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People v. Pecora

MARCH 19, 1969.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD F. HEALY, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court finding defendant guilty of the murder of his ex-wife, Carolyn Pecora, and sentencing him to the penitentiary for a term of not less than fourteen nor more than twenty years. The cause was transferred to this court from the Supreme Court.

Defendant raises three contentions on appeal: (1) the jury should have been instructed as to the law of voluntary manslaughter; (2) defendant was denied his right to fully present the defense of insanity by the improper rulings of the court in relation to certain evidence and testimony; and (3) defendant was denied a fair trial by the improper rulings and remarks of the trial judge and by the improper remarks and argument of the State's Attorney.

At a pretrial competency hearing defendant was found to be competent.


The State's evidence disclosed that Carolyn Pecora died on December 21, 1964, from a stab wound of the pulmonary artery; the autopsy showed twenty-one stab wounds in all. Defendant's statement, which was admitted without objection, is substantially as follows:

Defendant and the deceased, his ex-wife, had been in court on December 4 and 7, 1964, in a custody fight wherein the deceased was cited for immoral conduct before the children and placed on probation for a year. The children had seen her and another man in the nude. Defendant learned that subsequent to the probation she had had two men in her house on different nights.

On the night of December 20, 1964, defendant took the deceased and their three children to a children's program at the church. After the program they had dinner and then the deceased insisted that defendant drop her off at the Vegas Lounge because she wanted to be alone for an hour. Defendant complied and took the children home. Defendant returned to the Vegas Lounge at 11:00 p.m. and found the deceased sitting with a man unknown to the defendant. She persisted in staying a few minutes longer and then returned to her house with defendant.

The deceased wanted some more to drink so defendant went out and purchased a pint of whiskey. They had intercourse and she told defendant that he did not know how to make love; that she had been intimate with five men and that she had had an abortion before she married defendant.

The next day (December 21, 1964) deceased called defendant at work in the afternoon and told him that she was going to take a nap. Defendant was worried about the children not getting fed so he went over to the house. As he arrived, deceased got up and defendant told her that he would prepare dinner. After he had fed the family and cleaned up the kitchen, he found his wife in the basement and he renewed the discussion of the night before in an attempt to effect a reconciliation. He begged her to stop her immoral conduct and to get together with him again; but she said that she did not want any part of it because she was having too good a time.

Defendant then went upstairs and put the children to bed, and shortly thereafter the deceased came upstairs to the living room. They got into an argument again about her conduct, but she said that she did not think that she was doing anything wrong. She kept ridiculing the defendant and he kept begging her to give themselves another chance. She was sitting in the living room with a drink in her hand. Defendant took the drink away from her and asked her to please stop, she was very flip and defendant hit her with a knife taken from a rack on one of the cabinet doors in the kitchen. He hit her several times, dragged her to the basement steps and pushed her down the steps.

Testimony of Father John Grace, witness for the State:

He has been the assistant Pastor of St. Patrick's Church since the summer of 1965; before that he had been assigned to St. Mary's Church in Des Plaines for five years. The defendant was a member of St. Mary's and had sought spiritual counseling two or three times.

At about 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. on December 21, 1964, he received a phone call from the defendant requesting that he come to the deceased's house because the defendant had had a fight with her. The witness told the defendant that he would come as soon as he finished another appointment. A few minutes later the defendant called again and asked witness to hurry because defendant was "in deep trouble." Witness told defendant that he would have to bring the police, and defendant said, "Well, come right away."

Witness and Father Morgenthala proceeded to the police station and got Corporal Gibson and Trooper Lehman to go to the deceased's house with them. When they arrived, defendant told him that he had done something terrible; defendant seemed very worried about what was going to happen to his children. The house was in a state of general disorder; it appeared as if some sort of struggle had taken place in the living room.

On cross-examination the witness stated that he had counseled the defendant several times about his marital problems. The witness inquired about reconciliation, and the defendant seemed willing if it would help his children; defendant was more concerned with the welfare of his children than with reconciliation. He was concerned with removing the children from an unhealthy, unwholesome environment.

Testimony of Leroy J. Osberg, witness for the State:

He has been a friend of the defendant for about fifteen years. At about 9:00 p.m. on December 21, 1964, he received a phone call from defendant in which defendant asked him to come over to the deceased's house and get their children because he had killed his wife. About thirty minutes later the witness arrived at the deceased's house and was admitted by a State Trooper; he saw the deceased's body from the top of the basement stairs but did not go down.

When he arrived at the house, the children were sleeping, and after a word with defendant, he went to see about the children. He did notice some spots on the rug after he heard some mention of blood spots during the interrogation of the defendant; the spots were wet.

Testimony of Guy Gibson, witness for the State:

He is a sergeant of the State Police. At the request of Fathers Grace and Morgenthala, he and Trooper Lehman went to the house of the deceased. Defendant admitted the four of them through the back door and told the witness, in response to a question, that his wife was on the back stairs. The witness found the deceased on ...

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