People v. Hernandez, 61679

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtSIMON
Citation117 Ill.Dec. 914,121 Ill.2d 293,521 N.E.2d 25
Parties, 117 Ill.Dec. 914 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Alejandro HERNANDEZ, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 61679,61679
Decision Date19 January 1988

Page 25

521 N.E.2d 25
121 Ill.2d 293, 117 Ill.Dec. 914
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Alejandro HERNANDEZ, Appellant.
No. 61679.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Jan. 19, 1988.
Rehearing Denied April 5, 1988.

Page 26

[117 Ill.Dec. 915] [121 Ill.2d 295] Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Springfield, Lawrence J. Essig, Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.

Neil F. Hartigan, Atty. Gen., Roma J. Stewart, Sol. Gen., Mark L. Rotert, Scott Graham, Asst. Attys. Gen., Chicago, for appellee.

Justice SIMON delivered the opinion of the court:

Ten-year-old Jeanine Nicarico was abducted from her home in Naperville on Friday, February 25, 1983; she was raped and murdered the same day. On March 6, 1984, the defendant, Alejandro (Alex) Hernandez, and two codefendants were indicted on charges of murder, residential burglary, home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated indecent liberties, deviate sexual assault, and rape, and they were tried together. The defendant and Rolando Cruz were convicted on all counts (except home invasion, which was nol-prossed on the State's motion) following a jury trial in the circuit court of Du Page County. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on identical charges against the second codefendant, Stephen Buckley. The defendant waived his jury right for purposes of the death penalty hearing, and a death sentence was imposed by the circuit judge. Execution of sentence has been stayed (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)) pending disposition of this direct appeal. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 87 Ill.2d R. 603.


The victim was home alone on the day of the crime because she had not been feeling well. Patricia Nicarico, the victim's mother, worked nearby, and she came home around noon to fix lunch, returning to work half an hour [121 Ill.2d 296] later. Patricia Nicarico last spoke with her daughter by telephone at about 1 p.m.; they discussed a television program the victim had been watching and whether Jeanine should write a letter to her grandparents. Two hours later, Kathy Nicarico, one of the victim's two older sisters, arrived home from school. She testified that the front door was ajar, the striker plate was on the ground and the molding from inside the door frame was almost totally torn off. Entering the house, she noticed that the television was on, but she could not find the victim. A partially written letter to the victim's grandparents was found in front of the television. According to the testimony of Kathy and her mother, there were signs of a struggle in the older sisters' bedroom; a blanket and top sheet were missing from Kathy's bed. Nothing else had been stolen although a television, video cassette recorder, jewelry box, and several articles made of silver were all in plain view.

Investigating officers testified regarding their examination of the Nicarico home. Fingerprints were lifted from inside the house, and a boot print was discovered on the front door just below and left of the latch. Two shoe prints, each with a different tread design, were found outside the

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[117 Ill.Dec. 916] living-room window. A fourth print was found inside a depression on the Nicarico lawn where a car tire had apparently ridden up over the curb and left an imprint. Two dogs and their handlers were brought in from the Lake County sheriff's police, and the handlers testified that their dogs tracked Jeanine's most recent scent from the front door, part way down the driveway, across the lawn and to the curb about eight feet from the tire track on the lawn.

Jeanine Nicarico's body was found two days later, in heavy underbrush approximately 45 feet off a hiking trail, known as the Illinois Prairie Path, between Eola Road and the East-West Tollway in Du Page County. [121 Ill.2d 297] That portion of the Prairie Path ends where it intersects the Tollway approximately 1,500 feet north of where the victim's body was discovered. Investigating officers testified that the body was found lying face down on a slight incline. Approximately two feet up and to the left of her head there was a small, "head shaped" depression in the mud; blood was found in that depression. A small quantity of leaves and mud were adhered to the back of the victim's head, and the left side of her body was muddy. Her eyes were covered with a piece of towel which had been taped firmly to her head, and she was found wearing only her nightshirt, torn from the hem to the right armpit and pulled up over her shoulders. Patricia Nicarico testified that the victim had been wearing underwear, but her underwear--like the blanket and top sheet from Kathy's bed--was never found.

