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People v. Strickland

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

June 28, 2019

WILLIAM STRICKLAND, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 13 CR 842401 Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE PIERCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Mikva and Justice Griffin in the judgment.



         ¶ 1 Defendant, William "Dashawn" Strickland[1], along with his grandmother, Janet Strickland, were charged with multiple counts of first degree murder and solicitation of murder, for his role in the death of his grandfather. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court erred when it failed to submit Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI), Criminal, No. 3.17 (4th ed. 2000), the accomplice witness instruction, to the jury. In his supplemental brief, defendant argues that the State violated his fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches when it obtained his cellular location information without a warrant and the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress this evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress cell site location information (CSLI) for Janet Strickland's cell phone, which defendant had before and during the commission of the offense. In the motion, defendant argued that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information and the State's acquisition of this data without a search warrant or court order supported by probable cause violated his fourth amendment rights and the Illinois Constitution. The State responded that its acquisition of the CSLI was pursuant to a grand jury subpoena served by an agent of the grand jury, a Chicago police officer, and thus the records became part of discovery after the indictment. After hearing argument on the motion, the trial court denied defendant's motion without explanation.

         ¶ 4 At trial, Edward Cleveland testified that he was a retired medical transportation driver. Cleveland had been driving 72-year-old William Strickland[2], the victim, to and from dialysis every Saturday for a year. Cleveland arrived at Strickland's home at 454 East 95th Street in Chicago at 3:28 a.m. on March 2, 2013, and parked the car. Cleveland heard several gunshots and saw Strickland collapsed in the gangway. He saw a young man about five feet nine inches tall, wearing a hoodie and baggy jeans, run out of the gangway and head west. He saw another young man who was about six feet tall, 160 pounds, wearing a hoodie, trying to take Strickland's bag away from him. This man ran north toward the alley. Cleveland got back into his car and drove around to see if he could locate the offenders but he did not. He then got out of his car and went to check on Strickland and determined that he had been killed. He saw Janet Strickland, William's wife, standing by the side door of the house and told her to call 911. Cleveland spoke to the police when they arrived. Defendant arrived at the house sometime later.

         ¶ 5 Chicago police officer Daniel Fava testified that he was on duty with his partner on March 2, 2013, and responded to a call of a person shot in the area of 454 East 95th Street. When he arrived, he saw Cleveland waving his arms at them. He also observed Strickland lying in the gangway outside the door to the residence. Strickland had sustained multiple gunshot wounds. There were shell casings and bullets on the ground near his body. Janet Strickland, defendant's wife, was standing in the doorway to the gangway on the side of the house, crying.

         ¶ 6 Officer Fava spoke with Cleveland about the two possible offenders that fled the scene. Officer Fava searched the area but did not find anyone. Defendant arrived a short time later. Officer Fava stated that defendant was "stone faced" and "apathetic."

         ¶ 7 A forensic pathologist determined that the victim died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds to his body, including six gunshot wounds to his back.

         ¶ 8 Defendant's mother, and Strickland's daughter, Lesley, testified that she received a call from Janet sometime after 3 a.m. on March 2, 2013. Lesley drove from Milwaukee to Chicago and when she arrived at her parent's house, she noticed that Janet appeared intoxicated and was not crying.

         ¶ 9 Lesley testified that Janet was spending money unusually, buying food and liquor for visitors, telling visitors to take furniture and talking about how she wanted to redecorate the house. The following day, a 60-inch flat screen television and a television stand with a built-in fireplace and refrigerator were delivered to the house. Lesley testified that Janet was on a fixed income and often asked to borrow money. On March 30, 2013, Janet went to a casino in Milwaukee.

         ¶ 10 Lesley learned that defendant had been arrested and visited defendant in jail on April 4, 2013. Defendant told Lesley that "she had it done," which Lesley took to mean that Janet had Strickland killed. Defendant told Lesley that Janet had asked him if he knew anybody. In her prior grand jury testimony, Lesley stated that defendant told her he had "met with a guy" named "Black," and that defendant "was there at 2 o'clock to pick up the guy, to set it up for the shooting." "Black" was later identified as Danny Armstrong. Defendant also told Lesley that Janet had bought him a car in exchange for his silence. In her prior grand jury testimony, Lesley stated that defendant said he met with Armstrong around 2 a.m. to discuss shooting the victim. Lesley asked defendant if that was why Janet bought him the car. Defendant said "yes." ¶ 11 While Lesley was visiting defendant in jail, defendant asked her to contact his girlfriend Lavetta Smith, because he did not want her to testify. Lesley told defendant that his fingerprints were found on the gun. She did not know if this was true but was fishing for information from defendant. Defendant called Lesley several days later and told her that Janet had paid him to take the gun out of the house. Defendant also stated that his fingerprints were not on the gun and that he did not shoot the victim.

