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People v. Sumner

FEBRUARY 28, 1968.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. HARRY I. HANNAH, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


In a prior appeal to this court from a judgment of conviction of the crime of murder, we remanded this case to the trial court, with directions to conduct hearings to determine the existence, availability, producibility, and relevancy of certain pretrial statements of witnesses who testified at the trial. People v. Sumner, 72 Ill. App.2d 258, 218 N.E.2d 236 (4th Dist 1966).

The purpose of that remandment was to determine whether or not impeachment evidence existed which should have been given to the defendant for his attorney's use at the trial. The inquiry was framed upon the issues of whether such evidence, if it existed, was producible and whether the failure to produce it at the trial for the use of the defendant had a prejudicial effect on the result of that trial.

That hearing has been conducted and the trial court has rendered its opinion and judgment which determined that certain statements existed and should have been produced for use by the defendant but that the effect of the failure to do so was not prejudicial.

A total of fourteen pretrial statements or memoranda were in the F.B.I. files as a result of its investigation of the defendant's activities. Eleven of these had been given by the F.B.I. to the state's attorney of Vermilion County prior to trial. Three of these eleven had been given to defendant. The trial court held that the eight remaining statements or memoranda were the only ones which were producible at the demand of defendant at the trial since the remaining three documents the F.B.I. had retained were not in possession of the state's attorney at any time here relevant. People v. Wright, 30 Ill.2d 519, 198 N.E.2d 316, 321 (1964).

The present appeal brings before us only the issues determined in the subsequent proceeding. The record in this case as made following remandment clearly demonstrates that the trial court, the state's attorney, the attorney for the defendant, and the F.B.I. cooperated to conduct a hearing which procedurally complied with the mandate of our former opinion.

Defendant's primary contention here, however, is that the decision of the trial court that the error committed in failing to give the defendant's attorney access to the statements and summaries of statements in the hands of the prosecution was not prejudicial, is itself error. Two reasons are assigned in support of this contention. First, defendant contends that since the withheld accounts of conversations with the witnesses Maddox and Curtis contain matters which are contradictory to their testimony at the trial, the "harmless error" doctrine does not apply and reversal is required. Second, since the statements attributed to the witness Maddox contain evidentiary material favorable to the defendant which was not disclosed by the prosecution, concealment or suppression of evidence requiring a new trial occurred. The new matter in this statement would tend to negate a connection between the barrels delivered by Maddox and the defendant to the dump at Stanford, Illinois, and the death of Herschel Williams. Resolution of these contentions requires an analysis of the content of the statements and the relationship of the material in them to the evidence at the trial.

There is a discussion of the evidence and the original rulings of the trial court which resulted in the hearing from which this appeal arises in our earlier opinion. The testimony given by Maddox was one of the keys to the prosecution's case. His trial testimony was to the effect that in April or May of 1963, on a Sunday, the defendant called Maddox to load and haul two barrels, one of which was painted and the other black, in his father's 3/4-ton pickup truck, from Danville to a little town called Stanford near Bloomington, Illinois, which he did. The "old barrel" was light but the painted barrel required two people to lift it. Other evidence very clearly indicated that the decedent was never seen alive subsequent to March 25, 1963. His dismembered body was later discovered in a barrel in a dump near Stanford, Illinois. During the original F.B.I. investigation, Maddox had been interviewed three times, on May 15, 19, and 27, 1964. The results of these interviews had been transcribed by the agent conducting them, substantially verbatim, into one document. This document, although producible at the trial upon defendant's demand, was one of the documents which the court did not order the state's attorney to produce.

The prosecution had given the defendant, prior to trial, a signed statement of Maddox taken on July 10, 1964, by West, a deputy sheriff. This statement was used by the defendant's counsel in cross-examining this witness at the trial. The trial court, in its findings and order, noted the discrepancies which exist between the testimony of Maddox at the trial, the statements in May to the F.B.I., and the statement in July to Deputy Sheriff West. We set them forth verbatim as they appear both in the trial court's order and the memorandum submitted by the defendant:

"TESTIMONY AT THE STATEMENTS TRIAL ____________ _________________ Statement 5/19/66 [sic, 5/19/64]: A. IDENTIFICATION OF THE BARREL `Both drums had tops on them Witness: Maddox and one had four holes in it.' Did not recall any identifying Rec. 116 characteristics about the drums. Then later statement: `One barrel `One was old and rusty and was green and white and had had a few holes in it., the no top' and it was full of paper other was fairly new' — `The and rags. Second barrel was old one was rusty brown,' the black and had a top with holes other was `purple and white.' about 2 1/2" to 3" in diameter. The green and white one was 117 light but took both men to load the black one. `The rusty one I could lift myself, the other Sumner had to Statement to West 7/10/64: help me — it was heavy.'

119 One was black and the other purple and white. `The flap on the barrel was cut, twigs and branches sticking through the top.'


`Identified the barrel by the color and the way the flap was on it — ...

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