Characteristics: Robberies - Heroin addict
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: December 5, 1987 / December 6, 1988 / July 25, 1989
Date of arrest: September 6, 1989
Date of birth: December 24, 1954
Victims profile: Lonnie Laws, 79 / Caesar Zuell, 64 / Mary Harris, 97
Method of murder: Strangulation - Stabbing with knife
Location: Cook County, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 18, 1991. Gov. George Ryan in 2003 commuted the death sentences of all condemned inmates in Illinois to life in prison without parole
Dorothy Williams, 44, was sentenced in 1991 to die for the 1989 strangling of 97-year-old Mary Harris. She also pleaded guilty to strangling Lonnie Laws in 1987 and stabbing Caesar Zurell in 1988. All 3 were elderly people whom Williams killed after robbing them to buy heroin.
STATUS OF CONVICTIONS
Petitioner Dorothy Williams is presently confined at the Dwight Correctional Center under sentence of death imposed on April 18, 1991 by the Circuit Court of Cook County in case number 89-20869 following petitioner’s conviction after a jury trial of murder and robbery (A jury was waived for sentencing.)
Petitioner’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, People v. Williams,164 Ill.2d 1 (1994). (Appendix 1-11.) Petitioner’s application for relief underthe post-conviction hearing act was recently remanded for an evidentiary hearing, People v. Williams, No. 88663 (June 20, 2002). (Appendix 12-17.) The post-conviction matter is presently pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Petitioner was tried and convicted under her birth name of Dorothy Williams. Petitioner does not know her social security number; petitioner’s prison number is B21483. The presentence report (Appendix 18-31) reports that petitioner’s Chicago "IR" number is 356618, her FBI number is 245 787 M7,and her Illinois SID is IL19971020.
FACTS OF THE OFFENSE
The facts of the offense are set out in the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court on direct appeal:
At trial the evidence of guilt marshaled by the State against the defendant was overwhelming. Not the least of it was defendant’s statement made to police on September 7, 1989, before a court reporter that defendant had strangled Harris and had taken a "component set" from the victim’s apartment.
In the statement, which was read to the jury, defendant said that on July 25, 1989, she hadgone into Harris’ apartment and had talked with Harris for about 10 minutes, at which time Harris asked her to go to the store forher and gave her $2 for that purpose. As she gave defendant the money, Harris turned around, and defendant grabbed her from theback," putting her arms around Harris’ stomach and "trying to stopher from talking."
Defendant did so, she stated, because she wanted to "[g]et the component set" to sell for drugs. Harris wastelling defendant in a loud voice to let her go, and when Harris began to scratch defendant, defendant "grabbed" a "rag" Harris wore around her head and tried to put it over Harris’ mouth "[s]oshe wouldn’t scream." As defendant put the rag over Harris’ mouth and around her neck, Harris was "pulling it trying to get it off" and attempting to get away from defendant.
Defendant described therag as having been around Harris’ neck for "[a]bout a half aminute or a minute." When Harris fainted and began to fall, defendant "threw her on the bed." As Harris started to fall, she was saying, "[O]h"; when defendant threw her on the bed, she had stopped speaking. After throwing Harris down, defendant said, she "grabbed the component set and * * * left out."
Among other evidence introduced by the State was the testimonyof Marian Harris, the victim’s daughter, that when she had visitedher mother on the morning of her death, Mary Harris was wearinga pink scarf on her head. Marian Harris testified further that following her mother’s death a small Realistic Clarinet 16 stereo set she had purchased for her mother was missing. On the morning of September 7, 1989, she identified a stereo set at the police station as the one she had purchased for her mother. Following her mother’s death the witness discovered missing one of three largeboxes that had been in her mother’s apartment on the morning ofher death and a lightweight sheer print bedspread.
Hubert Carmichael, a resident of the same apartment building as the victim, testified that at about 6:30 p.m. on July 25, 1989, as he was standing at the window of the day room on the first floor, he saw a woman whom he identified as the defendant leaving the building alone and carrying a box large enough to hold the stereo set found to be missing from the victim’s apartment.
The woman, whom Carmichael had seen on numerous prior occasions, was dressed in what appeared to him to be a white nurse’s uniform. When he saw her again on September 6, 1989, defendant’s haircolor had been changed to red, and she was wearing glasses.
Another resident of the building, Willie Shelby, testified that shehad left the victim’s apartment at about 6 p.m. on the evening ofher death. A detective who had been called to the scene of the homicide fol-lowing its discovery at about 8 p.m. testified that the dresserdrawers of the victim’s apartment were found to be open and in disarray, as was her closet.
Her body was lying on the bed, a "bandanna" around her neck knotted in front. Entry appeared not to have been forced. Detective Schmidt testified concerning there covery of a "Realistic clarinet number sixteen stereo system with two speakers" from the defendant’s apartment on the afternoon of September 6, 1989. He recounted defendant’s statement that it washer property and that she had bought it "hot," as stolen merchandise, on the street about a month earlier from a black male whom she did not know and was unable to describe.
Expert testimony established that the defendant’s fingerprints were found on objects that were inside the apartment of Harris after her death. The medical examiner described the victim’s body as having a ligature around the neck, namely, a pink "kerchief" knotted at the angle ofthe jaw and wrapped tightly around the neck. The victim’s hyoidbone had been fractured, an indication that "really extreme pressure" had been applied to the neck. In his opinion the cause of death of the victim, who was approximately 5 feet 3 inches talland weighed 99 pounds fully clad, was ligature strangulation. Bothof the victim’s eyes were black and blue, a result, in his opinion, of having been struck.
Following her conviction in this case, petitioner pleaded guilty to other charges and is presently serving the following sentences: 89 CR 20871, Armed Robbery, 30 year sentence; 89 CR 3376, Robbery, 7 years; 89 CR 20870, Robbery, 7 years; 89 CR 20871, Murder, Life; 89 CR 20870, Murder, Life.
OCTOBER 2002 SESSION PRISONER REVIEW BOARD STATE OF ILLINOIS
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS vs INMATE NO. B21483 DOROTHY WILLIAMS
The People of the State of Illinois strenuously oppose petitioner Dorothy Williams’ request that her death sentence be commuted and further request that the Prisoner Review Board of the State of Illinois grant a full and complete hearing in opposition to executive clemency.
A full hearing will demonstrate that Williams is a serial murderer of the elderly who has repeatedly and maliciously sought out the frailest victims, robbed them of their possessions, and cruelly murdered them if they had the temerity to resist her.
Williams’ legacy of horror and heartache is rooted in her discovery of senior citizens’ housing projects, for located in these buildings Williams accumulated and cultivated an endless source of helpless victims. These havens for the elderly became Williams’ hunting grounds.
Using various ruses to gain access to the seniors, Williams used her cunning to move freely through the buildings in search of quick cash and easy prey. As her crimes mounted and the residents became more fearful and wary, Williams simply became more cunning, ruthless and brutally violent.
Whether posing as a worker, or simply asking a kind-hearted soul for a glass of water, Williams entered homes and ended lives, simply because she wanted a few bucks. For pocket money, Williams beat and stabbed her three murder victims.
Despite their frailty these people fought hard for their lives and died slow, painful and, as a result, chillingly horrific deaths. It is shameful that these victims lived long and fruitful lives only to die during every person’s worst nightmare: a home invasion by a brutal stranger. These helpless seniors, frail with age and medical disabilities, opened their doors to terrifying deaths, inflicted by a worthless criminal who has no place in civilized society.
Williams is a street cunning, brutal murderer convicted with overwhelming physical, forensic, and testimonial evidence. Williams gave three court-reported confessions to three separate murders of senior citizens. She has never claimed actual innocence.
Through extended fitness hearings and expert evaluations it has been demonstrated that she attempted to translate her street smarts to forensic psychiatry and failed miserably. These hearings exposed her as a manipulative malingerer, still trying to avoid responsibility for her heinous and callous acts. As set out below, Williams was convicted by overwhelming evidence and sentenced due to overwhelming aggravation.
To even consider commuting her sentence would be the ultimate travesty of justice by violating these elderly victims’ dignity yet again On April 18, 1991, the Honorable Judge Shelvin Singer sentenced Dorothy Williams to death in case No. 89CR-20869, for the first-degree strangulation murder and robbery of 97-year-old Mary Harris. As the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously stated, “the evidence of guilt marshaled by the State against the defendant was overwhelming.” People v. Williams, 164 Ill.2d 1, 27, 645 N.E.2d 844, 853 (1994).
Her fingerprints were found at the scene. The proceeds of the robbery were found at her home, there was a witness placing her at the scene. Moreover, the defendant confessed before a court- reporter to the murder of Mary Harris. After the defendant was sentenced to death she plead guilty to three other cases where she victimized frail senior citizens. She was sentenced to natural life in 89CR-20870 and 89CR-20871, the felony murders of seniors Lonnie Laws and Caesar Zuell.
