People v. Washington

Decision Date22 October 2021
Docket Number4-20-0196
Citation2021 IL App (4th) 200196,195 N.E.3d 326,457 Ill.Dec. 412
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Tory Rashad WASHINGTON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

James E. Chadd, Catherine K. Hart, and Natalia Galica, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Springfield, for appellant.

Don Knapp, State's Attorney, of Bloomington (Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Linda Susan McClain, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

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

¶ 1 In July 2014, the State charged defendant, Tory Rashad Washington, with two counts of murder pursuant to section 9-1(a)(1) of the Criminal Code of 2012 (Criminal Code) ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2012)) and two counts of murder pursuant to section 9-1(a)(2) of the Criminal Code (id. § 9-1(a)(2) ). The charges alleged that in June 2014, defendant beat a man named Ronald Smith to death. Defendant was 19 years old at the time of the murder.

¶ 2 In September 2015, defendant pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with the State. The State agreed that if defendant testified against his codefendants and pleaded guilty to count II (id. ), the State would (1) dismiss the remaining three counts, (2) recommend a sentencing cap of 35 years in prison instead of the 60 years authorized by statute, and (3) not pursue an enhanced prison term of natural life based upon a finding that the murder was committed in a brutal and heinous manner indicative of wanton cruelty.

¶ 3 In April 2016, the trial court conducted defendant's sentencing hearing and sentenced him to 32 years in prison. Defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and a motion to reconsider his sentence. At a subsequent hearing, however, defendant moved to withdraw both motions. The court explained to defendant that withdrawing the motions would preclude him from appealing the case, but he persisted in his wish to withdraw the motions. Defendant did not file a direct appeal.

¶ 4 In December 2019, defendant filed pro se a petition pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Post-Conviction Act) ( 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2018)) in which he argued that (1) the truth-in-sentencing statutesection 3-6-3(a)(2)(i) of the Unified Code of Corrections ( 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2)(i) (West 2014))—was unconstitutional as applied to persons under the age of 21 at the time of the commission of the offense, including defendant; (2) his guilty plea was involuntary because "he would not have pled guilty if he had understood the implications of the eighth amendment"; and (3) the trial court did not properly consider his youth and attendant circumstances during sentencing.

¶ 5 In January 2020, the trial court summarily dismissed the petition as frivolous and patently without merit.

¶ 6 Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred when it dismissed defendant's petition because (1) his guilty plea was involuntary "in light of recent changes in the jurisprudence surrounding emerging adults, like [defendant]"; (2) the truth-in-sentencing statute, as applied to defendant, violated the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution; and (3) defendant made an arguable claim that his guilty plea was involuntary because (a) it was secured by the threat of an unconstitutional natural life sentence and (b) his sentence grants no meaningful opportunity for release. Defendant also argues that the trial court erred because it relied on an unpublished order to dismiss defendant's petition. We affirm.

¶ 7 I. BACKGROUND
¶ 8 A. The Charges

¶ 9 In July 2014, the State charged defendant with two counts of murder pursuant to section 9-1(a)(1) of the Criminal Code ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2012)) and two counts of murder pursuant to section 9-1(a)(2) of the Criminal Code (id. § 9-1(a)(2) ). The charges alleged that in June 2014, defendant, along with two others, beat Smith to death.

¶ 10 B. The Guilty Plea Hearing

¶ 11 In September 2015, the trial court conducted defendant's guilty plea hearing. The court explained to defendant that if convicted, he would (1) receive a sentence between 20 and 60 years in prison and (2) not be eligible for day-for-day credit under the truth-in-sentencing statute.

¶ 12 The trial court then discussed the terms of defendant's plea agreement with the State. The State agreed that if defendant testified against his codefendants and pleaded guilty to count II (id. ), the State would (1) dismiss the remaining three counts, along with charges in three other felony cases pending against defendant in McLean County; (2) recommend a sentencing cap of 35 years in prison instead of the 60 years authorized by statute; and (3) not pursue an enhanced prison term of natural life based upon a finding that the murder was committed in a brutal and heinous manner indicative of wanton cruelty.

