People v. Cortes, 80149

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation181 Ill.2d 249,229 Ill.Dec. 918,692 N.E.2d 1129
Docket NumberNo. 80149,80149
Parties, 229 Ill.Dec. 918 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Juan CORTES, Appellant.
Decision Date23 January 1998

Page 1129

692 N.E.2d 1129
181 Ill.2d 249, 229 Ill.Dec. 918
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Juan CORTES, Appellant.
No. 80149.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Jan. 23, 1998.

Rehearing Denied March 30, 1998.

Page 1132

[229 Ill.Dec. 921] [181 Ill.2d 257] John J. Hanlon, Asst. State Appellate Defender, Springfield, for Juan Cortes.

Richard A. Devine, State's Attorney Cook County, Crim. Appeals Div., James Beligratis, Assistant State's Attorney, Chicago, Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Div., Chicago, for the People.

Justice HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Juan Cortes, was convicted of four counts of first degree murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1) and two counts of armed robbery (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 18-2). Defendant elected to have the trial court determine his sentence, and the court found that he was eligible for the death penalty because he was convicted of murdering two or more individuals and because the victims were killed in the course of another felony. Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(b)(3), (b)(6). The court further determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of a sentence of death. See Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(h). Accordingly, the court sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's execution has been stayed pending direct review of the case by this court. Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill.2d Rs. 603, 609(a).

On February 4, 1991, the bodies of the Gama brothers,[181 Ill.2d 258] Ayax, 34, and Rafael, 28, were discovered inside their apartment in Chicago. Each had been shot twice in the head at close range. Numerous items were later believed to be missing from the brothers' apartment, including a television set, jewelry, and a compact disc player. Defendant was arrested on February 26, 1991, and subsequently indicted on murder and armed robbery charges.

During the 3 1/2 years between defendant's arrest and conviction, the question of his fitness to stand trial arose. On August 19, 1992, defense counsel Michael King told the trial court that he had "found out that [defendant] was in the Cermak Hospital for certain ailments and also in the psychiatric ward," and had accordingly subpoenaed defendant's

Page 1133

[229 Ill.Dec. 922] hospital records. On April 29, 1993, King requested that defendant be evaluated for fitness because King questioned defendant's ability to cooperate with counsel.

Thereafter, defendant was examined for fitness on four occasions, by three doctors, all of whom were employed by the Psychiatric Institute of the Cook County circuit court's Forensic Clinical Services Department. In May 1993, Dr. Paul Fauteck found defendant unfit for trial due to depression effecting his ability to adequately cooperate with defense counsel. Later that same month, Dr. Kishore Thampy found defendant fit to stand trial. Finally, in July 1993, Dr. Stafford Henry found defendant "fit to stand trial with medication." Due to the "conflict" between these opinions defense counsel requested a fitness hearing, which the trial court ordered. However, on August 19, 1993, prior to defendant's next court appearance, Dr. Fauteck reexamined defendant and found him "fit to stand trial with medication." Dr. Fauteck's report further noted that defendant's depression appeared to be in remission and that defendant "states he no longer needs to take the entire 300 [181 Ill.2d 259] mg. of Sinequan which is prescribed for him." Based on Dr. Fauteck's revised opinion, defense counsel King withdrew his request for a fitness hearing.

On January 13, 1994, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress statements made to police following his arrest which alleged, inter alia, defendant's inability to understand the English language. On January 25, 1994, new counsel, Richard Mottweiler, entered his appearance on defendant's behalf. Mottweiler represented defendant throughout the trial, sentencing and through a portion of the post-trial phase, at which time Michael King reentered the case.

On October 24, 1994, defendant's jury trial commenced. For the State, Chicago Police Officer Michael Cusak testified that during the late evening of February 4, 1991, he and his partner discovered the bodies of Ayax and Rafael Gama inside their apartment. The officers had entered the building on an unrelated case and found the Gamas' front door ajar. The door area was damaged, there were fresh wood chips and tool marks on the door shim, and the apartment was in disarray. One of the deceased lay face down on the floor in a pool of blood and the other was on a couch. The apartment was very warm and most of the blood was drying.