The defendant was also sentenced to 7 years in the penitentiary for the robbery of wheel- chair bound Jasper Irving. The evidence in all of these cases showed that the defendant preyed on the weak, feeble and elderly in their own homes. Dorothy Williams’ conviction and sentence were unanimously affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 164 Ill.2d 1 (1994).
A post-conviction petition where she alleged a myriad of mental health issues that she was denied by Judge Shelvin Singer on August 20, 1999. At that time Judge Singer found that “there was overwhelming competent evidence from the record of the trial court proceedings which reveals convincingly that petitioner was not illiterate and did not have impairment of her intellect.” The testimony adduced at this lengthy, protracted hearing lasted several days and consists of hundreds of pages of transcript. A copy of Judge Singer’s fifty-page ruling is appended to this response.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently found that Judge Singer should have addressed the issues of fitness for post-conviction proceedings and the allegations within the post-conviction petition separately and has remanded the case for a hearing on the merits of the post-conviction petition. The Court did not rule on the merits or lack thereof of defendant’s claims. People v. Williams, __ Ill.2d__, 2002 Ill. Lexis 340 (2002).
There exists a voluminous amount of evidence establishing Dorothy Williams systematically robbed and killed seniors on the South Side of Chicago over a three to four year period. She also introduced her daughter Cherika Williams to a senior, who Cherika in turn robbed, following defendant’s death sentence. Dorothy Williams was clinically and judicially found to be a malingerer, or faker, on the issue of her alleged mental disability. Notwithstanding the above, the defendant is asking for executive clemency claiming that she is mentally retarded.
The People vehemently oppose this request.
Facts of the Case
On July 25, 1989, 97-year-old Mary Harris spent five hours of her last day on earth with her daughter Marian at Mary’s apartment at 4030 South Lake Park in Chicago. Mary had lived in apartment 1204 of the Chicago Housing Authority Senior Building since the late 1960's or early 1970's. When Marian left her mother at 2:30 p.m., Mary Harris was in good health and wore a pink scarf around her head.
At 8 p.m., elderly friends of the victim found her door ajar. She was discovered dead, with her kerchief around her neck. The police were summoned and her daughter was called.
Detectives Patrick McDonald and Thomas Grady went to the victim's apartment and discovered no sign of forced entry. They observed Mary Harris lying on her bed. Both of Ms. Harris' eyes were blackened and a pink scarf was knotted around her neck. Dresser drawers were open and in disarray, as was her closet. Evidence technicians found fingerprint impressions on five items that were sent to the crime laboratory.
When Marian Harris entered her mother's apartment that night, she too saw that it had been ransacked. A Realistic Clarinet Sixteen, a small stereo, was missing as well as a small cardboard box and a lightweight sheer bedspread. Marian Harris identified the stereo at the police station after it had been recovered from defendant's apartment.
Seventy-one-year old Hubert Carmichael reported to the police that at 6:30 p.m., while he was in the day room on the first floor of 4030 S. Lake Park, he saw the defendant leaving the building alone carrying a box large enough to hold the missing stereo set. He had seen the defendant many times before and knew she had no legitimate reason to be in the senior citizens building, she did not live there, had no relatives there, and did not work there.
It was Mr. Carmichael who helped the police solve Mary Harris’ murder. On September 6, 1989, he saw the defendant, who had died her hair red and was wearing glasses, with another woman, walking away from the corner bus stop. Mr. Carmichael excitedly pointed defendant out to Officer Betty Woods. He told her what he had seen the night of the murder and that he had also seen at another time the defendant choke another elderly resident of the building.
Officer Woods, a senior citizens officer for the Chicago Police Department, approached the two women. Officer Woods spoke with defendant and her companion. Defendant lied to Officer Woods, saying that her name was "Deborah" Williams. Officer Woods transported the two to the Area One Detective Division.
The defendant continued to claim she was Deborah Williams to the detectives. After being advised of her rights, she initially stated she had not been in the 4030 Lake Park building in years and that she did not know the victim.
Following this conversation, defendant signed a consent to search form. The officers went
to defendant's apartment and recovered a Realistic Clarinet Number Sixteen stereo with two speakers. As the evidence against her mounted, the defendant began to change her story bit by bit. When confronted with Mary Harris’ stereo, Dorothy Williams admitted it belonged to her. Defendant stated that she had purchased the stolen stereo approximately one month earlier from an unknown male black. Defendant could not estimate the person’s age, weight, height or complexion. After this conversation an evidence technician was called to take defendant's fingerprints.
The defendant then admitted that she previously gone to 4030 S. Lake Park, but stated that she had never been on the victim’s floor. Once again she claimed she could not describe the person from whom she bought the stereo.
After speaking with Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Bilyk, Dorothy Williams, using her true name, gave a handwritten statement, which she read and signed in three places. Defendant stated that she was in the victim's building on the evening of the murder to visit her friend "R.L." She met Clyde in the elevator and agreed to buy a stereo from him. They went to the twelfth floor and Clyde opened the victim's door with a key.
The victim was "already moaning." Clyde went in and choked the victim with both hands. When he finished choking the victim, defendant gave Clyde twenty dollars and lifted the stereo set off of a dresser. Defendant and Clyde left the building together, Clyde carried the stereo set out of the building. They walked together to defendant's apartment.
When a detective confronted her with the fact that Hubert Carmichael had seen her leave the building alone carrying a box, the defendant changed her story once again. In this final version, which was subsequently witnessed by Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Jacobs and transcribed by a court reporter, the defendant stated that she had gone to the victim's apartment looking for money to buy heroin.
Defendant knocked on Mary Harris'door and was admitted by Ms. Harris. The two had a short conversation. Ms. Harris gave defendant two dollars to go buy her some milk. When Ms. Harris turned, defendant wrapped her arms around the victim's waist, pulled her tight and the victim started screaming. To silence her, the defendant took the "little rag" that Ms. Harris was wearing on her head and pulled it tight into the victim's mouth. The struggle continued and Ms. Harris scratched at defendant. The "rag" came down around Ms. Harris' neck and defendant tightened it. Ms. Harris lost consciousness and defendant dragged the victim'sbody into the bedroom. Ms. Harris' body was cold to the touch. Defendant took the stereo set and left the apartment.
After the statement was typed, the defendant read the first page of the statement out loud, initialed each page and signed the final page of her statement.
Additionally, an expert determined that the defendant’s fingerprints had been found on two items in Mary Harris’s apartment, a gift box and a business card.
Dr. Robert J. Stein, the Chief Medical Examiner of Cook County, performed Mary Harris’ autopsy. Dr. Stein observed a "ligature," a pink handkerchief that was knotted tightly around Ms. Harris' neck. Dr. Stein removed the handkerchief and saw an abrasion on Ms. Harris' neck. The victim also suffered two black eyes, caused by separate blows, and small hemorrhages in the whites of the eyes that were consistent with strangulation.
His internal examination showed a hemorrhage to the neck and a hemorrhage to the 'strap' muscles. Her hyoid bone, which sits above and behind the adam's apple, was fractured. Dr. Stein determined that seventeen pounds of pressure per square inch must have been exerted to fracture the hyoid bone. Dr. Stein's expert opinion was that Mary Harris died from ligature strangulation.
The defense offered no evidence at trial. Both sides presented closing arguments and the jury was instructed on the applicable law. The jury found defendant guilty of murder and robbery.
Death Penalty Hearing
The defendant waived a jury for purpose of the sentencing hearing. After the first phase of the hearing was completed, Judge Singer concluded that the killing of Mary Harris was executed during the completion of a robbery and found Dorothy Williamseligible for the death penalty.
During the second phase of the death penalty hearing, extensive evidence was presented showing how the defendant preyed on the elderly. As the Supreme Court noted, “The evidence indicated in order to gain entrance to the apartments of many of these elderly persons, as well as the apartments of still others, defendant used various ruses, including the pretense that the resident knew or was related to her and the deception that the defendant had come to aid the resident. The evidence indicated that defendant was often physically abusive of these elderly persons whom she robbed.” 164 Ill.2d at 25.
Testimony was given concerning the two felony murders, 89CR-20870 and 89CR-20871, of senior citizens Lonnie Laws and Caesar Zuell which the defendant subsequently plead guilty to and was sentenced to natural life by the Honorable Judge James Heyda. The defendant has never challenged the validity of those convictions or sentences.
