People v. Wilson

Decision Date04 February 2022
Docket Number1-19-2048
Citation2022 IL App (1st) 192048,201 N.E.3d 122,460 Ill.Dec. 464
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jaber WILSON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

James E. Chadd, Douglas R. Hoff, Jonathan Pilsner, and Kelly Anne Burden, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (John E. Nowak, Brian Levitsky, and Lisanne P. Pugliese, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

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

¶ 1 This is an appeal from the second-stage dismissal of defendant Jaber Wilson's postconviction petition. Following a jury trial, Mr. Wilson was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 65 years in prison. In his petition, Mr. Wilson asserted, among other things, (1) actual innocence based on the affidavit of a previously unknown eyewitness who would testify that he saw another man shoot and kill the victim and (2) that, as applied to him, a de facto life sentence for a crime committed when he was 19 years old violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution ( Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11 ). The circuit court dismissed Mr. Wilson's amended petition, concluding that he had failed to make a substantial showing of a constitutional violation under either theory. Mr. Wilson now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we disagree with the circuit court's assessment of the legal sufficiency of both of Mr. Wilson's claims and reverse and remand this matter for a third-stage evidentiary hearing.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The victim in this case, Geno Moffett, was fatally shot shortly after 11 p.m. on September 20, 2006, at the Buchanan Barbershop, located at 430 East 75th Street in Chicago. Following a two-day jury trial, Mr. Wilson was found guilty of first degree murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2004)) and sentenced to 65 years in prison—40 years for the murder ( 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-20(a) (West 2008)) plus a mandatory firearm enhancement of 25 years (id. § 5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(iii)).

¶ 4 A. Mr. Wilson's Trial

¶ 5 The evidence presented at trial, though already summarized by this court in Mr. Wilson's earlier appeals, is revisited and set out again here to provide context for Mr. Wilson's actual innocence claim and to acknowledge certain details that, in light of the new evidence Mr. Wilson has submitted in support of that claim, may bear additional scrutiny.

¶ 6 1. The Physical Evidence

¶ 7 An autopsy confirmed that Mr. Moffett died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen, lower back, and head. According to the assistant medical examiner, those wounds were not the result of close-range firing, meaning the shooter had to have been more than a foot and a half away. Two bullets were recovered from Mr. Moffett's body and a third, fired from the same gun, was found on the floor of the barbershop. The State's ballistics expert concluded that the murder weapon was likely a .357 or .38 special caliber Colt revolver. When the shooting occurred, Mr. Moffett was wearing blue jeans and a brown T-shirt. In photographs and a video of the crime scene that was played for the jury, blood stains are visible on the carpet behind the front desk of the barbershop and an orange floppy hat and cell phone can be seen lying on the floor. The video also shows that vertical blinds installed in the storefront windows of the barbershop were drawn back from the center, partially blocking the left and far right edges of the windows but leaving a large section in the middle unobscured, such that the interior of the barbershop was visible from the outside.

¶ 8 2. The State's Eyewitnesses

¶ 9 Lacking any physical evidence suggesting that Mr. Wilson was the shooter, the State's case against him hinged on the testimony of two eyewitnesses: Jamique Walker and Markis Robinson. The accounts these witnesses provided were largely, though not entirely, consistent with each other. Mr. Walker testified that he cut hair at the barbershop and that on the night of the shooting he was in possession of a laptop belonging to the victim, which he planned to return to Mr. Moffett that night. Mr. Walker had gone to get the laptop and was on his way back to the barbershop when he saw Mr. Robinson, a long-time friend of Mr. Moffett's. Mr. Robinson testified that he had borrowed Mr. Moffett's Range Rover and likewise planned to return it to him that night. Mr. Robinson took the laptop for Mr. Moffett and also arranged to meet Mr. Walker at the barbershop to get a haircut. He arrived 10 to 12 minutes later, Mr. Walker cut his hair, and that is when Mr. Moffett arrived, at around 11 p.m., with an unidentified woman who waited outside the barbershop for him.

