Articles Tagged with Chicago murder attorney

tertia-van-rensburg-37121-copy-300x224On December 5 of this year, a man from Des Plaines was charged with murder after one of his relatives died suspiciously in the West Pullman neighborhood of Chicago.

According to a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department, 47-year-old Robbie Barnes was charged with first degree murder.

58-year-old Rosalind Appling was overheard quarreling with Barnes in her home. After the argument, Barnes allegedly closed the door upon leaving and asked family members not to disturb Rosalind because she was sleeping.

nicolas-barbier-garreau-256433-copy-300x240A man from McHenry was given a 40-year prison sentence for murder.

33-year-old Anthony Harrison tried to take his own life. Unsuccessful, he called 911 and reported that he killed his wife. Two days prior to the call, Laura Harrison was murdered at their home. Upon arriving at the scene, police found her body. She had been beaten, stabbed, and strangled.

Police later discovered that the husband, a few hours after the crime, bought several items to destroy or conceal evidence of the murder. Harrison also had the intention of burning down his house with his wife’s body inside.

A Palatine man was acquitted of first-degree murder charges in early June following a jury trial. The defendant sent a fellow bar patron to the hospital following a single punch to the head; the victim died 10 days later. The defendant claimed he threw the punch in self-defense during a bar brawl.8353384634_a3d504eed6

Self-defense and First Degree Murder

The defense in this case was a two-pronged approach that involved self-defense and lack of specific intent.

First-degree murder

First-degree murder is a specific intent crime, which means that the defendant must have:

  • Intended to kill or cause great bodily harm to the victim;
  • Knew that his actions could result in death or great bodily harm, or;
  • Committed a forcible felony.

 

In this case, the victim died 10 days after being punched in the side of the head by the defendant. A forensic expert testified that the majority of the brain damage suffered by the victim was a result of the blow to the head, and not the subsequent fall to the ground. Jury verdict aside, it is difficult to see how the prosecution could successfully argue that the defendant had the specific intent required for a first-degree murder charge.

The punch occurred during the middle of a bar fight, where many participants were throwing punches and putting hands on each other. There was no indication that anybody was intent on causing deadly harm – it was just an ordinary bar fight, and the defendant jumped into the fray. His intent was to hit the victim, not to kill him or cause great bodily harm.

Nor does it seem plausible at all for the defendant to have known that his punch to the side of the victim’s head could result in death or great bodily harm. Unless the defendant was a prizefighter – and even prizefighters take heavy blows to the head on a routine basis and do not die as a result – nobody would believe that a bare-knuckled punch to the head would result in anything worse than a mild concussion. No laughing matter, but certainly not great bodily harm.

Without the victim’s subsequent death, the defendant committed battery – not aggravated battery – so the crime does not meet the criteria for first-degree murder under the forcible felony rule.

Self-defense

Under Illinois law self-defense is an affirmative defense for the use of force. The use of force must have been based on a reasonable belief that the action was “necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force.” The use of deadly force, or force likely to cause death or great bodily harm, is justified only to defend against similar use of force.

In this case, regardless of whether the defendant has a reasonable belief that the victim was about to assault either the defendant or his friend (which was the defendant’s justification for his use of force), the same argument against a conviction for first-degree murder applies here. There is no way the defendant could have known that a punch to the side of the head was going to result in the victim’s death. That the punch did cause the victim’s death was a freak accident.

The prosecution in this case gambled with an all-or-nothing approach and lost. Instead of allowing the jury to convict the defendant on lesser charges – manslaughter or felony battery, for instance – the only option offered was first-degree murder. Once the jury decided that the defendant did not have the requisite intent to convict on a first-degree murder charge, they had no choice but to acquit.

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Police were able to tie a suspect to a quadruple homicide that took place in the nation’s capital in mid-May after finding DNA on pizza crust left in the home. The suspect’s DNA was already in the criminal database as a result of past crimes.

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Legal Requirements to Obtaining Chicago DNA Sample

DNA is a powerful forensic tool that can link a potential suspect to a crime. Lack of a DNA match can also be used to disprove that the suspect played any part in the crime. Blood, hair, semen, skin scrapings, saliva – all are potential sources of DNA.

If police uncover DNA evidence at a crime scene, in order to get a DNA sample to compare to the evidence, the suspect must either consent to give a sample, or the police must obtain a search warrant. If the police have other evidence to tie the suspect to the crime, such as fingerprints, video surveillance footage or the victim’s identification, getting the search warrant usually isn’t that difficult.