With respect to the murder of 79-year-old Lonnie Laws, on December 5, 1987 a police officer was dispatched to 4218 South Cottage Grove, apartment 710 and found Lonnie Laws motionless on his apartment floor. Two articles of clothing were wrapped in a gag-like fashion around Mr. Laws face and a belt was wrapped tightly by around his neck. As in the case of Mary Harris, this apartment was in disarray, the closet was rummaged through and clothes were thrown on the floor. There was no sign of forced entry. A wallet was opened on the bed, drawers were open and the contents were strewn about the room.
Due to the similarities between the two murders, the defendant was questioned regarding the murder of Lonnie Laws while in custody for Mary Harris’ murder. The defendant gave another court-reported confession to Assistant State’s Attorney Jacobs. Defendant stated that on the date of the murder she had sex with Mr. Laws, who was intoxicated and "wild.”
When defendant asked for money, Mr. Laws told defendant she would have to come back for it. Defendant went through Mr. Laws' drawers when he cut defendant with a knife. Defendant got angry and grabbed Mr. Laws. According to defendant, she gagged him with a belt that was hanging around his neck and asked for her money. When Mr. Laws did not give defendant the money, defendant tightened the belt around his neck and pushed Mr. Laws down. Defendant took the money from Mr. Laws'robe and left.
The parties agreed that the defendant’s fingerprint was recovered from the exterior door of Mr. Laws' apartment. The parties also stipulated that the autopsy revealed Mr. Laws was five feet five inches tall and weighed 94 pounds. Mr. Laws suffered hemorrhaging in both eyes and abrasions to his face and nose. Mr. Laws was gagged with a pajama top that was tied in the back of the neck. Around Mr. Laws' neck was a belt. Between Mr. Laws' eyebrows were multiple, irregular areas of abrasion and bruising. Internal examination revealed multiple areas of hemorrhaging in the neck, throat, esophagus and tongue and a fracture of the thyroid cartilage. The autopsy determined that Lonnie Laws died of ligature strangulation. His blood alcohol level was well below the legal definition of intoxication.
Concerning the murder of Caesar Zuell, on December 6, 1988 another officer was summoned to apartment 813 at the senior building at 740 East 43rd Street. Upon entering the apartment, the officer observed the decomposed body. The fire department was called, and air tanks were requested because of the unbearable stench emanating fromthe apartment.
The parties agreed to the testimony that an evidence technician found a latent fingerprint impression from a whiskey bottle in Caesar Zuell's apartment and sent it to the crime lab. The parties also stipulated that an expert fingerprint examiner, found the defendant's palmprint on that bottle.
Both sides also agreed to the results of Caesar Zuell’s autopsy. It showed Caesar Zuell was five foot, seven inches, weighed 120 pounds and was sixty-four years old. Mr. Zuell's body exhibited skin slippage and discoloration indicating decomposition. Mr. Zuell died from three stabs wounds to the chest and a lacerated lung.
Assistant State's Attorney Gabriel DeMatteo testified he took a court-reported statement from the defendant on September 8, 1989. The defendant told him in December of 1988 she got a call from Caesar Zuell asking defendant to have sex with him for fifty dollars. After purchasing a pint of whiskey, she went to Mr. Zuell's. Mr. Zuell did not want to pay defendant, so she wrestled with him trying to go into his pockets.
Mr. Zuell told defendant to leave his apartment brandishing a pocket-type knife. Defendant grabbed Mr. Zuell by the wrist and pushed the knife into his chest. After this struggle, defendant reached into Mr. Zuell's pocket, took eighty seven dollars and left. She claimed Mr. Zuell was still standing when she took the money.
During the death penalty hearing, there was additional evidence concerning the defendant’s victimization of the elderly. Seventy-two year old Jasper Irving was wheeled into the courtroom. He testified that he suffered from cancer of the vocal chords and had been using a walker for fifteen or twenty years.
On January 11, 1986, Mr. Irving was living at the senior citizen’s building at 4949 South Cottage Grove. On that day, the defendant, who Mr. Irving had seen in the building before, knocked on Mr. Irving's door. When the defendant stated she wanted some beer, Mr. Irving put two dollars on the table.
The defendant stated it was not enough, grabbed the money that Mr. Irving was holding in his hand and the two dollars off the table and fled. After defendant left, Mr. Irving called someformer neighbors who were familiar with defendant who told Mr. Irving defendant's name. Mr. Irving then called the police. One week later Mr. Irving identified the defendant for the police.
Defendant was arrested, released on bond and never appeared in court to answer these charges.
On April 4, 1989, Mr. Irving was in his apartment at 4949 South Cottage Grove when someone knocked on his door. The person outside Mr. Irving's door told himthere was a gas leak. Mr. Irving cracked open the door and saw defendant. She forced her way into his apartment, knocking him to the floor. Defendant beat him in the head with a stick and Mr. Irving fell backwards.
Defendant then put her foot in the victim's face, got a dishtowel and tied it around Mr. Irving's throat. Defendant then tightened the towel and dragged him to the front of the apartment and said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with you." Mr. Irving told defendant where he had two hundred and sixty dollars hidden and she released him. Defendant took the money and Mr. Irving's key and left the apartment.
Mr. Irving called the police and identified her from a group of photographs. Two years later defendant was apprehended and Mr. Irving went to court and identified defendant. Mr. Irving testified that his skull was fractured as the result of the beating he received from defendant. At the time of her arrest for Mary Harris’ murder, defendant had an outstanding bond forfeiture warrant for this second robbery of Mr. Irving.
Following defendant’s sentence of death, she plead guilty to that robbery in Case No. 89CR-3376 and was sentenced to 7 years in the penitentiary by Judge Heyda. Once again, defendant is not challenging this conviction or sentence.
The People also presented evidence that the defendant had robbed three other seniors in Mary Harris’ building or in surrounding senior buildings, Frederick Adamson on July 4, 1989; Clyde Simmons on July 1, 1989, and Martha Foster on April 4, 1989. The defendant’s July 4, 1989 robbery of Adamson was the third time she had victimized him. During the first robbery of Adamson, she had squeezed his tongue and pulled it. During the Simmons robbery, she had twisted his genitals and threatened to pull off his penis if he did not give her money.
On August 2, 1989, a mere eight days after she killed Mary Harris, the defendant was arrested for trespassing in the senior citizen building at 400 East 41stStreet. In this case her attempt to enter a senior’s apartment by ruse was thwarted. The defendant had already dyed her hair red claimed that her identity was her deceased sister Peggy Williams when she was arrested and questioned by the police.
Additional evidence showed that in October of 1973, the defendant hit EmmaLipsey with a 18 square inch wooden milk crate, knocking out two of her lower teeth. On May 30, 1973, defendant kicked and stuck a police officer 10 to 12 times in the face and chest after he arrested her for creating a disturbance. Defendant was convicted and fined for resisting arrest. On March 10, 1975, defendant was convicted of delivery and possession of marijuana and was sentenced to 18 months misdemeanor probation and fined $200. While defendant was incarcerated pending her trial for Mary Harris’ murder, she verbally abused and threatened a female correctional officer.
In mitigation, the defendant presented testimony that while pending trial, her only disciplinary violation was the November 23, 1989 offense. Defendant’s mother, Annie Pearl Williams testified that the defendant’s deceased father’s contact with her had been limited essentially to “writing.”
Annie Pearl Williams testified that the defendant had attended school until she became pregnant with Cherika at 15. At no time did Annie Pearl Williams testify that the defendant was unable to read this correspondence or that she was of limited intelligence.
Annie Pearl Williams testified that at the time of the hearing defendant’s daughter Cherika was 22 years old and her son Terrance was 20. Cherika testified that she had been raised by her mother and had a normal upbringing. (As previously noted, subsequent to the defendant’s sentence of death, Cherika Williams plead guilty to the July 3, 1992 aggravated battery to a senior citizen of 80-year-old Nathaniel Crenshaw in case 92CR-17216. In her statement to the police, Cherika stated that she had been introduced to Crenshaw by her mother and that she was attempting to take money from him when she cut him with a knife (see appendix).
The defense presented no other evidence in mitigation. After both sides presented arguments, Judge Singer found that no mitigating factors existed sufficient to preclude the sentence of death.
Petitioner claims that her death sentence should be commuted in light of Atkins v.Virginia, 122 S. Ct. 2242 (2002), because she is allegedly mentally retarded. Although the court in Atkins noted that mental retardation is characterized as having a significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning and significant limitations in adaptive functioning in at least two skill areas with the onset prior to age 18 (122 S.Ct. at 2245 n.3), the Court expressly stated that it was not adopting a definition of mental retardation and left it to the various states to adopt a definition of mental retardation and delineate procedures for determining whether or not a particular defendant is mentally retarded. Id. at 2249-50.
No case, by any standard, for mental retardation has been established regarding the defendant. To the contrary, the testimony and rulings to date have portrayed the defendant as a highly, skilled and highly manipulative person. The People have detailed the facts of the defendant’s crimes that were the basis of clinical psychologist Edward Blumstein’s findings that “there was premeditation involved, that she was rather deceptive, wily ruthless” in her victimization of the elderly.
