Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed February 25, 2011
No. 98911 People v. Baez
Direct appeal from the circuit court of Cook County.
JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Theis took no part in the decision.
In the summer of 1999, a man and a woman were killed in Chicago. Their bodies had been partially dismembered and parts were strewn about the city, including in the Chicago River.
Half a year later, this defendant gave a statement at police headquarters which was videotaped. In it he explained how he wanted to buy heroin from the male victim. The victim came to the defendant’s apartment, but would not make a sale to him, claiming the defendant already owed him $1,000. Defendant killed his visitor by shooting and then stabbing. This victim had a female companion waiting for him outside in a car. Defendant lured her to the apartment and then strangled her and stabbed her.
Baez pled guilty and the death penalty was imposed in bench proceedings. In 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court remanded the cause to the circuit court to allow him to file a late motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The circuit court held an evidentiary hearing, but denied the motion. This decision is rendered on direct appeal from that denial.
In the first proceedings in this case, Baez had a private attorney. This lawyer indicated that he had plans to be out of the country for some time. The trial court then found that the attorney was not ready to provide representation and appointed the public defender’s office instead. Defendant argued in this appeal that his constitutional right to counsel of choice had thus been violated. In this decision, the supreme court rejected this claim. Baez also contended that the trial court should have allowed him to represent himself, but the supreme court rejected this claim also, ruling that defendant did, eventually, accept the representation of appointed counsel. In the opinion issued today, the supreme court affirmed the circuit court in its denial of the motion to withdraw the plea.
As to the death sentence itself, the wording of the death penalty statute was revised effective in November of 2003. The defendant complained that, in making a bench-trial finding half a year later that he should be sentenced to death, the court wrongly employed the earlier standard. The supreme court, in this decision, rejected this challenge, noting that the trial judge’s statements indicated an awareness of both standards and the court’s conclusion that the death penalty should be imposed under either standard. The supreme court also agreed with the trial court’s original finding that the defendant had not shown the mitigating factor that he was suffering from extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the crimes. In view of all the evidence presented, the supreme court also found that the death penalty was not an excessive sentence.
The circuit court was affirmed and a date was set for execution.
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