People v. Murray, Docket No. 123289

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation155 N.E.3d 412,2019 IL 123289,440 Ill.Dec. 642
Docket NumberDocket No. 123289
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Deontae X. MURRAY, Appellant.
Decision Date18 October 2019

2019 IL 123289
155 N.E.3d 412
440 Ill.Dec.

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Deontae X. MURRAY, Appellant.

Docket No. 123289

Supreme Court of Illinois.

Opinion filed October 18, 2019

JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court.

440 Ill.Dec. 646

¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Deontae X. Murray was convicted of first degree murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2012)) and unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member (id. § 24-1.8(a)(1)). The circuit court of Boone County sentenced defendant to consecutive terms of 50 years and 10 years respectively. On appeal, defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he committed the firearm offense. The appellate court affirmed defendant's conviction. 2017 IL App (2d) 150599, 419 Ill.Dec. 674, 94 N.E.3d 212. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Nov. 1, 2017). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court.


¶ 3 The evidence presented at trial established the following relevant facts. On April 21, 2013, defendant went to a gas station in Belvidere, Illinois, to purchase beer. Defendant was accompanied by Marco Hernandez. As defendant and Hernandez were exiting the gas station store, Max Cox and Richard Herman were entering. Cox had admitted belonging to the Sureño 13 street gang.

¶ 4 Defendant and Hernandez waited outside until Cox and Herman eventually exited the gas station store and walked back to their car, which was parked by a gas pump. Defendant and Hernandez approached Cox and Herman. Defendant asked Cox "what's up" and whether he was "gang banging." Cox replied "no," and defendant lifted up his shirt to reveal a handgun and accused Cox of lying. According to Cox, Hernandez, who had been standing in front of defendant, removed the handgun from defendant's waist band, stepped away, and then held it behind his own back. Hernandez and Herman began to argue, and Cox told Herman to "[s]hut the f* * * up, he has a gun." Hernandez pulled out the gun, ran up to Herman, and shot him in the chest. Herman was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

155 N.E.3d 417
440 Ill.Dec. 647

¶ 5 A grand jury indicted defendant and Hernandez in connection with Herman's murder. Defendant was charged with first degree murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2012)), aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (id. § 24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A), (d)), and unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member (id. § 24-1.8(a)(1)).

¶ 6 At defendant's trial, the State called police detective David Dammon as a witness. Dammon testified about his experience with the Belvidere Police Department beginning in 1996, his position in the street gang unit, and his specialized training and courses taken in street gangs and gang activity, which included training dealing with active gangs in Chicago, the Chicago suburbs, and areas close to Belvidere and Rockford. Dammon also testified that he had been personally involved in over 400 gang crime investigations and that, while acting as a gang officer and detective, he had contact with gang members in Belvidere well over a thousand times and personally interviewed people taken into custody for various gang offenses well over a thousand times.

¶ 7 In addition, Dammon generally described how street gangs operate, their hierarchy, and their use of guns for the protection of drugs, cash, and themselves from rival gangs. He testified that the Latin Kings and the Sureño 13s are the major groups of gangs in the Belvidere area and that there is a rivalry between them. He also testified that the phrase "gang banging " indicates when gang members are doing gang work, are intimidating people, and are committing crimes for the benefit of a street gang. He further testified that he had contact with defendant in the context of prior gang investigations.

¶ 8 Over an objection made by defendant, Dammon was permitted to testify as an expert on gang activity. The following testimony was elicited on the State's direct examination of Dammon:

"Q. What is a street gang?

A. A street gang is defined by Illinois statute actually. It has to have one of three things. It's two or more people with a recognized hierarchy and leader and their activities are criminal or at least a threat to society.

Q. Is the Latin Kings [a] street gang, is that an organized street gang as defined by our state Street Gang Omnibus Act?

A. It is."

¶ 9 Dammon stated that, as a member of the street gang unit, he gathers intelligence information from and for street gang databases. He also testified to specific types of sources that he and other experts in their field rely upon in identifying someone as a gang member, including law enforcement databases.

