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The People v. Miller





WRIT OF ERROR to the Circuit Court of Hancock County; the Hon. WILLIAM M. BARDENS, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied March 12, 1958.

Following a trial by jury in the circuit court of Hancock County, where the cause was heard on a change of venue from Fulton County, the defendant, Lloyd Eldon Miller, Jr., was convicted of the murder of Janice May, an eight-year-old child, and was sentenced to death. He has sued out this writ of error to review the judgment.

Janice May lived with her parents and two brothers, aged thirteen and fifteen, at the family residence in Canton, Fulton County, Illinois. The parents left the home at approximately 2:35 P.M. on Saturday, November 26, 1955, leaving the children. After a short time the boys left for a nearby school playground but returned within minutes to see if Janice had finished washing dishes. Their sister was not in the house and when she had not returned in an hour, during which the boys watched television, the youngest brother set out to look for her. His search brought him to some abandoned mine cars which had been upended and stacked in rows along a railroad right of way that passed near the school yard. Attracted by a noise the youth looked underneath one of the cars and saw what he thought was an injured dog. At this he returned for his older brother and the latter discovered that it was Janice under the car. She was unconscious from injuries described by a physician as being a crushing of the right side of the face, two skull fractures, a two and one-half inch laceration on the chin, abrasions on the neck, chest and back, a tear of the vagina with active bleeding, and a bulging of the rectum into the vaginal vault through the tear. She was almost nude and her body, which appeared to witnesses to have been pushed under the car, was extremely bloody and had cinders imbedded in the buttocks. Police and an ambulance were summoned shortly after 4:32 P.M. and the child was removed to a hospital where she died an hour later without regaining consciousness.

So far as known there were no eyewitnesses to what befell Janice, no persons who saw her with defendant on that date, and it appears that the mine cars were stacked in such a manner as to enclose an open area not visible from the outside. The oldest brother found a chunk of concrete lying on his sister's arm and it was recovered by the police. Subsequent tests showed the concrete to be stained with human blood from group A and, in this respect, proof was made that the deceased's blood group was A, while that of defendant is O. Three days after the crime, on Tuesday, November 29, Canton police found a pair of jockey-type underwear shorts at the "VanBuren Flats" several blocks from where Janice was found and it was determined that they were stained with human blood from group A. On the same day the police found a gray jacket frozen in the water underneath a creek bridge at the city limits. Spots on the right cuff and collar were found to be human blood but the chemist, who explained that cold water would dilute and dissolve blood, did not recover a large enough specimen to test for blood group.

Defendant, then twenty-nine years old, lived alone in a rented room and was employed as a cab driver by a Canton firm, his hours of employment being from 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. On November 26, 1955, he reported for work at 6:15 P.M. and thereafter made service calls in and around Canton until the early hours of Sunday, November 27. One of his passengers was Betty Baldwin, a waitress in a restaurant patronized by defendant, and when she heard on Sunday that defendant was missing with his cab she reported to authorities a conversation wherein defendant allegedly admitted he was responsible for Janice May's death. At the trial defendant denied such a conversation or admission. In giving an account of his movements, defendant testified he left Canton at 3:45 A.M., November 27, and drove to Peoria, approximately twenty-five miles away, where he inquired by telephone concerning bus schedules to Detroit, Michigan. Thereafter he drove to Pekin, about ten miles from Peoria, where he abandoned his cab, changed his work jacket for one he had in a suitcase, and, at 5:55 A.M. boarded a bus for Champaign. In the latter city he took a bus for Danville where he arrived at 11:00 A.M. and registered in a hotel under his own name. He testified he slept for twenty-four hours after which he left the hotel and attended a movie. Fulton County authorities, in the meantime, had apparently been successful in tracing defendant's movements by bus and were in Danville with a warrant charging him with larceny of the taxicab. While eating on the evening of Monday, November 28, defendant heard a radio broadcast that he was wanted in Canton on suspicion of murder and also saw his name in the headlines of a newspaper. According to defendant his reaction was to become confused and frightened and he resolved to continue on to Detroit. At approximately 8:00 P.M., while making inquiries at the bus station, he was arrested by a Danville detective and a Fulton County deputy sheriff who had been summoned when the station manager recognized defendant from police descriptions. His initial statement to his captors was: "If its about that little girl in Canton, I didn't do it." Later in the evening, according to the deputy, defendant put his head in his hands and said nothing when directly accused of killing Janice May. See: People v. Nitti, 312 Ill. 73.

