People v. Ortega

Decision Date30 June 2021
Docket Number1-18-2396
Citation2021 IL App (1st) 182396,199 N.E.3d 288,459 Ill.Dec. 835
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Mario ORTEGA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

James E. Chadd, Douglas R. Hoff, and Aliza R. Kaliski, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Noah Montague, and Andrew D. Yassan, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Mario Ortega was convicted of two counts of first degree murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 2012)) and sentenced to natural life in prison. On appeal, defendant alleges that improper prior consistent statements were admitted against him at trial. He also contends that the imposition of a mandatory natural life sentence is unconstitutional as applied to his case in the absence of an evidentiary hearing pursuant to People v. Harris , 2018 IL 121932, 427 Ill.Dec. 833, 120 N.E.3d 900.

¶ 2 For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.1

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 In December of 2013, Angel Mangual (Mangual), Jessica Chaidez (Chaidez), and their one-year-old son lived in a second floor apartment at 1944 North Spaulding Avenue. The building was located at the corner of Spaulding Avenue and Armitage Avenue and had front and rear entrances. The rear entrance led to an alleyway. The building was in an area controlled by the Imperial Gangster street gang. Mangual was a member of the rival Latin Kings street gang, as were co-gang members "Drizzy" (Joshua Johnson) and "King Crazy" (defendant).

¶ 5 On the afternoon of December 11, 2013, Johnson and defendant went to Mangual's house where they drank Hennessy, smoked cigarettes, and marijuana, and played video games. Around 6 p.m., Chaidez left the apartment to join her friends for a "girls’ night." Before Chaidez returned home, she called Mangual and told him to get rid of his company so that she and Mangual could relax at home together. Mangual told Johnson and defendant that they had to leave, and they complied with his request.

¶ 6 At approximately 1:24 a.m., Chaidez was driving around her apartment building trying to find a parking spot, when she saw defendant and Johnson suddenly appear from the alley by her building. As Chaidez watched from her car's rear window, she saw defendant run up behind an old man, who was walking on the other side of Spaulding Avenue, and start punching him. Nothing blocked Chaidez's view, and there were streetlights as well as lights coming from the Marble Bar and Grill on Spaulding Avenue. The old man fell to the ground and tried to defend himself by blocking his face.

¶ 7 Chaidez next saw Johnson run over and start patting down the old man. Johnson then got up and tried to pull defendant off of the old man, telling defendant "enough is enough." Defendant, however, pulled out a gun and shot the victim. Johnson ran away when defendant began firing. After firing multiple shots at the victim, defendant also ran away.

¶ 8 According to Mangual, after he heard shots being fired outside of his building, defendant and Johnson returned to his apartment and knocked at his door. Defendant lifted up his shirt, revealing a black pistol, and told Mangual that "they shot an IG," meaning an Imperial Gangster. Mangual told defendant, "Man, it is what it is, you know, but you guys are going to have to, you know, leave from the back porch because I got my wife coming in." Defendant and Johnson wanted to come inside the apartment, but Mangual refused them entry. Mangual testified that he never saw defendant again.

¶ 9 Meanwhile, Chaidez remained downstairs in her car until she heard the ambulance arrive. Chaidez did not call 911 because she was afraid and traumatized, having never seen anything like this before. Upon exiting her car, Chaidez saw that the victim was still on the ground and was not moving. According to Chaidez, she went upstairs to her apartment, hugged her child tightly, and went straight to bed. She did not tell Mangual what she witnessed outside.

¶ 10 Mangual testified that after Chaidez went to bed, Johnson returned to the apartment. After the two spoke briefly, Mangual asked Johnson to leave, and Mangual went to bed as well. Mangual did not talk to the police because he did not want to get involved.

¶ 11 The victim of the shooting was 68-year-old Cayetano Sandoval. At 1:50 a.m., Mr. Sandoval, who resided at 2029 Spaulding, was returning home from his job at Crestone Bakery. The parties stipulated that Dr. Stephen J. Cina, an assistant medical examiner at the Office of the Cook County Medical examiner would testify that Mr. Sandoval's cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and that the manner of death was homicide.

¶ 12 The following day, December 12, 2013, Chaidez told Mangual what she witnessed outside when she arrived home and told him that she "didn't really appreciate it." Mangual told Chaidez what he knew, and Chaidez testified that "he told me just to keep my mouth shut, and that it's none of my business." Chaidez said that she listened to Mangual's directions because she was afraid and agreed that it was not her business.

