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Latasha PULLIAM

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape - Torture
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 21, 1991
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: April 11, 1971
Victim profile: Shenosha Richards, 6 (her neighbor's daughter)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Chicago, Illinois, Cook County, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 15, 1994. In March 2003 the Governor of Illinois granted clemency for all 167 people on Illinois’s death row, including Latasha Pulliam. Her sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole
 
 

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On March 21, 1991, Pulliam and her boyfriend sexually assaulted, tortured and strangled her neighbor’s 6-year-old daughter in Chicago.

Pulliam confessed to shutting the girl in a closet until she suffocated, and then hiding the body in a garbage can.


Latasha Pulliam

In 1991, 6-year-old Shenosha Richard was playing in her South Side Chicago neighborhood when she was approached by Pulliam and Pulliam's boyfriend, Dwight Jordan. She went with them after they purchased her a bag of chips and promised to take her to a movie.

At Pulliam's apartment, over several hours, Pulliam and Jordan sexually assaulted the girl with a shoe polish applicator and a hammer, and then used the hammer to pulverize her skull, according to prosecutors. Pulliam also beat and strangled the girl.

Attorneys for Pulliam said she was drug-crazed at the time, but a court psychologist described her as "a female John Gacy" who got sexual satisfaction from hurting someone weaker than she.


Latasha Pulliam

On March 21, 1991, Pulliam took six-year-old Shenosha Richards to her apartment. There, Pulliam placed Shenosha in a bedroom with her boyfriend and codefendant, Dwight Jordan. Pulliam then went to the kitchen to use cocaine. When she returned to the bedroom, Shenosha was on the floor crying with her underwear down to her knees. Jordan was behind her attempting to attain an erection.

Jordan then picked up a shoe polish bottle and inserted it into the victim’s rectum. Pulliam then placed the straight end of a hammer into Shenosha’s vagina while Jordan continued inserting the shoe polish bottle into her rectum.

Pulliam and Jordan continued this assault for 10 minutes. Shenosha was crying, and when Pulliam put her hand over Shenosha’s mouth, Shenosha attempted to scream. Pulliam then took an electrical cord, wrapped it around Shenosha’s neck, and began strangling her.

Pulliam eventually took Shenosha to an empty apartment down the hall, where Shenosha told Pulliam that she would not tell anyone, except she would have to tell her parents. At that point, Pulliam pulled the cord tighter around the victim’s neck and continued tightening it for 10 minutes. Because Pulliam heard knocking at her apartment down the hall, she put Shenosha in a closet in the empty apartment.

Pulliam returned to the closet a few minutes later and noticed that Shenosha was no longer breathing. Pulliam then hit Shenosha over the head with a hammer three or four times. After placing Shenosha in a garbage can, Pulliam struck the victim over the head with a two-by-four and then attempted to cover the victim’s body with garbage.

The medical evidence revealed that in all, Shenosha suffered 42 distinct injuries. She had two puncture wounds to her chest, which damaged her lungs and coronary artery, and lacerations on her head, which penetrated to her skull. She also had numerous lacerations to her anus and vaginal area. Shenosha’s injuries were consistent with the conduct described in Pulliam’s confession.


People v. Pulliam

The facts of the case are horrific. Defendant Latasha Pulliam signed a court-reported confession in connection with the sexual assault and murder of six-year-old Shenosha Richards. Pulliam admitted that she took Shenosha to her apartment and placed the child in a bedroom with Pulliam’s boyfriend while Pulliam herself used cocaine in the kitchen.

When she returned to the bedroom, she found Shenosha unclothed and crying on the floor. Pulliam and her boyfriend then assaulted Shenosha for ten minutes by simultaneously placing a bottle of shoe polish in her rectum and the straight end of a hammer in her vagina. When the child tried to scream, Pulliam wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and began strangling her.

After some time, she took Shenosha to an empty apartment down the hall and continued tightening the cord for ten minutes, until she heard someone knocking on her own apartment door. At that point, she placed the child in a closet in the empty apartment.

When Pulliam returned a few minutes later and found that Shenosha was not breathing, she hit the child three or four times over the head with a hammer. She then put Shenosha’s body in a garbage can, struck her head with a two-by-four, and covered her in garbage. According to the testimony of one of Pulliam’s cellmates, she admitted that she had also used a wooden doorstop with a nail in it to jab Shenosha in the chest.

The medical evidence was consistent with the conduct in Pulliam’s confession.9 Shenosha had forty-two separate injuries, including two puncture wounds to her chest, multiple lacerations that penetrated her skull, and many lacerations to her vagina and anus.10

A jury convicted Pulliam of murder, two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping. The jury then found that she was death-eligible and that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced her to death for the murder and to three consecutive terms of 60, 30, and 15 years on the remaining convictions.

After Pulliam’s direct appeal was affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court, she filed a pro se petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, challenging her death sentence on a number of grounds, none of which related to Atkins, which was decided while this case was under review.


Supreme Court of Illinois

People v. Pulliam

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,
v.
LATASHA PULLIAM, Appellant.

No. 78406

April 17, 1997

CHIEF JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Latasha Pulliam, was indicted on 131 counts of murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated unlawful restraint. She and her codefendant, Dwight Jordan, were tried simultaneously by separate juries in the circuit court of Cook County. Defendant's jury convicted her of first degree murder, two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping.

The jury determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. The trial court sentenced defendant to death for first degree murder. Additionally, the court sentenced defendant to three consecutive prison terms of 60 and 30 years for aggravated criminal sexual assault and 15 years for aggravated kidnapping. Defendant's death sentence has been stayed pending
direct review by this court.

On appeal to this court, defendant argues that the trial court erred in (1) admitting hearsay; (2) admitting evidence of a book found in defendant's apartment; (3) allowing testimony concerning a court-ordered fitness examination at both trial and sentencing; (4) allowing various items of evidence in aggravation; (5) preventing a defense witness from testifying; (6) allowing the State to make improper arguments at sentencing; (7) refusing to respond to a question from the jury; and (8) imposing an excessive sentence. Defendant also argues that the death penalty is unconstitutional for a number of reasons. We affirm defendant's convictions and sentences.

FACTS

On March 21, 1991, defendant was arrested for the murder of six-year-old Shenosha Richards (hereinafter Shenosha). The next day, defendant spoke to law enforcement officers and signed a court-reported confession. On appeal, defendant does not challenge the admissibility of this confession. In the confession, defendant related the following account of the murder.

On March 21, defendant was outside on the street when Shenosha asked to come to her house. Defendant took Shenosha to her third-floor apartment. Upon entering the apartment, she took Shenosha to her bedroom, where Dwight Jordan, her boyfriend and codefendant, was sitting on the bed. She told Shenosha to sit down and watch television. Defendant then went to the kitchen to use cocaine, and remained there for half an hour.