¶ 10 Mr. Walker testified that he had finished cutting Mr. Robinson's hair and was having a "heated conversation" with Mr. Moffett about a new real estate law, when a man named Eric walked in with another client of Mr. Walker's, known to him only as "J. Bird," a young man Mr. Walker did not know, and "some other little kids," although the "kids" soon left the barbershop. Mr. Walker later identified J. Bird as the defendant, Mr. Wilson. According to Mr. Walker, Eric was wearing a white T-shirt and J. Bird was wearing "[l]ike a powder blue jacket with blue sleeves, white T-shirt, some jeans, and a hat." Mr. Robinson likewise testified that a person named J. Bird, whom he had only met once before, arrived shortly after 11 p.m. with two men Mr. Robinson knew as Eric and Reese. Mr. Robinson said that J. Bird was wearing a hoodie on the night of the shooting, though he could not recall what color it was, and may have also been wearing a skull cap.

¶ 11 J. Bird, Eric, and Reese sat down, and Mr. Walker began to cut Eric's hair while still talking to Mr. Moffett. Mr. Robinson testified that the man known as J. Bird then approached him and accused him of trying to rob him on a prior occasion. When Mr. Robinson denied the accusation, J. Bird stood up and drew a small black revolver from his waistband. Mr. Moffett, unarmed, attempted to intervene and, when he failed to comply with J. Bird's instruction to get back, J. Bird shot him in the stomach. Mr. Robinson testified that Mr. Moffett backed away, telling J. Bird it was "okay," but J. Bird shot him again in the shoulder and, when he fell to the ground, shot him a third time in the neck. All of this happened very quickly, according to Mr. Robinson, who insisted that he had remained seated nearby until the last shot was fired and thus had a clear line of sight. Only when Mr. Moffett fell to the ground did Mr. Robinson flee to the back of the barber shop. From there, he saw the man known as J. Bird and later identified as Mr. Wilson run out of the barbershop.

¶ 12 Mr. Walker provided a similar account of the shooting. According to him, J. Bird and Mr. Robinson were having "a heated conversation." J. Bird asked Mr. Robinson, "[w]here do I know you from?" and Mr. Robinson responded, "you know where the f*** you know me from." J. Bird then said, "you are the stupid mother f*** that tried to rob me, but your mother f*** gun got jammed." Alarmed by the intensity of the exchange, Mr. Walker asked the others if the two were being serious. According to him, Mr. Moffett "took it upon himself to get up out of the seat and approach J. Bird," telling him to "calm down with all that reckless talk." J. Bird then rose from his seat and drew a long-nose pistol, prompting Mr. Moffett to say "I ain't scared of no mother f*** gun." Mr. Walker was heading toward the back of the barbershop, away from the confrontation, when he heard the first shot. According to him, J. Bird shot Mr. Moffett in the leg, Mr. Moffett fell down and moved to the wall where he "received another shot," and then, as he lay on the floor screaming, "the last shots came." Mr. Walker testified that he and Mr. Robinson took shelter in the stairwell behind the shop.

¶ 13 Mr. Robinson testified that he waited a few minutes before leaving the barbershop, driving away in the Range Rover he had planned to return to Mr. Moffett. He did not get far before he was stopped by police, who told him that a Range Rover had been involved in a shooting. Mr. Robinson acknowledged that, scared and confused, he told the police that he had just been passing by, that he had heard the shots and saw people running but had not actually witnessed the shooting. After he was brought in overnight for questioning, however, he changed his story, ultimately identifying Mr. Wilson as the shooter from a photo array. The next day, the police took Mr. Robinson to testify before a grand jury, but Mr. Robinson was scared and left the courthouse without testifying. It was not until he was arrested in April 2007 that he finally testified before the grand jury.

¶ 14 Mr. Walker testified that immediately after the shooting, he called the police from the stairwell of the barbershop. He heard people fleeing the building and, when the commotion died down, went upstairs and saw Mr. Moffett on the floor by the front desk. When the police arrived, Mr. Walker told them "J. Bird did it." They brought him to the station and showed him a photo array, from which he was not able to make an identification. After telling the officers about a recent injury that J. Bird had suffered, however, a second photo array was prepared, and Mr. Walker identified Mr. Wilson as J. Bird from that array. Mr. Walker also identified the orange floppy hat and cell phone found near the barbershop's front desk as items belonging to Mr. Moffett.

¶ 15 On cross-examination, defense counsel explored the fact that, according to Mr. Walker, the shooter had used his right hand. Mr. Walker agreed on cross-examination that J. Bird had been shot in the right hand a few weeks before the shooting at the barbershop and "hadn't been on the streets for a while." He explained, however, that J. Bird had "used both...

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