¶ 13 After the trial court read the terms of the agreement regarding the "wanton cruelty" sentencing enhancement, the court asked the parties what they believed would happen if the enhancement was pursued. The State responded, "I believe it's mandatory natural life [in prison]." Defendant's counsel agreed. The court then told defendant that if the State proved at trial that the murder was committed in a brutal and heinous manner indicative of wanton cruelty, "You would have to serve the rest of your life."

¶ 14 The State read the factual basis for the crime, stating as follows:

"That on June 2nd of 2014, Ronald Smith was transported to BroMenn hospital from the area of O'Neil Park and Sheridan School in Bloomington. He was taken there due to a severe beating that he had received at that location. About a month later, Ronald Smith passed away due to the injuries, and that was confirmed by an autopsy that was conducted in the McLean County coroner's office where the results in that autopsy was that Ronald Smith died as a result of the beating that he suffered on June 2nd of 2014.
After being transported to the hospital on June 2nd, 2014, an investigation began. Numerous witnesses that were in and about the area of O'Neil Park on the day in question were interviewed. Several of those that were interviewed were eyewitnesses that indicated that the individuals that beat Ronald Smith included three people, which [sic ] were Willie Chambers, [defendant,] and Anthony Davis-Dixon. Those witnesses indicated that essentially Ronald Smith was sleeping under a tree at O'Neil Park, Ronald Smith being a homeless individual at that time, and that the three codefendants approached him and punched, kicked, and stomped Ronald Smith numerous times.
Subsequently, Anthony Davis-Dixon was arrested, as well as this defendant and Willie Chambers. A short time after the arrest of Anthony Davis-Dixon during one of his several interviews he admitted to being involved in the beating of Ronald Smith. He indicated that he was the first person to knock Ronald Smith over and then further implicated his codefendants, that this defendant, as well as Willie Chambers, punched and kicked Ronald Smith many times.
Also, recently, as part of his plea in this case, Willie Chambers pled guilty to first degree murder in this case as well. At his plea hearing he testified under oath to his involvement in punching and beating Ronald Smith and also indicated that Anthony Davis-Dixon, as well as this defendant, participated as well."

¶ 15 Defendant pleaded guilty.

¶ 16 C. The Sentencing Hearing

¶ 17 In April 2016, the trial court conducted defendant's sentencing hearing. Defendant presented letters that people wrote to the judge. The letters described (1) defendant's positive qualities; (2) difficulties in defendant's life, particularly his struggles with the death of his father when defendant was 14 years old; (3) defendant's potential, including his plans to join the military; and (4) how defendant was well-loved and deeply missed by his family. The court noted that it read and considered all of the letters.

¶ 18 Defendant's mother, Cynthia Stallings, testified about defendant's difficulties growing up, including his struggles due to her drug addiction. Cynthia also testified that defendant had "matured" while he had been in jail since his arrest. Cynthia asked for mercy for her son and described how he had told her many times about how remorseful he was and how he wished he could take back his actions.

¶ 19 The State recommended that the trial court sentence defendant to 35 years in prison. Defense counsel recommended a sentence of 20 years in prison.

¶ 20 Defendant made a statement in allocution in which he expressed his remorse and apologized to the victim's family, as well as to his own family and friends. Defendant said that he did not deny his part in the crime and also did not deny that he should be punished for it. He said, "I'm just taking on responsibility as a man, and I'm ready to move on with my life and show my nephews and my cousins and my sisters I can do better."

¶ 21 The trial court stated that it considered everything presented at the sentencing hearing, as well as the statutory factors in aggravation and mitigation. The court said, "I find myself figuratively just scratching my head trying to figure out why a young man, especially a young man with no real prior history, would choose to get involved in something this brutal, this violent, this wicked. I just don't understand it." The court noted that the evidence in mitigation as well as the people in the courtroom who came to support defendant "suggests that you're a young man with a lot of potential, with a lot of good character traits." The court characterized the people defendant was with the night of the murder as "a gang of thugs."

¶ 22 The trial court noted that "there is a great deal of mitigation in this case, primarily your youth, your lack of any prior criminal record, your childhood and *** all of the...

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