WRIT OF ERROR to the Circuit Court of Schuyler County; the
Hon. A. CLAY WILLIAMS, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BRISTOW DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied January 21, 1952.
The plaintiffs in error, hereinafter referred to as defendants, Bruce Quinn, age 24, Nile Beaver, age 26, and Oren Hill, age 58, were arrested on April 29, 1950, upon the complaint of Clay Fowler, who had accused defendants of stealing nineteen bushels and forty-five pounds of soybeans valued at $49.10 from the granary on the Clay Fowler farm. This farm has been occupied by defendant Oren Hill under an oral agreement from the year 1946 up to the date of his arrest. The defendants were tried jointly before the court without a jury in the Schuyler County circuit court, a waiver of trial by jury by the defendants having been signed on November 8, 1950. After the court had entered a finding of guilty as to all of the defendants, they each made application for probation. Oren Hill's petition for probation was allowed, and those of Nile Beaver and Bruce Quinn were denied. The defendants were then denied the right to file motions for new trial. The defendants' motion in the nature of writ of error coram nobis was overruled. Nile Beaver was then sentenced to two to six years' imprisonment in the State Reformatory for Women at Dwight, Illinois, and Bruce Quinn was sentenced to three to eight years in the Illinois State Penitentiary.
The defendants seeking reversal of the judgment entered against them have assigned many errors, but the one of controlling importance, in our opinion, is the failure of the State to introduce evidence proving defendants' guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, it is advisable for this opinion to disclose rather fully many of the pertinent facts upon which the prosecution justifies their conviction.
Oren Hill was a bachelor farmer owning two teams of horses and all the horsedrawn machinery and wagons necessary for the planting and cultivating of corn, oats, rye and beans. He did not possess any motorized equipment. The landowner, Clay Fowler, had 120 acres of land, 70 acres of which was in cultivation. The tillable areas were in small tracts of irregular shapes of three, seven and ten acres where horsedrawn plows, cultivators and drills were more practical. Their farm lease was an oral arrangement. There seems to be no disagreement as to the provisions of that lease in 1946, the beginning of the tenancy. Hill was to prepare the soil for planting of the seed, perform all farm labor in connection with the drilling, cultivation and harvesting of the crops. Each was to pay for one half of the seed, but the landlord was to have a controlling voice in the matter of what crops should be planted on each tract each year. Each was to have one half of the small grain, which was to be stored in the granary located on the premises and later divided. Each was to pay one half of the cost of combining. Hill was to keep up the repairs on the fences and to build and put in fence posts, and all this was supposedly for his pasture rent. The evidence further shows that Hill was registered as a tenant on the premises of Fowler under the provisions of the Federal farm program for the year 1946, and Fowler was registered as the landlord.
According to the testimony of Hill, the same rental agreement continued in force throughout the succeeding years of 1947, 1948 and 1949. During this period Hill sold corn, beans, oats and rye to the neighbors and elevators. It was his custom to sell it in small amounts that he might have some cash to purchase the simple necessities of a bachelor living alone in a rural community.
Fowler, on the trial, denied that Hill, was his tenant, but stated that in consideration of his farm labor, Hill was to have feed and pasture for his four horses, the use of a milk cow and the occupation of the farm dwelling, barns and sheds. To illustrate the vagueness of the tenancy agreement as interpreted by Fowler, let us recite the following questions and answers:
"Q. So that in the year 1949 while Oren Hill was living on your place, under an agreement you have heretofore testified about, there was actually planted on that place corn, oats, beans and rye, isn't that true?
"Q. He planted oats and beans, corn and rye there each year didn't he?
"A. Not for himself he planted it for me, help me plant it.
"Q. He was there under the agreement about which you have heretofore testified, he was there as your tenant?
"A. He is not my tenant in general. I didn't have the farm rented only a few pieces of land I would allow him to have because there was more than I ...