People v. Harris

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtMILLER
Citation164 Ill.2d 322,647 N.E.2d 893,207 Ill.Dec. 400
Parties, 207 Ill.Dec. 400, 63 USLW 2476 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. James HARRIS, Appellant.
Decision Date22 December 1994

State Appellate Defender, First Judicial Dist., Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, and Charles Hoffman, Asst. Appellate Defender, Office of State Appellate Defender, Chicago, for James Harris.

Roland W. Burris, Atty. Gen., of Springfield, and Jack O'Malley, State's Atty. of Chicago (Terence M. Madsen, Asst. Atty. Gen., of Chicago, and Renee G. Goldfarb and Gael McCaughey-O'Brien, Asst. State's Attys., of counsel), for the People.

Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, the defendant, James Harris, was convicted of one count each of murder, attempted murder, and aggravated battery and of two counts of attempted armed robbery. The defendant received the death penalty for the murder conviction and sentences of imprisonment for the remaining felonies. In the defendant's prior appeal, this court vacated the death sentence on grounds of evidentiary error. In addition, the court determined that further proceedings were necessary for resolution of the defendant's allegations regarding the State's exclusion of minority members from his jury. (People v. Harris (1989), 129 Ill.2d 123, 135 Ill.Dec. 861, 544 N.E.2d 357 (Harris I ).) On remand, the circuit court found no infirmity in the manner in which the defendant's trial jury had been selected and, after a new sentencing hearing, reimposed the death penalty for the defendant's murder conviction. The sentence of death has been stayed pending direct review by this court. (Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill.2d Rules 603, 609(a).) For the reasons that follow, we now affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

The evidence presented at trial is set forth in detail in our original opinion in this case (see Harris, 129 Ill.2d at 137-42, 135 Ill.Dec. 861, 544 N.E.2d 357) and will be summarized briefly here. The State's principal witness at trial was Theresa Woods, who worked as a waitress at a tavern owned by the murder victim, Jesse James, Sr. In her testimony, Woods stated that she and James closed the tavern around 2 a.m. on February 10, 1983. They left the premises together sometime between 3:30 and 4 o'clock that morning. Outside the building, a man, whom Woods later identified as the defendant, approached them and asked whether the buses were running at that hour. Woods replied that she did not know, and she and James then proceeded to cross the street to their cars. A short time later, as Woods and James stood next to their cars, the defendant approached them again. The defendant grabbed Woods and pointed a gun to her head. Following the defendant's instructions, James then got into the driver's seat of his car, while Woods sat in the back seat; the defendant sat in the front passenger's seat, next to James. The defendant then ordered James to drive a short distance and park in a nearby alley. There, the defendant demanded $300 from James and Woods, threatening to kill the two if they did not comply. The defendant explained that he had "nothing to lose" and did not care if he had to kill the victims, because he was going back to jail anyway.

James told the defendant that he kept some money at the tavern, and they returned to that area. When Woods left the car to get the money, the defendant warned her that he would kill James if she did not return within three minutes. Woods then ran into the tavern and grabbed whatever paper currency she and James had left in the two cash registers earlier that morning.

Woods returned to the car, and the defendant ordered her to get back in the vehicle. James told the defendant that there was no need for Woods to do so, and James and the defendant had an exchange of words. According to Woods, the defendant then grabbed James and shot him. The defendant pushed James out of the car through the driver's door, and the defendant then got out of the vehicle from the same door.

Woods attempted to run away from the car, but she tripped and fell to the ground. The defendant then walked over to where Woods was lying, and swore at her. Woods pleaded with the defendant and raised her hands to protect herself. The defendant shot Woods at close range, hitting her in the shoulder. Woods lay motionless, and she later heard the sound of footsteps running from the scene. Woods got up, saw that James was still alive, and noticed that the car had crashed into the window of a nearby storefront. Woods then called the police.

