WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon.
LEONARD C. REID, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE DAILY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
On a trial before a jury in the criminal court of Cook County, Arthur Marino, the plaintiff in error, was found guilty of the murder of Joan Coward and sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of fifty years. He has sued out this writ of error and the record is here for review.
The deceased, seventeen years old, and the plaintiff in error, twenty-nine years old, had been acquainted for ten months and were engaged to be married. On the night of June 28, 1949, the deceased's birthday, plaintiff in error called at her home and the two went to a movie. After the movie they returned to deceased's home, where they stayed a few minutes, then left at 11:15 P.M. telling her parents that they were going dancing. The following morning, at approximately 5:00 A.M., plaintiff in error, in a seminude condition, drove his car in front of the police station at Riverdale, Illinois, and sounded his horn. A police officer came out and plaintiff in error pointed to the back seat of his car where the officer found Joan Coward. She was unconscious, was in a kneeling position, her clothing was disarranged and her face was badly swollen and bruised and covered with vomit. An inhalator squad was summoned but the girl expired before she could be revived, it later being determined that death was due to a skull fracture and hemorrhage and an accompanying asphyxia. When plaintiff in error was questioned he made motions to his throat indicating that he could not talk and a cursory examination by a doctor at the police station revealed that his lips and inside of his mouth were burned. He wrote a statement of what had occurred, then later accompanied officers to the scene of the incidents he had written about. Following this he was hospitalized and later, two additional statements were taken from him.
The statements by plaintiff in error were exculpatory in nature and, briefly, their substance was as follows: After plaintiff in error and the deceased had stopped at several places seeking dance music, they were driving east on Sibley Boulevard, when a car with two men in it forced plaintiff in error to the curb. One man alighted and got on the running board of plaintiff in error's car and forced him to drive to nearby Victory Lake at the outskirts of Dolton, Illinois. At the lake, plaintiff in error was ordered to get out of the car and was asked for his money. One of the men remained with the deceased and the other man ordered plaintiff in error to walk to the lake shore some seventy feet away. At the shore, the man forced plaintiff in error to take two drinks of a liquid from a bottle, which he said burned him terribly, after which plaintiff in error was ordered to remove his clothes, except for his socks and shorts, and to walk out in the lake. Plaintiff in error complied, going out in the water until it was so deep that he was forced to tread water. The man then returned to the cars where he and his companion stayed for another forty-five minutes, all of which time plaintiff in error remained in the water. When the men finally drove off, plaintiff in error searched for his fiancee and, finding her hurt and unconscious, he put her in his car and drove to the police station.
Officers who searched the scene of the crime, found a partially filled bottle of ammonia. At the trial a witness for the prosecution identified plaintiff in error as the man who had purchased a bottle of ammonia in her grocery store early in the evening of June 28, 1949. For their part, the defense introduced evidence which sought to discredit the testimony of the grocery store owner and, all through the trial, contended that there was no proof, medical or otherwise, that it was ammonia which had caused plaintiff in error's injuries. Another disputed point throughout the evidence was whether plaintiff in error had actually swallowed any of the caustic liquid or whether he had only taken it into his mouth.
The foregoing is but a brief summary of the evidence; its sufficiency is challenged here by plaintiff in error and defended by the People. However, in the view we take, that issue need not be determined on this appeal for it is our opinion that the judgment must be reversed because of improper and prejudicial conduct of the court during the course of the trial.
Plaintiff in error has detailed nine separate instances of the court's conduct which he interprets as being improper and prejudicial. One of these involves the testimony of Louis Panozzo, a Cook County constable, who testified as a witness for the defense with regard to a visit he had made to the grocery store where plaintiff in error allegedly purchased a bottle of ammonia. When the witness took the stand the following occurred:
"Court: What do you mean Cook County constable? Who appointed you?
Witness: Nobody. I was elected.
Court: You ran for constable.
Witness: The voters of Worth Township.
Mr. Gentile: How many years have you been ...