¶ 13 Later that day Chaidez went to her friend Benny Blanco's house on Sawyer Avenue and Wabansia Avenue, where 7 to 10 people were hanging out. Chaidez was smoking weed and hanging out too when defendant arrived at Blanco's house. From Blanco's bedroom, Chaidez overheard defendant tell Blanco that he had "popped somebody." When Blanco asked defendant where this occurred, defendant looked around the room. Upon seeing Chaidez in Blanco's room, defendant said, "Don't worry about it."

¶ 14 Detective Michelle Wood was assigned to investigate the murder of Mr. Sandoval. On January 17, 2014, she interviewed Chaidez, who denied knowing anything about the shooting and claimed to have been on her phone at her residence when the shooting occurred.

¶ 15 Chaidez testified that she did not tell Detective Wood what she witnessed on December 12, 2013, because she was afraid and her husband had told her to mind her own business. After talking with a family member who told Chaidez that she needed to do "the right thing" and "not to let anybody put fear in my heart," however, she "felt more comfortable and confident" that she "needed to do the right thing." On December 14, 2014, she told the police what she had witnessed a year earlier and identified both defendant and Johnson from separate photo arrays. Chaidez also viewed a video taken from the Marble Bar and recounted what was depicted on it.

¶ 16 Chaidez also viewed People's Exhibit #13, a videotape taken from the Marble Bar. This exhibit, which was admitted in evidence without objection, contained two clips that captured the shooting of Mr. Sandoval. Chaidez testified that contents of the videotape truly and accurately depicted what Chaidez witnessed the night of the shooting.2

¶ 17 Detective Wood, on the other hand, testified that when phone records did not substantiate Chaidez's claim that she was in her apartment at the time of the shooting, Detective Wood confronted Chaidez with this fact. At this point Chaidez said that "King Crazy" was the shooter. Using the nickname, Detective Wood was able to identify "King Crazy" as defendant, Mario Ortega. In the same manner, Detective Wood was able to identify "Drizzy" as Joshua Johnson. Chaidez identified photographs of both Johnson and defendant from two separate photo arrays.

¶ 18 Defendant was arrested on May 7, 2015. That same day both Chaidez and Mangual spoke with detectives, and Mangual now told the officers what he knew as "it just felt like the right thing to do."

¶ 19 On May 15, 2015, after Joshua Johnson was arrested, he was repeatedly interviewed by Detective Wood. After initially denying that he touched the victim, Johnson was confronted with evidence in the possession of the police, including a videotape that captured the offense. After asking if he could get a deal in exchange for telling the police about the incident, Johnson implicated himself and defendant in this offense.

¶ 20 Johnson reached a plea bargain with the State. In exchange for his testimony, Johnson would be sentenced to 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on a reduced charge of attempted armed robbery. Johnson had previous convictions for attempted residential burglary and residential burglary and was previously sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in the Illinois Department of Corrections for both offenses in February of 2012.

¶ 21 Johnson testified about the events of the evening of December 11, 2013, into the morning of December 12, 2013. Defendant and Johnson had a longstanding friendship that began with their shared gang membership. The two would hang out once or twice a week. On December 11, 2013, defendant called Johnson and asked him to meet up at Mangual's house. Mangual, whose nickname was "DK," was also a Latin King. Mangual lived at Spaulding Avenue and Armitage Avenue, and Johnson had been to his home before.

¶ 22 Defendant told Johnson that he was going to bring his handgun to Mangual's house. Johnson arrived at Mangual's house at 7 or 8 p.m. Over the course of the evening, Johnson made three trips to the liquor store, located at Kedzie Avenue and Armitage Avenue, to purchase bottles of Hennessy. The group was drinking and smoking weed.

¶ 23 At one point in the evening, Johnson saw defendant place a handgun, described by Johnson as a black, .9-millimeter High Point, on a table in DK's house. Defendant began talking about his dad passing away in a drunk driving accident. Defendant was "emotional" and "angry" and said that the drunk driver was locked up, but that defendant was going to try to do something to "the guy's" family.

¶ 24 Accompanied by defendant, Johnson went outside to the middle of the ...

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