Dr. Blumstein, further testified that defendant’s IQ tests were all over the board, ranging from 59-73. He characterized her as a malingerer, a faker. Dr. Blumstein, testified that a number of the defendant’s IQ test scores were in the normal, although low normal range. It was his expert opinion that the below normal scores were a result of the defendant faking her condition.
Specifically, Dr. Blumstein testified “(T)his is an individual who is attempting to portray her intellectual functioning at a much lower level that it really is, but at the same time that she’s doing that is unable to actually recall exactly how she performed the time before. So you’re going to have fluctuations that are occurring way beyond chance. In other words, if this were an individual who were truly brain damaged (defendant claimed in her post-conviction petition that her alleged mental deficiencies were caused by an accident which resulted in brain damage. She has been unable to substantiate these allegations.), you pretty much see a flat line. You know, you’d get two, three, possibly four point discrepancies. But not ten points…(S)he’s malingering.”
Perhaps even more telling both Dr. Blumstein and Dr. Mathew Markos, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that the defendant was able to manipulate them when they first evaluated her in 1995 to ascertain her fitness for post-conviction petition and retroactive fitness for trial issues. Defendant clearly has the intelligence to initially con both these doctors before they reviewed her voluminous records and retested her in detail.
Dr. Mathew Markos, director of Cook County Forensic Clinical Services, testified that when he first examined defendant in 1995, he found that she was not fit for post-conviction proceedings and that he could not render an opinion on whether she had been fit at the time of trial. Dr. Markos explained that, in 1995, he had accepted defendant’s "self-report" of severe head injury and that he gave defendant the "benefit of the doubt" based upon her presentation and complaints of memory loss. Also in 1995, Dr. Blumstein had also evaluated her and found her unfit.
In 1997, Dr. Markos reexamined defendant after reviewing extensive police reports concerning all three murders, court-reported statements, the pre-sentence investigation, Dr. Blumstein’s 1997 report [finding her fit], medical and psychiatric records fromDwight correctional center, Dr. Lahmeyer’ s report, Dr. Lillie’s report, and transcripts ofthe trial and sentencing hearing. Dr. Markos also had additional records from Cook County Jail and Dr. Blumstein’s 1997 reevaluation concerning his observations and the results of tests that he administered.
Dr. Markos also reviewed the findings of Dr. Lahmeyer and Dr. Lillie, both of whomoffered a clinical diagnosis of malingering. These doctors also concluded that defendant was fit for post-conviction proceedings and fit for trial in 1991. Dr. Markos then discussed the absence of any evidence of head injury. There were no medical records supporting the injury, there was no consistent age given for the incident allegedly resulting in such injury. After reviewing all the documents and reports, Dr. Markos performed a clinical examination of petitioner. Defendant was calm and cooperative, maintaining good eye contact. Defendant was not disorganized, did not have abnormal thought behavior. Defendant did not suffer from delusions, hallucinations, nor was she paranoid.
Defendant, however, did report serious memory problems for "just about everything." She did not know what she was charged with, her date of birth, or how old her two grown children were. Yet, she could recall being struck by a car and that she went to a hospital. She also was able to give details of treatment at Dwight penitentiary, including the names and doses of medications that she was prescribed. Defendant further stated that when she was transferred from Dwight to Cook County Jail, one medication was substituted for another.
Dr. Markos noted that it was unusual that defendant did not know basic facts like what day it was, yet could recall "precise information regarding her head injury and psychiatric treatment. This alone, created a strong suspicion of malingering, or faking. Dr. Markos stated that it was strange from a clinical standpoint that an "individual who had no memory for basic personal details was able to spontaneously color a picture of psychiatric sequela secondary to head injury which was not established in the first place." Dr. Markos noted that the head injury was never reported to authorities or examiners at Dwight and remained unreported until 1995. There was no indication "whatsoever that any head injury took place which was documented by proper authority." Moreover, an MRI, EKG and CAT-scan showed no evidence of hemorrhage, hematoma or lesions to the brain.
Dr. Markos further stated that the police reports illustrated defendant was purposeful, very organized, and goal directed in committing her crimes and during the interrogation. The psychiatrist further found that there was no evidence of any cognitive deficit or organic brain damage and defendant was malingering or faking.
Dr. Markos explained the discrepancy between his conclusion in 1995 and in 1997 stating: "back in 1995 based on the information that was made available to me...I rendered an opinion. But it so happened that Miss Williams was malingering. And when I reexamined her in 1997, the data was overwhelming. The clinical information and findings clearly indicated a diagnosis of malingering and led me to make a finding of fitness."
Dr. Blumstein also testified that in 1995, he had no police reports, transcripts, or court-reported statements and relied on defendant’s rendition of her mental capabilities. After reading all these materials in 1997, he was able to develop relevant questions based upon the facts and compare them with petitioner’s responses. He was also better able to test petitioner. The records as well as her responses demonstrated the defendant’s intelligence.
Although his ruling on her post-conviction petition was overturned on other grounds, Judge Shelvin Singer ruled on August 20, 1999 that “petitioner had a basic formal education, was able to read; and, in addition, had a crafty intelligence above that of a normal person’s.”
Judge Singer’s observations were consistent with the Illinois Supreme Court’s findings that the defendant used various ruses to gain entrance to the apartments of her elderly victims. 164 Ill.2d at 33. This included telling one victim there was a gas leak in the building. The defendant’s claim of mental retardation is also belied by her various acts of deception and lies to escape responsibility for her crimes. For instance, following her murder of Mary Harris, the defendant dyed her hair red, and gave multiple, conflicting versions of her activities. She lied to the police about her real name, and denied both being in the victim’s building, and knowing the victim.
In sentencing defendant to death on April 18, 1991, Judge Singer made the following findings: “I do believe that Mary Harris was brutally beaten before she was killed, indeed beaten around the head, the eyes, the face….Furthermore, I do believe that the defendant developed and executed a scheme to prey on the elderly and the infirmed, to rob these people, these people who could least afford it, and these people who are most vulnerable. They are obviously easy victims because they are elderly and infirmed, and they usually live alone, extreme difficulty getting to could, should the defendant be arrested, and once in court, because of the variety of physical conditions and the like, as witnessed, they are not as articulate as would other people bee—or other people be as witnesses. Miss Williams took terrible advantage of these people in a most cruel—in a most cruel way.” ( see appendix. pp. 102, 104-5) These findings support the fact that defendant victimized seniors in a cruel, heartless, systematic manner that a truly mentally retarded person would be unable to do.
To bolster her claims, the defendant has attached an unsworn, unsigned, “affidavit” made allegedly by her brother John claiming that petitioner cannot read and that she did not attend high school. He further claims that the defendant dropped out of school at age 14. This individual did not testify at the death penalty hearing. His “affidavit” directly refutes his own mother’s testimony stating that defendant dropped out of high school at age 15. It further contradicts the information defendant gave to the probation officer preparing her pre-sentence report wherein she stated that she dropped out of Forrestville High School at age 15. Moreover, the school records provided to this board are obviously incomplete in that since defendant was born on December 24, 1954, she was 12 years of age during the last grading period reflected in September 1967, not age 14. Additionally, page 33 of the defendant’s appendix indicates that the defendant’s total IQ score was 73, clearly not within the mentally retarded range.
The records provided to the board do not support defendant’s contentions. Defendant’s disciplinary record in IDOC reflects conduct which is both defiant and hostile. She has managed to come into possession of drugs and other contraband; has violated rules, and has intimidated and threatened others. (see appendix). It is clear that the defendant has no desire to comport her behavior within the rule of law.
Dorothy Williams purposely sought out the frailest and most defenseless seniors and preyed upon them in their own homes. She robbed and strangled Mary Harris to death, she robbed and strangled Lonnie Laws to death, she robbed and stabbed Caesar Zuell to death and she terrorized and stole from Jasper Irving, Frederick Adamson, Clyde Simmons and Martha Foster. Just eight days after she strangled the life out of Mary Harris, she was caught with her appearance altered giving a false name at yet another senior citizen building. Her actions were methodical and cruel. It is also significant to note that the defendant has yet to express responsibility or remorse for her crimes or that “mental retardation” has impaired her from doing so. There simply is no justification or reason to grant this unsigned baseless clemency petition, and the well-reasoned decision imposing the sentence of death should not be compromised.
