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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
LATASHA PULLIAM, Appellant.
April 17, 1997
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.