Police officers who had been provided with a description of the offender soon arrested the defendant several blocks from the crime scene. James died later that morning. Because Woods was pregnant at the time, the bullet lodged in her shoulder was not removed until after the child was born.

At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant was found guilty of the murder of James, the attempted murder of Woods, the aggravated battery of Woods, and the attempted armed robbery of both Woods and James. The matter then proceeded to a bench sentencing hearing. The judge found the defendant eligible for the death penalty and determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. The defendant was accordingly sentenced to death.

In the defendant's earlier appeal, this court determined that further proceedings were required for resolution of the Batson issue. The court also found reversible error in the presentation of certain evidence at the sentencing hearing. We vacated the defendant's death sentence, and conditionally vacated his convictions and noncapital sentences subject to reinstatement. On remand, the trial court resolved the Batson issue adversely to the defendant and reinstated his convictions. A new sentencing hearing was then held, before a different judge, who sentenced the defendant to death for the murder conviction.

In the present appeal, the defendant raises several arguments regarding the further Batson proceedings conducted on remand from this court's opinion in Harris I. In addition, the defendant raises a number of challenges to the new sentencing hearing conducted below.


The defendant was tried on these charges in April 1984. After the jury was selected and sworn, the defendant moved for a mistrial, contending that the prosecution had violated Swain v. Alabama (1965), 380 U.S. 202, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759, by using its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude blacks from the jury selected in this case. The trial judge denied the motion, and the defendant was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to death. While the defendant's appeal was pending before this court, the United States Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky (1986), 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69, and Griffith v. Kentucky (1987), 479 U.S. 314, 107 S.Ct. 708, 93 L.Ed.2d 649. Batson altered the evidentiary showing necessary to sustain a claim of improper jury selection, while Griffith held that the rule announced in Batson was applicable to cases pending on direct review at the time Batson was decided.

On May 1, 1987, this court issued an order instructing the circuit court to conduct further hearings in the present case in compliance with the requirements of Batson. At the conclusion of the ensuing hearing, the trial judge found that the defendant had established a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Batson. The judge also found, however, that the prosecution had presented racially neutral explanations for all the peremptory challenges it had exercised against black members of the venire. The judge submitted his Batson findings to this court, which then considered the merits of the defendant's appeal.

At that time, the court upheld the circuit judge's determination that the defendant had shown a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Batson. The court also concluded that the prosecutor had supplied neutral explanations with regard to the exclusion of 12 of the 15 black venire members excused by the State. A majority of the court believed, however, that the record was not sufficiently clear with regard to the State's reasons for excluding three of the prospective jurors, and the court remanded the cause for further proceedings on the Batson issue, as well as for an unrelated sentencing error. (Harris, 129 Ill.2d at 189-90, 135 Ill.Dec. 861, 544 N.E.2d 357.) Harris I identified the three persons as the 13th, 14th, and 15th jurors; we shall refer to them here by their respective names, Milton Pickett, Essie Taylor, and Betty Simmons.

As a preliminary matter, we note that both sides used all 20 peremptory challenges allotted to them. In Harris I, we found that the State excused 15 blacks from the venire and that two blacks served as jurors. (Harris, 129 Ill.2d at 169, 135 Ill.Dec. 861, 544 N.E.2d 357.) We note also that one black served as an alternate juror. The two black jurors were part of the first panel of jurors selected in this case and were chosen at a time when the State still possessed a number of unused peremptory challenges.

Milton Pickett. Milton Pickett lived in Evanston. He was a forklift operator for Baxter, where he had been employed for 13 years, and he also worked evenings as a barber. Pickett was married to a high school teacher, and he and his wife had one daughter, aged 12. Pickett's apartment had been broken into about four years earlier, and his car had been struck by a hit-and-run driver six months earlier. Pickett's brother-in-law was an Evanston police officer. Also, Pickett identified a friend who was a lawyer. When the trial judge heard the name of the friend, the judge asked Pickett whether the friend was a member of the Evanston city council; Pickett said that he was.

At the original Batson hearing...

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