People v. Easley, 84418.

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation249 Ill.Dec. 537,736 N.E.2d 975,192 Ill.2d 307
Docket NumberNo. 84418.,84418.
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Ike EASLEY, Jr., Appellant.
Decision Date25 May 2000

736 N.E.2d 975
192 Ill.2d 307
249 Ill.Dec.

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Ike EASLEY, Jr., Appellant

No. 84418.

Supreme Court of Illinois.

May 25, 2000.

Rehearing Denied October 2, 2000.

736 N.E.2d 983
Aviva Futorian, of the Office of the State Appellate Defender, of Chicago, for appellant

James E. Ryan, Attorney General, of Springfield (Joel D. Bertocchi, Solicitor General, and William L. Browers and Lisa Anne Hoffman, Assistant Attorneys General, of Chicago, of counsel), for the People.

Justice FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Ike Easley, Jr., petitioned the circuit court of Livingston County for post-conviction relief pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1998)). The circuit court dismissed defendant's petition without an evidentiary hearing. Defendant appeals directly to this court. 134 Ill.2d R. 651(a). We affirm.


Defendant was charged with conspiring to murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, pars. 8-2(c), 9-1(a)) and with murdering (Ill.Rev. Stat.1987, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2)) the victim, Robert Taylor, who was a superintendent at the Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac). The State's theory of the case was as follows. Defendant was a member of a street gang. The gang blamed the prison administration for the death of Billy Jones, another gang member. Defendant murdered the victim to avenge Jones' death. People v. Easley, 148 Ill.2d 281, 324-26, 170 Ill.Dec. 356, 592 N.E.2d 1036 (1992). For a fuller understanding of the underlying facts, see also People v. Lucas, 151 Ill.2d 461, 177 Ill.Dec. 390, 603 N.E.2d 460 (1992); People v. Johnson, 250 Ill. App.3d 887, 189 Ill.Dec. 538, 620 N.E.2d 506 (1993).

Prior to defendant's trial, the State dismissed the conspiracy charges. At the close of the evidence, a jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder, in that he intended to kill the victim. See Ill.Rev. Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1). At the first stage of the death sentencing hearing, the same jury found that defendant was eligible for the death penalty because the victim was a correctional officer. See Ill. Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(2). At the close of the second stage of the death sentencing hearing, the jury concluded that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. Accordingly, the circuit court sentenced defendant to death.

Defendant's sentence was stayed pending direct appeal to this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill.2d Rs. 603, 609(a). This court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. People v. Easley, 148 Ill.2d 281, 170 Ill.Dec. 356, 592 N.E.2d 1036 (1992). The United States Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for a

736 N.E.2d 984
writ of certiorari. Easley v. Illinois, 506 U.S. 1082, 113 S.Ct. 1055, 122 L.Ed.2d 361 (1993)

In July 1993 defendant filed in the circuit court a petition for post-conviction relief. In January 1997 defendant filed a second amended petition. On August 14, 1997, the circuit court, in the person of the same judge who presided at defendant's trial, granted the State's motion to dismiss the petition without an evidentiary hearing. We will discuss additional relevant facts in the context of the issues raised on appeal.


A proceeding brought under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) is not an appeal of a defendant's underlying judgment. Rather, it is a collateral attack on the judgment. The purpose of the proceeding is to resolve allegations that constitutional violations occurred at trial, when those allegations have not been, and could not have been, adjudicated previously. To be entitled to post-conviction relief, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing a substantial deprivation of constitutional rights. Also, determinations of the reviewing court on the prior direct appeal are res judicata as to issues actually decided; issues that could have been presented on direct appeal but were not are deemed waived. People v. Evans, 186 Ill.2d 83, 89, 237 Ill.Dec. 118, 708 N.E.2d 1158 (1999); People v. Tenner, 175 Ill.2d 372, 377-78, 222 Ill.Dec. 325, 677 N.E.2d 859 (1997).

The petitioner in a post-conviction proceeding is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing as of right. Rather, the Act permits summary dismissal of a nonmeritorious petition. The allegations in the petition, supported where appropriate by the trial record or accompanying affidavits, must show a substantial violation of constitutional rights. Evans, 186 Ill.2d at 89, 237 Ill.Dec. 118, 708 N.E.2d 1158; People v. Caballero, 126 Ill.2d 248, 259, 128 Ill.Dec. 1, 533 N.E.2d 1089 (1989). For the purpose of determining whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, all well-pleaded facts in the petition and in any accompanying affidavits, in light of the original trial record, are to be taken as true. Evans, 186 Ill.2d at 89, 237 Ill.Dec. 118, 708 N.E.2d 1158; People v. Coleman, 183 Ill.2d 366, 380-82, 233 Ill.Dec. 789, 701 N.E.2d 1063 (1998). The circuit court's dismissal of a post-conviction petition is reviewed de novo. Coleman, 183 Ill.2d at 387-89, 233 Ill.Dec. 789, 701 N.E.2d 1063.

