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People v. Wells

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

August 8, 2019

WALTER WELLS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CR 11107 The Honorable Matthew E. Coghlan, Judge, presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: James E. Chadd, Patricia Mysza, and Pamela Rubeo, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg and Mary L. Boland, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

          BURKE, JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Gordon and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          BURKE, JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant, Walter Wells, appeals his convictions of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and aggravated battery in a public place. Defendant was sentenced to two concurrent terms of three years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain his convictions because (1) the victim's testimony was incredible and uncorroborated and (2) the State failed to prove the battery occurred on public property. Defendant also argues that the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) (730 ILCS 150/1 et seq. (West 2014)) violates substantive and procedural due process. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In June 2014, defendant was indicted in the present case with one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (720 ILCS 5/11-1.60(f) (West 2014)) and two counts of aggravated battery (id. § 12-3.05(c)) of K.A., a minor at least 13 years old but under 18 years old. At the same time, defendant was also charged in five other cases involving similar allegations. After his convictions in the present case, the State nol-prossed the other charges.

         ¶ 4 At trial, K.A. testified that from 2011 to 2015, she attended Hubbard High School located in Chicago, Illinois. She was 19 years old at the time of trial. She identified defendant as a security guard at the school and a coach of the girls' swim and water polo teams at her school. Defendant's security post was at the back entrance of the school. K.A. testified that in January 2014, K.A. approached defendant to inquire about joining the water polo team. Defendant was sitting at a desk at the security post at the back entrance. K.A. testified that defendant responded that practices would start in the coming weeks and that K.A. could join. K.A. testified that she started to leave, but defendant asked for a hug. K.A. walked around the desk, and defendant stood up. K.A. testified that as defendant hugged her, he slid his hand down from the middle of her back and squeezed her left buttock. K.A. testified that no one else was present. K.A. testified that his conduct made her feel "extremely uncomfortable" and she left.

         ¶ 5 K.A. testified that after this incident, she saw defendant around the school but did not speak to him because she was scared and also had no reason to speak to him. K.A. testified that in early February 2014, she again spoke to defendant while he was stationed at his post by the back entrance of the school. K.A. testified that defendant was standing in the doorway of the entrance and there were other people in the area. K.A. asked defendant when water polo practice would start; defendant responded that it would start next week or the week after. K.A. testified that defendant then asked, "where's my hug?" K.A. testified that she gave him a hug, but attempted to position her arms underneath his to avoid being touched again. K.A. testified that defendant moved his arm underneath K.A.'s and used his right hand to squeeze her left nipple with his finger and thumb. K.A. testified that she "smacked his hand away" and then stated, "so practice starts this upcoming week." K.A. testified that defendant responded, "yes, or you can come early and show me what you've got, just don't tell my wife." K.A. testified that she felt scared and uncomfortable and she left. K.A. told her mother in early March 2014. She was interviewed by a detective from the Chicago Police Department on March 4, 2014.

         ¶ 6 On cross-examination, K.A. testified that she knew defendant as "Jay" and had seen him every day for about a year before the January 2014 incident. She testified that defendant did not ask for a hug or grab her prior to that incident. She believed the January 2014 incident occurred after school and before softball practice on a Monday or a Tuesday. K.A. believed there were approximately 1500 students at her school and approximately 500 were still in the building at 3:45 p.m., when the incident occurred, but she could not recall whether any people were around the back entrance when defendant hugged her. She testified that she did not use the back entrance every day. Sometimes there was one guard and sometimes there were two guards stationed there. She did not know if there were security cameras, but she did not observe any there.

         ¶ 7 K.A. testified when defendant hugged her in January, he placed his left hand down her back and across to her right buttock. She moved his hand away, but she did not say anything. She told her friend J. what happened. She also testified that she still wanted to join the water polo team even after the hug. She had been on the swim team during the September to November season. After the incident in February, K.A. did not play or practice on the water polo team. She testified that the February incident occurred after school.

         ¶ 8 K.A. testified that in 2013 to 2014, her boyfriend was D.P. and he was on the swim team. He was not on the water polo team because he had night school. K.A. testified that the other coach of the water polo team was defendant's wife, Robin, who was also a security guard at the school. Robin coached the girls' swim team while defendant coached the boys' swim team. K.A. testified that she broke up with D.P. after her swim program ended. K.A. denied speaking to Robin about issues with D.P. She denied that Robin and defendant intervened in her relationship with D.P. K.A. testified that she and D.P. had issues before any intervention by Robin or defendant and she did not blame them for the breakup.

