People v. Whitehead, 59050

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtMILLER
Citation116 Ill.2d 425,508 N.E.2d 687,108 Ill.Dec. 376
Parties, 108 Ill.Dec. 376 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. John E. WHITEHEAD, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 59050,59050
Decision Date20 February 1987

Page 687

508 N.E.2d 687
116 Ill.2d 425, 108 Ill.Dec. 376
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
John E. WHITEHEAD, Appellant.
No. 59050.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Feb. 20, 1987.
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing June 5, 1987.

Page 689

[108 Ill.Dec. 378] [116 Ill.2d 433] Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Supreme Court Unit, Springfield, Gary S. Rapaport, Asst. Defender, for appellant.

Neil F. Hartigan, Atty. Gen., Roma J. Stewart, Sol. Gen., Mark L. Rotert, [116 Ill.2d 434] Terence M. Madsen, Asst. Attys. Gen., Chicago, for appellee.

Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

The defendant, John Whitehead, was convicted of murder and aggravated kidnaping (Ill.Rev.Stat.1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1, 10-2) in July 1983, following a jury trial in the circuit court of Grundy County. The defendant waived his right to a jury for purposes of a death penalty hearing, and a sentence of death was imposed by the circuit judge. The defendant's execution was stayed (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)) pending direct review by this court (Ill.Const.1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b); 103 Ill.2d R. 603).

Vickie Wrobel, a five-year-old girl who lived with her parents in Joliet, was missing from the family residence during the evening of August 9, 1982. While searching for her, Vickie Wrobel's mother asked the Wrobels' tenant, Esther Harmon, whether she had seen Vickie. Esther Harmon, her daughter, LeAllen Starbuck, and LeAllen's husband, William Starbuck, lived with the defendant in a house adjacent to the Wrobels' tavern and home. On speaking with Vickie Wrobel's mother, Esther Harmon discovered that both the defendant and the Harmon car, which the defendant sometimes used with her permission, were also missing. Local police agencies were notified that the defendant was suspected of stealing Esther Harmon's car and that he might have taken Vickie Wrobel.

Sometime after midnight the following morning, the defendant telephoned the Wrobels' tavern and spoke with LeAllen Starbuck. He told LeAllen that he was calling from Samuel and Jeanine Starbucks' home in Godley; Jeanine is the defendant's sister and is married to William Starbuck's brother. LeAllen advised the defendant[116 Ill.2d 435] to stay at his sister's home, and she then told the police where the defendant was located.

Shortly after LeAllen's call, area police arrived at the Starbuck residence in Godley. The officers saw Esther Harmon's automobile parked in front of the residence, and from outside the car officers observed clothing on the front seat of the car that matched the description of clothing worn by Vickie Wrobel when she disappeared the previous evening. Samuel Starbuck let the officers into his living room, where the defendant was seated. The defendant admitted to being in possession of

Page 690

[108 Ill.Dec. 379] Esther Harmon's car, and he was arrested for auto theft.

The defendant was questioned by two detectives of the Joliet police department from about 4 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. that day. He was generally responsive, but when questioned concerning the whereabouts or condition of Vickie Wrobel, the defendant made no statements other than "I can't" or "I can't tell you." The interrogation ended when the defendant indicated a desire to consult with an attorney.

An hour or so later, at approximately 7:30 a.m. on August 10, 1982, railroad workers discovered a naked body, later identified as the body of Vickie Wrobel, floating in the Mazon River. An autopsy revealed that the victim had been sexually molested and had been killed by strangulation and drowning. Physical evidence recovered alongside the river included articles of the victim's clothing and a shirt later identified as the shirt worn by the defendant on the evening of August 9. In the shirt pocket there was a lottery ticket with writing that a handwriting analyst identified as the defendant's.

Additional physical evidence implicating the defendant was found in Esther Harmon's automobile. Some of the victim's clothing was on the front seat. Also found was a plastic drinking cup similar to that given Vickie Wrobel by the Wrobels' bartender shortly before the girl [116 Ill.2d 436] disappeared. The armrest and passenger door panel were stained with a fluid that was determined to have a chemical composition consistent with the nonalcoholic "cocktail" served to Vickie Wrobel in the plastic cup. The floormats in Esther Harmon's car were damp, and vegetation like that growing along the Mazon River was also found on the floor area in front of the driver's seat. Other evidence produced at trial placed the defendant in the general vicinity where Vickie Wrobel was playing immediately prior to her apparent kidnaping.

