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People v. Brown

MAY 12, 1967.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division; the Hon. HERBERT R. FRIEDLUND, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


Charles Steve Brown was indicted for murder. After a jury trial a verdict was returned finding Brown guilty of involuntary manslaughter. *fn1 Defendant's motion to arrest judgment and motion for a new trial were denied. Defendant then filed a motion for probation, which was also denied. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict and sentenced the defendant to the Illinois Penitentiary for a term of not less than three nor more than ten years.

The defendant contends that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; that the court erred in admitting color slides into evidence before the jury; and that a sentence of three to ten years upon a conviction of involuntary manslaughter was excessive.

Thelma Jean Jackson testified that she had two sons, Steven and Roderick; that Roderick was three years old; that she had lived with Brown, the defendant, for two years without benefit of marriage, and that he was the father of Steven. She testified as follows: On October 21, 1965, at 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., she left the apartment and the defendant stayed with her two sons. When she left Roderick was fine, in good spirits, sitting in a small rocking chair; when she returned about 2:30 or 3:00 p.m., she heard him grunting in his crib, and noticed that he just stared at her. When she asked Brown if he had done anything to the child, he replied that Roderick could be sick, just like anyone else. Miss Jackson went downstairs, called the police and asked them to take her boy to County Hospital. While she was telephoning the defendant walked in and said, "You think you're so damn smart"; he hung up the telephone, twisted her arm and took her upstairs. They started arguing, and she said, "You killed my baby!" At that, the defendant started choking her. Afterwards he said he would take her to the hospital, then he put cleaning fluid in Roderick's nose, and tried to stand the child up to dress him, but the boy was limp and unable to stand. Brown then picked him up and they went to the car and drove to County Hospital, where Roderick was found to be dead.

Miss Jackson also testified that prior to that date Brown had beaten Roderick approximately eight times; that he had whipped him with an iron cord "which he cut off from a lamp because she threw all the belts and things away"; that this whipping left little slashes on his arm, stomach and back, and a swollen ear. She further testified that about a month prior to October 21, when Roderick had vomited food, Brown had beaten him with a belt "on his bottom and privates which caused [her] to take Roderick to County Hospital because his privates were swollen. On other occasions the defendant punched Roderick in the stomach and pinched his neck by twisting the skin which always left bruises." She testified that before she left the apartment on October 21, Brown had slapped Roderick's face, and when she returned Brown told her Roderick fell out of a chair because he was sleepy and wanted to go to bed.

Officer Gerald Slattery testified that he was assigned on October 21, 1965, to investigate the death of Roderick; that he observed the body of the victim at the morgue; that later he went to County Hospital where he learned that the child was brought to the hospital at 4:00 p.m. and pronounced dead at 4:05 p.m.

Dr. James W. Henry, coroner's pathologist, testified that his external examination of Roderick on October 21 disclosed numerous old and new scars, contusions or bruises on the forehead, cheeks, lips, upper chest and abdomen, arms, legs and back. The internal examination disclosed brain hemorrhage, major liver damage, and extensive damage to tissue around the kidney. In the opinion of Dr. Henry, the cause of death was due to the application of a traumatic force or multiple traumatic impacts as evidenced by large bruises of recent origin, not to exceed 24 or 48 hours, that were present over the upper abdomen and below the rib level. He correlated those bruises with the rupture of the liver. The subdural hemorrhage in the head which was of recent origin was not the cause of death, but in time it would have been.

The defendant argues in this court that the entire proof of the cause of Roderick's death is based on circumstantial evidence, and his argument is based particularly on the fact that the proof that the defendant was a criminal agent causing the death was not sufficiently established. He admits in his argument that in order to have a conviction of involuntary manslaughter it is only necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's acts recklessly caused the death. In support of his contention he cites People v. Wilson, 400 Ill. 461, 81 N.E.2d 211, in which case the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of the defendant and remanded the case for a new trial. However, in that case the defendant's wife was burned in a fire in the barn. The State claimed that the defendant murdered his wife in the house and took her body to the barn where he set the fire. The defendant denied killing his wife. The court held that the cause of death, the manner of the death, and the place where the death occurred were in doubt. The facts were much different from those in the case before us.

In People v. Ahrling, 279 Ill. 70, 116 N.E. 764, the court again reversed and remanded on the ground that there was no showing as to the cause of death or as to whether the defendant had killed her or she had committed suicide. Nor is that case applicable to the facts before the court in the instant case.

In People v. Hanson, 359 Ill. 266, 194 N.E. 520 the court made the following statement at p 281:

"There is a difference between proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and proving it beyond the possibility of a doubt. When the evidence is circumstantial the guilt must be so thoroughly established as to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of the defendant's innocence; (People v. Ahrling, 279 Ill. 70; People v. Bentley, 357 id. 82;) but the People are not required to establish it beyond the possibility of a doubt. (People v. Lucas, 244 Ill. 603; People v. Depew, 237 id. 574; Pate v. People, 3 Gilm 644.)"

The case before us falls under that rule.

The defendant did not testify, nor did he put on any witnesses to contradict the testimony of the State's witnesses. In People v. Bartell, 386 Ill. 483, 54 N.E.2d 700, a case where the defendant was indicted for murdering his daughter and was found guilty of manslaughter, the State introduced evidence of three neighbors who had on different occasions heard the defendant slapping the daughter; that they requested him to stop beating the child and he told them if he wanted to beat the child he was going to beat it. The testimony of the coroner's physician in that case was that the examination disclosed bruises on the head and face and bruises and discoloration on the body of the child; the cause of death was a fracture of the skull. The child was 21 months old. The defendant testified in his own behalf and put character witnesses on the stand. He testified that he had never struck the child hard, although he had spanked her from time to time; that on the day in question he had slapped the child gently and she fell down and began to cry, after which he put her in the crib and noticed that her lips were blue; that he told his wife to call the doctor. The court stated that it was the contention of the defendant that because there was no direct evidence tending to show that he struck the deceased, the evidence only raised suspicion of guilt; and the court held that the well-settled rule is that the guilt of a defendant must be so established as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis of innocence. The court called attention to the fact that the State's witnesses had heard the defendant slapping the child in his apartment; and that that testimony as to his conduct was further corroborated by the testimony of the coroner's physician who testified to various bruises and injuries on the face and body of the child. The court also stated that there was no denying there was a skull fracture, and said, at page 489:

"Direct testimony is not required to prove the means causing the death of a deceased person. The means and manner of death may be inferred from the circumstances proved. (People v. Sapp, 282 Ill. 51.) Where the facts and circumstances proved on the trial carry conviction, this court will not substitute its opinion for that of the jury simply because there is some conflict in the evidence. (People v. Martishuis, 361 Ill. 178.) We ...

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