Illinois Supreme Court
September 22, 1994
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
DOROTHY WILLIAMS, APPELLANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harrison
JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court:
In the circuit court of Cook County a jury convicted the defendant, Dorothy Williams, of first degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)) and robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 18-1(a)). Following a hearing the circuit court denied her post-trial motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, a judgment non obstante veredicto. Defendant having waived a jury for sentencing, the cause was submitted for hearing on sentencing to the court, which found the defendant eligible for the imposition of the death penalty, pursuant to section 9-1(b)(6) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(6)), for the reason that she had committed murder in the course of another felony, namely, robbery. Following the consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(c)), the court found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death sentence and, accordingly, sentenced her to death. The cause comes directly to this court for review (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d R. 603), where defendant presents 19 issues for consideration.
Initially defendant contends that she was arrested without probable cause in violation of her fourth amendment rights and, as a result, her statement, together with other products of the illegal arrest, must be suppressed. The victim, 97-year-old Mary Harris, who resided in housing for senior citizens operated by the Chicago Housing Authority, was strangled on July 25, 1989, in her apartment, from which a stereo set was found to be missing. At the hearing on the defendant'spretrial motion to quash her arrest and to suppress statements that she claimed to be the direct product of her unlawful arrest, the following evidence was adduced.
Officer Betty Woods testified that she was assigned to the division of the police department providing services to senior citizens and was familiar with the circumstances of Harris' death. On September 6, 1989, she was using an unmarked squad car and working alone in plain clothes at the building in which Harris' body had been discovered. While the officer was in the building, a man whom she later learned was Hubert Carmichael approached her at approximately 11 or 11:30 a.m. He indicated that he had observed a woman carrying a box and leaving the building on the date of Harris' murder, that he had suspected that the woman might have been involved in this murder, and that he had seen the woman in the building again on September 5, 1989. He indicated further to Officer Woods that the woman, whom he had known as "Peggy," had altered her appearance since the date of the homicide by shortening her hair and dyeing it red. Although this woman had frequented the building prior to the death of Harris, she had stopped coming there since that time. To the best of the officer's knowledge, the woman described had no friends or relatives in the building and no lawful reason to be in it. The officer was aware that the person Carmichael had seen leaving the building around the time of the murder of Harris had also been identified by him as the same person whom he had previously seen choke another resident of the building. The officer was aware as well that the suspect in the strangulation of still another elderly person, residing in a neighboring building for senior citizens, fit the description of the woman whom Carmichael had seen leaving on the evening of Harris' murder. Later, as Officer Woods was departing from the building at about noon, Carmichael pointed toa woman walking by the building outside the window and indicated that this was the same woman about whom he had spoken earlier.
Officer Woods then approached the woman, identified herself as a police officer, showed the woman her badge, and asked if she could speak with her. The woman was the defendant, 35 years old at the time, who identified herself as "Deborah" Williams and was accompanied by another woman, Michelle McBride. At first Officer Woods attempted to have detectives who were familiar with the case come out to interview the defendant, but the detectives were unavailable at that time. Officer Woods then informed defendant and her companion that it might be faster and easier if they went to the place where the detectives are generally stationed. Both women agreed to do so. When defendant's companion expressed concern about picking up her child from school, Officer Woods told her that the police would accommodate her. McBride had wanted to be sure that either she would be back in time to pick up her child or her child would be picked up by someone else. The officer offered the two women transportation in her car and drove them, without handcuffs, to the police station, which was located a distance of less than two miles, or about 16 to 18 blocks, from the building where the offense occurred. The drive took about 8 to 10 minutes. Although Officer Woods was armed, her weapon was not visible, and the officer did not draw it at any time. Officer Woods had no warrant for defendant's arrest. Nor did she tell defendant or her companion that they did not have to accompany her to the station. However, neither woman objected to doing so.
At the station Officer Woods left the two women in the middle of the large office on the second floor and went a distance of about 40 feet to a desk to inform the officer on duty there that she had a woman with her who hadbeen implicated in a homicide. After the desk sergeant looked up the case, Officer Woods told the two women, who were standing and waiting in the middle of the room, that it would be only a few moments until they found out which detective was handling the case. Once Officer Woods located and spoke to the detective assigned to investigate the murder of Mary Harris, she left the police station and had no further involvement in the matter.
The other witness who testified at this hearing was a police detective, Edward Schmitt, who stated that on July 27, 1989, during the course of the investigation into the death of Harris, he had spoken with Carmichael. During his investigation he had learned that a number of items were found to have been missing from the apartment of Harris following her death, including a Realistic Clarinet Number 16 stereo, two speakers, a bedspread, and a cardboard box. On the afternoon of September 6, 1989, he and his partner spoke with Officer Woods and then with the defendant, who was with McBride in a large interview room measuring approximately 10 by 20 feet on the second floor of the police station. The door to the room was open. The officers asked McBride to "step out" of the room. Their conversation with defendant began at about 1:15 or 1:30 and lasted approximately 10 or 15 minutes. At the beginning of the conversation he and his partner advised defendant of her Miranda rights. When they asked her when she had last been in the building in which Harris had lived, she responded that it had been several years since she had been there. At the end of the conversation the detective and his partner left the interview room, leaving the door open. McBride, who had been asked to leave the interview room while the police spoke with defendant, was walking around in the police station when the officers left the interview room and "might haveeven been sitting in there with Miss Williams when we left." Defendant was not handcuffed when they left the interview room.
Thereafter he and his partner spoke with Carmichael, who advised them that he had seen the defendant there the day before, on September 5, having changed her appearance by dying her hair a reddish color. At approximately 2 p.m. the detective asked defendant to sign a form consenting to the search of her apartment; she did so using the name "Deborah" Williams. From defendant's apartment the detective and his partner recovered a Realistic Clarinet Number 16 stereo and two speakers. Shortly after 3 that afternoon he and his partner conversed with defendant again, this time for about five minutes, in the same interview room in which they had spoken earlier, the door of which was open. Defendant was not handcuffed upon their return. At that time Detective Schmitt showed defendant the stereo. Defendant responded that it was hers, that she had bought it "hot," that is, as stolen property, on the street about a month earlier from a black man whom she did not know. At that time she agreed to take a polygraph examination and to be fingerprinted. During both conversations the defendant appeared to be cool, calm, and unconcerned, answering all questions freely.
Thereafter the defendant was fingerprinted and, at about 6:30 p.m. that same day, transported to another location where she took and failed a polygraph examination. Later, at about 8:30 p.m., police formally arrested her for the murder of Harris.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the trial court expressly found that at the moment defendant responded that the material discovered in her apartment was "hot" and that she had so purchased it, probable cause existed to take her into custody. In denying thedefendant's motion, the circuit court observed, inter alia, that Officer Woods "is a very slightly built woman * * * five feet tall at best and a hundred pounds at best." The court described the defendant as "five-foot-five to five-foot-seven in height and * * * accompanied by another woman." The circuit court concluded that "during the period of time that the Defendant was in the station I have no evidence of any objective facts from which I believe I can rationally conclude she was in custody until the time the officer says she was formally arrested."
Defendant asserts that the circuit court's finding that she was not under arrest when Officer Woods took her to the police station is against the manifest weight of the evidence and, accordingly, must be reversed. She argues further that she "was under arrest when she was taken to the police station and interrogated by different detectives over a twenty-four hour period. Dorothy did not choose to spend two days and a night in the police station. The trial Judge's ruling to the contrary was manifestly erroneous and should be reversed."
The constitutions of both the United States and the State of Illinois protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. (U.S. Const., amend. IV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 6.) For purposes of the fourth amendment, a seizure is synonymous with an arrest, and an arrest effected without probable cause or a warrant based thereon violates the protections of the amendment. ( People v. Melock (1992), 149 Ill. 2d 423, 436, 174 Ill. Dec. 857, 599 N.E.2d 941.) An arrest occurs when a person's freedom of movement has been restrained by means of physical force or by a show of authority. ( Melock, 149 Ill. 2d at 436.) To determine whether an arrest has, indeed, occurred, the question to ask is whether a reasonable, innocent person would, under the circumstances, have considered herself arrested or free to leave. ( People v. Reynolds (1983), 94 Ill. 2d 160, 165, 68 Ill. Dec. 122, 445 N.E.2d 766.) A reviewing court will not disturb the determination of a circuit court on a motion to suppress evidence unless the determination is manifestly erroneous. ( People v. Galvin (1989), 127 Ill. 2d 153, 162, 129 Ill. Dec. 72, 535 N.E.2d 837; Reynolds, 94 Ill. 2d at 165.) On such a motion the defendant bears the burden of proof that the search and seizure were unlawful. People v. Hoskins (1984), 101 Ill. 2d 209, 212, 78 Ill. Dec. 107, 461 N.E.2d 941.