But in some cases, DNA is the only evidence that could place the defendant at the scene of the crime, and a police officer’s hunch is generally insufficient to persuade a judge to grant a search warrant. As the Washington, D.C., case illustrates, there are other ways police can obtain a suspect’s DNA without a search warrant. Think of the scenarios that you see played out on television crime procedurals – police officers taking a cigarette butt the suspect smokes during the interrogation, the soda pop can the suspect drank from, even removing a tissue the suspect used from the trash can – all of these may be enough to give police DNA evidence that would link the suspect to the crime. And this all is obtained without the defendant’s consent or a search warrant.

The Washington, D.C. case shows how the process may sometimes work in reverse. The police may have a DNA sample obtained from the crime scene, but no known suspect. In these cases the police run the DNA sample through the Illinois DNA database, hoping for a match. The database is the result of Illinois’ DNA Database Law requires any defendant who is either convicted or received a disposition of court supervision for, completing or attempting to complete a qualified offense to submit a DNA sample to the state’s DNA database. Qualifying offenses include conviction of any felony or crime that requires registration as a sex offender.

The DNA Database Law was expanded in 2012 to require that any suspect arrested and indicted for first-degree murder, home invasion, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault or criminal sexual assault submit a DNA sample within 14 days of the indictment for inclusion in the database. That means a suspect may ultimately be acquitted, or the charges dismissed before trial, but his DNA has already been taken and placed in the state database.

In cases where a link is made in reverse – DNA evidence helps locate a suspect the police otherwise had no way of finding – the match is usually sufficient to persuade a judge to grant a full search and arrest warrant, which may lead the police to uncover other evidence of a crime.

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A Chicago man was arrested last week in connection with the 2009 disappearance and murder of his girlfriend. The woman disappeared in April 2009 after last being seen with the defendant. Here whereabouts were unknown until recently, when a 911 call to the Dolton Police Department reported a body in Little Calumet River. An autopsy positively identified the victim and determined the cause of death to be strangulation.

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Defense of Cold Case Murder

Cold case murders are challenging for the prosecution – the passage of time causes both evidence and witness memories to fade. But these challenges are positives to the defense, as it makes it easier to cast reasonable doubt on the defendant’s guilt. Defense in these types of cases would involve attacking the credibility of both witness statements and any forensic evidence found in the case.

In cases such as this, where the victim was last seen with the defendant, the prosecution will attempt to persuade the jury that this fact implicates the defendant in her disappearance. But with no other evidence linking the defendant to the victim, this eyewitness testimony has little value and does not prove that the defendant was responsible for her death. It only proves that they were seen together. The defendant and the victim may have parted ways after they were last seen together, with the victim later being attacked by an unknown third-party.

Cause of death would also need to be examined by forensic experts hired by the defense. The coroner listed cause of death as strangulation. If the death was recent, we would attempt to determine if any marks left on the victim’s neck were consistent with the size and shape of the defendant’s hands. The passage of time makes this type of evidence unlikely, but it is still something that the defense would need to examine.

If the body was deteriorated to the point that no skin was left to examine, forensic experts may be able to determine the amount of force that was needed for the victim to be strangled, and from there estimate the approximate height and weight of the murderer. This evidence may also help to exonerate the defendant.

Forensic examination may also show that there is a possibility that damage to the neck occurred following death. Perhaps the victim was not a victim of murder. Instead, she may have committed suicide by jumping into the river, and her body then became tangled in some type of debris that could have caused injuries consistent with strangulation. This evidence would also exonerate the victim.

DNA evidence in this case would not be indicative of the defendant’s guilt. The two were dating, so one would expect to find his DNA on her. But if DNA of any unknown party was found on the victim, those persons would need to be identified in order to determine whether they could have been responsible for her death.

The defense would also look into whether there was anybody with cause to harm the victim. Did she – or perhaps the defendant – have a bitter ex-partner? Could she have been involved in drugs or some other illicit activity that led to her death? Could the defendant or the victim’s family have been involved in these activities, and she was killed by to send them a message? The backgrounds of the victim, the defendant and her close family and friends would all need to be considered to determine whether there are any other possible suspects.  Continue reading

A Cook County inmate was charged with solicitation of murder for hire after allegedly trying to hire a hitman to murder a witness in his upcoming trial on charges of criminal damage to property, telephone harassment, and criminal trespass. The hitman was, in fact, an undercover officer.

