Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 15 CR 609
Honorable Kevin M. Sheehan, Judge Presiding.
Attorneys for Appellant: James E. Chadd, Patricia Mysza, and
Daniel H. Regenscheit, of State Appellate Defender's
Office, of Chicago, for appellant.
Attorneys for Appellee: Kimberly M. Foxx, State's
Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Brian K. Hodes,
Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Mikva concurred in the judgment
1 Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County,
the defendant-appellant, Eric Hamilton, was convicted of
first degree murder and sentenced to 55 years'
imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant contends that (1) he
received ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) he was
unfairly prejudiced by witness testimony, and (3) the trial
court did not provide proper Illinois Supreme Court Rule
431(b) (eff. July 1, 2012) admonishments during voir
dire. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment
of the circuit court of Cook County and remand the case for a
3 The State charged the defendant with first degree murder
for the death of Guvonni Johnson on December 8, 2014. The
defendant retained counsel, who claimed that the defendant
shot Johnson in self defense. A jury trial commenced, and the
following evidence was presented.
4 On the morning of December 8, 2014, the defendant picked up
his fiancée, Nikita Robinson, from her job and drove
her home. When they arrived at the house, located at 6103
South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (the house), Guvonni
Johnson was there. Johnson was Robinson's brother, who
had lived with Robinson at the house for the past several
months. An argument ensued between Johnson and Robinson over
a bus pass. The defendant joined the argument to support
Robinson, and things became heated between him and Johnson.
5 The defendant stepped outside and called the police.
Chicago police officer John Block arrived at the house a few
minutes later. Robinson and the defendant told Officer Block
that they wanted Johnson to leave the house. However, Officer
Block declined to remove Johnson or make him leave. After
talking with everyone for about 20 minutes, Officer Block
left the house.
6 The argument continued between the defendant and Johnson
once Officer Block left. Robinson then told both men to leave
the house. Once outside of the house, the defendant and
Johnson engaged in a physical altercation. Johnson eventually
entered his car, a red PT Cruiser, and drove away. The
defendant followed in his car, a white PT Cruiser. After a
few minutes, both men drove back to the house and parked
their cars. Words were exchanged between them on the street.
The defendant then shot and killed Johnson outside of the
house. No gun was found on Johnson or at the crime scene.
7 The State's Case
8 Robinson testified on behalf of the State. After she told
both men to leave the house, she watched the physical
altercation between them from inside the house. Johnson
punched the defendant in the jaw, which knocked out the
defendant's tooth, and then Johnson spit in the
defendant's face. The defendant pushed Johnson away from
him and swung at him but missed. Robinson then went outside
to try to stop the fight, but was unable to do so and it
continued. She went inside the house and called the police.
She was on the telephone with the police for a few minutes
when she heard the front gate outside of the house crash to
the ground. She looked outside and saw that Johnson had
knocked the defendant into the gate, which broke it. Robinson
went back outside as the two men continued to fight in the
street. She went up to them to try to physically break up the
fight once again, but she was hit by one of the punches
thrown. She went back into the house and called the police
9 About five minutes after Robinson went back inside the
house, she heard three gunshots. She looked out the front
window of the house and saw Johnson lying on the ground in
front of his car. The defendant then knocked on the back door
of the house. Robinson opened the door, and the defendant
told her "I'm sorry, I love you." Robinson told
the defendant to turn himself in, and he left.
10 Robinson testified on direct examination that she did not
see either man with a gun on that day. On cross-examination,
defense counsel asked her: "Had you ever seen [Johnson]
with a gun?" Robinson answered, "Yes." The
State objected and the trial court sustained the objection.
Defense counsel requested a sidebar, and the trial court
asked defense counsel why he should be allowed to ask
Robinson if she ever saw Johnson with a gun:
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I believe the State opened the door.
