. Michael testified that the police officers told him they had witnesses and told him to just sign a statement saying he was there that night. He testified that police officers continued questioning him for eight hours. After about 10 or 12 hours, Michael told police officers that petitioner and Nanez had admitted to him in October 1986 that they had set the fire in question. Michael testified that petitioner and Nanez had not in fact told him that and that he only signed the statement because the officers told him to. Detective Victor Switski testified that Michael gave his statement at 1 a.m. because "he realized he was assisting us." The trial court denied the motion to suppress.

         ¶ 6 Trial

         ¶ 7 At trial, evidence was presented that nine months after the fire, police officers had interviewed three individuals who saw several young men in the alley behind the Martinez residence before the fire started. Rene Rodriguez and Jose Ramirez, two young men who admitted to being drunk and were also allegedly high, were being helped home by Frank Partida, who had coached many young men in the neighborhood in baseball and was on his way home from work. Ramirez, the only one of the three who identified petitioner as one of the young men he saw in the alley, was also the only one of the three who testified at petitioner's trial.

         ¶ 8 Ramirez testified at trial that on the night of the fire he went out with his friend, Rodriguez, and drank "a couple beers." He stated that as he was walking home that night, they encountered Partida. Ramirez testified that as they were walking down the alley, a man he knew as "Michael" turned in his direction. Ramirez claimed that at that point, petitioner also turned around, but Ramirez then walked away. Rodriguez further testified that he left the scene when the fire department arrived because "I didn't want to get involved in telling them anything." Ramirez testified that, in October 1988, a defense investigator came to his work and that he told the investigator that, on the night in question, he was drunk and had not seen anything. He testified at trial that he and Rodriguez drank for about four hours that night, but he was not intoxicated.

         ¶ 9 Soccoro Flores, a neighbor of the Martinez family, and the only eyewitness to the act of starting the fire, stated at trial that she could not identify any of the individuals responsible, but saw three young men throw a bottle through the window of the first-floor porch immediately before the fire started. She had viewed a lineup with defendant in it and did not identify anyone in the lineup as someone she saw on the night of the fire. Flores was asked on the stand if petitioner was one of the young men she saw on the night in question and stated, "No."

         ¶ 10 An arson expert testified that the fire originated inside the porch, six to seven feet above ground level. Broken glass was also recovered from the first-floor porch in the area where the fire started.

         ¶ 11 Petitioner and his two codefendants, Almendarez and Nanez, signed confessions following their initial interviews with detectives. Petitioner's confession stated that one of the codefendants threw a bottle with gasoline and a lit cloth at the building, it broke but did not ignite, so petitioner walked over to the building and threw a lit cigarette at the wall, causing it to ignite. One codefendant stated that petitioner poured gasoline around the outside of the building prior to the fire.

         ¶ 12 Petitioner testified that he was handcuffed to a wall after he was brought into the station for questioning and that one of the detectives who interviewed him, Detective Switski, told him that if he agreed to what Detective Switski said, he could leave. He then told petitioner that he would get the death penalty, he was never going home, and he would be "[lying] right next to [his] father." Petitioner testified that he was crying and that Detective Switski told him if he "put the blame on one of them guys and say that they threw the bottle, and I just threw a match on the gasoline, that it wouldn't hurt me, and he wouldn't hold me, that I would be able to go home soon." So petitioner agreed. Petitioner testified that Detective Switski left the room and came back with a notebook, at which point he began making up a story that stated petitioner threw a match on the gasoline, Nanez had thrown a bottle, and they only meant to scare the people in the house. Petitioner testified that Detective Switski made him go over the story many times. When asked if any police officers "beat" him, petitioner answered, "A couple of hits here and there." He testified that Detective Switski hit him with an open hand, and when he "wouldn't agree on saying what he wanted me to say, he would start hitting me in the back of my head, telling me, [']you know, don't you want to get out of here, don't you want to go home?[']" Petitioner testified that he kept telling Detective Switski that he did not set the fire and was not in the area on the night in question, but that Detective Switski told him if he wanted to go home, he had to say what Detective Switski wanted him to say. Petitioner further testified that he was never alone with the assistant state's attorney and that Detective Switski was always present.

         ¶ 13 During closing arguments, defense counsel argued that shortly before the fire, there was a "young woman *** out in the street threatening to burn down [the] building" and stated that Rodriguez and Partida did not testify in this case, despite being with Ramirez on the night in question.

