Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, October 21, 2019

Fifth District denies appeal of man found guilty of first-degree murder in 1997

By John Sammon | Dec 7, 2017

MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court on Nov. 27 affirmed an earlier dismissal by the St. Clair County Circuit Court of a convicted killer’s claims that he was denied due process because he had been appointed an ineffective attorney. 

The appellate panel rejected the argument made by defendant Gerrodo Forest, noting that it had to be proven by demonstrating that errors of such magnitude were made by the attorney that it likely resulted in a different verdict.

“Even assuming deficient representation by appellate counsel, the defendant cannot establish a reasonable probability but that for the deficiency, the outcome of the appeal would have been different,” the panel held.

In addition, the defendant was found to have been fit to stand trial.

According to the ruling, Forest was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury on Nov. 8, 1997. Based on a prior psychological examination, Forest was said to have been mildly mentally handicapped with a limited vocabulary. Despite the fact a psychologist stated that Forest had engaged in drug abuse and heard voices, he had been found fit to stand trial, the court held.

Prior to the verdict on Oct. 15, 1997, the ruling states that attorneys for Forest filed a motion for trial with special provisions and assistance so the defendant could better understand the proceedings. The court denied the motion as unnecessary.

On Dec. 1, 1997, the defendant filed a post-trial motion asking the court to reconsider dismissal of the special provisions request, grant acquittal, or a motion for a new trial.

The court denied the post-trial motion and sentenced Forest to 45 years imprisonment with no good-time credit, the opinion states.

Forest appealed, alleging that evidence had been insufficient to prove the murder victim was killed during an attempted armed robbery. He also alleged that his counsel was incompetent for failing to submit to the jury instructions to view accomplice witness testimony with suspicion, and that the first-degree murder verdict was excessive, according to the ruling.

"On Aug. 25, 1999, the appeals court affirmed the circuit court conviction and the sentence," the opinion states.

On May 3, 2004, the defendant filed a post-conviction petition asserting that he was denied effective assistance of counsel "in violation of his constitutional rights and was arrested without probable cause," the ruling states.

The state moved to dismiss the petition on the grounds it was untimely because it had not been made on direct appeal. 

In May 2007, defense counsel filed a second amended petition, once again alleging equal protection and due process violations, the opinion states.

In August 2014, the state moved to dismiss the amended petition and in September 2014, the trial court granted the motion. The court found that Forest forfeited his chance for special provisions during the trial by failing to raise them on direct appeal.

Forest again appealed, contending that the trial court erred in dismissing his second amended petition. This dismissal was upheld Nov. 27.                

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Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court