When she returned to the bedroom, Shenosha was on the floor crying, with her underwear down to her knees. Jordan was behind her on the floor, fondling his penis in an attempt to achieve an erection. Upon failing to do so, he picked up a white shoe polish bottle and inserted it into Shenosha's rectum. Shenosha continued crying and asked Jordan to stop, saying that she would not tell anyone.

Defendant further confessed that Jordan then told her to get a hammer. After retrieving the hammer, defendant put saliva on it and inserted the straight end into Shenosha's vagina. As defendant did this, Jordan continued inserting the shoe polish bottle in and out of Shenosha's rectum. Defendant and Jordan continued this activity for 10 minutes. When they stopped, Shenosha was crying. Defendant put her hand over Shenosha's mouth, and Shenosha tried to scream. Defendant then took an electrical cord from a television, wrapped it around Shenosha's neck, and "started to strangle her."

Defendant stated that she then took Shenosha to an empty apartment down the hall, with the electrical cord still wrapped around her neck. Defendant said that as they entered this apartment, Shenosha fell onto a board with a nail protruding from it. Defendant took Shenosha to the kitchen of the apartment where she started a fire "to scare her."

After defendant put the fire out, Shenosha said that she would not tell anyone, except that she would have to tell her parents. At that point, defendant pulled the cord tighter around Shenosha's neck and continued tightening it for 10 minutes. Then, because she heard knocking on the door of her apartment down the hall, she put Shenosha in a closet in the empty apartment and threw Shenosha's shoes out the window.

Defendant said that she looked in the closet a few minutes later and saw that Shenosha was not breathing. Defendant then took the hammer that she had used earlier and hit Shenosha on the head three or four times. Defendant then placed Shenosha in a garbage can, hit her on the head with a two-by-four, and tried to cover her up with garbage.

Defendant said that she gave this statement willingly, fully aware of her constitutional rights to remain silent and have the assistance of counsel. Investigators who searched the crime scene recovered Shenosha's shoes, a hammer, a white shoe polish bottle,
and a triangular piece of wood with a protruding nail.

At trial, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the victim testified that Shenosha suffered 42 distinct injuries. She sustained two puncture wounds to her chest which damaged her lungs and coronary artery.

The examiner testified that these wounds were consistent with being struck by a board with a nail. Shenosha had six lacerations on her head, three of which penetrated through to the skull. These injuries were consistent with being hit with a hammer, or a board such as a two-by-four. She had injuries under her chin which were consistent with ligature strangulation.

She sustained lacerations to the skin of her anus which were consistent with a traumatic penetration or sexual assault. Injuries caused by the penetration were at least eight inches deep, consistent with the handle of the hammer or the shoe-polish bottle. She also had lacerations alongside her clitoris and on the lower surface of her vagina extending to her anus which were consistent with penetration of the hammer or the shoe-polish bottle.

In its case in chief, the defense called a psychologist who had examined defendant in 1994. He testified that defendant has an IQ of 69 and that he believed her to be mildly mentally retarded. He further testified that a person with defendant's degree of mental retardation would be easily influenced by others, would not anticipate the consequences of her actions, and would have difficulty predicting the outcome of a situation.

In rebuttal, the State called a psychologist who had examined defendant in 1991. He testified that he did not believe defendant was mentally retarded. He also testified that defendant had malingered, or faked mental illness, during his examination of her, and further opined that she likely did so during the 1994 examination as well.

The jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(1) (West 1992)), two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/12--14(a)(2) (West 1992)), and two counts of aggravated kidnapping (720 ILCS 5/10--2(a)(3) (West 1992)). The jury then found defendant eligible for the death sentence on two grounds: (1) that she committed the murder in the course of other felonies, namely, aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping (720 ILCS 5/9--1(b)(6) (West 1992)); and (2) that the victim was under the age of 12 and her death resulted from exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty (720 ILCS 5/9--1(b)(7) (West 1992)).

At the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the State offered evidence in aggravation. An employee of the Department of Children and Family Services testified that defendant frequently had been placed in state facilities as a youth, but had often run away. The employee testified that on one occasion, defendant ran away with another girl who was under state care, and that while the two were gone, defendant physically forced the girl to submit to oral, anal, and vaginal sex performed by one of defendant's former boyfriends. The employee testified that the girl was also forced to perform oral sex on both defendant and her former boyfriend.

The State presented evidence that defendant's daughter was twice hospitalized, once for injuries consistent with physical abuse, and once for both physical and sexual abuse. The State also offered evidence that defendant, while incarcerated awaiting trial, sexually assaulted an inmate. Finally, in order to show defendant's lack of remorse, the State presented evidence that defendant described to another inmate in great detail her sexual assault and murder of Shenosha.

In mitigation, defendant offered evidence that her parents and other adults physically and sexually abused her as a child. The evidence indicated that defendant gave birth to a child when she was 15 and to another when she was 17, and that the fathers of these children were two separate boyfriends of defendant's mother. Defendant also offered evidence that her codefendant, Jordan, physically abused her. A second defense psychologist testified that defendant is mildly mentally retarded, with a long history of alcohol and drug abuse.

The jury found no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death sentence. The trial court sentenced defendant to death.

ANALYSIS

TrialHearsay

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in allowing testimony concerning certain statements made by various persons about the crime because the statements were hearsay.   An out-of-court statement is hearsay only if it is offered to establish the truth of the matter asserted.  People v. Simms, 143 Ill.2d 154, 173, 157 Ill.Dec. 483, 572 N.E.2d 947 (1991).

Defendant's first hearsay argument concerns the testimony of the police officer who apprehended her.   This officer testified that during his pursuit of defendant, numerous bystanders shouted such things as “There she goes, right there, she's running.”   The officer also testified that after he apprehended defendant, members of the crowd said such things as “They got her, there she is right there, they got her in the car.”

A police officer may testify about statements made by others, such as victims or witnesses, when such testimony is not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but is instead used to show the investigative steps taken by the officer leading to the defendant's arrest.   Simms, 143 Ill.2d at 174, 157 Ill.Dec. 483, 572 N.E.2d 947.   We hold that the statements made by bystanders at the crime scene were not inadmissible hearsay because they were not offered to prove what they asserted, i.e., that defendant fled and that she was taken into police custody.   Rather, the statements were offered to explain the steps taken by the police in investigating the crimes and apprehending defendant.

Defendant next argues that the trial testimony of Kenosha, Shenosha's sister, contained inadmissible hearsay.   Kenosha testified that on the day of the murder, a young girl in the neighborhood told her that Shenosha had gone to the movies with Shenosha's aunt.   We hold that this statement was not inadmissible hearsay because it was not offered to prove the truth of the statement.   Shenosha had not gone anywhere with her aunt, but rather was in defendant's apartment at the time.   The statement was offered to explain why Kenosha continued looking for Shenosha after talking with the young girl.

