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People v. Murphy

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 27, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ELLIOTT T. MURPHY, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County No. 09CF1471 Honorable Jeffrey S. Geisler, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holder White and Justice Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KNECHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In April 2017, a jury found defendant, Elliott T. Murphy, guilty of the first degree murder of Jerry Newingham (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2008)) and the attempted first degree murder of Kevin Wilson (id. §§ 8-4(a), 9-1(a)(1)). Defendant, who was 16 years old at the time of the August 2009 offenses, was sentenced to consecutive terms of prison, totaling 55 years. Defendant appeals his convictions and sentence.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, defendant argues (1) the State committed plain error by relying on the prior inconsistent testimony given by Branden White as substantive evidence without sending the transcripts of that testimony to the jury to prove White had so testified, (2) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present evidence in the second trial showing defendant was absent from school on and around the date a key State witness, Malcolm Spence, claimed defendant made an inculpatory statement at school, and (3) his 55-year sentence for offenses he committed when he was only 16 years old was a de facto life sentence imposed in violation of federal and state authority. We agree with defendant's sentencing argument and remand.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On August 24, 2009, Jerry Newingham and Kevin Wilson encountered a group of teenage males that, according to the State's evidence, included defendant, defendant's 14-year-old brother Deonta Johnson, Dedrick Rhone, Fredrick Rhone, Malcolm Spence, and Branden White. Newingham, age 61, was riding his bike when he was attacked. After he fell to the ground, Newingham was stomped to death by members of the group. The assailants then attacked Wilson, who was lying near a park pavilion. Emergency personnel found Wilson bloody, swollen, and unable to walk or answer questions. Wilson survived the attack.

         ¶ 5 The State prosecuted the aforementioned juveniles as adults for the first degree murder of Newingham, the attempted murder of Wilson, and other charges. White entered a negotiated plea to first degree murder. In exchange for his plea and truthful testimony, White was sentenced to 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). Spence pleaded guilty to mob action and obstruction of justice and agreed to testify truthfully. The charges of murder and attempted murder against Spence were dismissed. Fredrick and Dedrick entered open guilty pleas. Fredrick pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years. Dedrick pleaded guilty to attempted murder of Wilson and received 15 years.

         ¶ 6 Defendant and Johnson elected to be tried by a jury on the State's charges. In 2011, defendant and Johnson were tried jointly and found guilty of murder (Newingham) and attempted murder (Wilson). At this trial, Spence testified regarding a conversation he had with defendant and Johnson:

"Q. I'm going to ask you some questions about a conversation that occurred about two days after this. Do you understand that? About two days after the attack?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. Did you have a conversation with [defendant]?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. And where were you when you had that conversation with him?
A. At school
Q. And what school did you go to at that time?
A. MacArthur High School.
Q. Did [defendant] also attend MacArthur High School?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. Is MacArthur High School located pretty much right next to Garfield Park?
A. No.
Q. When you spoke to [defendant], was anybody else present?
A. Yeah.
Q. Who else was there?
A. His brother and a couple other people.
Q. When you say, 'his brother,' who[m] are you referring to?
A. Deonta.
Q. Okay, and Deonta Johnson?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. What did [defendant] say to you during that conversation?
A. He told me what happened to the dude that got jumped on at Monroe.
Q. And when you say that he told you what happened to the dude that was jumped on at Monroe, what did he say[ ] specifically happened?
A. Said they was just walking and he was riding his bike and he told his brother to go swing on him.
Q. And what did he say next?
A. He said his brother swung on him and they all just got to jumping on him.
Q. Did you also have a conversation with Deonta Johnson?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. And was it the same time you talked to [defendant] or was it a different conversation?
A. Same time.
Q. Was [defendant] present when you talked to Deonta Johnson?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. And was that also at MacArthur High School?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. And what did Deonta Johnson say ...

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