Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Man loses appeal from St. Clair County murder case


By Gabriel Neves | Aug 29, 2018

Lortez Thomas was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

MT. VERNON –– The Fifth District Appellate Court upheld a first-degree murder conviction against a man who challenged the verdict over his fitness to stand trial.

In the Aug. 23 ruling, the appellate court affirmed a St. Clair County jury's guilty verdict, presided over by Circuit Judge Jan Fiss, against Lortez Thomas after finding the man's due process rights were not violated. 

In 2008, Thomas was charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal sexual assault. 

The following year, Thomas was appointed an expert to evaluate his mental capacity to waive to his Miranda rights. In his report, clinical psychologist Daniel J. Cuneo found Thomas' "cognitive abilities were equivalent to those of an 8-year-old," according to court records. Cuneo pointed to head trauma, drug dependence and "moderate mental retardation." The psychologist opined that Thomas could not willingly waive his Miranda rights. 

In 2010, the circuit court found Thomas unfit to stand trial and put him in the custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS) for treatment. Six months later, a DHS psychologist concluded Thomas now understood the charges against him and could participate in his defense. 

During his trial in 2014, the court checked with Thomas' counsel to ensure he understood the charges against him. A jury convicted him of the first-degree murder charge and sentenced him to 60 years in prison. 

In his appeal, Thomas' attorney argued the DHS psychologist's report was not sufficient to establish his fitness for trial. The three-panel appellate court disagreed, finding the circuit court followed the proper procedures to determine Thomas' fitness to stand trial. 

"Aside from the defendant's failure to establish plain error, we note,  parenthetically, that the record is devoid of any indication that the  defendant lacked an understanding of the nature and purpose of the trial  proceedings, or that he was unable to cooperate with counsel," Justice John Barberis wrote in the opinion. 

Justices David Overstreet and Richard Goldenhersh concurrred.

Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court Case number 5-14-0465

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Illinois Fifth District Appellate CourtIllinois Department of Human Services

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