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People v. Gaston

JULY 20, 1967.

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

JOHN GASTON, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



Writ of error to the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. LESLIE E. SALTER, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE SCHWARTZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Four indictments were returned against the defendant, charging him as follows:

Indictment No. 61-549 — Armed Robbery Indictment No. 61-550 — Armed Robbery Indictment No. 61-551 — Armed Robbery Indictment No. 61-552 — Assault with intent to Commit Robbery.

Defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge in Indictment No. 61-551 and on a jury trial was convicted and sentenced to a term of ten years to fifty years in the penitentiary. He then pleaded guilty to the remaining charges and was sentenced as follows:

Indictment No. 61-549 — Ten years to life; Indictment No. 61-550 — Ten years to life; Indictment No. 61-552 — One year to fourteen years,

these sentences to run concurrently with the sentence in Indictment No. 61-551. The court also increased the sentence on the original charge (No. 61-551) to a term of ten years to life.

Defendant charges error in the trial of Indictment No. 61-551 in that (1) the court assumed the role of a prosecutor by extensively examining the witnesses, and (2) the prosecutor made statements in his closing argument which were not supported by the evidence and which were calculated to prejudice the jury. Defendant also contends that he was coerced into pleading guilty to the charges in the remaining three indictments because of remarks made by the judge at the time of sentencing on the first charge. His final contention is that the court improperly increased the sentence on the charge in No. 61-551 after he pleaded guilty to the other charges. Because no issue is raised concerning the defendant's guilt, it is not necessary to detail the facts, but we shall summarize them briefly.

On the night of January 12, 1961, the University Liquors at 1003 East 55th Street, Chicago, was robbed of $270 and a wristwatch was taken from the bartender, one Ben Krakover. Eight persons were arrested in connection with the crime, among them the defendant and one Barbara Carter. Krakover and Thomas Jordan, a student present at the time of the robbery, identified the defendant as one of three men who entered the tavern and took the money and watch. John Joyce, a detective of the Chicago Police Department, testified that on the morning after the robbery he saw Barbara Carter wearing the watch at the police station.

With respect to the first charge of error relating to the court's conduct of the trial, the record reveals that the examination of witnesses by the attorneys was interrupted several times by inquiries from the bench, but it is also apparent that the court was merely seeking to clarify the testimony of particular witnesses and that he did so fairly and without prejudice to the defendant. We will not set forth each instance in which the court interjected his own questions into the proceeding, many of them being of a routine nature, but will analyze certain passages particularly relied upon by defendant as having "emphasized weaknesses in the defendant's case," and as having "indicated to [the jury] the Court's hostility towards the defendant. . . ." During the examination by the State of the prosecution witness Detective Joyce, Joyce testified that on the night of the robbery he was assigned to the investigation of another tavern robbery at 934 East 75th Street; that he did not see the defendant until the morning after the robbery, when he saw him at the police station. At that point the court interceded:

"THE COURT: As I understand it, officer, you did not arrest the defendant?

"THE WITNESS: That's right, Your Honor.

"THE COURT: You did not?

"THE WITNESS: Yes, I did not make the arrest.

"THE COURT: But you later saw him in the presence of ...


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