Chicago Police Detective Bill Johnston testified that he examined the crime scene and noticed from dust outlines that there were vacant areas on an entertainment center in the living room. A television remote control was discovered but no television was found. Johnston believed that the damage to the front door was from a screwdriver but that entry to the apartment had been gained by the application of brute force, as by shouldering the door.

Chicago Police Officer Joe Moran, a forensic investigator, processed the Gamas' apartment for evidence on February 4, 1991. Moran photographed the scene and [181 Ill.2d 260] recovered a fired bullet from the floor. He recovered ridged fingerprint impressions from the front door and from various items, including a telephone, beer bottle, drinking glass and candy jar. These items were collected for further fingerprint analysis at the crime laboratory. Chicago Police Officer Stanley Mocadlo, a latent print examiner, testified that the candy jar found at the scene contained the prints of defendant's right thumb, index and middle fingers. Mocadlo agreed that, depending on the environment, fingerprints can remain on a surface indefinitely.

The parties stipulated that if Officer Richard Chenow, a firearm examiner for the Chicago police department, were to testify he would state that he examined the fired bullet recovered from the Gamas' apartment, as well as three fired bullets and a bullet fragment recovered from the victims' bodies. In Chenow's opinion, all of the bullets were ".38 Specials" and shared the same class characteristics. Because the bullets were unsuitable for further comparison of individual characteristics, Chenow could not determine whether they were all fired from the same gun. The parties also stipulated to the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kirschner. Dr. Kirschner's examination of Ayax Gama revealed the cause of death to be two close-range gunshot wounds, one to the back of the head and one to the back of the neck.

Page 1134

[229 Ill.Dec. 923] The cause of Rafael Gama's death was also two gunshot wounds, one close-range wound to the head and one to the left side of the face.

Martin Diaz testified that he was a friend of Ayax and Rafael Gama, and knew that both of them were homosexuals. The brothers normally wore gold bracelets, rings and chains. Diaz had visited their apartment on several occasions and knew that the brothers stored jewelry and change in a glass jar located on an entertainment center or bookshelf. That unit also housed their [181 Ill.2d 261] 19-inch television set and Ayax's portable compact disc player. At trial, Diaz identified the glass jar and three compact discs belonging to the brothers and stated that the compact disc player and photograph of a television "looked like" the items previously owned by the Gamas. Diaz testified that when he visited the Gamas' apartment between 11 a.m. and noon on February 2, 1991, the jar and television set were in their customary positions on the entertainment center.

Diaz stated that the last time he saw either of the brothers was when he took Rafael Gama home at about 5 or 6 p.m. on the evening of February 2. He noted no damage to the Gamas' front door that day. On the morning of February 3, Diaz unsuccessfully attempted to get the brothers to answer their door and phone. He later learned that they had been killed. The parties stipulated that if Eddie Munoz were to testify, he would state that at approximately 7 p.m. on February 2, 1991, he spoke with the Gama brothers and invited them to his apartment, but was informed that they would be staying at home that evening.

Alex Torres initially testified that he had been convicted of burglary in 1993. By February 1991, Torres had known defendant for 9 or 10 months and knew him by various names, including "Ivan Torres," "Ivan Flores" and the nickname "Boricua" (hereinafter Boriqua). 1 Torres knew defendant to speak both Spanish and English.

On February 2, 1991, at approximately 9 p.m., defendant stopped by Torres' apartment. Defendant was "drugged up" and "hyper." He had a bag of "weed" and a bag of heroin with him which he, Torres and Torres' cousin proceeded to consume. Defendant stated that he was going to "stick up" the "Mexican fagots [sic]." Torres, [181 Ill.2d 262] who had met these men through defendant several weeks earlier and knew where their apartment was located, refused defendant's invitation to go along. Defendant left Torres' apartment between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. and, shortly thereafter, Torres' girlfriend, Arlyn Torres, arrived with her daughter. Torres and Arlyn spent the remainder of the evening at home watching movies.

The following morning defendant returned to Torres' apartment, "more hyper" and "drugged up" and wearing gold jewelry which he was not wearing the night before. Defendant displayed various gold chains, rings, a watch, a compact disc player and some "CD cassettes." One of the chains bore a name plate on it similar to that worn by one of the two homosexual men on the date Torres had met them. Defendant also flashed some money, claiming that it totaled $700. Defendant said that he "got paid" and bragged that...

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