Kenosha also testified that while she was looking for her sister, she encountered codefendant Jordan, who told her that defendant “live[s] up there.”   This statement also was not inadmissible hearsay, as it was not offered to prove that defendant in fact lived in the apartment Jordan identified.   No one disputed this fact at trial.   The statement was instead offered to explain why Kenosha and her mother went to defendant's apartment.

Defendant further contends that some of the testimony given by Emma Richards, Shenosha's mother, was hearsay.   Emma testified that the night before the murder, Shenosha asked her if she knew Dwight Jordan's girlfriend.   Emma testified that when she answered yes, Shenosha told her that Jordan's girlfriend had taken her to a park across the street that day.   We reject defendant's contention that these statements made by the victim were hearsay.   The statements were not offered to prove that defendant took Shenosha to the park, but were instead offered to explain why Emma and Kenosha sought out defendant after they discovered that Shenosha was missing.

Emma also testified that while she was searching for her daughter, a neighbor, Leslie Moon, told her that no one had left defendant's apartment recently.   We likewise do not believe this statement was hearsay, because it was offered not to prove that no one had left the apartment, but rather to show why Kenosha and her mother went to the apartment a second time.

Finally, Emma further testified that during her search, Moon told her that she had observed defendant place something in the garbage can on the porch of defendant's apartment.   We agree with defendant that the purpose for offering this statement was to corroborate the State's allegation that defendant placed the victim's body in the garbage can.   The statement was therefore hearsay, and the trial court erred in admitting it.   We do not believe, however, that this error requires reversal of defendant's conviction.   An error in the admission of evidence is harmless if properly admitted evidence is so overwhelming that no fairminded juror could reasonably have voted to acquit the defendant.  People v. Miller, 173 Ill.2d 167, 195, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721 (1996).   Because the evidence of defendant's guilt was overwhelming, we hold that the trial court's error in admitting this statement was harmless.

Evidence of Book Found in Defendant's Apartment

At trial, the State was permitted to show the jury the cover of a book entitled The Force of Sex.   A police officer who investigated the murder testified that he found the book on a coffee table in defendant's apartment two days after the murder.   The officer testified that he did not notice the book when he searched the apartment the day after the murder.   He testified that the apartment was not locked between the time of the murder and his discovery of the book.   No testimony was offered concerning the nature of the book's contents, or about who owned or had read the book.

Defendant objected when the State sought to introduce the book into evidence.   Defendant argued that the book's potential for prejudice outweighed any probative value it might have.   Defendant also contended that there was insufficient evidence linking her to the book, because there was no testimony that she owned or had read it, and because the apartment had not been secured between the time of the murder and the discovery of the book.   The trial court ruled that the cover and title of the book were probative to show the defendant's state of mind, and overruled defendant's objections.   The jury was allowed to view only the cover of the book and to hear the testimony of the investigating officer about where and when he found it.

Evidentiary rulings are within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on review unless the court has abused that discretion.  People v. Boclair, 129 Ill.2d 458, 476, 136 Ill.Dec. 29, 544 N.E.2d 715 (1989).   The general rule is that physical evidence may be admitted provided there is proof to connect it with the defendant and the crime.  People v. Free, 94 Ill.2d 378, 415, 69 Ill.Dec. 1, 447 N.E.2d 218 (1983).   Evidence may be inadmissible, however, if it has little probative value due to its remoteness, uncertainty or its possibly unfair prejudicial nature.  People v. Enis, 139 Ill.2d 264, 281, 151 Ill.Dec. 493, 564 N.E.2d 1155 (1990).

We hold that the trial court erred in admitting the book into evidence.   First, because there was no testimony that defendant owned or had read the book, or concerning the nature of its contents, the court had no sound basis for concluding that the book was relevant to the crimes.   Second, the fact that the apartment was unsecured for two days before the book was found further diminished the book's relevance to defendant's role in the crimes.   Given these circumstances, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the book.   Because the properly admitted evidence of defendant's guilt was so overwhelming, however, we hold that this error was harmless.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 195, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

Use of Fitness Examination

Defendant contends that because she did not raise the affirmative defense of insanity, the trial court erred in allowing testimony from a state psychologist concerning a 1991 examination which the court ordered to determine her fitness to stand trial.   See 725 ILCS 5/104-14 (West 1992) (providing that statements made by a defendant during a court-ordered fitness examination may not be admitted against the defendant unless she raises the defense of insanity or the defense of drugged or intoxicated condition).   The psychologist testified that during the 1991 examination, defendant stated that she heard voices and acted as though she were talking to an invisible person.   The psychologist also testified that defendant said that she saw crack cocaine all over the floor of the examining room, and that if she had a pipe, she would pick up the crack and smoke it.   We hold that defendant waived any error in the admission of this testimony by failing to object when the testimony was offered at trial.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 191, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

Defendant contends, however, that because the trial court's admission of the testimony concerning the fitness examination was plain error, her failure to object does not constitute waiver.   Under the plain error doctrine, a reviewing court may consider a trial error not properly preserved by objection when (1) the evidence is closely balanced or (2) the error is so fundamental and of such a magnitude that the defendant was denied her right to a fair trial.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 191-92, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

As noted earlier, the evidence in defendant's case was not closely balanced.   Furthermore, we do not believe that the alleged error was so fundamental as to deny defendant her right to a fair trial.   Defendant herself injected the issue of mental competence into the proceedings by arguing that her low IQ and purported mental retardation absolved her of responsibility for her actions.   See Buchanan v. Kentucky, 483 U.S. 402, 422-23, 107 S.Ct. 2906, 2917-18, 97 L.Ed.2d 336, 355 (1987) (holding that prosecution may constitutionally offer evidence from court-ordered fitness examination when defendant presents psychiatric evidence).

Defendant alternatively contends that her trial counsel's failure to object to the testimony concerning the fitness examination deprived her of the effective assistance of counsel in violation of the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution.  U.S. Const. Amend. VI. In order to prove that counsel's assistance was unconstitutionally ineffective, a defendant must establish a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different had counsel not committed the alleged errors.  People v. Albanese, 104 Ill.2d 504, 525, 85 Ill.Dec. 441, 473 N.E.2d 1246 (1984).   In light of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, we do not believe that the jury's verdict would have been different if the court had excluded the testimony concerning the fitness examination.

Defendant also contends that the trial court erred in allowing the psychologist who conducted the 1991 fitness examination to testify that because of his conclusion that defendant had malingered, i.e., faked mental illness, during that examination, she likely did so again during a defense psychologist's subsequent evaluation of her in 1994.   Defendant argues that the state psychologist's assessment of the 1991 examination was irrelevant to the defense psychologist's interpretation of the 1994 results.

