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The People v. Childress

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 18, 1953.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

EUGENE PHILLIP CHILDRESS, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRANK R. LEONARD, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MAXWELL DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Eugene Phillip Childress prosecutes this writ of error from a judgment and sentence of the criminal court of Cook County. Tried upon an indictment for murder of one Alexander Plank, Childress, hereinafter referred to as defendant, was found guilty by a jury and his punishment was fixed at death. Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were overruled and defendant was sentenced in accordance with the jury's verdict.

Six witnesses testified for the prosecution. A brother of Plank established the identification of the body. Mrs. Delores Lamb testified that on the night in question she was standing in a doorway with a friend and noticed three men struggling in front of 3109 South State Street, which was about three doors from where she was standing. She stated that the defendant was one of these three men. Upon seeing the struggle she ran into Al's Tavern located at 3101 South State Street. Two of the men were colored and the one man was white. The white man seemed to be fighting the others off. She was in the tavern approximately five minutes and when she came out she saw a man lying between the safety island and the sidewalk with his throat cut. When in the tavern she yelled that there was a fight outside. She did not see either of the two men who had been struggling with Plank when she came from the tavern. She had been standing in the doorway at 3103 South State Street for approximately 15 or 20 minutes before the struggle took place at approximately 12:30 in the morning. She further testified that she appeared at the coroner's inquest and there stated under oath that she would be able to identify Jesse Douglas as being one of the two colored men and that she did not know Phillip Childress. At the trial she explained that she did not know Phillip Childress by name. She then stated that she did not see the scuffle when it started but that the men were fighting when she came to the door; that there is an archway and a doorway where she had been standing. She and her companion were standing back of the archway and when she went out of the doorway she stated that she noticed the scuffle, which was to the south of the witness and her companion. She did not recall how defendant was dressed but stated that she looked long enough to recognize him. She testified generally to the lighting conditions at the time and further stated that the scuffle or struggle took place approximately 20 to 25 feet away from her. She paid no attention as to whether any other persons were around. She presumed the defendant was fighting with his fists.

James Johns testified that he was at 3111 South State Street at the time in question, sitting on the steps of an old bank building. He stated Plank came up and talked to him for about five minutes when the other men, walking in a southerly direction, came to this location. He did not know their names but had seen them around there. The witness thought Douglas asked Plank if he wanted to see a girl and Plank replied in the negative. The defendant backed up against the wall about two feet from the witness and told Plank to come over there. Plank did so and stood between defendant and Douglas. A conversation ensued, which the witness did not hear. Douglas then caught Plank in the back of the collar and started going through his right pocket. The defendant then caught him in the front, went into his left pocket, and then began the struggle. A beer bottle which Plank held in his hand fell to the ground and broke as soon as the struggle began. Plank slipped and fell to his knees. Defendant struck him about four or five times, and when Plank got up trying to run, defendant then struck at him twice but missed. The struggle lasted from five to fifteen minutes and took place directly in front of the witness. This witness at no time saw anything in the defendant's hand or in the hands of Douglas. Plank ran north on State Street to the stop light, went into the street and there fell. The witness walked in front of the radio shop and saw blood in front of Plank's body. He did not see what happened to the other two men after Plank began to run.

Officer Charles Johns stated he arrived on the scene pursuant to a call. There was a crowd gathered around the streetcar safety island where the body of deceased was lying in the street face down. He saw the wounds on the body of deceased and the trouser pockets of deceased pulled inside out.

Detective James McGrath stated he arrested defendant in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, July 5, 1951, and while riding on the train with defendant from St. Louis to Chicago he had a conversation with him. In this conversation defendant stated that he had been known also under the name of Chick Lee James; that he knew he was being returned to Chicago in connection with a stabbing; that he and Douglas attempted to strong arm the deceased and that he struck the deceased with his fists several times. McGrath stated he was present in the State's Attorney's office when defendant was asked certain questions and made certain answers. This question and answer statement as transcribed was identified as People's exhibit 3 and consisted of 15 pages. McGrath stated that it was a correct transcription.

Joseph Tournier stated he was a shorthand reporter for the State's Attorney's office at the time defendant was questioned by the assistant State's Attorney. His testimony in substance was given for the purpose of establishing the correctness of People's exhibit 3.

Over objection of defendant, People's exhibit 3 was admitted into evidence and read to the jury. It is with this statement that we are now chiefly concerned. The first few pages consist of preliminary background history of defendant. Coming to the occasion in question, the defendant then narrates that he was with Jesse Douglas around midnight, that he and Douglas saw Plank when they walked across Thirty-first Street at State Street; that Plank talked about a girl; that defendant said he would go across the street, walked to the corner of Thirty-first and State but saw no one. Defendant again stated he would go across the street and that Douglas was talking to Plank and asked him to wait a while as he started to cross the street. Defendant stated he then figured Douglas contemplated robbing Plank; that Plank said if defendant didn't hurry he would have to go. Then followed some conversation about money and a girl after which Plank got nervous, stated that he had been rolled before and then Douglas grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. Plank then swung and struck defendant, whereupon defendant hit Plank four or five times, or maybe five, six, or seven times; that he hit him on the chin and in the stomach but not on the back or neck. That Douglas grabbed deceased from the back and then fell to the ground fighting and rolling. That the defendant pulled Douglas once when he rolled on top and that they were rolling down towards the street and that a lot of people gathered around and defendant walked away. That Douglas did not walk away before defendant but that he followed defendant and that later defendant and Douglas walked on to Wabash. Defendant stated that he told Douglas he was going to his girl's home when he noticed blood on Douglas's sleeve; that he inquired if Douglas had cut the man and Douglas stated that he had done so. Defendant then asked Douglas why and Douglas stated that he "was just high." Defendant stated he saw no knife on Douglas and that defendant had no knife. That he got no money from Plank and did not see Plank's condition when he left him, at which time Plank was walking across the street. He saw no blood on deceased, saw him fighting on the ground but did not see him fall afterwards. He only saw him staggering across the street. He stated that he heard the next day that the police were picking everyone up who had been around the corner and that they were looking for him and Jesse; that someone saw them with the fellow (Plank) and that he died last night. Defendant then stated he obtained money from his brother and caught a bus for Kansas City, Missouri, where he stayed for a month and used his own name; that later he had been in Chicago one night in October and learned he was really in trouble. He stated that he remembered getting away from the sheriff who tried to pick him up in southern Illinois; and that he was later arrested June 21, 1951, at Maplewood, Missouri, giving them the name of Chick James and later told them his name was Childress.

In the last part of the statement, defendant was asked the following questions and gave the answers shown:

"Q. You know that Douglas, in his statement he made to us, as I read to you, said you were the one that did the stabbing, you know that, don't you?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. He says you hit him about ten or twelve times with the knife, you know that, don't you? Is that the truth?

A. No sir, that is not the truth.

Q. You know Douglas said both you and Childress and Plank were wrestling on the ...


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