APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOSEPH
A. POWER, Judge, presiding.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE UNDERWOOD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
A post-conviction hearing was held in the circuit court of Cook County to examine the 1961 proceedings in which Ellis Lee Williams pleaded guilty to murder and received a sentence of 20 years imprisonment. Defendant contends that his plea was coerced by his privately retained counsel, and that the court's admonition before accepting his plea of guilty was insufficient. The denial of relief following the evidentiary hearing is appealed here.
Williams claims that he was not guilty of murder, though perhaps guilty of a lesser offense, and that his plea of guilty resulted from intimidation by his counsel's reference to the possibly harsher consequences of being found guilty following trial on a plea of not guilty. Williams concedes that a defendant cannot normally complain of retained counsel's advice, and after reviewing the hearing record we find that any suggestion of a guilty plea was entirely justified under the circumstances and certainly did not constitute "deception, coercion and legally erroneous advice" as claimed.
The transcript of the coroner's inquest on the death of Hattie Mae Felton was introduced at the post-conviction hearing. The defendant's confession, revealed at the inquest, indicates the context in which defendant's counsel suggested that the apparently negotiated 20-year sentence would be a reasonable bargain in return for a guilty plea. Williams explained in his statement to the police that his "legal wife" and children lived in Georgia, but he had been living "common law" with Cora Lee Williams since 1946 in Chicago. On the night of the shooting, in February of 1961, he had gone to the home of Hattie Felton, with whom he also lived "common law" at times. Hattie had seen him earlier in the day talking to two women, and accused him of "running around". Williams protested that the women were just Cora Lee and her sister, but Hattie did not believe him. She discovered his gun under the mattress, but in a scuffle defendant retained it. More argument ensued, during which time Hattie walked to the other side of the room. When she started to come back to where Williams lay on the bed, he told her to go back where she had been. "She kept coming, so I shot at her two times." He reported how he happened to have the gun that evening: "I got it out of pawn, and I got in trouble with five other guys at 2524 Van Buren Street and I shot two of them."
Faced with this confession, and a witness who saw Williams run from the scene, we cannot conclude that counsel's advice was coercive or bred of incompetence. The additional claim that counsel had promised a sentence of 10-14 years was refuted by that attorney's testimony and the issue became one of credibility. The conclusion reached by the hearing judge on the evidence adduced will not be disturbed here, since it was not manifestly erroneous. People v. Caise, 38 Ill.2d 486, 489.
Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the sentencing court's admonition as to the consequences of a plea of guilty, in that the absence of any reference to the right to a jury trial requires reversal. The pertinent portions of the change-of-plea proceedings are as follows:
"THE COURT: Is there a motion, counsel?
MR. COGAN: Yes. Judge, in this indictment, I have spoken to my client and he told me that he wishes to withdraw the plea of not guilty that was entered on the arraignment and to enter a plea of guilty in manner and form as charged in the indictment. Is that right, Mr. Williams?
THE COURT: Now, Mr. Williams, I want to be sure you understand. When you plead guilty to the charge of murder, the Court can sentence you to the penitentiary for not less than fourteen years and it could be life imprisonment or could be death in the electric chair depending upon how aggravated the facts are. You understand that, the range of penalty provided by law?
THE COURT: Understanding that, you desire to plead guilty?
THE COURT: I take it then you are pleading guilty because you ...