         ¶ 9 The State presented evidence of other crimes through the testimony of J.O. and A.B. In that regard, J.O. testified that she attended Hubbard High School from 2010 to 2014 and identified defendant as a security guard and coach. J.O. testified that defendant was "really friendly" and a "nice guy" when she met him. J.O. testified that early in her freshman year in 2010, defendant was walking with J.O. to the back entrance before school started and while they stood in the hallway near the stairs, defendant reached out for a hug. J.O. testified that she hugged him back, but defendant's arm swiped across her buttocks. J.O. testified that over time, defendant asked for approximately more than 50 hugs and swiped his hand across her buttocks each time. J.O. entered school through the back entrance because that is where the bus dropped her off. She testified that she eventually told the school counselor, Ms. Jones, but J.O. claimed it "was just put under the rug." J.O. later spoke with Detective Lisa Sandoval from the Chicago Police Department on March 4, 2014. J.O. did not inform Sandoval about telling the school counselor.

         ¶ 10 A.B., another student at Hubbard High School, testified that she saw defendant almost every day, either at the front or rear entrance to the school. A.B. testified that in December 2013 or January 2014, she attended a boys' basketball game after school with her boyfriend, A. During the game, A.B. went to the vending machine in the hallway near the back entrance. A.B. testified that as A. and other students stood nearby, A.B. asked defendant for money to purchase a Pop-Tart from the vending machine. A.B. explained that defendant usually gave students money if they asked. A.B. testified that defendant gave her a dollar and asked for a hug. A.B. testified that when defendant hugged her, his hand trailed down her back and he grabbed her buttocks. A.B. testified that defendant had given her money on 20 to 30 previous occasions but he had never hugged her or touched her butt before. A.B. pulled away, purchased the Pop-Tart, and returned to A., who had observed what had occurred and seemed upset that A.B. did not get angry at defendant. A.B. testified that in early March 2014, she told the school counselor and the principal about the incident but only after she had been called into a meeting regarding defendant.

         ¶ 11 Sandoval testified that she was assigned to investigate a case involving a security guard at Hubbard High School on March 3, 2014, which was an ongoing investigation involving at least four other girls who had complained of inappropriate touching. On March 10 or 18, witnesses were brought to the office two at a time to be interviewed. Sandoval interviewed each girl individually, with an assistant state's attorney and a representative from the Department of Children and Family Services present. She first talked to K.A. and learned of a prior incident. Sandoval found a prior report in her computer and learned of the names of four other girls. Sandoval arrested defendant at his home on May 30, 2014.

         ¶ 12 The parties stipulated that Nancy Wiley would testify that she was the principal of Hubbard High School in Chicago from 2010 to 2015, that defendant was employed by the Chicago Public Schools at Hubbard High School as a security guard and boys' water polo and swim coach between 2010 and 2014, and that defendant resigned from the Chicago Public Schools on June 5, 2014. Defendant moved for a directed finding of not guilty, which the trial court denied. The defense then rested.

         ¶ 13 Following closing arguments, the circuit court convicted defendant of all charges. The circuit court found that the State's witnesses were credible and had no motive to testify falsely. The circuit court observed that although there was no corroborating physical evidence, this was not surprising given the nature of the allegations. The court further found that the investigation revealed similar allegations involving other girls wherein defendant ingratiated himself to the girls, gave hugs, and squeezed their buttocks. Concerning the aggravated criminal sexual abuse charge, the circuit court found that the State had proven that defendant committed the conduct for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification based on K.A.'s testimony that defendant told her to come early to swim practice to "show him what she had" and to not tell his wife. The circuit court subsequently denied defendant's motion for a new trial.

         ¶ 14 At the sentencing hearing, Sandoval testified for the State that three other students reported similar incidents to her. She testified that although there were security cameras, the girls were unable to recall the specific days on which the incidents occurred. The victim impact statement of K.A. and another girl were presented to the court. In mitigation, defendant presented the testimony of his wife and his mother. Defendant had no criminal background. In allocution, defendant expressed that he was baffled by the accusations and felt "railroaded" by them. The State pointed out that defendant had been found guilty, that six high school girls accused him of very similar conduct, and that defendant had resisted arrest. The circuit court found probation was not appropriate given the number of incidents reported. It merged count II, aggravated battery, into count I, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and sentenced defendant to concurrent terms of three years' imprisonment on count I and count III. Defendant's motion to reconsider sentence was subsequently denied. Defendant filed a timely appeal.

         ¶ 15 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 16 A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         ¶ 17 On appeal, defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions on two grounds: (1) the trial testimony was uncorroborated and incredible and (2) with regard to aggravated battery, there ...

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