         ¶ 14 The jury found petitioner guilty of aggravated arson and two counts of first degree murder.

         ¶ 15 Posttrial Proceedings

         ¶ 16 This court affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence on direct appeal. See Galvan, 244 Ill.App.3d 298. Petitioner then filed a postconviction petition in 1995, to which he attached an affidavit executed by Partida. Partida's affidavit stated that both Ramirez and Rodriguez were high the night of the fire and that given the distance and darkness, Partida could not identify the individuals in the alley and he was certain Ramirez could not identify them either. The affidavit further stated that the detectives showed Partida a photo of petitioner and Partida told them he could not identify anyone. The circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss the petition, and the ruling was upheld on appeal. See People v. Galvan, 286 Ill.App.3d 1117 (1997) (table) (unpublished order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 17 In 2001, petitioner filed a successive pro se postconviction petition. Petitioner attached an affidavit that stated his confession had been coerced and detailed his treatment by Detective Switski during his interrogation. Petitioner then filed three supplemental petitions in March 2003, February 2004, and October 2004. In January 2004, the State filed a motion to dismiss the successive petition based on timeliness. The February 2004 supplemental petition included a claim of actual innocence based on a newly executed affidavit by Partida, in which Partida stated that he did not recognize the young men he saw in the alley that night and, when he asked Ramirez and Rodriguez who they were, Ramirez stated that he did not know. The affidavit further stated that Partida had known petitioner for many years and would have recognized him if he had been in the alley that night. Partida also stated that when the detectives interviewed him, he told them that he knew petitioner and petitioner was not there that night.

         ¶ 18 The trial court denied the State's motion to dismiss and set the matter for a third-stage evidentiary hearing. The State filed a motion to reconsider the ruling on the State's motion to dismiss. The trial court denied that motion and set a final date for the evidentiary hearing. The trial judge was then transferred to the civil division and for the next 14 months the case was assigned to several different judges. Before a hearing occurred, a new judge took over the case and granted the State's motion to reconsider, dismissing the petition. Petitioner appealed, and in an unpublished order, this court reversed and remanded this case for a third-stage evidentiary hearing on these claims. See Galvan, 2012 IL App (1st) 100305-U.

         ¶ 19 Petitioner presented 23 witnesses at his third-stage evidentiary hearing, which took place over the course of 14 days. Partida testified that in the early morning hours of September 21, 1986, he was working at a bar called Chunkys. He got off of work at 3:30 a.m. and was walking home when he ran into two young men, Ramirez and Rodriguez. Partida testified that Ramirez was helping Rodriguez walk and that it looked like they were intoxicated. Ramirez told Partida that they had been ingesting "wicky sticks," which Partida believed to be marijuana sticks dipped in phencyclidine (PCP). Partida and Ramirez helped Rodriguez walk to a nearby fire hydrant for a drink of water. When they got there, Partida noticed three "young kids" walking toward them. He did not recognize them, and he asked Ramirez if he recognized them. Ramirez told Partida he did not.

         ¶ 20 Partida testified that shortly thereafter, he heard a woman yelling "fire" in Spanish. Partida stated that the woman was Socorro Flores, and that she came running out of her house telling Partida that "they threw the thing in the window" and that "it's burning." Partida saw the three boys running west down the alley at that time, but he was focused on helping Flores. Partida testified that he was the first one at the scene of the fire and that he helped a woman escape from the second-floor window. Partida stayed at the scene until the two decedents were brought out of the house.

         ¶ 21 Partida testified that about six to seven months after the fire, two detectives met with Partida at his house. One of the detectives showed Partida pictures of three men and indicated that they were the men who started the fire. Partida recognized two of the men as petitioner and codefendant Almendarez. Partida told the detectives that he knew those two young men from the neighborhood but had not seen them on the night of the fire. Partida testified that his brother, who was a Chicago police officer, talked to Partida after the detectives left and said they had talked to him and "they want me to talk to you about giving up some names or something." Partida agreed to talk to detectives again, on the condition that they were different detectives.

         ¶ 22 Partida testified that he again spoke to detectives and that he identified petitioner and Almendarez in the pictures as young men he knew. Partida also told the detectives that he was with Ramirez and Rodriguez on the night of the fire and that they were intoxicated. Partida stated that he had seen the police reports that were generated as a result of the two interviews he gave and there were things missing-namely, that the young men were intoxicated and high. Partida testified that while the ...

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