Defendant was taken to the police station where he was given a cursory physical examination, then questioned for forty-five minutes by the Danville police chief and Fulton County Sheriff, Virgil Ball, concerning his departure from Canton and the murder of Janice May. He denied his guilt and demanded (by his version) or agreed (by Ball's version) to take a lie detector test. To accomplish such a test Ball, a deputy, and the defendant left Danville for Springfield at 11:00 P.M. and, upon arriving in the latter city at 2:00 A.M., defendant was lodged in the Sangamon County jail. During the next forty-eight hours he was questioned upon two occasions at the Illinois State Crime Laboratory and ultimately signed a confession to the crime. Thereafter, on Thursday, December 1, he was given a preliminary hearing before a police magistrate in Lewistown, the county seat of Fulton County. He was indicted in the same county on January 11, 1956, and a trial commenced on June 11 ended with the allowance of defendant's motion for a mistrial on the ground that the inhabitants of Fulton County were prejudiced against him. A change of venue to Hancock County was granted and this writ of error stems from his subsequent trial and conviction in that county.

The confession signed by defendant was admitted in evidence after an extensive inquiry outside the presence of the jury and we are first confronted with his contentions that its use denied him due process of law because it was involuntarily given, and that he was denied a fair trial when the court unduly restricted evidence by which he sought to establish the involuntary character of the confession.

This court has consistently held that confessions are competent evidence only where voluntarily given and has expressed its condemnation of confessions obtained by methods of coercion as being violative of both section 10 of article II of the Illinois constitution and the recognized application of the due-process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the Federal constitution to confessions obtained in State cases. (See: People v. Sloss, 412 Ill. 61; People v. Thomlison, 400 Ill. 555; People v. Crabb, 372 Ill. 347; People v. Vinci, 295 Ill. 419; Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 1 L.ed.2d 246; Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 98 L.ed. 948.) Adverting to these principles, it is defendant's contention that the confession here was not voluntary, and thus not admissible, because it was obtained after his resolution of silence was overborne by illegal detention and an ordeal of endless questioning, accompanied by threats, promises, cajolery and violence, which led him to sign the document without knowing what it was.

The facts developed at the preliminary hearing on the confession show that defendant was placed in a cell in the Sangamon County jail at 2:00 A.M., Tuesday, November 29, immediately after his arrival from Danville, and that he slept until 6:00 A.M. when, by virtue of jail routine, he was aroused, fed and placed in a common room, or bull pen, where he remained the balance of the day along with six other prisoners. At 5:00 P.M. he was turned over to State investigators, John F. Lynch and Dwight Whitlock, to whom he again expressed his desire and willingness to take a lie detector test. It is agreed that defendant was first taken to a laboratory where he was fingerprinted and voluntarily gave a chemist samples of his blood, pubic hairs and finger-nail scrapings, but the evidence as to what followed is in much conflict.

According to Lynch and Whitlock, defendant remained in their custody from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M., which period was spent in the laboratory, in asking routine questions necessary to prepare a lie test, and in the preparation of the detector apparatus. Sheriff Ball, it appears, was in and out of the interrogation room, described in the record as a normal office, and interjected questions and accusations from time to time. At 8:30 P.M. Lynch and Whitlock left the building to eat, and Ball went to obtain food for the defendant, leaving the latter in the custody of Kenneth Lindzey, Canton police chief, and the Fulton County State's Attorney. Defendant agreed that these two men did not attempt to question him or discuss the crime but, contrary to the People's witnesses, said the occasion of his being alone with them occurred the following night. When Ball returned, however, we gather that he did attempt to discuss the crime and that defendant reacted with disgust by throwing a sandwich on the table. Defendant said that Ball then became disgusted and returned him to the county jail, but this is difficult to reconcile with his later testimony that he was not returned to the jail until 3:00 A.M.

Lynch and Whitlock testified they returned to the interrogation room at 9:30 P.M. and, except for minor interruptions, were thereafter alone with defendant until approximately 1:00 A.M., during which time they administered the lie detector test and questioned defendant generally concerning the death of Janice May. In corroboration Lindzey testified he did not see defendant again that night after 9:30, while Ball, who said he returned defendant to the county jail about 2:00 A.M., testified he saw defendant only once between 9:30 P.M. and 1:00 A.M. when he joined those in the interrogation room for a smoke. Defendant denied he was given a lie detector test on that night and represented that he was questioned continuously by Lynch, Whitlock and Ball from 5:30 P.M. to 3:00 A.M. During this time, he stated, he was shown the bloodstained concrete, the underwear shorts and jacket found by the Canton police, which he denied owning, as well as photographs of the scene where Janice was found, in an effort to extract a confession.

The following morning, Wednesday, November 30, defendant was again aroused at 6:00 A.M. and was again placed in the bull pen along with other jail inmates. During the course of the day he was fingerprinted and taken to the Springfield city hall where he participated in a police line-up with his fellow prisoners. After being fed at 4:30 P.M. he was again taken to the State bureau by Ball and, upon arriving there, he testified he saw the State's Attorney, Lindzey, Whitlock, Lynch and Betty Baldwin. The latter it appears, gave a statement to the investigators on this date and was brought into the ...

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