They said there were a couple of questions. Did you ever see
him on that day with a gun? Did you ever see him --
THE COURT: Well, that's relevant because you had filed a
defense of self defense for that particular day.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I just believe, Judge, I should be able to
ask if she ever saw [Johnson] with a gun. They lived together
for eight months and it shows he may have possessed a gun at
some point and he may have had a gun -- if he possessed a gun
at some point prior, then he may have had a gun on that day.
THE COURT: That calls for sheer speculation. State['s]
[THE STATE]: First of all, in the defendant's opening
statement, they indicated that this defendant saw [Johnson]
supposedly carrying his waistband as if he had a gun. Thus
the question[, ] [']did you see [Johnson] on that day
carrying a gun.['] Secondly, even if [Johnson] had no
criminal background, even if he had a criminal conviction for
possession of a gun, case law is clear [that possession] does
not go towards violence. It doesn't go to Lynch
material. This is nothing but to dirty up [Johnson].
THE COURT: First of all, the fact that he has ever [been]
seen by anyone with a gun, is she prepared to tell you where
and when and what date she saw him with a gun?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I think she is prepared to tell me not the
exact date but where.
THE COURT: What do you mean where? On his person, at his
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: On his person.
THE COURT: Here is the problem. When the State asked
[']did you see him with a gun on that particular day,
['] that's a relevant question because that goes to
the heart of pure self defense. It may go to the heart of
unreasonable self defense, et cetera. In your
opening statement you obviously indicated that your client
will testify that he saw [Johnson] reaching towards something
that he thought was a gun. The fact that did one person ever
carry a gun is irrelevant. Number one, we don't know if
that person had the right to carry a gun or carried a gun
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Judge, agree.
THE COURT: What this is doing essentially, [counsel], he
carried a gun then so I think you can pretty much believe he
carried a gun. It's conjecture. Objection
11 Shelton Young also testified on behalf of the State. Young
lived across the street from Robinson. On December 8, 2014,
Young was watching television at his home when he looked
outside of his window. He saw Johnson park a red PT Cruiser
and walk toward Robinson's house. He then saw the
defendant park a white PT Cruiser and walk toward Johnson.
The defendant said something to Johnson that Young could not
hear, and Johnson turned and walked toward the defendant.
Young noticed the defendant had a gun in his hand. When the
two men were about 10 feet apart from each other, the
defendant fired the gun at Johnson and missed. Johnson ran
between two cars to shield himself. The defendant fired
again, and Johnson fell to the ground. The defendant then
walked up to Johnson and fired his gun four more times.
12 Anthony Bates testified that he is the maintenance
supervisor for Robinson's townhome complex. Just before
11 a.m. on December 8, 2014, Bates was walking near the house
when he saw "two cars racing back and forth down the
street," one a burgundy PT Cruiser and the other a white
PT Cruiser. He saw the burgundy PT Cruiser eventually stop,
and then the white PT Cruiser stop just a few seconds later.
Bates recognized the defendant as he "hopped out"
of the white PT Cruiser. The defendant walked up to the
burgundy PT Cruiser, and tried to break several of the
car's windows with his elbow, but was unsuccessful. The
defendant walked back to his car, and Johnson exited the
burgundy PT Cruiser. Johnson walked away from the defendant
and toward the house. The defendant then fired a gun at
Johnson but missed. The defendant chased Johnson between the
parked cars and fired a second shot. Johnson fell to the
ground. Bates moved toward the defendant and "tried to
talk him out of it." As Bates stood in the middle of the
street, he saw the defendant walk over to Johnson, who was
laying on the ground, and stand over Johnson and shoot him
about four or five more times. The defendant then
"[l]ooked up and took off running" with his gun.
Bates never saw Johnson with a gun.
13 Detective Dale Potter testified that when he arrived at
the scene, Johnson had already been transported to the
hospital. He spoke with Bates, who agreed to go down to the
police station to speak with him further. At the station,
Detective Potter showed Bates an array of compiled
photographs. Bates identified the defendant's photograph
from the array. Detective Potter then notified the
"mission team" of detectives and police officers
within the area to look for the defendant. Detective Potter
testified that he gave the mission team "personal
information that I knew of [the] defendant based on ...