Chicago Solicitation of Murder

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A person commits the crime of solicitation of murder if he “commands, encourages, or requests” another person to commit the offense of first degree murder. The defendant allegedly offered to pay the undercover officer $3,000 – $4,000 to have the witness killed.

A solicitation charge means that the underlying crime was never committed. Instead, the defendant was merely making the first step toward committing it. So determining whether the solicitation actually took place requires a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the commission of the alleged crime. Questions to be asked when crafting a defense to a charge of solicitation of murder include:

  • Whether the ‘hitman’ initiated the subject of solicitation with the defendant. If the hitman initiated the conversation, it would show that the defendant never considered the idea of murdering the witness until he was approached.
  • Whether conversations about the ‘hit’ were conducted in a public or private setting. If the conversations were in public, it makes it more likely that the defendant had no intention of following through, because there would be plenty of witnesses to his actions. Instead, he may have been engaging in talk to make himself look tough in jail, or wishful thinking.
  • Whether the defendant had the means or ability to pay the hitman. If he did not, it would tend to show that he once again was just fantasizing and did not intend for the hit to take place.
  • Whether the defendant ever said, “I want you to kill this witness.” Anything less than a specific statement of intent, such as, “It would really help my case if he died” or “God, I wish he were dead so he couldn’t testify!”, could be interpreted to be a case of wishful thinking.
  • Whether the defendant ever specifically requested that the witness be killed, or whether he expressed a general desire for him to “be taken care of.” This type of statement could be interpreted to mean that the defendant simply wanted someone to scare the witness out of testifying.

Chicago Entrapment Defense

In these types of cases, it may also be possible for the defendant to successfully argue that the police entrapped him. Entrapment is an affirmative defense, which means that the burden is on the defendant to prove that he was entrapped.

A defendant is not guilty of the charged offense if he can prove that his conduct was “incited or induced by a public officer or employee…for the purpose of obtaining evidence for the prosecution of that person.”

Proving entrapment requires more than simply providing evidence that the officer provided the defendant an opportunity to commit the crime. Courts assume that most citizens will be able to resist the temptation to break the law. Instead, entrapment requires that the officer engaged in such egregious behavior that a normal, law-abiding citizen would be enticed to commit the underlying crime.

For example, in a case such as this, it would not be enough for the defendant to prove that the officer approached him and brought up killing the witness. It may be enough, however, if the officer continually approached the defendant, despite repeated statements that he did not want the witness killed. This would show that the defendant was initially unwilling to break the law, but caved after police badgering.  Continue reading

Everybody knows a defendant can invoke a claim of self-defense to defend against charges of murder, manslaughter, or other violent crimes that result in injury or death to another person. What you may not know is that a claim of imperfect self-defense can reduce a murder charge from first-degree to second-degree.

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Under Illinois law, a homicide qualifies as second-degree murder if the defendant can show he acted under a sudden and intense passion due to provocation by the victim, or he actually, but unreasonably, believed he was acting in self-defense. This is know as imperfect self-defense. Imperfect self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant carries the burden of proof. If the defendant can successfully prove one of those factors existed at the commission of the crime, then the jury may find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, rather than first-degree murder.

A defendant cannot be charged with attempted second-degree murder; he can only be found guilty of second-degree murder by proving the existence of one of the two mitigating factors. A charge of second-degree murder includes all of the elements of first degree murder: the defendant must have intentionally planned to kill the victim, or he knew there was a strong probability his actions would result in causing the victim great bodily harm or death. It is then up to the defendant to convince the jury he was either in a blind rage due to the victim’s actions (also known as the “heat of passion” defense), or he believed, however unreasonably, that his life was in jeopardy.

Here is one example of how imperfect self-defense would apply. An individual suffering from a mental illness that causes paranoia or delusions may plead imperfect self-defense if he actually, though unreasonably, believed the victim was about to cause him great bodily harm or death. In that case, the defendant believed his use of force against the victim was justified, even if, from an objective viewpoint, it was not.

Imperfect self-defense may also arise in cases of murder that occurred in the heat of passion. For example, a wife who walks in on her husband and his lover flies into a rage, grabs a gun in her nightstand drawer, and shoots them both dead. The wife knew her actions were likely to cause the death of her husband and his lover (she may even have intended it), but she was in such a blind rage due to his betrayal that she could not control herself. In this case, the defense could argue the charge be reduced to second-degree murder.  Continue reading