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People v. Frazier

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

September 12, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
WENDELL S. FRAZIER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 12C6-60795 Honorable Allen Murphy, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Michael A. Scodro, Marc R. Kadish, Vincent Connelly, Natalie Kissinger, and Chandra Critchelow, of Mayer Brown LLP, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Annette Collins, and Brian A. Levitsky, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

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

          OPINION

          BURKE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Wendell S. Frazier, was charged with attempted first degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) after he fired several gunshots at a vehicle being driven by Ryan McGhee on June 27, 2012. Prior to trial, defendant indicated that he intended to rely on section 7-1 of the Criminal Code of 2012 (720 ILCS 5/7-1 (West 2012)) in that he was justified in the use of force in defending himself. Defendant, a military veteran who did two tours of active duty in Iraq, sought to introduce the testimony of several healthcare providers, including a retained clinical psychiatrist, to establish his defense that at the time of the incident, he was suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The State filed a motion in limine to bar defendant's clinical psychologist from testifying as to defendant's mental state at the time of the incident. The court ruled that the clinical psychologist could testify but precluded the expert from testifying that "it was the [PTSD] that caused [defendant] to act this way" because that was a question for the trier of fact.

         ¶ 2 At trial, McGhee testified as to his version of the incident, and defendant testified extensively regarding his experiences in Iraq and his version of the incident. Defendant also presented the testimony of his former therapist at the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), a clinical psychologist for the VA, and an expert clinical psychologist in the field of PTSD diagnoses. The court found defendant guilty of aggravated discharge of a firearm but not guilty of attempted first degree murder.[1] After the court denied defendant's motion for a new trial, defendant filed this appeal.

         ¶ 3 On appeal, defendant contends that the court erred in precluding his expert from testifying on the "ultimate issue" of the case, i.e., whether his PTSD "caused" him to arm himself in his vehicle and fire his gun at McGhee's vehicle. Defendant further contends that the court erred in "substituting" its own lay opinion for that of the expert testimony on whether his conduct was consistent with his PTSD and that the court erred in failing to consider evidence that defendant subjectively believed that he was in imminent danger during the incident with McGhee. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 A. Pretrial

         ¶ 6 Prior to trial, in response to the State's charges, defendant raised self-defense as an affirmative defense. Defendant identified Dr. Joan Anzia as a potential witness and indicated that defendant had already turned over Dr. Anzia's written expert opinion in discovery. The State filed a motion in limine to bar defendant's use of psychiatric evidence or opinion testimony. The State contended that because the expert was not with defendant at the time of the incident, the expert would not be able to provide an opinion as to defendant's mental state at the time. In response, defendant filed a memorandum in which he contended that his PTSD was relevant to explain his perception of the events and why he shot at McGhee's vehicle.

         ¶ 7 Following a hearing on the State's motion, the court found that Dr. Anzia could testify but that she would be "very limited in what [she] can say." The court found that Dr. Anzia could testify regarding the diagnosis of PTSD and how it affects someone's behavior because that knowledge was not common to the layperson. The court found that the Dr. Anzia's opinion, however, "that it was the [PTSD] that caused [defendant] to act this way" was a question for the trier of fact. "In other words, the doctor can testify *** what [PTSD] is, what affects [sic] it may have on an individual. That [defendant] has been evaluated, and that he suffers from [PTSD]. **** But I believe it is beyond the scope of the experts to give the opinion that in this particular instance it was the [PTSD] that caused [defendant] to act the way that he did."

         ¶ 8 B. Trial

         ¶ 9 At trial, both McGhee and defendant presented largely similar accounts of what occurred on June 27, 2012, with a few distinctions. McGhee was driving on Michigan City Road toward Calumet City when he stopped at a stop light and started texting on his phone. He heard several horn blasts from the vehicle behind him and realized that the light had turned green. He proceeded into the intersection, and the honking vehicle behind him driven by defendant accelerated, went into oncoming traffic, and passed McGhee's vehicle. After defendant passed McGhee, he repeatedly applied his brakes directly in front of McGhee's vehicle, and McGhee was forced to apply his brakes to avoid rear-ending defendant's vehicle. At trial, this was referred to as "brake-checking." Defendant testified that he was brake-checking McGhee because McGhee was following him too closely and he was attempting to create some distance between their vehicles.

         ¶ 10 Defendant "brake-checked" McGhee four or five times, and McGhee yelled at defendant through his vehicle window. As the two vehicles neared the intersection with Pulaski Road, defendant pulled onto the shoulder of Michigan City Road. Defendant testified that as McGhee started to drive past defendant's stopped vehicle, he could not see McGhee's hands and he saw McGhee make a movement. Defendant thought McGhee might be reaching for a gun, so defendant pulled out a pistol and repeatedly fired toward McGhee, hitting his vehicle. Defendant then continued driving on Michigan City Road. McGhee attempted to follow defendant, but his vehicle had a flat tire and could not keep up with defendant. McGhee flagged down a police officer and gave him a description of defendant and the vehicle.

         ¶ 11 Within 30 minutes of the shots being fired, McGhee saw defendant's vehicle and pointed it out to the police officer. After police stopped the vehicle, McGhee saw a woman in the vehicle and another man who was not defendant. The following day, defendant turned himself into the police, and McGhee identified defendant in a lineup. Defendant testified that after shooting at McGhee's vehicle, he gave the gun to his mother because "[i]t felt like it was gone be [sic] destruction."

         ¶ 12 Defendant also testified extensively regarding his experiences in the military, including his two tours of combat in Iraq and his struggles since his return. Defendant testified that while he was in Iraq, he served as a rear gunner for a convoy. It was his responsibility to protect the convoy from threats, particularly enemy vehicles. If an enemy vehicle approached the convoy, protocol mandated that defendant would first yell "stop!" at the vehicle and shine a green light at it. If the vehicle did not stop, defendant would then fire warning shots into the ...


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