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People v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 12, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER J. HARRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Logan County No. 09CF171 Honorable Scott D. Drazewski, Judge Presiding.

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

          Attorneys for Appellee:Kwame Raoul, Attorney General, of Chicago (David L. Franklin, Solicitor General, and Michael M. Glick and Eldad Z. Malamuth, Assistant Attorneys General, of counsel), for the People.

          JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Turner and Cavanagh concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KNECHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Christopher J. Harris, appeals from the summary dismissal of his pro se petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 to 122-7 (West 2016)). On appeal, defendant argues we should reverse the trial court's judgment because his petition states an arguable claim his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request a continuance on the last day of his trial to secure testimony from two witnesses who would have supported his claim of self-defense. We disagree and affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On September 21, 2009, several members of the Gee family, including Raymond ("Rick") Gee, Ruth Ann Gee, Justina Constant (16 years old), Dillen Constant (14 years old), and Austin Gee (11 years old) were found dead in their home. The youngest member of the Gee family, T.G. (3 years old), was found alive but suffering from severe head trauma. Defendant, the ex-husband of Nicole Gee (a daughter of Rick), was later charged with various criminal offenses associated with the deaths and injuries caused to the members of the Gee family.

         ¶ 4 At a May 2013 jury trial, defendant testified he acted in self-defense and killed 14-year-old Dillen after he entered the Gee residence and discovered Dillen was in the process of killing the other members of the Gee family. The jury disbelieved defendant's account and found him guilty of five counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 2008)), one count of attempt (first degree murder) (id. § 8-4(a), 9-1(a)(3)), one count of aggravated battery of a child (id. § 12-4.3(a)), one count of home invasion (id. § 12-11(a)(1)), and one count of armed robbery (id. § 18-2(a)). The trial court sentenced defendant to five terms of natural life imprisonment for first degree murder, 30 years' imprisonment for attempt (first degree murder), 30 years' imprisonment for home invasion, and 20 years' imprisonment for armed robbery, all of which were imposed consecutively. (The court merged the aggravated-battery-of-a-child conviction with the attempt (first degree murder) conviction.) On direct appeal, we affirmed defendant's convictions and sentences. People v. Harris, 2015 IL App (4th) 130672-U.

         ¶ 5 In December 2016, defendant filed the instant postconviction petition claiming, in part, his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request a continuance on the last day of his trial to secure testimony from two witnesses who would have supported his claim of self-defense. Defendant alleged Nicole and A.H, his and Nicole's daughter, were scheduled to testify on the last day of his trial but had "unintentionally" missed their flight from Florida to Illinois. Defendant alleged the "testimony was crucial to the defense as both witnesses [had] firsthand knowledge of [Dill[e]n's] *** threats to kill everyone in his family," which "did not have another source to come from during *** trial." To support these allegations, defendant attached to his petition (1) a signed and notarized personal evidentiary affidavit, (2) an unsigned "affidavit" drafted by defendant for Nicole, and (3) an unsigned "affidavit" drafted by defendant for A.H. In his personal evidentiary affidavit, defendant stated he questioned his trial counsel on the last day of trial regarding why counsel rested without calling Nicole and A.H., to which counsel stated he did so because Nicole and A.H. had missed their flights. Defendant averred, had Nicole been called to testify, she would have testified, in part, she "had talked with Rick Gee *** only days before the murders, and that Rick was scared Dill[e]n would violently act out after Rick had punished Dill[e]n recently for breaking down Rick[']s bedroom door[ ] and stealing money from Rick," and "Dill[e]n had 'lashed out' and said he 'would kill Rick' and said 'your [sic] not my dad.'" Defendant further averred, had A.H. been called to testify, she would have testified, in part, she "was there when Dill[e]n would tell his siblings that he'd kill them." Defendant noted in his affidavit both Nicole and A.H. were "willing to sign their affidavits, but due to the harsh conditions of confinement, I have been unable to secure them."

         ¶ 6 In March 2017, the trial court entered a written order summarily dismissing defendant's postconviction petition. As to defendant's claim suggesting his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request a continuance to secure testimony from Nicole and A.H., the court found defendant failed to attach the necessary supporting material or sufficiently explain why the same was not attached. The court also found, even if it considered defendant's summary of the alleged testimony from Nicole and A.H., that testimony did not show counsel's failure to seek a continuance to call those witnesses was arguably deficient as Nicole's testimony would have been inadmissible as hearsay and irrelevant and A.H.'s testimony would have been inadmissible as neither specific nor associated with a relevant time frame.

         ¶ 7 This appeal followed.

         ¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 On appeal, defendant argues we should reverse the trial court's judgment summarily dismissing his postconviction petition because his petition states an arguable claim his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request a continuance to secure testimony ...


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