While in the custody of the Joliet police department on the 10th and 11th of August, the defendant made eight statements to investigating officers in which he admitted kidnaping, sexually assaulting, and killing Vickie Wrobel. His description of how he sexually abused the victim was consistent with the autopsy report, and the defendant's claim of having forced Vickie Wrobel to drink beer was also substantiated by the post-mortem examination. The defendant contends that those confessions resulted from the officers' failure to follow procedural safeguards required by Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, and Edwards v. Arizona (1981), 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378, to protect suspects' fifth and fourteenth amendment rights (U.S. Const., amends. V, XIV). The substance of the defendant's argument on appeal is that his confessions were obtained only after the police reinitiated interrogation, in violation of Edwards, following the defendant's request to consult with counsel. Defendant argues that reinitiation occurred when a confrontation between the defendant and LeAllen Starbuck was orchestrated by the police. The State contends that the defendant reinitiated the interrogation by making an unprompted statement to Detective Albritton following a conversation the defendant had with LeAllen Starbuck. The admissibility of the defendant's statement thus turns [116 Ill.2d 437] on the characterization of his conversation with LeAllen: if the conversation is cast as a form of police interrogation, the statements should have been excluded; otherwise, the defendant's statements were properly admitted.

LeAllen Starbuck, defendant's sister-in-law, was allowed to visit with the defendant within hours of his request to see an attorney and before an attorney had been consulted. The police had not sought out LeAllen's cooperation; in fact, Detective Albritton of the Joliet police department refused her original request to speak with the defendant shortly after the defendant had invoked his right to counsel. Nonetheless, LeAllen approached Detective Albritton at the Wrobel residence and again asked to speak with her brother-in-law. Albritton told LeAllen to meet him at the police station, and when she arrived Albritton asked the defendant whether he wanted a visitor. Seeing LeAllen outside the room, the defendant indicated that he did,

Page 691

[108 Ill.Dec. 380] and Albritton left LeAllen so that she could speak with the defendant privately.

Relying on People v. Baugh (1974), 19 Ill.App.3d 448, 311 N.E.2d 607, the defendant argues that LeAllen became a police "instrumentality" who funneled information to the authorities because her interests were so closely aligned with theirs. In Baugh, the appellate court determined that a suspect was subjected to custodial interrogation when the victim's attorney questioned the suspect in the presence of police officers, but Baugh is clearly distinguishable from the facts of this case. LeAllen's interests were not aligned with those of the police authorities because she wanted the defendant to confide in her that he was innocent of kidnaping Vickie Wrobel. Although LeAllen told Detective Albritton that if the defendant would speak with anybody it would be with his sister or with her, she plainly did not have an identity of interest [116 Ill.2d 438] with the police because, as LeAllen testified at the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, she wanted "to hear that he didn't do it; to hear that it wasn't true." The case is further distinguished from Baugh by the absence of police officers during LeAllen's conversation with the defendant. Cf. People v. Hawkins (1972), 53 Ill.2d 181, 290 N.E.2d 231.

Moreover, there was no evidence that LeAllen intended either to persuade the defendant to give a statement to the police regarding the missing child or to pass along to the police any statements the defendant might make to her. Nor did LeAllen become an unwitting instrument of the police who exploited her ignorance of Vickie Wrobel's death. Contrary to the defendant's representations in this appeal the record shows that, at the time LeAllen spoke with the defendant on the morning of his arrest, the body found by the police had not been identified as the body of Vickie Wrobel but LeAllen was aware that a body had already been found. We therefore do not consider LeAllen to have been a police agent or instrumentality during her conversation with the defendant.

In light of LeAllen's statement to Albritton that the defendant would speak to her or Jeanine, the defendant argues that the police should have known that the defendant was especially vulnerable to an appeal from his family; therefore, the defendant believes, the police engaged in a course of conduct that they should have realized was "reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." (Rhode Island v. Innis (1980), 446 U.S. 291, 301, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 1689-90, 64 L.Ed.2d 297, 308.) We do not believe, however, that LeAllen's conversation with the defendant was the sort of police conduct that Miranda perceived as undermining the privilege against self-incrimination. Miranda requires the use of procedural...

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