The undisputed evidence here does not support defendant's contention that she was under arrest when Officer Woods took her to the police station. As we have said, the officer attempted initially to have detectives familiar with the case come out to interview the defendant, but when she learned they were unable to do so, she advised the defendant and her companion that it might be faster and easier if they went to the police station. The women agreed, accepting the transportation offered by Officer Woods, who was driving an unmarked car. Although the officer was armed, her weapon was not visible and was at no time drawn. The officer, a slight woman several inches shorter than the defendant, was alone in her dealings with the two women. The officer, who was wearing plain clothes, addressed the concerns of the defendant's companion concerning her child's dismissal from school, advising her that she would be back in time to pick the child up herself or that someone would pick the child up for her. The drive to the station was not long. At no time was the defendant handcuffed. After transporting the defendant and her companion to the police station, Officer Woods departed, leaving the two unattended in the middle of a large room. Although the officer did not tell defendant that she did not have to accompany her to the station, nothing about these circumstances would lead a reasonable, innocent person to consider herself arrested or to conclude that she was not free to leave. The evidence ofrecord reveals that the defendant accompanied Officer Woods to the police station voluntarily.
The defendant declares in her brief that after she arrived at the police station she was detained unlawfully for approximately 24 hours or longer. However, once she stated at about 3 p.m. on September 6, 1989, that she had purchased the stereo set resembling the one missing from Harris' apartment in the knowledge that it was stolen, police had probable cause to arrest her. Thus, after making that statement she could not have been detained unlawfully.
Moreover, the conduct of the two detectives who interviewed defendant at the police station prior to her making of this statement would not cause a reasonable, innocent person to conclude that she was either under arrest or deprived of her freedom. What this court said in People v. Wipfler (1977), 68 Ill. 2d 158, 168, 11 Ill. Dec. 262, 368 N.E.2d 870, of station-house interrogations applies equally to the detectives' initial questioning of the defendant here:
"To hold that this amounted to an arrest would be to hold that virtually any station-house interrogation is necessarily so custodial as to indicate that the person questioned has been placed under arrest. This would mean that the police could not request the presence of anyone, even for noncustodial questioning, unless and until they had probable cause to arrest the person to be questioned. We see no reason to so restrict the investigatory function of the police."
Although the officers did advise the instant defendant of her Miranda rights at the beginning of their conversation with her, a custodial situation cannot be created merely by the giving of Miranda warnings ( Wipfler, 68 Ill. 2d at 171). Having given these warnings, the detectives spoke with defendant but briefly, she was not handcuffed, and the door to the large room in which they interviewed her was open. Further, her companion was permitted to remain in the same room with her before, and possibly after, the detectives' initial conversationwith her. As the circuit court pointed out, "apparently, at all times critical her companion was in the police station with her." In addition, from the time defendant arrived at the police station until she stated that she had bought the stereo set as stolen property, none of the procedures, such as booking and fingerprinting, that are normally associated with arrest were performed. (See Melock, 149 Ill. 2d at 438.) The evidence adduced at the motion to suppress does not tend to show that a reasonable, innocent person would have felt that she was not free to leave during the time that elapsed between defendant's arrival at the police station and her statement concerning the purchase of the stereo set at about 3 p.m. Plainly, the circuit court's determination that defendant was not arrested at the time in question is not manifestly erroneous. Thus, the circuit court properly denied her motion to suppress.
As the second issue defendant presents for review, she maintains that she was denied a fair hearing on her pretrial motion to suppress evidence, in part because the circuit court prevented her from eliciting from Officer Woods an answer to the question whether defendant was free to leave once she arrived at the police station. Defendant argues that this and other rulings of the circuit court during the hearing rendered it a "sham." Although the subjective intent of a police officer to detain a suspect is relevant, such intent is not controlling. (See Reynolds, 94 Ill. 2d at 165.) The record contains no indication that the circuit court restricted defendant's examination of Officer Woods concerning the officer's speech or any other conduct by which the officer might have manifested a belief that the defendant was not free to leave. In short, this record contains no evidence whatsoever that, if Officer Woods did entertain such a belief, it was communicated to the defendant in any way, either directly or indirectly. In viewof the abundant evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress, any error on the part of the court in sustaining the State's objection to this question could not have affected the outcome of the hearing on the motion and, as a consequence, amounted to no more than harmless error. Likewise, even if we assume that the circuit court erred with respect to the other rulings about which defendant complains, in light of the evidence adduced at this hearing, these errors could have been but harmless.
As the third and fourth issues defendant advances on appeal, she contends that she was denied a fair trial during voir dire for two reasons: (1) the circuit court failed to exercise sound discretion when it improperly excused for cause prospective juror Esther Smith, and (2) the State exercised a peremptory challenge against prospective juror Alvin Pettigrew in a systematic exclusion by the State of African-Americans from the jury.
With respect to Esther Smith, the State asked that she be excused for cause for her failure to acknowledge "that she's currently under supervision for a marijuana case" and for having "perjured herself." Earlier the circuit court had addressed to a panel of four that included Smith the following question: "Other than what you may have already told me, have you ever been a party to or otherwise particularly interested in the outcome of a criminal case? If you have please indicate by raising your hand." The court's observation follows immediately in the record: "I see no hands raised." Thereafter the State asked this question of the same panel of four: "Now the four of you, has anyone you know, a neighbor, friend or had [sic] anyone else been arrested, convicted, put on probation, tried or sent to jail. If they have could you raise your hand, please." The State then recognized Smith, who stated in response: "Just hearing about different people in the neighborhood or something. No one personally but I have heard of people going to jail." When the State asked, "Anyone close to you?" Smith responded in the negative. The State asserted that Smith had responded in the negative in writing to a similar question on a card she had filled out: "She was asked if she's ever been accused or arrested and those are the only-knows any person who was accused, arrested. Same age, same middle initial. Here's the description and she checked the card no." Countering the State's request that Smith be excused for cause, the defendant asked that she be questioned again and asked specifically about the marijuana case, adding that "people make mistakes when they check the card and I think it would only be fair to ask." After further Discussion the circuit court concluded, "I think that there were enough questions that were asked of her. I'm going to excuse her for cause." Defendant maintains that "the only fair way to clear up any confusion would have been to ask Esther Smith a few simple questions, as the defense requested."
The purpose of voir dire is to assure the selection of an impartial panel of jurors free from either bias or prejudice. ( People v. Bowel (1986), 111 Ill. 2d 58, 64, 94 Ill. Dec. 748, 488 N.E.2d 995.) Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 234 (134 Ill. 2d R. 234), made applicable to criminal cases by Rule 431 (134 Ill. 2d R. 431), the primary responsibility for both initiating and conducting the voir dire examination lies with the circuit court, and the manner and scope of that examination rests within the discretion of that court. ( People v. Porter (1986), 111 Ill. 2d 386, 401, 95 Ill. Dec. 465, 489 N.E.2d 1329; see Kingston v. Turner (1987), 115 Ill. 2d 445, 464, 106 Ill. Dec. 14, 505 N.E.2d 320.) An abuse of the court's discretion will be found only if, after a review of the record, it is determined that the conduct of the court thwarted the selection of an impartial jury. ( Kingston, 115 Ill. 2d at 465.) Our review of this record in no waysuggests that the conduct of the court impeded the selection of an impartial jury. The veracity of those who testify during voir dire is a matter lying solely within the sound discretion of the circuit court, and the decision to excuse a potential juror because of a reasonable belief that that person has been untruthful under oath is a question best left with that court. People v. Smith (1992), 152 Ill. 2d 229, 272, 178 Ill. Dec. 335, 604 N.E.2d 858.
With regard to Alvin Pettigrew, after the State exercised a peremptory challenge against him, the defendant moved pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky (1986), 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712, to require the State to "justify why they're knocking the only black member of the venire off." The circuit court expressed the belief that the defendant had made a prima facie case "in light of the fact that there are no black people on the jury." In response the State pointed out that "the first juror that they knocked off was a black person so if they had an all-white jury now this is not because of actions on our part, so I'm just stating, Judge, that number one I'm just taking exception and I will then explain for Your Honor." Thereafter the following colloquy occurred between the circuit court and counsel for the State and for the defendant:
"MS. LEVIN [Assistant State's Attorney]: I don't believe that they've made a prima facie case by making one challenge of one black person. The other people we've challenged have been white. They have challenged a black person themselves.
THE COURT: That's true, but I believe they have-
MS. LEVIN: Judge, the reason why we're knocking him off, number one, is the first time that he kept his hat on the whole time and-He kept his hat on the whole time he was in the courtroom until Your Honor-
THE COURT: It's my fault.
MS. LEVIN: The deputy sheriffs in this courtroom has [sic] a practice of telling everybody to take their hats off and we, number one, say that that shows disrespect of thecourt system. Number two, when you asked him he was not answering questions with full sentences. You asked him how long have you worked at your job. He said 29. You had to pull from the teeth 29 years.
