People v. Zabrzenski

2023 IL App (1st) 220428-U SECOND DIVISION March 31, 2023 No. 1-22-0428 NOTICE: This order was filed under Supreme Court Rule 23 and is not precedent except in the limited circumstances allowed under Rule 23(e)(1). IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, ) Appeal from the Circuit Court of ) Cook County. Plaintiff-Appellee, ) ) v. ) No. 20 CR 372 ) MATEUSZ ZABRZENSKI, ) ) Honorable Lawrence E. Flood, Defendant-Appellant. ) Judge Presiding. JUSTICE HOWSE delivered the judgment of the court. Justice Cobbs concurred in the judgment. Justice Ellis specially concurred. ORDER ¶1 Held: We affirm defendant’s conviction and sentence for first-degree murder; although defendant claimed self-defense, the trial court did not err when it allowed the state to refer to the deceased as a victim; the trial court erred when it gave the “initial aggressor instruction” to the jury, however the error was harmless because the evidence of defendant’s guilt is overwhelming; defendant’s 33-year sentence for first-degree murder is not excessive. ¶2 Defendant Mateusz Zabrzenski appeals his conviction and 33-year prison sentence following a jury trial in which he was convicted of first-degree murder. On appeal, defendant argues that he was denied a fair trial where the State and its witnesses referred to the person 1-22-0428 killed as the “victim,” despite defendant’s assertion that he acted in self-defense. Defendant also argues that he was denied a fair trial based on the trial court’s decision to provide the “initial aggressor” jury instruction for the jury’s consideration. Last, defendant argues that his 33-year sentence is excessive because he is a first-time offender with rehabilitative potential. For the following reasons, we affirm. ¶3 BACKGROUND ¶4 Defendant Mateusz Zabrzenski was convicted of the June 24, 2013 murder of Sarah Krasilova in her apartment in Chicago. She suffered multiple stab wounds and was strangled. After Krasilova was killed, defendant fled to Poland where, six years later, he was arrested and extradited to the United States. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder and was tried by a jury. Defendant asserted at trial that he acted in self-defense. The jury rejected defendant’s assertion of self-defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder. ¶5 Before the trial, defendant filed motions in limine. Defendant asked the court to prohibit the State from referring to Krasilova as a “victim” during the trial. Defense counsel argued that, since defendant was claiming self-defense, it was up to the jury to decide if Krasilova was a victim. Counsel further argued that the term “victim” is prejudicial and requested that the State be ordered to refer to Krasilova as “the decedent” which defense counsel maintained was “the most accurate description of her” prior to the jury weighing in on the case. The State contested the motion and argued that it was entitled to refer to Krasilova as the victim during the trial. The trial court denied defendant’s motion in limine. ¶6 At trial, Justyna Zygmunt testified that she came to the United States …

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