Defendant was the first to raise the issue of malingering at trial, when her psychologist testified on direct examination that defendant had not malingered during the 1994 evaluation.   Only after this testimony was offered did the State counter with its psychologist's opinion that defendant had malingered in 1991 and had continued to do so since.   The latitude to be allowed in the presentation of rebuttal evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court.  People v. Collins, 106 Ill.2d 237, 269, 87 Ill.Dec. 910, 478 N.E.2d 267 (1985).   Because defendant initially raised the issue of malingering, we do not believe the trial court erred in allowing the State to rebut defendant's arguments on this point.

Sentencing

Use of Fitness Examination

Defendant contends that testimony concerning the 1991 fitness examination was also improperly admitted during the sentencing phase of trial.   At the sentencing hearing, the psychologist who conducted the 1991 examination repeated the testimony he had given earlier at trial.   In addition, he further testified that defendant suffered from poly-substance abuse, borderline intellectual functioning, antisocial personality disorder, and sexual sadism.   He testified that persons who suffer from sadism enjoy tormenting their victims.

As with the evidence of the fitness examination offered during the first phase of trial, we hold that defendant waived any error in the admission of this evidence at sentencing by failing to object contemporaneously when it was offered.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 191, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.   We also reject defendant's argument that the admission of this evidence at sentencing was plain error.   The evidence of defendant's guilt was overwhelming and there was a substantial amount of evidence in aggravation.   In addition, because defendant was the first to introduce psychiatric evidence, admission of testimony concerning the fitness examination did not deprive her of a fundamental right.  Buchanan, 483 U.S. at 422-23, 107 S.Ct. at 2917-18, 97 L.Ed.2d at 355.   Furthermore, we hold that defense counsel's failure to object to the admission of this evidence at sentencing did not violate defendant's sixth amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel because, in light of the evidence against her, defendant failed to establish a reasonable probability that the jury's verdict would have been different absent counsel's alleged error.  Albanese, 104 Ill.2d at 525, 85 Ill.Dec. 441, 473 N.E.2d 1246.

Defendant also contends that the psychologist's testimony at sentencing about sexual sadism improperly converted the mitigating factor of mental illness into an aggravating factor.   See Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 885, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 2747, 77 L.Ed.2d 235, 255 (1983) (holding that certain factors may not constitutionally be labeled as aggravating).   Once again, we hold that defendant waived this alleged error by failing to object.

Defendant further contends that the trial court improperly admitted testimony by the psychologist that defendant was sane.   Defendant asserts that sanity cannot be an aggravating factor because it applies to every defendant eligible for the death penalty.   See Arave v. Creech, 507 U.S. 463, 474, 113 S.Ct. 1534, 1542-43, 123 L.Ed.2d 188, 200-01 (1993) (holding that if an aggravating circumstance applies to every defendant eligible for the death penalty, the circumstance is constitutionally infirm).   We reject defendant's challenge to this testimony.   The State did not affirmatively attempt to use defendant's sanity as an aggravating factor, but rather mentioned it solely to rebut defendant's argument in mitigation that the jury should refrain from imposing the death penalty due to defendant's purported mental illness.

Evidence in Aggravation

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in admitting testimony of a fellow inmate in aggravation.   First, defendant argues that the testimony was irrelevant and prejudicial.   The inmate testified that defendant confessed to committing the sexual assault and murder at issue in the instant case.   The inmate also related specific details of the crimes as told to her by defendant.   Defendant argues that in eliciting this testimony, the State was improperly relitigating defendant's guilt.   We disagree.   Evidence concerning a defendant's role and participation in the commission of an offense is admissible at sentencing to establish defendant's character.  People v. Turner, 156 Ill.2d 354, 368, 189 Ill.Dec. 713, 620 N.E.2d 1030 (1993).

The inmate also testified that defendant had stated she could avoid going to prison for the assault and murder by pleading insanity.   Defendant argues that the prejudicial nature of this testimony outweighed its probative value.   We hold that this testimony was properly admitted at sentencing to show defendant's lack of remorse for her crimes.  People v. Barrow, 133 Ill.2d 226, 281, 139 Ill.Dec. 728, 549 N.E.2d 240 (1989).

Second, defendant contends that the trial court improperly admitted evidence that she took her infant daughter to the hospital in 1989.   The examining doctor testified that the infant had a severe second-degree burn in a clearly demarcated line around her buttocks.   The doctor testified that he believed the burn was caused by someone intentionally dipping the child into scalding water, because there were no burns or splash marks on any other part of her body.   Defendant argues that because it is plausible that her daughter was burned accidentally, the doctor's testimony was unduly prejudicial.   We disagree.   Given the State's presentation of extensive additional evidence that defendant had a history of sexually and physically abusing her daughter, the testimony concerning the burn injury was admissible.

Third, defendant contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that she allegedly sexually assaulted another inmate while incarcerated awaiting trial.   A prison guard testified that one morning, several inmates told her that defendant had sexually assaulted an inmate.   The guard testified that when she asked the alleged victim if defendant had assaulted her, the inmate nodded slightly, but would not say anything out loud.   The guard testified that the alleged victim had marks on her neck, face and arm, and seemed frightened of defendant.   The guard further testified that no report was filed about the incident because the alleged victim refused to talk about it.

Defendant argues that this testimony was inadmissible because it was not corroborated by a prison disciplinary report.   Evidence is admissible at the aggravation/mitigation phase of a sentencing hearing, however, as long as it is relevant and reliable.  People v. Free, 94 Ill.2d 378, 422, 69 Ill.Dec. 1, 447 N.E.2d 218 (1983).   This determination lies within the discretion of the trial judge.  People v. Eddmonds, 101 Ill.2d 44, 65, 77 Ill.Dec. 724, 461 N.E.2d 347 (1984).   Because the allegations that defendant perpetrated a sexual assault were corroborated by the guard's testimony that the alleged victim was visibly injured and frightened after the incident, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this testimony.

Defendant also argues that the guard improperly testified as to the race of the incarcerated sexual assault victim, describing her as “a real petite little white girl.”   Because this reference consisted of a single, isolated statement, we hold that it was not intended to incite racial prejudice, and did not in fact have such an effect.  People v. Thomas, 137 Ill.2d 500, 543, 148 Ill.Dec. 751, 561 N.E.2d 57 (1990).   The jury was repeatedly instructed that it was not to be influenced by any person's race, and we find no error in the court's handling of this testimony.

Exclusion of Testimony Concerning Mental Disabilities

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in refusing to allow a witness to testify regarding the difficulties faced by mentally handicapped people.   The offered witness was a member of the Illinois Human Rights Commission at the time of trial, and had previously served as chair of the Advisory Council for the Education of Handicapped Children of the Illinois State Board of Education.   In an offer of proof, she testified that mentally handicapped people have a difficult time learning.   She also testified that mentally handicapped parents need support because they have trouble performing basic parenting skills.   On cross-examination, she conceded that she was not acquainted with defendant's case.