Dr. Frank Cleveland, the coroner of Hamilton County, Ohio, conducted a post-mortem examination. He testified that the victim died from at least five extraordinarily powerful blows delivered to the front and back of her head by a blunt instrument; each injury to the back of her head was characterized by a large laceration that became V-shaped at one end. All of the blows were delivered within a limited span of time, and each individually would have been fatal. The victim also suffered a broken nose, split upper lip and severely bruised lower lip, and there was a small bruise on her left shoulder. She had abrasions on the upper back sides of her legs which were inflicted either after her death or very shortly before as blood was redirected in reaction to her head injuries.

The autopsy revealed evidence that the victim had been raped and anally assaulted before her death, but a toxicologist from the Illinois Department of Toxicology testified that too little semen was recovered from the victim's body to be of evidentiary value. The Chief Toxicologist of the Illinois Department of Public Health testified[121 Ill.2d 298] that he examined the victim's stomach contents and determined that she died two to four hours after eating. Dr. Cleveland agreed with that judgment. Because the food in her stomach was consistent with what the victim's mother had prepared for her lunch on February 25, the evidence indicates that the victim was abducted, raped and murdered all within a span of one to three hours between 1 and 4 p.m. that day.

There were no witnesses to any of the crimes perpetrated against the victim, but two prosecution witnesses gave evidence as to their observations of events occurring on February 25 which might have been connected to the crimes. Joan Johanville had lunch with her husband at the couple's upholstery business, located in a garage next door to the Nicarico home. She left her husband at about 10 or 12 minutes past 1 p.m. to drive home, and just past the Nicarico home she had to bring her car almost to a stop to avoid colliding with a car driving down the center of the street in the opposite direction. Johanville described the car as an older, light-blue or white car with a great deal of rust on the lower body. She also testified that the only person she saw in the car was its driver and that she remembered his face for his "very creepy and scary" eyes.

At trial, Johanville identified Buckley as the driver. However, she described the driver to police and FBI agents shortly after the incident, and her description was of a man with no facial hair and wearing wire-rimmed "granny" glasses. It is undisputed that Buckley has never worn eyeglasses and that he had a mustache, wide [117 Ill.Dec. 917]

Page 28

("mutton chop") sideburns reaching down to his mustache, and hair nearly down to his shoulders at the time. Nonetheless, Johanville was certain of her identification, explaining that she might have "transposed" the glasses onto Buckley's face from the face of someone she knew and who resembled Buckley.

[121 Ill.2d 299] Frank Kochanny, a highway maintenance engineer for the Illinois Tollway Authority, testified for the State. He said that he and a fellow worker were picking up trash alongside the east-bound lanes of the East-West Tollway between 2:45 and 3 p.m. when they saw a car driving parallel to the Tollway just south of the boundary fence. It was driving in an area west of Eola Road, near a "Coldwell Banker" billboard. The Prairie Path meets the south side of the Tollway west of Eola Road, and at the time a "Coldwell Banker" advertisement was located just west of where the Path intersects the Tollway. Kochanny testified that the car was driving west at roughly 10 miles per hour, and that approximately 20 to 25 feet from the sign the car did a three-point turn, heading back to the east at a relatively faster speed. When Kochanny stepped out of his truck for a better look, the car had disappeared. Kochanny described the car he had seen as a 1978 or 1979 green Ford Granada with a hubcap missing from the front driver's side wheel. He saw a single individual in the car, a white male with dark sunglasses and hair midway down his ears or shorter.

Dean Schmunk testified that he spotted a green, four-door Ford Granada on March 8, 1983, with a hubcap missing off the front right wheel; he noticed it because police had said they were looking for such a car in connection with the Nicarico case. Schmunk had only a brief look at the driver, but he testified that he recognized Buckley as the driver of the car when he saw Buckley's picture in the newspaper the following March. There is, however, no evidence that either Buckley or any of his family or friends owned a green Ford Granada. Nor did investigators discover any reported thefts of such a car during the time at issue.

The only evidence presented against the defendant consisted of his pretrial oral statements; there is no physical or eyewitness evidence linking him to the [121 Ill.2d 300] crimes. The first of those statements testified to at trial was made by the defendant to his mother, Haydee Hernandez, within two weeks of the victim's death. Haydee testified that her son asked for her advice on what to do having heard a conversation in...

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