People v. Williams, 80377

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtFREEMAN
Citation181 Ill.2d 297,229 Ill.Dec. 898,692 N.E.2d 1109
Parties, 229 Ill.Dec. 898 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Elton L. WILLIAMS, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 80377,80377
Decision Date23 January 1998

Page 1109

692 N.E.2d 1109
181 Ill.2d 297, 229 Ill.Dec. 898
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
Elton L. WILLIAMS, Appellant.
No. 80377.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Jan. 23, 1998.

Opinion Modified on Denial of Rehearing Jan. 23, 1998.

Page 1115

[229 Ill.Dec. 904] [181 Ill.2d 305] State Appellate Defender, Supreme Court Unit,Allen H. Andrews, Asst. State Appellate Defender, Springfield, for Elton L. Williams.

Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Div., Chicago, State's Attorney, Will County, Joliet, Penelope M. George, Assistant Attorney General, Chicago, for the People.

[181 Ill.2d 306] Chief Justice FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Will County, defendant, Elton L. Williams, was convicted of first degree murder arising from the shooting death of police officer Timothy Simenson. At a separate sentencing hearing, the same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty. The jury also found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence. The trial judge accordingly sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's 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 which follow, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.


We here provide the relevant facts leading to defendant's arrest and conviction. Other facts will be provided as they pertain to the issues discussed.

On September 28, 1994, shortly after midnight, Bill Chaney parked his car in the lot of the Arbor Club apartment complex and walked to the entrance of his apartment building at 1620 Arbor Club in Crest Hill, Illinois. He noticed a white car with its motor running, but saw no one in it. As Chaney approached the entrance of his building, Elton Williams, the defendant, ran towards him, pointed an altered .22-caliber rifle at him, and demanded his wallet. Chaney tossed his wallet, fled to his apartment, and dialed 911.

At 12:23 a.m., Jane Randolph, emergency dispatcher for the Crest Hill police department, answered Chaney's call. Chaney told

Page 1116

[229 Ill.Dec. 905] Randolph he was robbed at gunpoint by a black man wearing a black jacket. He also mentioned the possible involvement of a white car.

At the time of Chaney's call, Sergeant Simenson and Officer Evanoff were parked in their respective squad [181 Ill.2d 307] cars near Chaney's apartment complex. Upon hearing the call, they immediately drove towards the Arbor Club complex, where they saw a black male driving a white car out of the parking lot. Simenson followed the white car; Evanoff drove to Chaney's residence. Simenson reported the license plate to Randolph and she advised him that the plates were registered to a 1989 Ford. Simenson reported that he was going to stop the car at Theodore and Burry Circle. Officer Ralph Smith also heard the call and went to assist Simenson.

When Officer Smith arrived at Theodore and Burry Circle, Simenson was standing outside of the white car with a black male. Simenson reported the male's name as Gregory Shaw and reported the vehicle identification number of the car. Simenson then shined his flashlight inside the car, removed the keys, and instructed Shaw to move to the rear of the car. Rather than comply, Shaw sat, inexplicably, on the trunk of the white car. Simenson told Shaw to get off the trunk and to stand next to Simenson's squad car, which was parked directly behind them. Shaw slid down from the trunk, but remained there for a few seconds before moving to the squad car.

Simenson unlocked the trunk and lifted the trunk deck, holding the keys in his right hand and a flashlight in his left. As the trunk deck rose, the barrel of a gun simultaneously emerged from within the trunk. As Simenson looked into the trunk, defendant shot Simenson twice in the face. Defendant then aimed the gun at Officer Smith, but the gun jammed. Defendant jumped out of the trunk and continued to aim the gun at Officer Smith. Smith and Evanoff shot defendant until he fell to the ground.

Defendant made a few attempts to get up, but Officer Evanoff ordered him to stay down. Evanoff asked defendant if he had any more weapons and defendant responded that he did not. Evanoff then holstered his weapon and handcuffed defendant.

[181 Ill.2d 308] Two ambulances arrived at the scene of the shooting. Paramedics detected a faint pulse on Simenson, but it was later determined that Simenson died as he fell to the ground. Paramedics treated defendant at the scene and transported him to the hospital; the police transported Shaw to jail. On October 5, 1994, defendant and Shaw were indicted for five counts of first degree murder and one count of armed robbery.

