People v. Brandon

Decision Date30 September 2021
Docket Number1-17-2411
Citation2021 IL App (1st) 172411,195 N.E.3d 284,457 Ill.Dec. 370
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Michael BRANDON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

James E. Chadd, State Appellate Defender; Patricia Mysza, Deputy Defender; Rachel M. Kindstrand, Assistant Appellate Defender; Office of the State Appellate Defender.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, Cook County; Alan J. Spellberg, Brian A. Levitsky, Adam C. Motz, Assistant State's Attorneys.

JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 In 2017, defendant Michael Brandon filed a second successive postconviction petition, alleging—as he had done throughout his trial proceedings and in his first successive petition in 2010—that his confession to the 1991 murder of Roberto Victoriano was physically coerced by Detectives Ricardo Abreu and Terrance O'Connor of the Chicago Police Department.

¶ 2 After he was denied leave to file his 2010 petition, defendant unearthed new evidence to corroborate his allegations of abuse, primarily in the form of affidavits from others who attest to similar abuse at the hands of these same detectives, as well as the exoneration and federal civil-rights complaint filed by Daniel Taylor, whose murder conviction was vacated in 2013 upon proof that he had been beaten and framed by Abreu, O'Connor, and other Area 6 detectives.

¶ 3 Based on this same new evidence, defendant also alleged that the State violated Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), by failing to disclose evidence of a pattern and practice of abuse by these detectives and by knowingly using their perjured testimony.

¶ 4 The circuit court denied leave to file. With respect to defendant's coerced-confession claim, we reverse that ruling and remand for the appointment of counsel and second-stage proceedings. We affirm the denial of leave to file defendant's Brady claim.


¶ 6 For a full statement of the facts and procedural history of this case, see our previous order affirming the denial of leave to file defendant's 2010 petition. People v. Brandon , 2013 IL App (1st) 110652-U, 2013 WL 1869141. Here, to provide context, we start with a brief recap of the underlying crime and the evidence that implicated defendant. We then set forth in more detail the facts that are relevant to the claims currently at issue.

¶ 7 I

¶ 8 Roberto Victoriano was murdered in an alley around 4:00 a.m. on July 28, 1991. From their bedroom window, Fernando and Agripina Lemus looked out into the alley, after hearing a single gunshot, and saw a young man hand a revolver to a young woman. The two fled the alley, and a white car sped away. Fernando described the young man and woman to the police and then rode around the neighborhood in a squad car looking for them. He soon recognized them at a nearby gas station. Defendant, then 20 years old, and 14-year-old Robin Ross were arrested at the gas station less than an hour after Victoriano's murder. Fernando and Agripina identified defendant and Ross in lineups.

¶ 9 Defendant and Ross were charged with the murder and armed robbery of Victoriano. The State later dropped all murder charges against Ross, in exchange for her guilty plea to the armed robbery and her testimony at defendant's trial. The State proceeded against defendant on a theory of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, but dropped all other murder counts. Having confessed to robbing and killing Victoriano when he was interrogated by Detectives Abreu and O'Connor, defendant took the stand in his own defense and maintained that his confession was beaten out of him by the police.

¶ 10 Ross testified that on the night of Victoriano's murder, she was with defendant, Vanessa Miller, Pauletta Robinson, and Marcia Samuels. They drank, smoked pot, and drove around town in defendant's white Oldsmobile. Along the way, defendant hatched a plan for a robbery: The girls would lure some guys into an alley with the promise of sex, and defendant would take their money at gunpoint. Defendant stopped to pick up a gun, and they proceeded with the plan.

¶ 11 Ross lured Victoriano into an alley. When defendant tried to rob him, Victoriano pulled out a knife, stabbed defendant in the hand, and slapped at defendant's gun. Defendant shot him once, took some money from his pocket, and gave Ross the gun. She later gave the gun back to defendant, who in turn gave it to Miller. The police eventually seized a .38-caliber revolver from Miller's apartment.

¶ 12 After dropping the others off, defendant and Ross stopped at a nearby gas station for a snack, where they were swiftly arrested. Forensic testing showed that they both had gunshot residue on their hands at the time. But defendant had far more. And that was consistent, in the opinion of the trace evidence analyst, with defendant firing the gun and then handing it to Ross.

