People v. Kliner, 81314

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation705 N.E.2d 850,235 Ill.Dec. 667,185 Ill.2d 81
Docket NumberNo. 81314,81314
Parties, 235 Ill.Dec. 667 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Ronald KLINER, Appellant.
Decision Date03 December 1998

Page 850

705 N.E.2d 850
185 Ill.2d 81, 235 Ill.Dec. 667
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Ronald KLINER, Appellant.
No. 81314
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Dec. 3, 1998.

Rehearing Denied Feb. 1, 1999.

Page 861

[235 Ill.Dec. 678] State Appellate Defender/SCU, John J. Hanlon, Asst. State Appellate Defender, Springfield, Martin Carlson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Capital Litigation Division, Chicago, Ronald S. Kliner, Pontiac, for Ronald Kliner.

Richard A. Devine, State's Attorney of Cook Co., Crim. Appeals Div., Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Div., Sally Dilgart, Assistant State's Attorney of Cook County, William L. Browers, Assistant Attorney General, Chicago, for the People of State of Illinois.

Locke E. Bowman, Chicago, for Amicus Curiae Coalition Concerned About The Execution of the Inn.

Katherine Anthony, Chicago, for Other.

Justice BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Ronald Kliner, was charged in Cook County with two counts of first degree murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2)) and one count of conspiracy to commit murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 8-2). These charges related to the February 18, 1988, murder of Dana Rinaldi in Palatine, Illinois. The jury returned verdicts of guilty against defendant on all counts and the trial court entered judgment on the murder verdict. Defendant waived a jury for the death sentencing hearing. The trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty on the basis that he committed the murder pursuant to a contract, agreement or understanding by which he was to receive money or anything of value in return for committing the murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(5)). After considering evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the trial court found no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty and sentenced defendant to death for the murder of Dana Rinaldi. Defendant's death sentence has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill.2d Rs. 603, 609(a). For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction and death sentence.

Page 862

[235 Ill.Dec. 679] FACTS

The evidence adduced at trial showed that at around 12:30 a.m. on February 18, 1988, two neighbors, John and Deborah Fostin, discovered the body of Dana Rinaldi in her car located in the parking lot of the Wyndham Court apartment complex in Palatine, Illinois. Dana had lived in that apartment complex with her husband, Joseph Rinaldi. Dana was found seated on the driver's side of her blue Mustang, slumped over to the passenger side. Her left leg was hanging out of the driver's side door. An assistant medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on Dana, testified that Dana, while seated in her car, had been shot five times in the face and head from a distance of 18 to 24 inches. Three gunshot wounds to her hands also suggested that Dana had raised her hands in front of her face in an attempt to protect herself. The cause of death was determined to be multiple gunshot wounds.

After arriving on the scene shortly after discovery of Dana's body, police officers found six .22-caliber spent shell casings and one .22-caliber live round on the ground close to Dana's car. The live round had an indentation indicating the firing pin had struck the bullet but did not discharge it. A firearms tool mark examiner later concluded that the six shell casings and the live round were all .22 Long Rifle caliber and had been fired from the same weapon. In addition to the casings and the bullet, police officers found Dana's gloves, which she was wearing, and her purse in the car, both of which displayed bullet holes. No fingerprints were found in the car.

Police officers interviewed a number of Dana's neighbors, including Paul Skorupa, shortly after the discovery of the body. When Skorupa returned home around 11:45 p.m. on February 17, 1988, he nearly rear-ended a 1987 or 1988 red Nissan Pulsar in the apartment complex's parking lot. Under lighting conditions which he described as "pretty good," Skorupa could see the passenger in the car. Skorupa viewed a group of photographs three days later, picked out defendant's photograph, and said that defendant "looked like" the passenger in the Nissan Pulsar. Skorupa, however, was unable to identify anyone at a lineup conducted five years later. When Skorupa last saw the red car, it was parked toward a cul-de-sac at the end of the driveway. Skorupa did not see the victim's car at this time. On cross-examination, Skorupa acknowledged that he had seen another red Nissan Pulsar parked in the apartment complex parking lot a few days after the murder. On redirect, however, he testified that it did not resemble the car he had seen on the night of the murder.