Following trial, a jury found defendant guilty of first degree (knowing) murder, first degree (intentional) murder, and felony murder. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1992). The trial court accepted all the verdicts and entered judgment on the intentional murder count, as well as the armed robbery count to which defendant had already pled guilty.

The jury also found defendant eligible for the death penalty, and following evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the jury further found no mitigation sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. Pursuant to the jury's finding, the trial court imposed a sentence of death.


Defendant raises various issues pertaining to both the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial.

Guilt Phase


Prior to trial, defendant sought to suppress a statement he made to paramedic Scott Shear while in the ambulance. At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, Shear testified that, "out of curiosity," he asked defendant why he shot Officer Simenson. Defendant responded that he shot the officer because he did not want to go to jail. Defendant did not testify at the suppression hearing. The trial court found that defendant [181 Ill.2d 309] had not been given his Miranda rights at the time he made the statement. Nevertheless, the trial court found that the statement was made voluntarily.

Defendant contends that the trial court improperly found that his statement to

Page 1117

[229 Ill.Dec. 906] paramedic Scott Shear was voluntary. Initially, defendant argues that we should conduct a de novo review of this argument. We note that, generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence is subject to reversal only if manifestly erroneous. People v. Dilworth, 169 Ill.2d 195, 201, 214 Ill.Dec. 456, 661 N.E.2d 310 (1996). De novo review by this court is appropriate when neither the facts nor the credibility of witnesses is questioned. People v. Mitchell, 165 Ill.2d 211, 230, 209 Ill.Dec. 41, 650 N.E.2d 1014 (1995). Because issues of credibility and fact are questioned in the present case, we must review this issue based on the manifest weight of the evidence standard.

Whether a statement is made voluntarily is judged by the totality of the circumstances. People v. House, 141 Ill.2d 323, 376, 152 Ill.Dec. 572, 566 N.E.2d 259 (1990). The test to determine whether a confession is voluntary is whether the accused's will was overborne at the time he confessed. People v. Kincaid, 87 Ill.2d 107, 117, 57 Ill.Dec. 610, 429 N.E.2d 508 (1981). If so, the confession cannot be deemed the product of a rational intellect and a free will. Kincaid, 87 Ill.2d at 117, 57 Ill.Dec. 610, 429 N.E.2d 508.

Defendant argues that he was so badly injured from the gunshot wound he sustained that his statement to the paramedic was not the product of a free and rational choice. In support of this argument, defendant cites People v. Strickland, 129 Ill.2d 550, 136 Ill.Dec. 72, 544 N.E.2d 758 (1989). In Strickland, defendant sustained a gunshot wound to his finger. Although the police were aware of defendant's wound, they did not transport him to the hospital until after nine hours in custody. By the time defendant received treatment, he had made five incriminating statements. In upholding the trial court's suppression of defendant's statements, this court held that the defendant's[181 Ill.2d 310] statements were not voluntary because defendant could have concluded that further treatment was dependent on his cooperation with the police. Strickland, 129 Ill.2d at 558, 136 Ill.Dec. 72, 544 N.E.2d 758. See also People v. O'Leary, 45 Ill.2d 122, 257 N.E.2d 112 (1970) (holding that defendant's confession, coming so soon after being sprayed with tear gas, was involuntary and not a product of his free will).

Defendant also relies on Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978). In Mincey, the investigators interrogated the defendant in the hospital a few hours after being seriously wounded by the police. Defendant was in intensive care and intubated. He had been given various drugs and was unable to speak. Defendant responded to questions by writing on pieces of paper; however, some of his answers were not entirely coherent. Although defendant repeatedly requested that the interrogation stop and requested a lawyer, police detectives continued to interrogate him for almost four hours. The Supreme Court stated that based on the record, defendant's statements were not the product of his free and rational choice. The court concluded that, weakened by pain and shock, and barely conscious, defendant's will was simply overborne. Mincey, 437 U.S. at 401-02, 98 S.Ct. at 2418, 57 L.Ed.2d at 306. See also Beecher v. Alabama, 389 U.S. 35, 88 S.Ct. 189, 19 L.Ed.2d 35 (1967) (holding that defendant's confession was a product of gross coercion where he was under the influence of morphine and police threatened to kill him if he refused to confess).

The defendant, like the defendants in Mincey and Strickland, suffered the pain of gunshot wounds at the time he made the statement. However, those cases, as well as O'Leary and Beecher, are clearly distinguishable from...

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