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People v. Fleming

DECEMBER 31, 1964.




Writ of error to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. WALTER P. DAHL, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


Rehearing denied January 27, 1965.

Defendant appeals from a judgment entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of the crime of armed robbery. He was sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of 10 to 25 years. While it appears that the facts were disputed in the trial court, defendant here does not question the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. In this court he has chosen to limit his argument to one point; namely, that allegedly inflammatory and prejudicial remarks of the state's attorney during closing argument deprived defendant of a fair trial and, thus, constituted reversible error.

[1-3] Since the allegations of error (except for one minor point) have not been properly preserved for our consideration on this appeal, and in consequence may be considered as having been waived, a short review of the evidence supporting the conviction is necessary in order to determine whether such alleged errors merit our attention notwithstanding this important defect. *fn1

On June 10, 1962, sometime after 2:00 a.m., a Chicago Transit Authority bus depot was robbed of approximately $35,000 by a masked man and two accomplices. The masked man wore a C.T.A. uniform cap and carried a revolver in his hand.

Aaron Wilson, who was identified during the trial as one of the two accomplices, testified for the prosecution that the man wearing the mask was the defendant. Wilson carried a shotgun during the robbery, and held four C.T.A. employees in the depot clerk's office while the money was being carried out in sacks.

Willie Lee Davis, a companion of the defendant and witness for the prosecution, testified that he was invited by the defendant to take part in the robbery about a year before it actually occurred; that the defendant showed him a map of the depot to be used for the purpose of committing the robbery; that the defendant said he would wear a mask during the robbery; and, that on the evening preceding the robbery, he (Davis) and another party were with the defendant and were told by him to come to the depot about 2:30 a.m., June 10, in order to carry out the robbery, but that he backed out at the last moment.

Other witnesses testified that just two days before the robbery the defendant procured a revolver which was identified during the trial as the one used in the commission of the crime.

Defendant himself was a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority until a week before the robbery, when he was suspended from work because his chauffeur's license had been revoked. Consequently, he was familiar with the interior of the depot and the procedure used in handling the money. Furthermore, he possessed a driver's uniform which was necessary in order to gain entrance into the depot at night, and which, according to the testimony, he was wearing on the night of the robbery.

By way of alibi, the defendant and several of his relatives testified that he was home from 6:00 p.m. of the evening preceding the robbery until approximately 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The State met this evidence with the testimony of three bus drivers who were acquainted with the defendant, having worked with him for several years, and who testified that they saw him at the depot about 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. on the night of the robbery.

We observe that the State's proof was ample to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that the defendant's alibi was refuted by three witnesses who were not concerned with the outcome of the case. The evidence was not closely balanced. We note also that none of the errors alleged is of sufficient magnitude to justify reversal of defendant's conviction. Consequently, we do not think it necessary to consider those errors which were not properly preserved for appeal. Having been briefed, however, we shall comment on some of the points which have been argued most extensively to indicate that the result would have been the same even if all points raised here had been correctly made in the trial court. *fn2

We shall first consider the only point raised in this court which was supported by a timely objection in the course of trial and included in defendant's post-trial motion. During closing argument the state's attorney stressed the point that after being arrested defendant was able to post bond of $10,000 even though he had testified he was in debt at that time for $1,400. The defendant contends that the effect of this argument was to create the inference in the jury's mind that the defendant must have committed the robbery or he would not have had the money necessary to pay the cost of the bond. A timely objection was made by the defense counsel. The trial judge sustained the objection and instructed the jury to disregard the remark. *fn3 We believe that the error, if any, was curable by this procedure, especially since the defendant had testified he was out on bond. United States v. Wright, 309 F.2d 735 (7th Cir 1962).

The defendant further argues that the mere mention of defendant's indebtedness is error. With this contention we cannot agree. Although it may have been improper to discuss the indebtedness in conjunction with the posting of bail, there can be no dispute that the fact was in evidence and relevant to show a possible motive.

Two of defendant's allegations of error involve remarks of the state's attorney which under ordinary circumstances might well be error but which in the instant case we find to have been proper comment on the improper argument of defense counsel. During closing argument, defendant's counsel posed questions to the jury as to why the prosecution had not produced Ladd Davis (a co-defendant not on trial because of a severance), whether they were hiding something in not putting him on the stand, and why they didn't want the truth to come out, etc. The state's attorney properly replied that the defense had an equal opportunity to call the missing party to the stand. He went further, however, and said that Ladd Davis was in jail and had already signed a confession. But even this was not error, under the circumstances. In People v. Barber, 342 Ill. 185, 173 N.E. 798, the Supreme Court held that a similar response by the ...

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