WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon.
JAMES R. BRYANT, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE DAVIS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied January 18, 1960.
The defendant, Robert B. Wesley, was indicted in the criminal court of Cook County for the murder of George Washington and waived a jury trial. The court found him guilty, denied his post-trial motions and sentenced him to confinement in the penitentiary for a term of 14 years.
Defendant admitted that he stabbed Washington in the chest with a screwdriver and it is undisputed that Washington died within a short time thereafter and that his death was caused by a stab wound near the upper edge of the sternum which produced a rent in the ascending aorta and pulmonary artery.
Defendant claims that he struck the blow in self-defense and that the killing was therefore justified; that the evidence did not establish his guilt of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt, in that there were no facts or circumstances denoting malice aforethought; that he was denied a fair trial by certain conduct of the trial judge; and that the court erred in its rulings on the admission and exclusion of evidence.
The three principal occurrence witnesses for the People were Pauline Wesley, Florence Brown and Audrey Williams, married women who went to the Off Corner Tavern together on the evening of August 10, 1956, at about 11:00 P.M. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Williams stated that they were out for the evening with the permission of their respective husbands. Mrs. Wesley, who was then pregnant, married defendant in December, 1955, but had been separated from him since March, 1956. After arriving at the tavern they met Washington, who, according to Mrs. Williams, was a mutual friend of her husband and herself. The four sat at a table drinking beer. Later, Washington introduced a man named Roosevelt who joined the party. When the Off Corner Tavern closed at 2:00 A.M. Washington suggested that they go to the C & C Lounge which was located at the corner of south Cottage Grove Avenue and 65th Street in the city of Chicago. The party of five drove there in Roosevelt's car and arrived at about 3:00 A.M.
There were two entrances to the lounge, one at 6517 and the other at 6519 South Cottage Grove. The first led to a bar room and the next to an adjoining restaurant. A corridor connected the rear of the restaurant with a large ballroom and a check room. The ballroom was located back of the tavern and restaurant. It was equipped with tables and space was reserved for dancing. An orchestra stand was at the rear of the ballroom and a ladies rest room was located to the left of it.
Mrs. Wesley testified that when the party arrived there were no seats; that she and the two men stood in the tavern waiting while Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Brown went to the restroom, and that she finally took a seat at the bar. After she had been there five or ten minutes she saw her husband enter with a man named Kenny. Washington and Roosevelt were standing nearby at the time. Mrs. Wesley further stated that defendant came over and said that he wanted to talk to her; that she told him she had nothing to say whereupon he jerked her off the stool and pulled her outside; and that, after some conversation, he told her that he would give her some money but had to cash a check and they re-entered the building through the restaurant door for that purpose.
Defendant was unable to cash the check in the restaurant, and finally obtained the money from a girl employee at the bar. Mrs. Wesley and defendant then went through the corridor and into the ballroom. They sat with Kenny at a table at the back of the room near the entrance. Defendant ordered three bottles of beer and told Mrs. Wesley that he wanted her to accompany him when he left the premises. She replied that she would leave with her friends who had brought her.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Brown, Washington and Roosevelt had been seated at a nearby table, separated by a narrow aisle. Mrs. Wesley testified that Mrs. Brown, who was her sister-in-law, came over and asked the witness to accompany her to the rest room. As they started in that direction and were passing the table where Mrs. Williams, Roosevelt and Washington were seated, Mrs. Williams asked Mrs. Wesley if she was going to leave with them. Mrs. Wesley replied that she wanted to, but didn't want to start anything and defendant thereupon jumped to his feet, said: "She is not going anywhere!" and rushed over and stabbed Washington while he was seated.
Mrs. Wesley testified that this happened about ten or fifteen feet from where she was standing; and that she saw defendant strike Washington in the chest with an object he held in his right hand, but she couldn't see it well enough to tell what it was. She was positive that prior to the occurrence there had been no conversation between those seated at the two tables.
She further testified that Washington said nothing to defendant prior to the stabbing; that she saw nothing in Washington's hands at the time; that he was "just sitting there;" and that when Washington was struck he fell over backward to the floor and his chair fell with him. After the assault, Mrs. Wesley stated that she saw several men "rush" defendant out of the place after which she accompanied Mrs. Brown to the rest room and later left the building with her. An extensive cross-examination served only to emphasize that the witness was in a position to see and hear that which she had testified to in her direct examination.
The testimony of Mrs. Williams corroborated the statements of Mrs. Wesley relative to the occurrence and antecedent events. She testified additionally that Washington fell to the floor in a sitting position after he had been assaulted; that defendant was rushed out of the place by several men and she tried to follow but was shoved back into the restaurant; and that when she returned she found Washington crawling in the corridor, "cut and bleeding." She also stated that she called the police and an ambulance, but that an employee named Ashley took Washington to the hospital in his car; that she and several others went along; and that a doctor pronounced Washington dead on arrival and she later saw his body there.
Mrs. Williams also related that she had been in defendant's home in October of 1955; that defendant then showed her some sort of weapon with a long thin blade on a handle like a cane which turned. She further stated that a man known to her as Woodrow Peete showed her a pocket knife after the stabbing which he stated belonged to deceased; that she asked him whether Washington had the knife out and he told her he didn't; and that this knife was closed when she saw it. She saw no object in deceased's hands when he was struck by defendant and he did not strike back. On cross-examination she admitted that before the assault, and as defendant approached her table, she warned Washington that defendant might have a knife. She denied that Washington said: "I have a knife too," but admitted that she had seen Washington's knife prior to the night in question.
Mrs. Brown's version of the stabbing was essentially that related by Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Wesley. She testified additionally that she heard defendant say that Pauline "wasn't going anywhere" as he started toward the other table; that she pulled Mrs. Wesley into the rest room after seeing the assault; that when they returned later they saw a pool of ...