People v. Jimerson, 62845

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation127 Ill.2d 12,129 Ill.Dec. 124,535 N.E.2d 889
Docket NumberNo. 62845,62845
Parties, 129 Ill.Dec. 124 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Verneal JIMERSON, Appellant.
Decision Date22 February 1989

Page 889

535 N.E.2d 889
127 Ill.2d 12, 129 Ill.Dec. 124
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Verneal JIMERSON, Appellant.
No. 62845.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Feb. 22, 1989.

Rehearing Denied April 3, 1989.

Page 891

[127 Ill.2d 18] [129 Ill.Dec. 126] Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, and Lawrence J. Essig, Appellate Defender, of Springfield, and Steven Clark, Asst. Appellate Defender, of Chicago, all of the Office of the State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Richard M. Daley, State's Atty., of Chicago (Thomas V. Gainer, Jr., and Kevin Sweeney, Asst. State's Attys., and Marie Quinlivan Czech, Special [127 Ill.2d 19] Asst. State's Atty., 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, Verneal Jimerson, was convicted of the murder of two persons. The defendant waived his right to a jury for purposes of a death penalty hearing, and the trial judge sentenced the defendant to death for the offenses. The defendant's execution was stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 107 Ill.2d Rules 603, 609(a).

The defendant's convictions and death sentence are the result of his participation in the murders of Larry Lionberg and Carol Schmal on May 11, 1978. The victims were abducted from the service station where Lionberg was employed, located in an unincorporated area of Homewood, and were taken to a vacant townhouse in East Chicago Heights. There, Carol was raped by the defendant and three other men and was shot and killed by one of the attackers. Larry was then led outside to a nearby field, where he was shot and killed.

The victims' bodies were discovered the next day, May 12. Larry was found lying face down on the ground, near a creek. The autoptic evidence established that Larry had been shot two times in the head and once in the back. The cause of his death was a bullet wound to the head, in association with a bullet wound to the heart. Carol's body was found in an upstairs room of the townhouse building; she was lying face down on the floor, and some of her clothing had been removed. Carol had been shot two times in the head at close range, and

Page 892

[129 Ill.Dec. 127] the cause of death was a bullet wound to the head.

The defendant was initially arrested in connection with these offenses in 1978. The defendant was released from custody, however, following a preliminary hearing when one of the State's witnesses, Paula Gray, recanted [127 Ill.2d 20] her earlier statements implicating him in the crimes. Gray, who was present during the attack on the victims, was the only witness to connect the defendant to the offenses, and the preliminary hearing judge found that without her testimony there was no probable cause to hold the defendant. There was sufficient evidence, however, to hold the three other male defendants--Dennis Williams, Willie Rainge, and Kenneth Adams--and they, as well as Gray, were tried for the offenses later that year in simultaneous proceedings. Williams was convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping, and rape and was sentenced to death for the murder convictions. Rainge was convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping, and rape, and he was sentenced to concurrent terms of natural life imprisonment for the murder convictions and to extended terms of imprisonment for the other offenses. Adams was convicted of murder and rape and was sentenced to extended prison terms. Paula Gray was convicted of murder, rape, and perjury; she was sentenced to extended prison terms for the murder and rape convictions and to a 10-year prison term for the perjury conviction.

This court reversed Williams' convictions and death sentence and granted him a new trial because of the ineffective assistance rendered by trial counsel, Archie Weston. (People v. Williams (1982), 93 Ill.2d 309, 67 Ill.Dec. 97, 444 N.E.2d 136.) Weston had also represented Rainge, and the appellate court, relying on the decision in Williams, granted Rainge a new trial; the appellate court affirmed the convictions and sentences of Adams, who had been represented by a different attorney at trial. People v. Rainge (1983), 112 Ill.App.3d 396, 68 Ill.Dec. 87, 445 N.E.2d 535.