He does not know where his own children are working or what they are doing. All the people we accepted did. We don't feel this is a person who would pay attention to the-with respect to the court or that he in fact pays attention to his own children, so we think there is a lack of attention that will be paid to this case and this is why we are in fact knocking him off, and we are taking exception to even giving you our reasons.
MR. McNERNEY [Assistant State's Attorney]: I'd like to-If I may, I would like you to consider the fact we have already passed other people that they excused. I just want the Court to consider that.
THE COURT: I will consider that.
MS. PANTLE [defense counsel]: Judge, his answers have been very responsive. They've been prompt. They've been responsive to Your Honor's questions. You didn't have to pull anything out of him. There was another woman that wasn't sure where her-I believe it was where her daughter worked, that the State accepted. Mr. Pettigrew was going bald. He might have some sensitivity to that fact and that's why he kept his hat on and-
MS. LEVIN: We don't know that.
MS. PANTLE: We don't know that the sheriffs told him to take their hats [sic] off either, Judge.
MS. LEVIN: There's a sign on the court room door, Judge.
THE COURT: I'm taking into consideration the following factors-
MS. LEVIN: Judge, the victim is also black in this case.
THE COURT: I'm taking into consideration the following factors. This is the first challenge State has made of a person who is black-defense made a challenge of a person who was black. Why there hasn't been anymore black people on the venire I don't understand. I've never seen venire with less black people. He did have his hat on and his answers were short, somewhat cryptic. And I will also point out that from what I know the case [sic] the alleged victim is black as well.
I'm going to find that-I'm going to find that the State did make their case and I will accept their [peremptory] challenge."
The exclusion of just one minority venireperson because of race is unconstitutional and requires reversal of a defendant's conviction. ( People v. Harris (1989), 129 Ill. 2d 123, 175, 135 Ill. Dec. 861, 544 N.E.2d 357.) In Batson the court outlined a three-step process for evaluating claims that a prosecutor has used peremptory challenges in a manner violative of the equal protection clause: (1) the defendant must make a prima facie showing that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race; (2) if the requisite showing has been made, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to articulate a race neutral explanation for striking the prospective jurors in question; and (3) the trial court must determine whether the defendant has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination. ( Hernandez v. New York (1991), 500 U.S. 352, 358-59, 114 L. Ed. 2d 395, 405, 111 S. Ct. 1859, 1865-66.) We turn directly to the question whether the circuit court erred in finding that the State articulated legitimate, race-neutral reasons for exercising its peremptory challenge to exclude the African-American venireperson Alvin Pettigrew.
A factual finding by the circuit court at a Batson hearing is entitled to great deference on review and will be set aside only if it is clearly erroneous. ( People v. Hope (1992), 147 Ill. 2d 315, 321, 168 Ill. Dec. 103, 589 N.E.2d 503.) Because an explanation that focuses on a venireperson's body language or demeanor lends itself to pretext, such an explanation must be scrutinized closely. ( Harris, 129 Ill. 2d at 176.) However, the demeanor of a prospective juror has been traditionally an important factor in jury selection, and a prospective juror's demeanor constitutes a legitimate, racially neutral reason for exercising a peremptory challenge. ( People v. Young (1989), 128 Ill. 2d 1, 20, 131 Ill. Dec. 78, 538 N.E.2d 453.) The circuit court has both the opportunity to observe ajuror's demeanor upon voir dire and the experience in supervising such examinations to assess the explanations of the State concerning the exercise of a peremptory challenge. Young, 128 Ill. 2d at 21.
In the instant case the circuit court found it significant that Pettigrew failed to remove his hat during the proceeding in the courtroom until requested to do so by the court and that Pettigrew gave "short, somewhat cryptic" answers. The defendant argues that two non-African-American jurors who were accepted by the State answered questions in a "substantially similar" manner. However, the record indicates that, whereas the meaning of any abbreviated answers of either of these two jurors was readily apparent, the meaning of some of Pettigrew's was not and, to be ascertained, required further questioning by the court. After observing the demeanor of prospective juror Pettigrew and evaluating his responses to questions, the circuit court determined that the State's concern was legitimate. We cannot say that the court's assessment in this regard was erroneous.
In finding that the State had given legitimate, race-neutral reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge against Pettigrew, the circuit court did not mention as a factor a third reason advanced by the State: Pettigrew's lack of knowledge concerning the employment of one of his four children, a 24-year-old son who, he said, "works downtown somewhere." Although the defendant contends that a non-African-American juror accepted by the State was similarly uninformed about the employment of her 23-year-old daughter, the record shows that this juror provided considerable information about the nature of her daughter's work. Although the juror was "not positive" about her daughter's occupation, she explained that "she works for a moving company. She deals with the insurance for the furniture that's being moved and that and the insurance for thedrivers." Thus, the record reveals that the responses of the two are decidedly dissimilar. Like the first two reasons set forth by the State for the exercise of a peremptory challenge against Pettigrew, this third and final reason appears to be a legitimate, race-neutral one. The record makes plain that the finding of the circuit court is not clearly erroneous. Accordingly, we may not disturb it.
At trial the evidence of guilt marshaled by the State against the defendant was overwhelming. Not the least of it was defendant's statement made to police on September 7, 1989, before a court reporter that defendant had strangled Harris and had taken a "component set" from the victim's apartment. In the statement, which was read to the jury, defendant said that on July 25, 1989, she had gone into Harris' apartment and had talked with Harris for about 10 minutes, at which time Harris asked her to go to the store for her and gave her $2 for that purpose. As she gave defendant the money, Hams turned around, and defendant "grabbed her from the back," putting her arms around Harris' stomach and "trying to stop her from talking." Defendant did so, she stated, because she wanted to "get the component set" to sell for drugs. Harris was telling defendant in a loud voice to let her go, and when Harris began to scratch defendant, defendant "grabbed" a "rag" Harris wore around her head and tried to put it over Harris' mouth "so she wouldn't scream." As defendant put the rag over Harris' mouth and around her neck, Harris was "pulling it trying to get it off" and attempting to get away from defendant. Defendant described the rag as having been around Harris' neck for "about a half a minute or a minute." When Harris fainted and began to fall, defendant "threw her on the bed." As Harris started to fall, she was saying, "Oh"; when defendant threw her on the bed, she had stopped speaking. Afterthrowing Harris down, defendant said, she "grabbed the component set * * * left out."
Among other evidence introduced by the State was the testimony of Marian Harris, the victim's daughter, that when she had visited her mother on the morning of her death, Mary Harris was wearing a pink scarf on her head. Marian Harris testified further that following her mother's death a small Realistic Clarinet 16 stereo set she had purchased for her mother was missing. On the morning of September 7, 1989, she identified a stereo set at the police station as the one she had purchased for her mother. Following her mother's death the witness discovered missing one of three large boxes that had been in her mother's apartment on the morning of her death and a lightweight sheer print bedspread.
Hubert Carmichael, a resident of the same apartment building as the victim, testified that at about 6:30 p.m. on July 25, 1989, as he was standing at the window of the day room on the first floor, he saw a woman whom he identified as the defendant leaving the building alone and carrying a box large enough to hold the stereo set found to be missing from the victim's apartment. The woman, whom Carmichael had seen on numerous prior occasions, was dressed in what appeared to him to be a white nurse's uniform. When he saw her again on September 6, 1989, defendant's hair color had been changed to red, and she was wearing glasses. Another resident of the building, Willie Shelby, testified that she had left the victim's apartment at about 6 p.m. on the evening of her death.
A detective who had been called to the scene of the homicide following its discovery at about 8 p.m. testified that the dresser drawers of the victim's apartment were found to be open and in disarray, as was her closet. Her body was lying on the bed, a "bandanna" around her neck knotted in front. Entry appeared not to have beenforced. Detective Schmidt testified concerning the recovery of a "Realistic clarinet number sixteen stereo system with two speakers" from the defendant's apartment on the afternoon of September 6, 1989. He recounted defendant's statement that it was her property and that she had bought it "hot," as stolen merchandise, on the street about a month earlier from a black male whom she did not know and was unable to describe. Expert testimony established that the defendant's fingerprints were found on objects that were inside the apartment of Harris after her death. The medical examiner described the victim's body as having a ligature around the neck, namely, a pink "kerchief" knotted at the angle of the jaw and wrapped tightly around the neck. The victim's hyoid bone had been fractured, an indication that "really extreme pressure" had been applied to the neck. In his opinion the cause of death of the victim, who was approximately 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 99 pounds fully clad, was ligature strangulation. Both of the victim's eyes were black and blue, a result, in his opinion, of having been struck.
The defendant did not testify.