Neighbor Tyrone Miller testified that he heard his dog barking sometime between midnight and 12:30 a.m. on the night of the murder. When he looked out his upstairs bedroom window, Miller saw a man jogging or walking fast down the street. The man stopped below Miller's window, looked at Miller, and ran away. Miller got a good look at his face and identified codefendant Michael Permanian in open court. Miller also identified Permanian as the man he had seen the night of the murder, during a photograph array conducted a few days after the murder, as well as at a lineup held five years after the murder. The last thing that Miller observed on the night of the murder were headlights leaving the area. On re-cross-examination, Miller acknowledged that if asked by the police to make an identification, he would falsely identify someone about 10% of the time based upon his mood.

During the early morning hours of February 18, 1988, police officers also interviewed the victim's husband, Joseph Rinaldi, who cried upon learning of Dana's death. When officers asked Rinaldi if he knew anyone who owned a small red sports car, Rinaldi offered the name of his friend Michael Permanian. Permanian was later photographed getting out of a red Nissan Pulsar at Dana's wake. It was later confirmed that Permanian was the owner of a red 1988 Nissan Pulsar.

No arrests were made in this case until June 10, 1993 following grand jury testimony by Tammy Behenna, defendant's former girlfriend, and John Apel, Sr., defendant's uncle. These witnesses along with Joseph Rinaldi testified for the State. Rinaldi testified in exchange for, among other things, the prosecutor's promise to recommend a 40-year sentence, although he later received a sentence

Page 863

[235 Ill.Dec. 680] of 60 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to murder, conspiracy, and solicitation. Rinaldi testified that he had married Dana in 1980, and they began having marital problems in the fall of 1987 when the couple was deeply in debt. About this time, Rinaldi began meeting with Michael Permanian, a close friend since childhood who had served as best man at his wedding. Rinaldi indicated to Permanian that he was having marital problems and wanted to have his wife killed because divorce was not an option given their debts. Permanian suggested that Rinaldi meet with defendant because defendant might be able to help Rinaldi with his problem. Rinaldi also had been acquainted with defendant since his childhood.

Prior to the murder, Rinaldi met with both Permanian and defendant, both of whom agreed to kill Dana. Defendant even pointed to a gun tucked in his waistband when Rinaldi asked how he would do it. Rinaldi informed them that he wanted it to look like a botched robbery attempt and defendant and Permanian agreed. Rinaldi provided defendant and Permanian with background information regarding Dana's employment and their apartment complex, the Wyndham Court Apartments. Rinaldi drew a map of the complex indicating the exact location where Dana usually parked her car. Rinaldi also informed defendant and Permanian about a $50,000 life insurance policy he had obtained on Dana's life and agreed to give them half of those proceeds. After investigating the matter, defendant and Permanian reported to Rinaldi that the apartment complex was the best place to kill Dana. Defendant and Permanian announced that they planned to commit the murder on February 17, 1988, and Permanian indicated that they would steal a car. Permanian suggested that Rinaldi go out on the night of the murder and page him as soon as he was finished talking to the police.

Rinaldi further testified that he called his friend Jim Groszka and persuaded him to go drinking with him in downtown Chicago on the night of February 17, 1988. Groszka later corroborated this in his own trial testimony, adding that he was surprised by Rinaldi's call and agreed to go out because Rinaldi was insistent. Groszka testified that he and Rinaldi were together at several bars in Chicago from 9 p.m. on February 17, 1988, until about 4 a.m. on February 18, 1988.

On February 17, 1988, Rinaldi visited his wife at work, which was 10 miles from their home, and took her out to dinner. Jennifer Sparesus, one of Dana's coworkers, corroborated Rinaldi's testimony regarding his visit at the office, and his announcement that he was going downtown later that night. Dana returned to the office after dinner. Sparesus testified that she last saw Dana around midnight when Dana indicated that she was going home.

Rinaldi testified that he returned home sometime after 4 a.m. Upon arriving home, Rinaldi knew the murder had been carried out because he saw Dana's car being towed away.

Following the murder, Rinaldi testified that he received more insurance proceeds than he originally anticipated. Rinaldi received approximately $137,000. Rinaldi had originally agreed to pay defendant and Permanian $25,000, and he did not immediately inform them of the additional funds. Rinaldi began making weekly payments to defendant and Permanian shortly after the murder. Permanian later contacted Rinaldi and informed him...

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