Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Murder / Homicide

Deliberate murder of another person is considered a serious crime in the state of Illinois. The legislators have set up a comprehensive list of statutes dealing with first and second degree murder. A defendant who is charged with and convicted for murder can be sentenced for decades. This can obviously have a devastating effect on the life of a person. For a person to be sent to prison for thirty years means that their life is over.

The prosecution gives the top priority to homicide cases as they are almost always tried as Class X felony. This is the highest class of offenses in the state and carry the maximum prison term.

It should be noted that just because the prosecution charges someone with murder does not necessarily mean that the person has actually committed the crime. We have seen many cases where the law enforcing agencies arrest the wrong person on flimsy evidence and the state attorney pushes for maximum penalty. Due to poor defense from the legal counsel the innocent person ends up in prison for decades.

There are even examples of people wrongfully convicted for murder while the real culprit surfaced ten or fifteen years later admitting to the crime.

This is why it is absolutely necessary to get a good defense team. They are the first and only line of defense for innocent people in a justice system that is far from perfect.

State Legislation

Murder charges are covered under 720 ILCS 5/9-1. The law states that a person who kills an individual, without lawful justification, commits first degree murder when one of the following conditions is true.

  1. The person had the intention to kill the victim or do great bodily harm to the victim with full knowledge that such acts will cause the death of the person.
  2. The person knew that his or her actions had a strong probability of causing the death of or great bodily harm to the victim.
  3. The person was attempting to commit a forcible felony other than second degree murder.

The murder charge can be elevated to aggravated murder if the accused has attained the age of 18 years and all of the following conditions are true.

  1. The murdered individual was a physician, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse or advanced practice nurse.
  2. The defendant knew or should have known that the victim was from one of the professions outlined in (a).
  3. The victim was killed while acting in the course of his or her professional capacity.

The charge can also be elevated to aggravated murder if the murdered individual was a law enforcement officer, a minor, a senior citizen or if torture was involved before the murder.


First degree murder was one of the few major offenses that was punishable by the death penalty in Illinois. The punishment was repealed in 2011.

First degree murder is a Class X felony and now punishable with a minimum of 20 years in prison and can be extended to a maximum of 60 years. Unlike most other crimes the entire sentence for murder must be served and there is no parole for good behavior.

Second degree murder is a Class 1 felony and punishable by 4 to 20 years in prison.

Examples and Court Cases

A man was recently charged with first degree murder in Sauk Valley for the death of a child welfare worker. Andrew Sucher of Rock Falls was indicted for the death of Pamela Knight who died on February 8 due to head injuries from a blunt force.

The police claim that Pamela was trying to take a child into protective custody last year at the home of Sucher’s parents when he allegedly kicked her in the head, fracturing her skull.

Sucher has been charged with five counts including first degree murder. He has also been charged with aggravated battery causing bodily harm, aggravated battery of a child and aggravated battery of a state employee. If convicted he could be sentenced for 20 to 60 years in prison.

In a separate case, Brandon Scott 29, of Peoria was sentenced to 40 years in prison after the death of his girlfriend.

The man had been accused of strangling his girlfriend Erica Jones last year. He later set their home on fire to cover up the murder. The man had pleaded guilty in court as part of plea bargain in exchange for dropping the arson charges.

In a third case, the Illinois appellate court recently overturned the conviction of a former Arlington Heights man who had been serving a 45-year sentence in prison.

Jesus Sanchez had been found guilty by a jury in November 2014 for shooting an innocent bystander with a firearm. The prosecution had claimed during the trial that Sanchez was a member of a street gang and intended to shoot another gang member that he had fought earlier.

The appellate court ruled that some of the evidence presented by the prosecution contradicted with the statements and a confession that Sanchez had made to the authorities at the time of the incident.

The judge ruled that all the evidence and eyewitness testimony showed that the shots came from a different place at a different time than the shooting claimed in Sanchez’s confession. None of the witness testimony connected Sanchez to the shooting.

The court also noted evidence which showed that Sanchez, who would have been 19 at the time of his conviction, did not voluntarily make the statements to the authorities at the time of his arrest.

The young man was represented by a public defender while his family had maintained his innocence.

Possible Legal Defenses

In order to be convicted for a first degree murder, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intention of causing the death of another person. They must also prove that the defendant had the knowledge that their actions would cause the death of another person.

The defense may argue that the accused lacked the intention to commit murder. Consider an example where a fist fight breaks out between two people. While both of them may have the intention of causing minor physical injuries to one another, they may lack the intention of causing the death of their opponent. A good defense may get the charges dropped from first degree murder to second degree or even involuntary manslaughter.

Another possible strategy is to argue from self-defense. The defense would need to show that the defendant was merely trying to stop another person from harming them and the death occurred in self-defense.

In the event that the prosecution’s case is based on poor evidence or weak testimony, the defense may challenge the charge of murder itself. There are cases where the investigating team arrests and charges the wrong person. The defense can certainly use a more aggressive strategy in challenging the prosecution.