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People v. Williamson

DECEMBER 15, 1966.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division; the Hon. NATHAN M. COHEN, Judge, presiding. Judgment of conviction affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE SCHWARTZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT. In a jury trial the defendant was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to serve a prison term of five to ten years. The robbery occurred in Fritz's Tavern in Bellwood, Illinois, and the sole witness testifying in the case was the bartender John Marcus. Neither the State nor the defendant presented any other witnesses. We will quote the three points made by defendant on appeal, so that the essence of his argument may be understood.

"1. An uncorroborated and unsupported identification, even though positive in nature, which is vague and general as to specific details of identification shows an inadequate observation which warrants reversal of a conviction resting solely on that identification, it being a mere unsupported opinion of the identifying witness who did not use the opportunity presented.

"2. The testimony of a solitary witness may be sufficient to establish the fact that a crime was committed, but it is not sufficient to establish the identity of the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt, where there is a valid question as to the accuracy of the identification.

"3. In order to overcome the presumption of innocence the strength of the prosecution's case for the identification must produce an abiding conviction of guilt no matter how weak the defense."

The substance of this defense appears to be that identification is in the nature of an opinion and that testimony with respect thereto is not entitled to the same weight as testimony relating to other factual occurrences. The facts follow:

The bartender was on duty during the evening of May 3, 1964, when at about 11:00 p.m., two armed men entered the bar. One man carrying a shotgun entered the side door; the other, armed with a pistol, entered through the front door, announcing, "This is a holdup, don't move." After a minute or two, the bandits forced Marcus and two patrons into the washroom. They later ordered Marcus to leave the washroom and to let them into another room of the tavern where the rest of the receipts were kept. Marcus remained with the robbers for about five minutes before they ordered him back to the washroom. Shortly thereafter the robbers left with about $350 in cash. Ten days after the holdup, Marcus was taken to the Criminal Court Building, where he identified the defendant Williamson and another man from a police lineup. At the trial Marcus once again identified the defendant as a participant in the robbery.

Following the direct testimony, the witness was subjected to an exhaustive cross-examination, comprising 36 pages of evidence. He testified that the two robbers entered the tavern at the same time. When asked how he knew this, he explained that he heard the side door slam just at the moment he saw the man with the pistol enter the front door. The witness's attention was drawn to the side door by the noise and when he turned in that direction, he observed the defendant holding a shotgun and watching him from a point near a telephone 15 feet away. During that time the defendant held the weapon in his left hand with the muzzle pointed toward the floor. The witness described the weapon as a single barreled, pump operated shotgun, somewhat larger than an M-1 rifle. He was familiar with an M-1 rifle from his experience in the service. With respect to the physical appearance of the robber, the witness stated that the man was slender, 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet tall, and light complexioned. He was asked a number of times on cross-examination to estimate the weight of the robber, but explained that the robber was wearing a brown leather jacket which covered his body midway to the knees and that under those circumstances he could not accurately estimate the man's weight in pounds. He testified that in addition to the jacket the robber was wearing a hat with a medium sized brim and sunglasses with thick black rims.

Defense counsel asked numerous questions about the lineup in which the witness identified the defendant and about the police procedures associated with it. The witness was asked to describe the clothing of the members of the lineup panel, particularly that of the defendant, to which the witness replied, "Is it necessary that I answer that question?" The court directed him to do so, and he answered by saying that he did not remember. The cross-examiner then inquired as to defendant's weight at the time of the lineup.

"Q. How much did he weigh at this time, sir?

"A. I don't know, I told you that before. I don't know, and I still don't know."

"Q. But do you have an idea to help this jury out, as to how much this man weighed?

"A. No, I don't, I can't judge a man, how much he weighs with a coat on or a jacket, I cannot judge it."

Counsel for defendant argues that this reveals that the witness's testimony is not credible. We cannot agree. The witness was thoroughly cross-examined in regard to both the weight of the robber and the description of his clothing. The responses before set out came at the conclusion of a long cross-examination, and the jury and court could well have viewed them as the testimony of an honest but weary witness. It is our conclusion that the witness gave a conscientious and credible description of the event and that his identification of the robber was convincing.

The testimony of one witness may be sufficient to support a conviction even though the accused testified and denied complicity in the crime. People v. Tunstall, 17 Ill.2d 160, 161 N.E.2d 300; People v. Mack, 25 Ill.2d 416, 185 N.E.2d 154; People v. Webb, 76 Ill. App.2d 333, ...

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