The trial court refused to allow the witness to testify before the jury.   Defendant argues that this was error because the evidence the witness would have offered was relevant to mitigation.   The determination of relevance lies within the discretion of the trial judge.  Eddmonds, 101 Ill.2d at 65, 77 Ill.Dec. 724, 461 N.E.2d 347.   When the witness was introduced to the court, the defense conceded that it had already presented expert testimony substantially similar to the testimony it desired the witness to offer.   The defense also conceded that the witness would not be offering expert testimony.   The witness admitted that she did not know defendant and had not reviewed her medical history.   Finally, the defense failed to notify the court or the State that it would offer the witness until the moment it did so.   Given the above factors, as well as the trial judge's observation that there was a significant dispute over whether defendant was in fact mentally retarded, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow the witness to testify.

State's Closing Argument at Sentencing

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in allowing the State to make various arguments to the jury at the conclusion of the sentencing phase of trial.   Specifically, defendant asserts that the State improperly argued that there was no excuse for defendant's crimes, that defense counsel was trying to make the jury feel guilty, that the evidence clearly established defendant's guilt, and that defendant's daughter was a “cocaine baby.”

We hold that defendant waived these issues by failing to object contemporaneously when the arguments were made.  People v. Miller, 173 Ill.2d 167, 191, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721 (1996).   Furthermore, because the evidence in this case was not closely balanced, and because the State's arguments did not deny defendant a fair trial, we will not address these issues under the plain error doctrine.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 191-92, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

Court's Response to Question from Jurors

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in responding to a note the jury sent to the judge during its deliberations on defendant's sentence.   The note consisted of the following question:  “What happens if we cannot reach a unanimous decision on either verdict?”   Defendant moved that the court respond to this inquiry by giving the jury the following instruction:  “According to the law, if you are not unanimous, you are to sign the verdict that says you are not unanimous and it is a no death verdict.”   The court overruled this motion, and instead instructed the jury in writing as follows:  “You have your instructions.   Keep deliberating.”

The general rule is that the trial court has a duty to provide instructions to the jury where it has posed an explicit question or requested clarification on a point of law arising from facts about which there is doubt or confusion.  People v. Childs, 159 Ill.2d 217, 228-29, 201 Ill.Dec. 102, 636 N.E.2d 534 (1994).   A trial court may, however, exercise its discretion and properly decline to answer a jury's inquiries where the instructions are readily understandable and sufficiently explain the relevant law;  where further instructions would serve no useful purpose or would potentially mislead the jury;  when the jury's inquiry involves a question of fact;  or if providing an answer would cause the court to express an opinion which would likely direct a verdict one way or another.  Childs, 159 Ill.2d at 228, 201 Ill.Dec. 102, 636 N.E.2d 534.

We believe that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in refusing defendant's requested instruction and in directing the jury to continue deliberating.   Immediately before beginning its deliberations on defendant's sentence, the jury was instructed as follows:  “You may not sign a verdict imposing a death sentence unless you unanimously vote for it.”   Because the instructions given to the jury concerning unanimity were readily understandable and sufficiently explained the relevant law, we hold that the court did not err in the manner in which it responded to the jury's inquiry.

Excessiveness of Punishment

Defendant contends that the death sentence imposed by the jury is excessive when juxtaposed with the evidence in mitigation.   Defendant presented evidence that she was physically and sexually abused by her alcoholic mother, sexually abused by her mother's boyfriends, and physically abused by her boyfriend/codefendant.   She also offered evidence that she was depressed and had received psychiatric treatment, and that she suffers from an antisocial personality disorder.   She asserts that her low IQ qualifies her as mildly mentally retarded and that this factor alone should preclude the imposition of the death penalty.

A capital sentencing jury's decision will not be lightly overturned, particularly where it is amply supported by the record.   People v. Johnson, 146 Ill.2d 109, 145, 165 Ill.Dec. 682, 585 N.E.2d 78 (1991).   Mitigation evidence of a defendant's cognitive abilities and mental health does not preclude imposition of a death sentence when that evidence is outweighed by aggravating evidence.  People v. Wilson, 164 Ill.2d 436, 460, 207 Ill.Dec. 417, 647 N.E.2d 910 (1994).   Likewise, evidence that a defendant has been physically or sexually abused or is an alcohol and drug abuser does not invalidate a death sentence when outweighed by aggravating evidence.   People v. Taylor, 166 Ill.2d 414, 211 Ill.Dec. 518, 655 N.E.2d 901 (1995).

Here, defendant confessed to a brutal rape, torture, and murder of a six-year-old girl.   An expert attributed the victim's death to 42 distinct injuries arising from a combination of strangulation, puncture wounds to the chest, and blunt head trauma.   In addition, the State offered evidence in aggravation that defendant had previously assisted in raping one of her friends, that she had sexually and physically abused her child, and that she had sexually assaulted a fellow inmate.   Considering all of this evidence, we cannot say that the jury was required to find that the mitigation evidence precluded imposition of the death penalty.   See People v. Johnson, 146 Ill.2d 109, 145, 165 Ill.Dec. 682, 585 N.E.2d 78 (1991).

Constitutionality of Death Penalty

Defendant contends that the trial court's imposition of the death penalty is unconstitutional on several grounds.   First, she argues that section 9-1(b)(7) of the Criminal Code (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(7) (West 1992)) is facially vague.   This section permits the jury to impose a death sentence if the victim was under 12 years of age and the death resulted from exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.   We have previously rejected this argument, and we decline to reconsider that holding.  People v. Odle,128 Ill.2d 111, 140, 131 Ill.Dec. 53, 538 N.E.2d 428 (1988).

Defendant also contends that the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions given at both stages of her sentencing hearing unconstitutionally failed to guide the jury's discretion.   See United States ex rel. Free v. Peters, 806 F.Supp. 705 (N.D.Ill.1992), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 12 F.3d 700 (7th Cir.1993).   We have likewise rejected this argument and refuse to reconsider our holding.  People v. Williams, 161 Ill.2d 1, 59, 204 Ill.Dec. 72, 641 N.E.2d 296 (1994).

Defendant next argues that section 9-1(g) of the Criminal Code (720 ILCS 5/9-1(g) (West 1992)) is unconstitutional because it places the burden on a criminal defendant to establish that a sentence other than death should be imposed and thereby precludes meaningful consideration of mitigation evidence.   We reject this argument, as we have done in the past.  People v. Miller, 173 Ill.2d 167, 200, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721 (1996).   In a related argument, defendant asserts that sections 9-1(c) and (e) are unconstitutionally vague because they allow the jury to consider aggravating factors other than those enumerated in the statute.   We also adhere to precedent in rejecting this contention.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 200, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

Finally, defendant argues that the death penalty statute as a whole is unconstitutional because it results in arbitrarily or capriciously imposed death sentences.   We decline to reconsider our previous rejection of this argument.  Miller, 173 Ill.2d at 201, 219 Ill.Dec. 43, 670 N.E.2d 721.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated, defendant's convictions and sentences are affirmed.   The clerk of this court is directed to enter an order setting Wednesday, September 10, 1997, as the date on which the sentence of death is to be imposed.   Defendant shall be executed in the manner provided by law.  725 ILCS 5/119-5 (West 1994).   The clerk shall send a certified copy of the mandate in this case to the Director of Corrections, the warden of Stateville Correctional Center, and the warden of the institution where defendant is now confined.

