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The People v. Sloss





WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. WILLIAM J. LINDSAY, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Wesley Sloss, was indicted in the criminal court of Cook County for the murder of Bessie Gates. He pleaded not guilty. A jury found him guilty and fixed his punishment at death. Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were overruled. Defendant's petition for a writ of error has been granted and the writ of error made a supersedeas. The record is now before us for review.

Between 11:30 P.M. on January 30, 1950, and 12:30 A.M. on January 31, two police officers, Lucian Suprnant and Adolph Kolinski, in response to a radio call, went to 2349 West Fulton Street, in Chicago, where a woman, subsequently identified as Bessie Gates, and described by defendant as his common-law wife, was found lying on the top step leading to the front porch in a pool of blood. Unconscious and bleeding, she was taken to the county hospital where she died on January 31, without having regained consciousness. So far as the record discloses, there were no witnesses to the fatal assault.

Dr. James J. Kearns, coroner's physician, who performed an autopsy on the same day, testified that the body was that of a woman thirty-seven years of age, five feet, three inches tall, weighing about 125 pounds, and that there were four deep cuts in the back of her head on the left side and a fifth cut on the top of the head. Dr. Kearns expressed the opinion that the cause of death was skull fracture and cerebral laceration caused by a sharp instrument.

Defendant, when arrested in February, 1950, and questioned about the assault and killing of Bessie Gates, disclaimed any knowledge of the homicide. On January 13, 1951, immediately following his release from the House of Correction where he had been confined about ten months, he was taken into custody by police officers Cornelius Carr and Harry A. Smith. He was taken to the police building at 1121 South State Street and from there to the Crime Laboratory where he was given two lie-detector tests. He was then taken downstairs and left alone until the following day.

On January 14, defendant made a confession which was typewritten and signed by him. Those noted on the statement as present were Sergeant James McMahon, detective bureau, Carr, and patrolman Marshall Carroll, detective bureau, typist. On January 15, defendant made and signed another confession described as the re-enactment statement. Listed as present were John Cogan, assistant State's Attorney, Captain Jerome Looney, Twenty-seventh District, Sergeant McMahon, officers Carr and Robert Noonan, homicide detail, detective bureau, H.E. Martin, H.M. Tobias, and H.E. Erickson, the reporter. Defendant's objections to the introduction of these confessions in evidence were overruled. Without the confessions there is little, if any, evidence connecting defendant with the murder of Bessie Gates. Defendant challenges their admission upon the grounds that they were extorted by violence, brutality, and unlawful confinement; that all the witnesses to the procuring and execution of the confessions were not produced upon the preliminary hearing as to their admissibility, and that the duress and force employed to obtain the first confession continued to exist and influenced the making of the second statement. We review the evidence adduced upon the hearing before the trial judge to determine the admissibility of the confessions in evidence.

Defendant testified that, on January 14, he was taken to the fourth floor of the building at 1121 South State Street where Carr, Smith and two other officers whose names he did not recall were present; that the four men were in and out of the room at the time of the alleged beating and that altogether five were present at different times; that he did not know them but would recognize them if he saw them again; that after all present had interrogated him repeatedly, a hose two inches in diameter and about thirty-six inches long was produced; that he took off his coat and removed his shoes, as directed; that an attempt to handcuff him behind a chair was unsuccessful because his arms were too short; that, in the course of the attempt, he was struck four or five times and his head pushed down by an officer's foot; that thereupon, they handcuffed his hands behind him, sat him in a chair, struck him and got the hose, and that they cursed him, one saying, "You God damned nigger, I am going to kill you. You'd better start talking and don't quit. Do you want to take it the easy way or are we going to murder you?" Defendant stated that he replied he would never confess to something he had not done and knew nothing about; that Carroll struck him on the head, shoulders and leg with the rubber hose; that they all beat him over the head with the hose; that officer Carr's partner, Smith, beat him in the stomach with his fist "altogether I would say one hundred times;" that he fell down on the floor several times, would move around, and that all four of the officers then kicked and beat him in the back between fifteen and twenty times; that a rib was broken when an officer whom he identified as Smith stood on his stomach; that to his complaint to the officer standing on his rib that he was killing him, the officer replied, "That is what I am going to do;" that he was whipped and hit on the neck with the hose several times, and that Smith booted him with his foot after he was down. He also stated that he "had a bad leg * * * in two places [because of] gangrene;" that, although he so informed them, they continued to strike him on the bad leg, and that he reached the point where he could not stand any more and said, "I will sign anything you want me to sign because you are killing me." Defendant testified that at this juncture Carr came in and made the others stop hitting him; that he was carried into the next room where the questions contained in the first confession were propounded, and that he answered them because he had been beaten and was being beaten to death. Defendant asserted that, prior to the beating, none of his ribs were broken and that afterwards he had broken ribs.