¶ 10 During Dammon's testimony, the State played for the jury two videos recovered from defendant's cell phone recorded two hours prior to the shooting. The videos show defendant and Anthony Perez outside an apartment complex in Belvidere, standing in front of graffiti, making hand signals. In one video, Perez is seen urinating on the side of the building, walking over to the graffiti, and saying aloud "thirteen K." Dammon explained that the "13" stands for the Sureño 13 gang and the K was added to signify a Sureño 13 killer. Dammon testified that the graffiti is "something that somebody that didn't get along with the 13's would put up."

¶ 11 Defendant also testified. He stated that he had been a member of the Latin Kings from the age of 13 to 21 but, at the time of trial, he was no longer a member.

¶ 12 The jury convicted defendant of all three offenses, and the circuit court merged the aggravated unlawful use of a

155 N.E.3d 418
440 Ill.Dec. 648

weapon conviction (id. § 24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A), (d)) into the unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member conviction (id. § 24-1.8(a)(1)) and imposed a sentence on that offense. Defendant appealed.

¶ 13 On appeal, defendant raised several issues. Relevant here, defendant asserted that the State failed to prove that the Latin Kings are a "streetgang" as defined by the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act (Act). 740 ILCS 147/10 (West 2012) ; see 720 ILCS 5/24-1.8(a)(1) (West 2012) (unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member statute providing that the term "street gang" has the meaning ascribed to it by the Act); 740 ILCS 147/10 (West 2012) (defining "streetgang," including the term "course or pattern of criminal activity," which is itself separately defined).

¶ 14 Defendant contended that, as in People v. Lozano , 2017 IL App (1st) 142723, 412 Ill.Dec. 511, 75 N.E.3d 491, he could not be guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member because the State did not establish, by way of Dammon's testimony, that the Latin Kings committed certain crimes within the relevant time period. Thus, because the State did not show that the Latin Kings had engaged in a "course or pattern of criminal activity," during the requisite time period, the State failed to prove that the Latin Kings are a "street gang."

¶ 15 The appellate court rejected defendant's argument, concluding:

"[I]n People v. Jamesson , 329 Ill. App. 3d 446, 460, 263 Ill.Dec. 736, 768 N.E.2d 817 (2002), this court held that an expert on gangs may opine on the ultimate issue of whether an organization is a street gang engaged in a course or pattern of criminal activity without testifying to specific dates or incidents. Here, Dammon testified to the organizational structure of street gangs in general, and the Latin Kings in particular, and he opined that the Latin Kings are a street gang within the meaning of Illinois law. That opinion alone was sufficient to establish the element that the Latin Kings are a street gang. Further, Dammon testified in the present tense that gangs use guns to protect their drugs, cash, and members from rival gangs and that members do whatever is needed to benefit the gang, including intimidation of people. We believe that the jury could have reasonably inferred from Dammon's testimony that the Latin Kings historically and currently commit felonies." 2017 IL App (2d) 150599, ¶ 83, 419 Ill.Dec. 674, 94 N.E.3d 212.


¶ 17 Before this court, defendant argues that the State failed to prove that the Latin Kings are a "street gang" as defined by the Act. See 740 ILCS 147/10 (West 2012). Specifically, defendant contends that the State's proof was insufficient because its gang expert did not testify to a relevant time period or, indeed, to any specific historical crimes committed by the Latin Kings, as required by the Act.

¶ 18 The State maintains it is not required to present evidence of specific crimes committed by the Latin Kings. The State asserts that, because an expert may provide an opinion on the ultimate issue in a case, Dammon's testimony was sufficient to establish that the Latin Kings are a "street gang," as defined by the Act. The State alternatively contends that, if proof of specific crimes were required, it presented evidence of a "course or pattern of criminal activity" through defendant's own crimes.


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