On appeal, defendant contends that he was denied his constitutional rights due to the: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on direct review; and (2) unreasonable disparity between his death sentence and the sentences of others involved in the murder.

I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Defendant claims that he was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 8. Defendant contends that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective because trial counsel: (A) failed to seek a fitness hearing; (B) failed to object to the prosecution's discriminatory use of a peremptory challenge to exclude an African-American venireperson from the jury; (C) failed to object to the State's introduction of evidence relating to street gangs and introduced such evidence as part of the defense; (D) failed to object to the State's introduction of other prejudicial evidence and improper cross-examination; and (E) failed to investigate and present evidence at the death sentencing hearing.

To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must satisfy the familiar Strickland test. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). The test is composed of two prongs: deficiency and prejudice. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064, 80 L.Ed.2d at 693; see People v. Brisbon, 164 Ill.2d 236,

736 N.E.2d 985
245-46, 207 Ill.Dec. 442, 647 N.E.2d 935 (1995)

First, the defendant must prove that counsel made errors so serious, and that counsel's performance was so deficient, that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the sixth amendment. A court measures counsel's performance by an objective standard of competence under prevailing professional norms. To establish deficiency, the defendant must overcome the strong presumption that the challenged action or inaction might have been the product of sound trial strategy. Evans, 186 Ill.2d at 93, 237 Ill. Dec. 118, 708 N.E.2d 1158; People v. Hampton, 149 Ill.2d 71, 108-09, 171 Ill. Dec. 439, 594 N.E.2d 291 (1992).

Second, the defendant must establish prejudice. The defendant must prove that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. The prejudice prong of Strickland entails more than an "outcome-determinative" test. The defendant must show that counsel's deficient performance rendered the result of the proceeding unreliable or fundamentally unfair. Evans, 186 Ill.2d at 93, 237 Ill.Dec. 118, 708 N.E.2d 1158; People v. Mahaffey, 165 Ill.2d 445, 458, 209 Ill.Dec. 246, 651 N.E.2d 174 (1995).

A defendant must satisfy both prongs of the Strickland test. Therefore, "failure to establish either proposition will be fatal to the claim." People v. Sanchez, 169 Ill.2d 472, 487, 215 Ill.Dec. 59, 662 N.E.2d 1199 (1996); accord People v. Guest, 166 Ill.2d 381, 390, 211 Ill.Dec. 490, 655 N.E.2d 873 (1995).

A. Fitness Hearing

Defendant claims that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to request a fitness hearing. The State initially responds that defendant waived this claim because he did not raise it on direct review. However, we agree with defendant that this claim is not waived because defendant now presents evidence that did not appear on the face of the record and was not available to defense counsel on direct appeal. See People v. Owens, 129 Ill.2d 303, 308-09, 135 Ill.Dec. 780, 544 N.E.2d 276 (1989).

The prosecution of a defendant who is not fit to stand trial violates due process. People v. Haynes, 174 Ill.2d 204, 226, 220 Ill.Dec. 406, 673 N.E.2d 318 (1996); People v. Murphy, 72 Ill.2d 421, 430, 21 Ill.Dec. 350, 381 N.E.2d 677 (1978). In Illinois, a defendant is presumed to be fit to stand trial, and will be considered unfit only if, because of the defendant's mental or physical condition, the defendant is unable to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him or her, or to assist in his or her defense. Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, par. 104-10, now codified at 725 ILCS 5/104-10 (West 1998). A defendant is entitled to a fitness hearing only when a bona fide doubt of the defendant's fitness is raised. Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, par. 104-11(a), now codified at 725 ILCS 5/104-11(a) (West 1998); People v. Johnson, 183 Ill.2d 176, 233 Ill.Dec. 288, 700 N.E.2d 996 (1998).

Therefore, to establish that his trial counsel's alleged incompetency prejudiced him within the meaning of Strickland, defendant must show that facts existed at the time of his trial that would have raised a bona fide...

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