Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Twentieth
Judicial Circuit; the Hon. HAROLD O. FARMER, Judge, presiding.
Appeal from conviction of murder and armed robbery in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. A jury rendered a verdict against the defendant, LaCarttle Jones, finding him guilty of murder and armed robbery. The court imposed a sentence of 199 to 200 years on the murder charge and 50 to 75 years on the armed robbery, the sentences to run concurrently.
The State produced the following evidence:
Soon after midnight on July 30, 1966, defendant and one later identified as John Patterson walked into the Skylark Liquor Store in East St. Louis operated by Mr. and Mrs. Skrabacz. Defendant produced a .45-calibre automatic and Patterson a revolver, and the two of them proceeded to rob the Skrabaczs of $190.
The silent alarm was sounded by a signal to the American District Telegraph office. The agent at the A.D.T. office notified the police. A police car about 3 blocks away from the scene at the time responded to the call. Two officers, Patrolman Gene Rittenhouse and Sgt. Frederick Hudson arrived in a police car. One of the two holdup men, allegedly LaCarttle Jones, was coming out of the store with Mr. and Mrs. Skrabacz in front of him at gunpoint when the officers arrived. The other holdup man was trailing behind. Sgt. Hudson and Patrolman Rittenhouse then got out of the car and proceeded towards the two, who by that time had seen the police officers.
As the police approached the holdup men, they began to flee. One of the men was wearing a red shirt and the State's evidence is that LaCarttle Jones, wearing a red shirt, turned and fired a shot in the direction of the policemen. They proceeded into a passageway and a gun battle ensued. Patterson, the other holdup man, had already fled. The State's evidence is that Jones engaged in the gun duel with the police officers and Sgt. Hudson was fatally wounded and died of the wounds he received. The other officer received a gunshot wound in a foot.
Defendant was apprehended some 10 to 20 minutes later not far from the scene of the holdup. He had suffered a gunshot wound and was taken to a hospital. The next morning a .45-calibre pistol was found under a shrub by the house where a man was seen to fall or stumble by a lady who lived in the neighborhood. While at the hospital, the defendant was identified by the two victims of the holdup as well as by a young man who was in the liquor store at the time. A tavern store owner by the name of Ben Stewart in the City of St. Louis had been held up five days prior to this robbery and his testimony was that one of the things taken in his holdup by this defendant was the same .45-calibre automatic pistol.
The defendant Jones testified and denied that he was ever in the Skylark Liquor Store. In regard to his wound, his testimony was that he was shot by accident while going through the passageway.
The defendant was brought to trial charged with three counts: (1) the murder of Frederick D. Hudson; (2) the armed robbery of Leo Skrabacz of the sum of $190; and (3) murder while committing the forcible felony of armed robbery in that he shot and killed one Frederick D. Hudson without justification. The jury had been qualified to recommend capital punishment but did not so recommend.
Before the jury was called and examined on voir dire, in response to the State's Attorney requesting that the jury be qualified on the question of capital punishment, the court remarked:
"It seems to be pretty easy around here to do. Your last one we tried came in in about 25 minutes to recommend the death penalty. We had very, very few jurors that had any conscientious scruples against the imposition of the death penalty in a proper case."
Defense counsel, upon being advised that jurors who opposed the death penalty would be excused for cause, objected.
The jury was called and the court advised them of the nature of the charges and the procedure to be followed which included the following:
"You will be qualified in this case for the death penalty, but before I begin my interrogation of the jurors, I want to explain to you the law in regard to the death penalty. In bringing in a verdict, if you find the defendant guilty of murder, you may or may not recommend the death penalty, and if you do not recommend the death penalty, I cannot impose it, but if you do recommend the death penalty, I may or may not impose the death penalty. That is my responsibility. Quite frequently a trial judge does not impose the death penalty, even though the jury recommends it. On the other hand, frequently a trial judge does impose the death penalty if it is recommended by the jury. If there are ...