For our review the defendant presents five minor evidentiary issues related to that part of her trial in which guilt was determined. We have read the entire record on appeal and have determined that these issues are not meritorious. The State urges that many of them are waived for review by virtue of the defendant's failure properly to preserve them for appeal. However, should these issues not be deemed waived for review, the overwhelming evidence adduced at trial against the defendant renders any of these errors-if error they be-harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, incapable of having deprived her of a fair trial, as she argues before this court.
Defendant raises four issues in which she asserts prosecutorial excess and other error related to closing argument that served to deny her a fair trial and the right to present a defense. Likewise, our examination of the record reveals that these issues are without merit. Again, the State maintains that defendant has waived for review a number of these claims of error. If prosecutorial comment exceeds the bounds of proper argument, the verdict must not be disturbed unless it can be said that the remark caused substantial prejudice to the defendant. ( People v. Johnson (1992), 149 Ill. 2d 118, 145, 171 Ill. Dec. 401, 594 N.E.2d 253.) Here, even if those errors claimed to have been waived should not be deemed so, in light of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, any of the errors asserted to have occurred during closing argument could have constituted nothing more than error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
During the first phase of the sentencing proceeding, in which the State sought to establish the defendant's eligibility for the death penalty, the circuit court concluded that the killing of Harris was motivated by robbery and for the purpose of completing a robbery and, therefore, found defendant eligible for imposition of the death penalty. During the second phase of the sentencing proceeding, the State introduced statements by the defendant in which she admitted having strangled Lonnie Laws with his belt on December 5, 1987, and to having stabbed Caesar Zuell during the first weeks of December 1988. Defendant has been charged with first degree murder in their deaths. In part by stipulation the State introduced considerable evidence concerning the circumstances of the deaths of these two slight, elderly men, including information obtained upon autopsy, which was consistent with the details given by defendant in her court-reported statements to police about their deaths.
The State introduced as well evidence that the defendant had robbed four other elderly persons in their apartments, which were located in the same building in which Harris had lived and in similar housing nearby: Frederick Adamson on July 4, 1989; Clyde Simmons on July 1, 1989; Martha Foster on April 4, 1989; and Jasper Irving on both April 4, 1989, and January 11, 1986. A police officer with whom Adamson had spoken concerning the robbery of July 4, 1989, testified that Adamson had stated that this was the third time that the defendant had robbed him. The defendant's fingerprints or palmprints were found within the apartments of Caesar Zuell and Martha Foster following the commission of the offenses alleged to have been committed therein and on the exterior door of the apartment of Lonnie Laws. The evidence indicated that in order to gain entrance to the apartments of many of these elderly persons, as well as the apartments of still others, defendant used various ruses, including the pretense that the resident knew or was related to her and the deception that defendant had come to aid the resident. The evidence indicated that defendant was often physically abusive of these elderly persons whom she robbed. Another witness, Emma Lipsey, described an episode in October of 1973 in which defendant hit her in the mouth with a wooden milk crate about 18 inches square, knocking out two of her lower teeth as a result. On May 30, 1973, defendant kicked a police officer 10 to 12 times in the face and chest after he arrested her for creating a disturbance by the use of loud, profane, and vulgar language in a crowd of about 50 that had gathered in response to a street fight between two other persons. On March 10, 1975, defendant was convicted of the offenses of delivery and possession of marijuana and sentenced to 18 months of misdemeanor probation and fined $200. On November 23, 1989, while the defendant was incarcerated awaitingtrial, she was verbally abusive and verbally threatening to a correctional officer.
In mitigation defendant introduced evidence that during her incarceration prior to trial she was charged with no disciplinary violation other than the one arising out of her behavior on November 23, 1989. Defendant's mother testified that she had separated from defendant's father shortly before defendant's birth and that defendant's contact with her father, who had died four years prior to the hearing, had been limited essentially to "writing." Defendant's older sister, to whom defendant had been close, had died of bronchial pneumonia in January of 1987. Defendant has two children, a daughter aged 22 at the time of the hearing in April of 1991 and a son aged 20. Defendant became pregnant with her daughter when she was 15 years old. The father of that child was killed in 1978. The father of defendant's son appears to have provided no support for his child. Defendant's daughter testified that she had been raised by her mother, who had treated her and her brother very well.
Defendant presents six other issues for our review, all of which are related to sentencing. Of these we turn first to her contention that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for her, that, instead, she should be sentenced to natural life in prison without parole. When reviewing a sentence of death, this court will make a separate evaluation of the record, but it will not overturn the findings of the circuit court when, as here, they are amply supported by the evidence. ( People v. Ward (1992), 154 Ill. 2d 272, 340, 181 Ill. Dec. 884, 609 N.E.2d 252; People v. Odle (1988), 128 Ill. 2d 111, 136, 131 Ill. Dec. 53, 538 N.E.2d 428.) We agree with the trial court's apt and accurate observation that "the matters in aggravation so far exceed the matters in mitigation as to reduce the matters in mitigation to insignificance." In light of both the nature and the amount of evidenceamassed by the State in aggravation, we cannot say, as the defendant urges us to do, that imposition of the death sentence here is an inappropriate punishment.
Defendant avers that she was denied a fair sentencing hearing because the State introduced "unreliable" evidence that she had committed "three robberies." She refers to the robberies of Clyde Simmons and Frederick Adamson, who did not themselves testify. Investigating police officers testified concerning the robbery of Simmons and the three robberies of Adamson. We note that an eyewitness, Floyd Blanchard, testified about the robbery of Adamson by defendant on July 4, 1989. Hearsay evidence of crimes that did not result in prosecution or conviction is admissible in death sentencing hearings as long as it is both relevant and reliable. ( Young, 128 Ill. 2d at 54.) The determination of reliability and relevance lies within the sound discretion of the trial Judge. ( Young, 128 Ill. 2d at 53-54.) Defendant appears to take the position that this evidence is unreliable because it is hearsay and that it was improperly admitted because, in pronouncing it admissible, the circuit court considered only its relevance and not its reliability. Since defendant claims this testimony is unreliable only because it is hearsay and there is no suggestion in the record that it is unreliable for any other reason, we conclude that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting it into evidence.
Although defendant contends that the circuit court failed to consider fully and to give effect to the mitigating evidence of her good record while incarcerated as she awaited trial, the record does not support this contention, and we deem the issue one without merit. Similarly lacking in merit is defendant's assertion that she was denied a fair sentencing hearing when the circuit court allowed Emma Lipsey to testify that Billy Williams and his brother approached Lipsey later, asking her not to go to court and offering to pay her dental bill. Billy Williams, who is unrelated to defendant, was dating her at the time in question. If the circuit court did err in the admission of this evidence, its impact upon the trier of fact could have been minimal at most and its effect upon the sentence imposed of no consequence whatever.
Defendant challenges the constitutionality of the death penalty statute in Illinois as violative of the eighth and fourteenth amendments for placing a burden of proof on the defendant that precludes meaningful consideration of evidence in mitigation. This court rejected such a claim in People v. Hampton (1992), 149 Ill. 2d 71, 117, 171 Ill. Dec. 439, 594 N.E.2d 291, in which the defendant made the same arguments that the defendant advances here. Having already determined that no such constitutional infirmity exists, we decline to reconsider the question.
Finally, defendant contends that the death penalty statute in Illinois is unconstitutional for failing to minimize sufficiently the risk of arbitrary or capricious imposition of a sentence of death. She acknowledges that this court has already considered individually the arguments she sets forth in this regard but asks us both to reconsider these contentions and to consider whether in their totality the features and omissions she cites render the statute unconstitutional. Inasmuch as the defendant puts forth no new arguments in support of her position, we refuse to reconsider the prior holdings of this court concerning the individual constitutional defects she identifies. Further, in People v. Phillips (1989), 127 Ill. 2d 499, 542-43, 131 Ill. Dec. 125, 538 N.E.2d 500, this court rejected the argument that the cumulative effect of such features and omissions renders the statute constitutionally infirm:
"While this court is cognizant of that old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, we fail to see how such an adage could be of assistance in such a case asthis. If all of the individual aspects are constitutional, we stand by the Conclusion that the whole is also constitutional."
This court has since seen no reason to disturb that decision ( People v. Ramey (1992), 151 Ill. 2d 498, 559, 177 Ill. Dec. 449, 603 N.E.2d 519; People v. Gosier (1991), 145 Ill. 2d 127, 165, 163 Ill. Dec. 823, 582 N.E.2d 89), and we see none today.
Therefore, for the reasons stated above, the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County is affirmed. We hereby direct the clerk of this court to enter an order setting Tuesday, January 10, 1995, as the date on which the sentence of death entered by the circuit court of Cook County is to be carried out. The defendant shall be executed in a manner provided by law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 119-5). The clerk of this court shall send a certified copy of the mandate in this case to the Director of Corrections, the warden at Stateville Correctional Center, and the warden of the institution where defendant is now confined.