The appellate court affirmed Paula Gray's convictions and sentences. (People v. Gray (1980), 87 Ill.App.3d 142, 42 Ill.Dec. 441, 408 N.E.2d 1150.) Gray later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal court. The district court dismissed her petition,[127 Ill.2d 21] but the court of appeals reversed. (United States ex rel. Gray v. Director, Department of Corrections (7th Cir.1983), 721 F.2d 586.) The court of appeals held that an actual conflict of interest existed between Paula and codefendant Dennis Williams and that their representation by the same attorney, Weston, had resulted in a denial of her constitutional right to the assistance of counsel. The court found that trial counsel had failed to follow any one of a variety of courses of action that an "independent, conflict-free, competent attorney" would have asserted in Paula's behalf, and that the failure to do so had been to codefendant Williams' advantage. (Gray, 721 F.2d at 596.) The court of appeals therefore reversed the district court's dismissal of Paula's habeas corpus petition and instructed the lower court to enter an order that would effect her release from custody unless the State chose to retry her.

Following the reversal of Gray's convictions in the habeas corpus proceeding, she agreed to testify in the State's behalf against the defendant. In December 1984 the defendant was indicted on the offenses in this case, and he was charged with four counts of murder; it appears that the defendant was not also charged with rape because prosecution for that offense was, by that time, barred by the statute of limitations. See Ill.Rev.Stat.1977, ch. 38, par. 3-5(b).

The State presented the following evidence at the defendant's trial, which began in late October 1985. Clemente Mireles, the manager of the service station where Larry worked, testified that he arrived at the station around 6:30 a.m. on May 11, 1978, and found it unattended. The building had been ransacked, and inventory worth about $300 was missing. Mireles notified the police. Investigators from the Cook County sheriff's police department found Carol's car at the service station. Her purse, containing her driver's license and other personal [127 Ill.2d 22] effects, was on the

Page 893

[129 Ill.Dec. 128] front seat. According to the testimony of family members, Carol and Larry were engaged to be married, and Carol, who also worked a night shift, would visit Larry at work on her holidays.

The State's principal trial witness was Paula Gray. In May 1978 Gray was 17 years old and lived with her family at 1525 Hammond Lane in East Chicago Heights. At that time she had known the defendant, Williams, Rainge, and Adams, who was her boyfriend, for one or two months. Paula testified that sometime after midnight on May 11, she and Adams were sitting in his car in front of her home. After a while Paula went inside, and Adams left. Paula testified that while she was getting ready to go to bed she heard a noise, such as that made by a car stuck in mud. Paula went outside to investigate, and she saw Williams with five other persons. Williams noticed Paula and came over and got her, pulling her to where his car was parked. There she saw the defendant, Rainge, Adams, and two white persons, a man and a woman, whom she did not know. The group entered a vacant townhouse located at 1528 Cannon Lane.

While the defendant held Larry downstairs, Williams, Rainge, and Adams led Carol upstairs. There, Williams ordered Carol to remove her clothing. Williams, Rainge, and Adams then raped Carol in succession. Rainge replaced the defendant downstairs, and the defendant then raped Carol and returned downstairs. Williams and Rainge raped Carol again. Adams did not do so, when Paula told him not to. Rainge went downstairs and the defendant came upstairs, and he raped Carol again. The defendant then went back downstairs and Rainge returned. Throughout Carol's ordeal, Paula held a disposable lighter that Williams had provided her with.

Paula testified that Williams ordered Carol to turn over, and he then shot her twice in the head. Williams, [127 Ill.2d 23] Rainge, Adams, and Paula then went downstairs. Williams, Rainge, and the defendant took Larry outside to the banks of a creek running through a nearby field; Paula was also with them, but Adams had gone home. Williams told Larry to lie down. Using the same gun with which he had killed the woman, Williams then shot Larry in the head twice, and Rainge shot him in the back once. The defendant then left the scene. According to Paula, Williams threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about what had occurred.

Paula also said that she spoke to police officers following the crimes and that she testified before a grand jury. In June 1978 she testified at the defendant's preliminary hearing. Paula said that before testifying on that occasion she spoke with Archie Weston, who at that time was representing both the defendant and Rainge. Later that summer Paula was charged with murder, rape, and perjury; the perjury count was based on her testimony at the preliminary hearing. She was convicted of those charges. Paula said that her trial attorney was Weston, who was then also representing Williams and Rainge; she testified several times at her own trial, and later at Williams' sentencing hearing.

On cross-examination at the defendant's trial, defense counsel impeached Paula with portions of her testimony at the June 19, 1978, preliminary hearing, when she recanted her original statement implicating the defendant and the others in the offenses. At the preliminary hearing Paula insisted that she knew nothing about the offenses. In the main,...

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