Affirmed.

The trial court should not have admitted testimony from the state psychologist concerning statements made by defendant during a 1991 court-ordered examination to determine her fitness to stand trial.   The statements made by defendant during the fitness examination fell squarely within the terms of section 104-14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/104-14 (West 1992)), and their admission was specifically prohibited.

Although trial counsel failed to make the appropriate objections to the psychologist's testimony, admission of that testimony denied defendant her right to a fair trial and constituted plain error.   The majority invokes Buchanan v. Kentucky, 483 U.S. 402, 107 S.Ct. 2906, 97 L.Ed.2d 336 (1987), to avoid this conclusion, but nothing in Buchanan legitimizes the introduction at trial and sentencing of statements made by a defendant during a court-ordered fitness hearing where, as here, a statute expressly prohibits their use.

The due process clause of the fourteenth amendment (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV) prohibits the prosecution of a person who is unfit to stand trial.  People v. Brandon, 162 Ill.2d 450, 455, 205 Ill.Dec. 421, 643 N.E.2d 712 (1994).   The legislature has enacted a detailed statutory scheme to ensure that that prohibition is honored, and section 104-14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is an integral part of that scheme.   In ruling as it has, the majority has rendered section 104-14 a nullity.   By so doing, it has taken something that was intended to protect the integrity of the criminal process and subverted it into a trap for defendants who may be suffering from mental or psychological impairments.

From this day forward, any defendant who cooperates with a court-ordered fitness hearing does so at his own peril.   Under the majority's analysis, trial courts will be free to disregard the terms of section 104-14 without risk of reversal, even where a timely objection is made, just as long as there is enough other evidence to support a conviction.   For my colleagues, it is simply a question of the ends justifying the means.   In my view, the concept of a fair trial involves considerably more than that.

I would reverse and remand for a new trial. Accordingly, I dissent.

Chief Justice HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

HARRISON, J., dissents.


THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee, v. LATASHA PULLIAM, Apellant.

Opinion filed October 18, 2002.

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Latasha Pulliam, was convicted of murder, two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, in connection with the sexual assault and death of a six-year-old girl. After a bifurcated sentencing hearing, the same jury found that defendant was death-eligible and that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty.

Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death for the murder conviction and to three consecutive prison terms of 60, 30, and 15 years for the remaining convictions. On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant’s convictions and sentences. People v. Pulliam, 176 Ill. 2d 261 (1997). The United States Supreme Court subsequently denied defendant’s petition for a writ of certiorari. Pulliam v. Illinois, 522 U.S. 921, 139 L. Ed. 2d 243, 118 S. Ct. 314 (1997).

BACKGROUND

Defendant gave a signed, court-reported confession following her apprehension after the commission of the crime. Defendant’s statement revealed that, on March 21, 1991, defendant took six-year-old Shenosha Richards to defendant’s apartment. There, defendant placed Shenosha in a bedroom with defendant’s boyfriend and codefendant, Dwight Jordan. Defendant then went to the kitchen to use cocaine.

When defendant returned to the bedroom, Shenosha was on the floor crying with her underwear down to her knees. Jordan was behind her attempting to attain an erection. Jordan then picked up a shoe polish bottle and inserted it into the victim’s rectum. Defendant then placed the straight end of a hammer into Shenosha’s vagina while Jordan continued inserting the shoe polish bottle into her rectum.

Defendant and Jordan continued this assault for 10 minutes. Shenosha was crying, and when defendant put her hand over Shenosha’s mouth, Shenosha attempted to scream. Defendant then took an electrical cord, wrapped it around Shenosha’s neck, and began strangling her.

Defendant eventually took Shenosha to an empty apartment down the hall, where Shenosha told the defendant that she would not tell anyone, except she would have to tell her parents. At that point, defendant pulled the cord tighter around the victim’s neck and continued tightening it for 10 minutes. Because defendant heard knocking at her apartment down the hall, she put Shenosha in a closet in the empty apartment. Defendant returned to the closet a few minutes later and noticed that Shenosha was no longer breathing. Defendant then hit Shenosha over the head with a hammer three or four times. After placing Shenosha in a garbage can, defendant struck the victim over the head with a two-by-four and then attempted to cover the victim’s body with garbage.

The medical evidence revealed that in all Shenosha suffered 42 distinct injuries. She had two puncture wounds to her chest, which damaged her lungs and coronary artery, and lacerations on her head, which penetrated to her skull. She also had numerous lacerations to her anus and vaginal area. Shenosha’s injuries were consistent with the conduct described in defendant’s confession.

After the State rested, defendant presented the testimony of Dr. Mark Moulthrop, a clinical psychologist. Moulthrop noted that he examined defendant in April 1994 and that he reviewed her educational records from her childhood. He testified about the results of the various psychological and IQ tests that were given to defendant through the years.

A report of a psychological evaluation conducted by the board of education when defendant was five years old revealed that she was mentally impaired and that she was placed in special classes. Defendant was given the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children on three separate occasions as a child.

That testing revealed that, when defendant was 11 years old, her verbal scale IQ was 72, her performance scale IQ was 77, and her full scale IQ was 72. At age 13, defendant had a verbal scale IQ of 72, a performance scale IQ of 86, and a full scale IQ of 77.

Defendant was again administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children at age 15. At that time, her verbal scale IQ was 66, her performance scale IQ was 87, and her full scale IQ was 74. Moulthrop attributed the increase in defendant’s IQ score after age 11 to "the practice effect," which means that she did better on the performance portion of the test because she had had the opportunity to take the same test more than once over the years.

Dr. Moulthrop gave defendant the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale test during his April 1994 examination, revealing that her full scale IQ was 69. He concluded that defendant placed within the mildly mentally retarded range, which would be an IQ of 75 or below, or possibly 70 or below "depending on the system," down to an IQ of 55. Moulthrop then explained the difficulties that a person in this range of mental capacity would have in life. Finally, Moulthrop noted that he did not believe defendant was "malingering" during his examination of her.

In rebuttal, the State presented the testimony of forensic psychologist Paul K. Fauteck. Dr. Fauteck was appointed by the court in 1991 to conduct a psychological examination of defendant. He testified that he believed defendant’s full scale IQ was 74 and that she was not mildly mentally retarded.

He said that the demarcation line for mild mental retardation was an IQ of under 70. He classified defendant as a "malingerer" because she faked mental illness and mental impairment during his examination of her. He further stated that he believed defendant likely malingered during the 1994 examination by Dr. Moulthrop.

