People v. Burton

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation703 N.E.2d 49,184 Ill.2d 1,234 Ill.Dec. 437
Docket NumberNo. 80726,80726
Parties, 234 Ill.Dec. 437 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Peter BURTON, Appellant.
Decision Date01 October 1998

Page 49

703 N.E.2d 49
184 Ill.2d 1, 234 Ill.Dec. 437
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Peter BURTON, Appellant.
No. 80726.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Oct. 1, 1998.
Rehearing Denied Nov. 30, 1998.

Page 52

[184 Ill.2d 6] [234 Ill.Dec. 440] Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, Springfield, Kim Robert Fawcett, Assistant Appellate Defender, Chicago, for Peter Burton.

Jon J. Walters, Assistant State's Attorney, Chicago, Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Div., Chicago, for the People.

Justice NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant was indicted in Cook County on six counts of first degree murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2), (a)(3)), three counts of home invasion (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 12-11(a)(1), (a)(2)), two counts of armed robbery (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 18-2(a)), one count of solicitation of murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 8-1.1(a)), and one count of conspiracy (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 8-2(a)). Defendant pleaded guilty to all charges and waived sentencing by jury. The circuit court found defendant eligible for the death penalty. After hearing evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the circuit court sentenced defendant to [184 Ill.2d 7] death. Defendant's death sentence was stayed (134 Ill.2d R. 609(a)) pending direct appeal to this court. Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 720 ILCS 5/9-1(i) (West 1994); 134 Ill.2d R. 603. We affirm.


The State provided a factual basis for defendant's guilty plea. In essence, this factual basis revealed that defendant shot and killed Frank Gorzelanny and his wife, Evelyn Gorzelanny, at their home in Calumet City on December 31, 1992. Defendant committed these actions at the solicitation and request of the victims' son, David Gorzelanny.

On September 26, 1994, before defendant pleaded guilty, defendant asked for a fitness hearing. This request was based on a report by Dr. Lynn Maskel, a forensic psychiatrist. In the report, Dr. Maskel stated that defendant was suffering from clinical depression and would not be able to assist in his defense. Dr. Maskel noted that defendant was currently being treated with psychotropic medication, recommended that defendant continue to be treated with psychotropic medication, and stated that the treatment would likely enable defendant to assist in his defense within a year.

On May 15, 1995, about eight months later, the parties proceeded by way of stipulation at a fitness hearing. The parties stipulated to the testimony of two psychiatrists. The parties stipulated that Dr. Roni Seltzberg, who was ordered to evaluate defendant by the circuit court, would testify that she had reviewed defendant's records and had examined defendant. She would testify that defendant understood the nature of the proceedings, could assist in his defense, and was fit to stand trial or to enter a plea. Dr. Maskel, who had previously examined defendant, reached a similar conclusion. The parties stipulated that she would testify defendant understood the nature of the proceedings and could now assist in his [184 Ill.2d 8] defense. After hearing the stipulations, the circuit court found defendant fit to stand trial or to enter a plea.

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[234 Ill.Dec. 441] On July 7, 1995, after admonishment, defendant entered a plea of guilty. The factual basis incorporated a written statement made by defendant to the police. According to this statement, David Gorzelanny initially approached defendant about the killings in early December 1992. David Gorzelanny said that he would pay defendant a large sum of money and mentioned the amount of $25,000. David Gorzelanny also indicated that the money would come from a trust fund.

According to defendant's statement, defendant and another individual, Scott Stodula, went to the home of the victims on December 31, 1992. While traveling to the home, defendant and Stodula considered tying up the victims in the basement and using a knife to cut their throats. When they arrived, defendant and Stodula were invited into the home. They watched television with the victims for about half an hour. The victims' son was not present during this time. At some point, while sitting with the victims in the living room, defendant stood up, pulled a gun from his pocket, and stepped toward Frank Gorzelanny. Defendant fired the gun, hitting Frank Gorzelanny in the head. Defendant then stepped to his left and pointed the gun at Evelyn Gorzelanny. According to defendant's statement, Evelyn Gorzelanny said something like "Oh, no," or "Oh, my God." Defendant fired two more times, hitting Evelyn Gorzelanny twice in the head.

