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People v. Young

OCTOBER 21, 1968.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division; the Hon. WILLIAM S. WHITE, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed. MR. JUSTICE ADESKO DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Defendant, Willie Young, was indicted and tried for the murder of Beatrice Harding. After a bench trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division, the defendant was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to a minimum of five and not more than ten years in the Illinois State Penitentiary. The defendant contends, on appeal, that upon the testimony offered at the trial, he should have been found not guilty of any crime in that the evidence showed he acted in self-defense, and also, that his rights were violated when the trial judge restricted his counsel's cross-examination of a witness.

The first witness to testify was George Watkins, 80 years old, common-law husband of the deceased, Beatrice Harding. According to Mr. Watkins, he and Beatrice Harding were in their apartment at 3144 South Indiana Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, on February 25, 1965, at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. At that time, Willie Young, the defendant, arrived at the apartment and offered to buy them a drink. The defendant handed a dollar bill to the witness and told him to go and purchase some liquor. As the witness started for the door, he met another resident of the building who apparently had overheard the discussion and who volunteered to go and purchase the liquor. The defendant objected to this person going for the liquor, whereupon Beatrice Harding said she would go. Mr. Watkins handed the dollar bill to her and she reached to get her coat. At this point, she was approximately two feet away from the witness, standing directly between the witness and the defendant, with her back towards the witness and in a direct face-to-face confrontation with the defendant. Mr. Watkins continued to testify that her hands were at her side and that nothing was in her hands except for her right hand which was clutching the dollar bill. The defendant was standing in the doorway, approximately ten feet from her. Watkins could observe the defendant, but could not see the defendant's hands. (Watkins stated on direct examination that he was standing up near the bed when Beatrice Harding was between him and the defendant, but on cross-examination he stated he was sitting down.) The witness continued to relate that he heard the defendant say "Don't come no further." Beatrice Harding moved forward, a shot was fired, and she fell to the floor. The defendant then turned around and walked out of the apartment. Watkins stated that he could observe the defendant but not the defendant's hands; that he did not see the defendant take a gun from his person, but did see the firing of a gun; and could not remember whether there was one or two gunshots. He did not see any knife in the deceased's hand or anywhere near her, nor was any knife found at the scene of the event.

Testifying on his own behalf, the defendant stated that he went to the residence of Beatrice Harding to see George Watkins. While conversing with Mr. Watkins, he gave Watkins a dollar bill to obtain some liquor. Beatrice Harding then walked towards the defendant and inquired whether or not he was going to buy Mr. Watkins and her some wine. Defendant replied he was not, whereupon Beatrice Harding insisted that he do so and stated "Son of a bitch you don't get the wine I'm going to kill you." As defendant backed away from her, she advanced towards him with a knife which defendant claims she took from her apron. Defendant managed to wrest the knife from her. She thereupon obtained another knife from atop her dresser stand and continued her advance towards him. Defendant told her not to come at him with the second knife, but she nevertheless advanced, threatening to kill him. Defendant thereupon drew his gun and shot her. He did not recall how many times he pulled the trigger. Defendant immediately left the apartment and went to a friend's home. He did not recollect if he reloaded his gun or whether his friend did it for him. On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that after he gave Watkins the dollar bill, Beatrice Harding volunteered to go for the liquor, and Watkins gave the dollar bill to her.

Officer Charles Lawrence testified that he was directed to the 3100 block on Indiana Avenue to pick up the body and transport it to the hospital or morgue. When he arrived he observed the deceased, Beatrice Harding, lying on the floor in a pool of blood. There was a one dollar bill crumpled up in her right hand which he took and placed on the dresser.

Henry Spangelo, a Chicago police detective, testified that after receiving a radio message that the defendant was wanted in connection with a shooting, he and his partner proceeded to the vicinity of the crime. At about 7:00 p.m. that same evening they observed the defendant, who submitted to arrest without any resistance. The officers searched the defendant and discovered a fully loaded .38 caliber revolver in his waistband and a paring knife in his jacket pocket. The defendant told Detective Spangelo that he had shot the deceased in self-defense.

The parties stipulated that if Dr. Tapia, a coroner's physician, were called to testify, his testimony would be that Beatrice Harding, 51 years old, was killed by a bullet wound of the brain, and that a blood analysis of the deceased indicated she had consumed five or six drinks on the day in question.

Two witnesses testified for the defense concerning the reputation of the deceased in the community. Jack Foster stated he knew the deceased for several weeks and had heard that "she would kill with a knife." John Dye stated he knew the deceased four or five years and heard that she was a rough, mean woman and that she would cut people with a knife.

Defendant's first contention is that evidence adduced at the trial shows that the defendant reasonably believed he was in fear for his life, and that he shot Beatrice Harding in self-defense. There is no question that on or about 4:30 p.m., on February 25, 1965, a woman went to her death; nor is there any question that her death was caused by a bullet discharged from a gun held by the defendant. The evidence presented by the State consisted primarily of the testimony of Mr. George Watkins, an eyewitness to the homicide, and the testimony of officer Spangelo, who apprehended the defendant and to whom the defendant admitted he shot Beatrice Harding in self-defense. We cannot agree with the defendant's contention. Although Mr. Watkins' testimony was contradicted by the defendant, and several discrepancies existed between the witnesses' version of what occurred at the scene and the defendant's version, there was no challenge to George Watkins' competency to testify. In a bench trial it is the function of the trial court to determine the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be afforded their testimony, and the trial court's judgment as to the credibility of the witness will not be disturbed simply because there is a conflict in the testimony. People v. Clark, 30 Ill.2d 216, 195 N.E.2d 631 (1964), People v. Johnson, 47 Ill. App.2d 441, 198 N.E.2d 173 (1964). In People v. Bradley, 70 Ill. App.2d 281, 217 N.E.2d 434 (1966), we stated:

". . . unless it can be said that the court's judgment is found to rest on doubtful, improbable or unsatisfactory evidence, or clearly insufficient evidence, a reviewing court will not substitute its judgment for that of the court below even though evidence regarding material facts is conflicting and irreconcilable."

No explanation of the whereabouts of the second knife Beatrice Harding allegedly possessed was offered at the trial, and the only knife offered in evidence was the paring knife taken from the defendant at the time of his arrest. George Watkins stated he had never seen the paring knife before until the defendant held it in his hand prior to shooting the deceased. Mr. Watkins witnessed the entire incident from beginning to end, and as previously stated, his credibility and the weight to be accorded his testimony were for the trial judge to determine. The testimony of one witness alone, when it is positive and the witness credible, is sufficient to sustain a conviction even though the testimony is contradicted by the accused. People v. Napper, 78 Ill. App.2d 451, 223 N.E.2d 194 (1967); People v. Miller, 30 Ill.2d 110, 195 N.E.2d 694 (1964).

Chapter 38, section 9-2(b), of the Illinois Revised Statutes, 1965, provides:

"§ 9-2(b). A person who intentionally or knowingly kills an individual commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify or exonerate the killing under the principles stated in Article 7 of this Code, but his belief is unreasonable."

Section 7-1 provides:

"§ 7-1. A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to ...

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