Dr. Fauteck further testified that he based his assessment of defendant’s IQ on her previous IQ tests and on some screening questions he asked her. He explained that he did not administer another IQ test to defendant because the previous ones were adequate and because it would be "frankly silly to administer an I.Q. test to someone that you know is malingering, that is not going to perform their best on the test." Fauteck defined a malingerer as someone who either pretends to have a mental disease or defect that they do not in fact have or exaggerates a mental disease or defect that they do have. Dr. Fauteck cited several examples from his observation of defendant during the examination to support his conclusion that defendant was malingering.

At the close of all the evidence, the jury found defendant guilty on the charges of first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated kidnapping. At the conclusion of the first phase of a separate sentencing hearing, the same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty based on the statutory aggravating factors that the murder was committed during the course of aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9–1(b)(6)) and the victim was under the age of 12 and her death resulted from exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9–1(b)(7)). The cause then proceeded to the hearing in aggravation and mitigation.

The State presented evidence in aggravation from several witnesses. Juilett Brown-Perry, a social worker employed by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), testified that defendant was placed in state facilities when she was a youth, and she often ran away from them.

On one occasion, defendant and another girl, who was also under the care of the state, ran away together. Defendant brought the girl to the residence of defendant’s 27-year-old boyfriend. There, defendant physically forced the girl to have oral, anal, and vaginal sex with the 27-year-old man. The girl was also forced to perform oral sex on defendant.

Dreszina Jarrett testified that she was incarcerated with defendant at the Cook County jail in March 1991. During that time, defendant told Jarrett about the murder and sexual assault of Shenosha. Defendant also told Jarrett about the details of the crime, including that she used a wooden door stopper with a nail in it to jab Shenosha in the chest. According to Jarrett, defendant never shed any tears when telling about the crime.

Gloria LaFay Anderson, a Cook County sheriff’s department officer, testified that in the mid-part of 1991 defendant sexually assaulted a female inmate. Defendant beat the woman and forced her to have oral sex. Anderson could not file a report about the incident because the victim was too scared to talk about it.

The State also presented evidence that defendant’s baby daughter, Patrice, was twice hospitalized, once for injuries consistent with physical abuse, and once for injuries consistent with both physical and sexual abuse. The first incident occurred on March 19, 1989, when defendant’s daughter suffered second degree burns from having her buttocks dipped and scalded in hot water. The child was kept in the same diaper after the burn for over 16 hours, which would have been extremely painful and which caused the child to run a 105 degree fever. The child remained in the hospital burn unit for almost one month.

Defendant’s daughter Patrice was again brought to the hospital on February 16, 1990. The examining physician observed numerous injuries on the child’s body. She had a number of head injuries, including two black eyes and "a very well-defined linear-type of bruise with very sharp edges." The doctor noted the burn wound to the child’s buttocks, but also noticed bruising to the buttocks that indicated a blow from an object. The child also had cigarette burns on her arms. Both of the child’s thighs had multiple fingernail marks. Upon examination of the child’s vaginal area, the doctor noted a fresh abrasion to the lip of the vagina and two fresh tears to the hymen. Defendant’s explanations for the injuries were not consistent with the injuries themselves, and defendant had no explanation for the injuries to her daughter’s vaginal area.

Dr. Fauteck testified on behalf of the State in aggravation that, based on both his examination of defendant on October 7, 1991, and his review of the facts of the case, it was his opinion that defendant did not suffer from a mental illness at the time the crimes were committed. Instead, he testified that defendant was a "sexual sadist," with borderline intellectual functioning and antisocial personality disorder. He described a sexual sadist as a person who sexually enjoys inflicting pain and suffering on another person. He noted that in its severe form it tends to get worse over time and is "virtually untreatable."

In mitigation, Linda Sobotka, a sentencing advocate for the public defender’s office, testified that she investigated and did a social history of defendant. Sobotka contacted defendant’s parents and attempted to contact various relatives. She also spoke with DCFS workers and jail guards about defendant. She also reviewed numerous documents from DCFS, Hargrove Hospital, Cook County jail, and the Chicago board of education. Sobotka noted that defendant was born in 1971 to Joseph and Renee Pulliam, who were teenagers at the time. Defendant was born prematurely and spent the first two months of her life in an incubator. The family lived with Joseph’s mother for the first three or four years before moving out on their own. The couple had a son, Joseph Jr., who reportedly died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as an infant.

Sobotka further testified that shortly after moving out of Joseph’s parent’s house and after Joseph Jr. died, Renee began drinking and became very violent in her disciplining of defendant. Because Joseph was mostly either working or attending school, Renee stayed home and raised defendant. When defendant went to kindergarten she was found to be educable but mentally handicapped. Around that same time, according to a report from the Chicago board of education (the board), defendant had many old scars, bruises, and lacerations on her face and arms. After testing at age seven, the board noted that defendant was in need of therapeutic intervention because of family problems.

Sobotka stated that around age 10 Renee began beating defendant "continuously" and was drinking more heavily. At that time, Joseph filed for divorce because he would come home from work and find Renee in the apartment with different men. When defendant was 12 years old, her paternal grandmother, who seemed to be a positive influence, died.

Defendant was also raped at age 12 by one of Renee’s boyfriends. When Joseph found out about the incident, he took defendant to Wisconsin to live with him. A few months later, in August 1984, defendant was brought back to Chicago and admitted to Hargrove Hospital suffering from depression and "behavioral problems." Testing conducted at the hospital revealed that defendant was four or five grade levels behind in school.

Defendant talked to the hospital staff about the abuse that she suffered at her mother’s hands. She said that she felt responsible for the beatings and was concerned her mother would be caught. In 1986, at the age of 15, defendant was impregnated by one of Renee’s boyfriends, who was 37 years old. When she was three months pregnant, defendant was again admitted to the hospital for depression.

Sobotka also testified that Joseph received guardianship of defendant’s child, Antoinette, after she was born. Defendant, however, began living on the street, using cocaine and marijuana. Defendant eventually became pregnant again by another one of Renee’s boyfriends. Patrice was born to defendant in 1988 and was addicted to cocaine. Eventually the child was taken away from defendant, and defendant moved in with Jordan, who was 47 years old at the time. Jordan physically abused defendant.

On cross-examination, the State questioned Sobotka about her knowledge of defendant’s abuse of Patrice and her knowledge of the other aggravating evidence presented by the State. On redirect examination, Sobotka testified that there were numerous reports that Renee abused defendant. She noted that defendant had cuts, lacerations, and bruises on her body as a child, and once Renee put a hole in a wall by banging defendant’s head into it.

Sobotka further testified that in a presentence investigation report, defendant indicated that defendant’s mother began sexually abusing defendant at the age of five or six. Renee performed oral sex on defendant and had defendant perform oral sex on Renee. When Joseph went to work, Renee engaged in sex with various men and made defendant watch. On re-cross-examination, Sobotka acknowledged that defendant’s allegations that she had been sexually abused by Renee were not made until after defendant was placed in custody for the crimes against Shenosha.

