Lee v. Illinois

LOCATION: Dow Chemical

DOCKET NO.: 84-6807
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 476 US 530 (1986)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1986

Dan W. Evers - on behalf of the petitioner
Jill Wine-Banks - on behalf of the respondent
Jill Wine-Banks - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Lee v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1985 in Lee v. Illinois

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Lee against Illinois.

Mr. Evers, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Dan W. Evers:

Mr. Chief Justice Burger, may it please the Court, this is the case of Millie R. Lee versus Illinois.

I represent the petitioner, Millie R. Lee, who was convicted in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Illinois, of the murders of Odessa Harris and Mattie Darden.

The issue presented before this Court today is one involving significant rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States involving the confrontation clause.

The specific issue involved in this case is whether those amendments were violated when the trial judge in this case sitting as the trier of fact stated on the record that he was considering the co-defendant's confession against my client, Millie R. Lee, in finding her guilty of the two murders of Odessa Harris and Mattie Darden.

The issue arises specifically because in this case in a bench trial the judge noted that he was considering this as substantive evidence.

William H. Rehnquist:

Was the confession admitted in evidence earlier in the trial?

Dan W. Evers:

Your Honor, the confession of Edwin Thomas was admitted by the trial court judge earlier, and it was found to be admissible against Edwin Thomas by the trial court judge at that time, yes.

William H. Rehnquist:

And Thomas was being tried at the same time as she was?

Dan W. Evers:

And it was a joint trial.

The petitioner Millie Lee and the co-defendant Edwin Thomas had waived jury trial previously, and the day of trial they came in and waived out a motion to sever the case from each other, and they agreed that a bench trial would be proper if the judge considered the appropriate evidence only against each defendant.

At trial--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, was there any objection to the admission of the co-defendant's statement?

Dan W. Evers:

--There was no objection made to the admission of the statement into evidence except with the understanding that the evidence was to be considered separately.

At the beginning of trial when they said that their motion to sever would be moot or disregarded, it is because they went in on the understanding that the judge would be able to consider the evidence separately against each defendant.

The general rule of law, of course, is that the judge can compartmentalize his mind and separate the evidence and consider the evidence separately.

That is why--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Did he say what was in the co-defendant's confession as it relates to this petitioner would not be considered as to this petitioner?

Dan W. Evers:

--At the very beginning of trial, when they walk about the judge considering the evidence separately, Judge Hobin, who was the trial court judge, does state that he would do that, and so this trial began on the basis that the judge would separate the evidence and consider the admissible evidence only against each co-defendant.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And did he say later that nevertheless he was now going to consider it against this petitioner?

Dan W. Evers:

When he finds my client, Millie Lee, guilty at the end of the presentation of the evidence and at the end of arguments by counsel, the trial court judge states in his finding of guilt that the petitioner is guilty as charged, and he states, I reject... basically he says, I reject her defense because her argument is that she was not guilty of the murder of Odessa Harris because she had no intent to kill, did not plan to kill, and did not know that Edwin Thomas was going to kill Odessa Harris, and that her second defense was that the killing of Mattie Darden would be voluntary manslaughter.

The trial court judge says, I reject that because whether there is a plan to kill is disputed by the co-defendant's confession.

The co-defendant's confession clearly shows that there was premeditation, and then he also says that he rejects voluntary manslaughter because the co-defendant's confession says that Edwin Thomas had asked her to go in and take care of Mattie Darden.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Asked her meaning asked the petitioner?

Dan W. Evers:

Asked the petitioner.

The general basic facts of the confession by the co-defendant Edwin Thomas and the statement by Millie Lee is, there is a great difference.

I would argue that there is no confession to murder in Millie Lee's statement.

Her statement only involves that she was in her apartment with her boyfriend, Edwin Thomas, her aunt Mattie Darden, and another woman by the name of Odessa Harris, and there had been some conflicts earlier, but in an argument with Odessa Harris, Odessa Harris was leaving, and Edwin Thomas snuck up behind her and stabbed her in the back.

Edwin Thomas's statement, his confession says that Millie Lee and Odessa Harris were standing in the kitchen talking, and he went up to sneak up behind her in the kitchen and stab her in the back, but Odessa Harris caught him, and he had to wrestle her to the floor, and stabbed her in the chest or stomach area.