After the shootings, Stodula ripped open the pants pocket of Frank Gorzelanny and took money and identification from the pants pocket. Defendant and Stodula went to the bedrooms and pulled out some drawers. They then drove to the apartment of Stodula's girlfriend, where they split the money between themselves and changed clothes. Defendant and Stodula drove to the [184 Ill.2d 9] Hammond Rescue Mission in Hammond, Indiana, where defendant, Stodula, and David Gorzelanny were living. Defendant put the gun in a boot under his bed. Defendant and Stodula then drove to Gary, Indiana, where defendant threw away the clothes he and Stodula had worn during the killings.

Later that night, defendant and Stodula returned to the victims' home, wearing gloves. Defendant suggested that they take a television to make it look like a burglary. Stodula told defendant that David Gorzelanny would come to the home the next morning to give the home the appearance of a burglary.

In addition to defendant's statement, the State presented other evidence as part of the factual basis. On January 1, 1993, David Gorzelanny called the police to report his parents' deaths. In the course of the investigation, the police interviewed David Gorzelanny, Stodula, and defendant. All three confessed their involvement in the murders. The police later recovered a gun from a shoe at defendant's residence and clothing that had been dumped in Indiana. The police also recovered four boxes of jewelry, taken from the victims' home, among Stodula's possessions. After hearing this factual basis, the circuit court accepted defendant's guilty plea.

The case proceeded to sentencing. On July 25, 1995, defendant waived a jury for sentencing at both the eligibility phase and the aggravation/mitigation phase. The circuit court determined that defendant was eligible for the death penalty. The court found defendant eligible under four separate statutory bases: (1) multiple murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3) (West 1994)), (2) contract murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(5) (West 1994)), (3) murder during the course of another felony (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6) (West 1994)), and (4) cold, calculated, and premeditated murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(11) (West 1994)).

After defendant was found eligible for the death [184 Ill.2d 10] penalty, defense counsel made a motion to withdraw from the case. Defense counsel stated that defendant wanted to be sentenced to death and had directed defense counsel not to introduce mitigating evidence. Defense counsel stated that he had ethical reservations about representing an individual who wanted to be sentenced to death. When defendant was asked if he wanted defense counsel to withdraw, defendant said that he had no objection.

On August 2, 1995, the circuit court heard argument on the motion to withdraw and denied the motion. The court noted that defense counsel had a great deal of experience

Page 54

[234 Ill.Dec. 442] in death penalty litigation. The circuit court further stated that it would consider, in mitigation, the presentence report and a report prepared by a mitigation specialist. The circuit court also stated that defendant would have the right to allocution. The circuit court emphasized that it would make the ultimate decision concerning the death penalty and would carefully consider the mitigating evidence.

On October 3, 1995, the circuit court conducted a hearing to determine defendant's fitness for sentencing. During the proceedings, defendant had continued taking psychotropic medication. Dr. Seltzberg, who had evaluated defendant before defendant made his guilty plea, examined defendant again. She testified that defendant understood the nature of the proceedings and was able to assist in his defense. She also testified that the psychotropic medication would not interfere with defendant's understanding of the sentencing proceedings and the consequences of sentencing. After hearing this testimony, the circuit court found defendant fit for sentencing.

On October 5, 1995, the court considered aggravation and mitigation evidence to determine if the death penalty should be imposed. In aggravation, the State presented evidence that defendant had received an "other than honorable discharge" from the United States Navy in [184 Ill.2d 11] 1989. Defendant was discharged based on an unauthorized absence from the Navy in excess of 30 days. The State also presented evidence that defendant had stolen money from a pub in Lansing, Illinois, in 1990. Defendant pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced to 18 months' probation.

Finally, the State introduced evidence about defendant's possible involvement in an Indiana murder that occurred in 1992. The victim was an individual who had occasionally hired defendant for remodeling work. The victim died from blunt-force injuries to the head and multiple stab wounds. Defendant and another individual were observed at the crime scene near the time of the killing, had possession of the victim's truck after the killing, had used the victim's credit card after the killing to stay at a motel, and had made several false statements in connection with their use of the credit card. The State did not introduce any evidence to show that defendant was being tried for, or had been convicted of, the crime in Indiana. Pursuant to defendant's...

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