Dr. Jeffrey Teich, a psychiatrist, also testified on behalf of defendant in mitigation. Dr. Teich recounted defendant’s social history and that defendant was abused as a child by her mother. He noted that defendant was raised without an effective support system in a violent and unpredictable home, where she was physically and sexually abused. He concluded that defendant was mildly mentally retarded and had an antisocial personality disorder. He explained the extent of defendant’s mental capacity, including that defendant could understand concrete, but not abstract, concepts.

Additionally, three Cook County jail guards testified in mitigation about defendant’s behavior while incarcerated. They noted that defendant was aggressive and physically dirty when she first entered the system, but her conduct and appearance changed over time. She became quieter and more friendly and polite toward other inmates and guards. She improved her personal hygiene as well.

Finally, the defense presented in mitigation the testimony of defendant’s father, Joseph Pulliam. Joseph testified that Renee physically abused defendant when she was a child. Renee often kept defendant out of school because she did not want teachers to discover the injuries left by the abuse. He noted that the abuse began when defendant was five or six years old and that it continued for the next 10 years. Joseph stated that his mother was a positive influence upon defendant, but Renee counteracted that influence. He acknowledged that Renee had always exerted more influence over defendant than he had.

At the close of the sentencing hearing, the jury unanimously found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death.

After the resolution of defendant’s direct appeal and the denial of defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari before the United State’s Supreme Court, defendant filed an original and then an amended petition for post-conviction relief in the circuit court of Cook County. Defendant’s amended petition for post-conviction relief raised seven claims, challenging only her sentence of death.

Defendant devoted the bulk of her amended petition for post-conviction relief to allegations that her trial counsel was ineffective at the aggravation-mitigation phase of the sentencing hearing because he failed to conduct a complete investigation into the mitigating evidence and then failed to present to the jury the evidence that would have been uncovered by a more thorough investigation.

Defendant alleged, inter alia, that trial counsel was ineffective in the following ways: (1) he failed to obtain defendant’s early childhood hospital records, which suggested defendant may have been sexually abused when she was 22 months old and that she may have suffered lead poisoning at age 2; (2) he failed to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of defendant’s brother, Joseph Jr., suggesting that the cause of the baby’s death may have been due to abuse by Renee rather than SIDS; (3) he failed to present additional evidence that Renee sexually abused defendant to rebut any claim that defendant recently fabricated her claim that Renee had sexually abused her; (4) he presented an inaccurate picture of defendant’s early childhood by portraying Joseph as a responsible father when evidence existed that Joseph helped to conceal the abuse committed by Renee; (5) he failed to interview and present the testimony of numerous additional witnesses, including an expert witness, who could have provided information about defendant’s abusive upbringing and the impact that it had on her; and (6) he failed to present evidence showing that defendant had organic brain damage.

Defendant’s amended post-conviction petition includes a number of supporting affidavits and exhibits. In that regard, records from Michael Reese Hospital show that defendant was hospitalized when she was 22 months old with a 104 degree fever and that she had experienced a near-drowning incident in the bathtub. Defendant had various marks on her body indicative of physical abuse. She also had a perineal rash around her vagina. Renee and Joseph gave conflicting reports about the bathtub incident, and the parents were referred to social service for suspected child abuse.

Defendant was eventually discharged to the care of her parents, but was to be "closely followed up by social service." Eight months later, defendant was again hospitalized–this time for ingesting iron pills. It was also noted that defendant had a high lead content in her blood. Hospital staff apparently did not consider whether defendant was an abused child at this time even though she had a rash on her face caused by "window sealer." Joseph informed the hospital that defendant’s previous admission was due to a cold and fever.

Defendant attached the affidavit of Donna Crowell Bryant to her post-conviction petition. In her affidavit, Bryant stated that she was not contacted by trial counsel, but if she had been, she would have been willing to testify that she had a seven-year relationship with Joseph that began in 1982. According to Bryant, defendant was repeatedly abused both physically and sexually by Renee.

Joseph admitted to Bryant that Renee tried to drown defendant in the bathtub on one occasion, which resulted in defendant being taken to the hospital. Bryant also stated that Joseph told her that Joseph Jr. actually died from Renee suffocating the child and not from SIDS. When defendant was five years old, Renee had defendant performing and receiving oral sex. Joseph and his mother knew about the abuse, but they ignored it and covered it up.

Another affidavit attached to defendant’s petition was that of Juliett Brown Perry, the DCFS social worker who testified on behalf of the State at defendant’s sentencing hearing. Perry noted that she became defendant’s caseworker when defendant was about 12 years old. According to Perry, defendant told her that Renee, Renee’s boyfriend, and defendant all slept in the same bed together and had sex. Perry further noted that Renee was an alcoholic, and Joseph was always working. Perry stated that she would have been willing to testify about these matters, but she was not contacted by trial counsel for the defense.

Defendant further attached a letter of Janice J. Ophoven, M.D., a psychological expert, who reviewed the various documents in the case, including the Michael Reese Hospital records. Based on her review, Dr. Ophoven concluded that defendant was clearly the victim of repeated and severe physical and sexual abuse.

Among the factors Ophoven relied upon to form her conclusion that defendant was sexually abused was the perineal rash noted when defendant was 22 months old and the sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy at ages 13 and 15. She opined that this type of abuse leads to tragic and long-term consequences for children and is a well recognized and direct factor leading to abusive behavior as an adult. Ophoven further noted that Joseph Jr.’s death was highly suspicious and "there [was] insufficient evidence to exclude homicide."

Defendant also includes the 1979 report of Dr. Christel Lembke, who conducted a psychiatric examination of defendant at the request of the board of education. Lembke noted in the 1979 report that defendant "suffered early medical complications and [it] must [be] assume[d] that she has a considerable amount of brain damage."

Additionally, defendant included with his post-conviction petition the letters of Drs. Mark Moulthrop and Jonathan L. Hess. Dr. Moulthrop stated that based on a review of information not available to him at trial, he concluded that defendant had the following risk factors for brain damage in early childhood: maternal alcoholism during pregnancy, premature birth, febrile seizures and anoxia due to submersion in the bathtub, ingestion of iron and lead, blows to the head, and illicit drug use. Dr. Hess concluded in his letter that, based on his review of defendant’s records, defendant has "verifiable brain dysfunction," which affects her ability to control her behavior.

Finally, defendant presented the affidavit of Gary Copp. Copp stated in his affidavit that he represented defendant as counsel at her trial and at her capital sentencing hearings. Copp noted that he did not obtain Lembke’s 1979 report or defendant’s Michael Reese Hospital records, and his failure to do so was not a matter of trial strategy. He stated that if he had obtained Lembke’s report and the Michael Reese records, he would have provided those documents to the defense experts.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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