¶ 13 Defendant's testimony was consistent, in essentials, with his custodial statement made at Area 6. The robbery, he said, was Samuels's idea. While driving around, they were approached by one Casanova—Samuels's and Miller's pimp—who demanded "his money" from Samuels. She said she could have it by the morning and asked Casanova for a gun, which he provided. He also gave defendant $5 for gas money, so he could take Samuels to do what she needed to do to get the money. Samuels talked a reluctant defendant into helping her. The plan, as devised by Samuels, was for the girls to lure some guys into an alley, where defendant would scare them with the gun and Samuels would take their money. Defendant denied that there was ever any intention to shoot anyone.

¶ 14 In due course, Ross managed to bait Victoriano. When defendant saw them kissing, he grabbed the gun, which he had hidden in a bush, followed them into an alley, and demanded money. Victoriano pulled out a knife—and only then did defendant brandish the gun. Victoriano swatted at the gun and stabbed defendant in his left hand. During the ensuing tussle, the gun at first jammed, but then went off, shooting Victoriano. Defendant was shocked and scared. He denied that he intended to shoot Victoriano or that he took anything from Victoriano's pockets.

¶ 15 The jury convicted defendant of felony murder and armed robbery, and the trial court sentenced him to life in prison.

¶ 16 II

¶ 17 Shortly after he was arrested, defendant was taken to what was then known as the Area 6 police station at Belmont and Western Avenues. That station would later become known as Area 3. (In fact, it was so known by the time of defendant's suppression hearing and trial.) But it is not to be confused with the station on the southwest side, also known for a time as Area 3, where Jon Burge commanded the violent crimes unit after his promotion and transfer from Area 2. To avoid confusion, we will continue to refer to the station at issue as Area 6.

¶ 18 At Area 6, defendant was interrogated—and, he claims, physically abused—by violent crimes Detectives Abreu and O'Connor. That alleged physical abuse was one of several grounds on which defendant moved to suppress his custodial statement before trial.

¶ 19 Defendant alleged in his motion, and then testified at the suppression hearing, that the detectives tightened his handcuffs excessively and cuffed him to a metal ring on the wall, with his hands behind his back. They denied his requests for an attorney and a phone call. After defendant denied any involvement in Victoriano's murder, the detectives beat him, on and off, for "a couple of hours," in his estimate. In particular, the detectives punched and kicked him in the chest, ribs, legs, and stomach, and they kneed him in the genitals. Defendant cried out in pain. He sustained bruising, but he was not bleeding.

¶ 20 Later that day, Abreu told defendant that he was taking him to the state's attorney and court reporter to "hear" his case, and that defendant should answer the questions "like it is on paper," or else Abreu would beat him some more. As defendant recalled, O'Connor was not present when Abreu made that threat. Defendant acknowledged that the detectives offered him food and water while he was in custody.

¶ 21 Defendant testified that when he arrived at the Cook County jail on July 29, 1991—the day after the murder and his arrest—he told the deputy sheriffs, and a paramedic who examined him, about the beating. In stipulated testimony, however, the paramedic denied that defendant mentioned any alleged abuse; nor did the paramedic observe any bruises, lacerations, or other such injuries on defendant.

¶ 22 That same day, defendant told the bond-court judge that he had been beaten by the police. After asking defendant to lift up his shirt, the judge remarked that he did not see any "marks" on defendant that corroborated his allegations. The relevant portions of the bond-court hearing were read into the record at the suppression hearing.

¶ 23 The defense introduced photographs of defendant's hands taken "three days after the incident" in the "lockup area of Skokie," which defendant identified as "my hands with marks, handcuff marks, on them." On cross-examination, defendant acknowledged that he had been cuffed and transported a number of times during the three days that had passed since the alleged abuse at Area 6.

¶ 24 Abreu and O'Connor both testified at the suppression hearing and denied physically abusing defendant in any way.

¶ 25 The trial court found, among other things, that there was no evidence of physical abuse and denied the motion to suppress. Defendant's custodial statement was moved into evidence at trial, where defendant reiterated his claims of abuse. O'Connor testified in rebuttal that he never punched, kicked, or otherwise physically abused defendant, and that he never saw Abreu or anyone else do so, either.

¶ 26 Defendant preserved his suppression issues in his motion for new trial. In this context, he again...

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