After the statement was signed, defendant said he was taken to the eleventh floor where prisoners were kept and placed in the first cell; that he could not walk and was left on the floor of the cell; that he was later taken to another cell where he stayed all night on the floor; that the prison doctor came the next morning at which time officer Carr and assistant State's Attorney John Cogan were present; that he was unable to reply to the doctor's inquiry as to where he was hurt; that the doctor taped and bandaged his side and, after he had denied he was a dope addict, gave him a "good size capsule;" that he was then carried back and placed in the cell where he was again visited by Cogan, and that although he refused at first because he was too sick, he finally agreed to go "west to see the State's Attorney" because he felt the air might do him good.

Defendant testified that he was then taken to the Warren Avenue police station and from there a group, consisting of himself, Cogan, officers Carr and Smith and an unidentified officer, and two newspaper reporters, went to 241 Artesian Avenue where he told them that he had obtained the ice pick which he used to kill Bessie Gates; that he had a conversation with one Johnnie Jones there in which he told Jones that he did not kill Bessie Gates but that he had to do something to save his own life; that, from 241 Artesian Avenue, the group went to 2349 Fulton Street; that in the interrogation which took about twenty minutes, Cogan asked the questions, and that they then returned to Eleventh and State Streets where he signed the re-enactment statement.

On the next day, January 16, defendant stated that he was taken to the felony court, bound over by the grand jury, and then returned to the county jail. He further testified that because of his condition he was removed two days later to the jail hospital where he remained until February 5; that while there Doctor Crane examined him, and that he was under hospital care until March 18.

The evidence adduced by the various medical witnesses will be summarized. Dr. Louis Rose testified that he examined defendant about 8:55 A.M. on January 15, 1951, at the police building; that defendant stated that his side had been hurt; that because of the tenderness he could not find any fractures upon physical examination, and that he taped his chest and gave him a sedative to relieve the pain. He testified, further, that he asked defendant the cause of injury and that the latter mumbled something which he could not understand. Dr. Robert D. Crane recalled having treated defendant in January, 1951. He testified that his examination revealed a fracture of the eighth rib, and that he strapped his right chest and gave him a sedative to relieve his pain. He added that defendant told him he had received the injury at the police station. According to Dr. Crane, defendant was hospitalized from a week to ten days. Dr. Andrew J. Toman, associated with the hospital at the House of Correction, and nurse Anna Canonico both testified that the records of that institution showed no treatment given to, or injury befalling, defendant while there.

Officer Carr testified that he did not see anyone strike defendant at any time and, in particular, that he did not see his partner, officer Smith, push him in the face. According to Carr, but two officers were in the room when defendant made his first statement. He further stated that, although defendant did not complain about being sore or that he was injured on January 14, he did tell him the next day, January 15, that a doctor had attended him in the lockup and that he had an injury in the chest, and that, to his inquiry, defendant explained that when he was brought to his cell a prisoner struck and knocked him down, and was kicking him on the floor when two other prisoners came to his rescue. This version of the origin of defendant's injuries, according to Carr, was given in the presence of officer Smith.

Officers McMahon and Carroll not only denied striking defendant but stated that they did not see anyone else do so at the interrogation on January 14. Officer McMahon added that he was present at the re-enactment on January 15 and at that time defendant was able to walk.

Officer Smith testified that he did not personally question defendant on January 14 and was not present during the interrogation which resulted in the first confession; that he merely passed by the door of the room and, at that time, had observed officer Carr alone with the defendant, and that, accordingly, he had neither committed nor witnessed the acts of brutality attributed by defendant to him and his named associates. Officer Carroll corroborated Smith in testifying that he did not see the latter while he was occupied taking the statement. Smith further stated that although he was not present during the re-enactment, he was with defendant on the way to the west side; that en route the latter complained he was hurt; that ...

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