         ¶ 12 Lavetta Smith, defendant's girlfriend at the time of the murder, testified that in March 2012, she was living with defendant, the victim and Janet in the victim's home. Sometime before March 2, 2013, she overheard a conversation with defendant and Janet, where Janet said that she was going to poison the victim and defendant said he'd go upstairs and kill him. Defendant and Janet began laughing. In February 2013, she heard another conversation between defendant and Janet about killing the victim. Defendant said that he needed a gun before the next day and would get it from Janet. The gun he was referring to belonged to the victim.

         ¶ 13 On February 28, 2013, Smith heard defendant tell Janet that "Black was playing," meaning that Armstrong did not want to kill the victim. Defendant then said he was "was gonna kill his grandfather himself." Janet and Smith told him not to. Defendant said he was "gonna do it anyway."

         ¶ 14 Smith had previously seen defendant with the victim's gun. He had been carrying it for a month prior to the murder. Defendant put the gun in a compartment under the passenger seat of the victim's car, which defendant would often drive. Smith identified the gun in open court.

         ¶ 15 On March 1, 2013, defendant drove Smith and Phillamena Stitts to a party, dropped them off and left. Defendant did not have his own phone and borrowed Janet's when he went out. Defendant used Janet's phone to communicate with Smith while she was at the party. Defendant picked up Smith, Stitts and another friend from the party. He dropped Stitts off at home and then went to another party. They left the party after about 15 minutes, dropped the friend off and went back to Stitts' house. Smith fell asleep on the couch.

         ¶ 16 Defendant woke Smith up and said they were "fittin' to go, he was going to do this," which Smith understood to mean that he was going to "kill his grandpa." Defendant and Smith left Stitts house and drove to the victim's home. They parked the car on the next block in the alley. Defendant was armed with the same gun Smith had previously identified in open court. Defendant told Smith to keep the doors unlocked and ran toward the alley. Smith locked the doors and fell asleep. She awoke to defendant knocking on the window. Defendant had a brown bag that looked full. He put the bag in the back seat and the drove back to Stitts' house.

         ¶ 17 When they arrived, defendant said he had to check in with Janet and used Stitts' phone to call her. Smith heard defendant say, "Is he dead?" Smith and defendant left Stitts' house and went back to the victim's house. Smith heard defendant ask Stitts "to put up" the gun for him.

         ¶ 18 After March 2, 2013, defendant began spending a lot of money. He bought Smith a tattoo, shoes, and earrings and bought himself a phone, shoes, and tattoos. Defendant also bought a used Pontiac Grand Prix. Neither Smith, Janet or defendant had a job.

         ¶ 19 On March 15, 2013, defendant and Smith went to Stitts' house for a party. When they arrived, Stitts brought out a black purse and handed it to defendant. Smith and defendant then went to Armstrong's house and Armstrong got into the car. Defendant took some bullets out of the purse and handed them to Armstrong. Defendant also gave Armstrong something else from the purse but Smith could not see what it was.

         ¶ 20 Smith was arrested for this offense and originally lied to the police because defendant and his family had threatened her family. After she told police what really happened, she was released from custody. She admitted that she had a contempt charge against her for failing to appear at trial. She did not want to testify but she was telling the truth.

         ¶ 21 Phillamena Stitts testified consistently with Smith about being picked up by defendant and Smith on the night of March 1, 2013, and going to several parties. Sometime after midnight on March 1, 2013, defendant dropped her off at her home and she went to sleep. She awoke later to defendant knocking on her window. She opened the door and let defendant and Smith in. Defendant asked to use the phone. While he was on the phone, she heard defendant say, "Why can't I come home?" After he hung up, he said, "My granddaddy got shot." Smith and defendant then left.

         ¶ 22 Later that morning defendant and Smith came back to her house. Defendant asked her to hold his gun and she agreed. Defendant took the gun, which was wrapped in a t-shirt, out of his hoodie pocket and gave it to her. Stitts put the gun in a purse and put the purse in the basement closet. She identified the gun that defendant gave her in open court. Several days later, defendant sent her a message saying, "[i]f the detective asks you anything you don't know nothing."

         ¶ 23 On March 15, 2013, Smith and defendant came to Stitts' house. Defendant asked Stitts to get what she was holding for him. She went inside, got the purse and gave it to defendant. Defendant put the purse in a compartment under the back seat.

         ¶ 24 Stitts also had a contempt charge pending against her for failing to appear in court. Those charges ...

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