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People v. Childs





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ELMER N. HOLMGREN, Judge, presiding.


Willie C. Childs, the defendant, was tried in 1957 for the murder of Matt Hairston, which occurred on July 25, 1956. A jury in the circuit court of Cook County found him guilty, and he was sentenced to imprisonment for life. The case has been brought to this court upon a writ of error under Rule 602 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 110A, par. 602), which provides that the review of judgments entered prior to January 1, 1964, shall be governed by the time limitations and procedures in effect on December 31, 1963. The steps taken in this case conform to those limitations and procedures.

The defendant's contentions center upon his mental condition, both as it related to his competence to stand trial and to his sanity at the time of the alleged offense. Our discussion will be confined to the latter issue. A statement of the testimony at the trial is necessary.

Sarah Hairston testified that she had been married to Matt Hairston from 1934 until July 25, 1956, the date of his death. She had met the defendant, Willie Childs, in 1955 when she was employed at Creedmore Hospital, a mental institution in New York, and the defendant was a patient there. She testified that she had an extra-marital affair with Childs after his escape from that hospital in November of 1955. In late April or early May of 1956 she traveled to Georgia with Childs to visit some relatives of his. Thereafter, she traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, with him. On June 18, 1956, she left for Chicago without telling Childs. In early July she accidentally met the defendant in Chicago. She testified that although she rejected his advances, he followed her constantly during July.

Matt Hairston had also come to Chicago in early July, 1956, she stated, and he and the defendant met once during this interval and had a brief conversation at which no animosity was shown by either of them. She also testified that on July 22, 1956, the defendant had rebuked her for refusing to go away with him. After that she met her husband and on July 24 they went to stay at the home of a Reverend Daniels, the pastor of the church Sarah attended.

On the night of July 24, 1956, she and her husband were at the Daniels' apartment, which was on the fourth floor. She testified that the Reverend Daniels had to leave but she and her husband talked to Mrs. Daniels, his wife, until 3:00 o'clock in the morning of July 25. The Hairstons were asleep on a studio couch in the living room of the Daniels' apartment when they heard a knock on the front door. Mrs. Daniels went to the door, but Sarah indicated to her that she shouldn't open the door, after she recognized the voice of the caller as that of Willie Childs. According to Sarah's testimony, the defendant became enraged when Mrs. Daniels refused to let him into the apartment and he said, "I kill all of you sons of bitches in there." He then started to beat against the front door and Mrs. Daniels, Sarah and Matt Hairston took refuge in the bathroom. Mrs. Daniels opened the bathroom window a few inches and began to call for help.

The defendant entered the apartment, pushed in the bathroom door, and began to hit both Sarah and Matt Hairston. Sarah hit Childs with a bottle, and then he threw her out of the bathroom and onto the kitchen floor. While lying there she saw him go toward the bathroom window, and she heard the window scraping as it was opened wider. She then saw him dragging her husband by the shoulders from the bathtub, where he had been standing, toward the window. The defendant then came from the bathroom, hit Sarah and dragged her down four flights of stairs. Although she was completely naked at this time, he dragged her out of the house, and she saw the body of her husband lying on the pavement. The defendant then dragged her farther away from the house and began to beat her again. At this time the police arrived and took him into custody.

On cross-examination Mrs. Hairston made several statements relating to the mental state of the defendant. She said that after his escape from Creedmore Hospital, a doctor at the hospital told her that they didn't want him there anymore. She stated that a discharge from the hospital had been approved for him, but that the defendant told her he had not waited for the discharge because if he had been discharged he would have to "face the D.A." She also said that there was nothing wrong with the defendant mentally, that he had told her that he had pulled a "mental trick" while in the army and then had gotten himself admitted to the hospital in order to receive additional money from the government.

On cross-examination Mrs. Hairston admitted that at the coroner's inquest she testified that she hadn't realized that it was her husband lying outside of the house and that the events of that night were not clear in her mind. She also said that her husband, Matt, had previously threatened to kill both her and himself. Additionally, the defense called Police Officer Lemon Works who testified that in a statement made by Sarah Hairston shortly after the events on July 25, she did not mention that the defendant dragged her husband at all and she stated that she didn't remember much of the events.

Mrs. Carrie Daniels testified that she was the sister-in-law of the Reverend Leon Daniels and lived in the apartment across the hall from him. About 3:15 P.M. on July 25, 1956, she was awakened by someone knocking on the door of the Reverend Daniels' apartment. She heard Willie Childs make the statement testified to by Sarah Hairston, and she later saw Childs pulling Sarah Hairston down the stairs of the building. Sarah was naked at that time. On cross-examination she stated that she had met the defendant the Sunday before July 25, 1956, when he came to the Daniels' apartment. She told him that the Reverend Daniels was out and that he would have to reach him after 12:00 o'clock when he usually came home after church services. She said that he acted strange "to an extent" at that time.

Leon Daniels testified that he was a minister, and that he met the defendant on July 24, 1956, and that the defendant told him that he had intended to kill him the night before but that he was "stopped in his tracks." The defendant also told him that he was knocked out in the street and that he had been taken to a hospital. On cross-examination Reverend Daniels stated that in a telephone conversation the defendant said that God had stopped him in his tracks when he was on his way to kill him, and that God had knocked him out.

Beulah Daniels, the wife of Reverend Leon Daniels, testified, and her testimony corroborated that of Sarah Hairston as to the events at the Daniels apartment on the morning of July 25, up to the time that Childs entered the bathroom. She ran from the room at that time. After that she saw Childs dragging Mrs. Hairston down the stairs. On cross-examination she testified that prior to July 25 she and her husband went to a hospital to identify the defendant, who had been taken there when he had been found on a street "foaming at the mouth." After that the defendant told her and her husband about being stopped in his tracks by God.

Clyde Newsome was called as a witness by the defense. He stated that prior to July 25, 1956, he had rented a room to the defendant and that Sarah Hairston had visited him there. Jane Newsome, his wife, also was called by the defense, and testified to substantially the same events. She also stated that she had never seen Childs acting "strange."

Dr. William H. Haines was called as a witness on behalf of the defense. Dr. Haines was a physician who had specialized in nervous and mental diseases and who had examined the defendant in October, 1956, and January, 1957, pursuant to an order of the court. He testified that at the Creedmore State Hospital in New York the defendant was diagnosed as suffering from "dementia praecox, paranoid type," which is a mental disease characterized by disassociation of ideas, emotions and motor activities. He stated that the defendant was capable of understanding the nature of the charge and able to cooperate with counsel, as he had testified at the earlier hearing on the defendant's competence to stand trial. He also stated that the defendant had auditory hallucinations when he was admitted to Kings County Hospital in New York. In addition, defendant had exhibited impulsive behavior in the past. Dr. Haines also stated that the defendant was diagnosed as having a psychosis with psychopathic personality when he was at Creedmore Hospital.

On cross-examination Dr. Haines stated that sanity was a synonym for responsibility, and that a person acted sanely when he had the power to choose and still did an act knowing it was wrong. He then stated that the defendant would be classified as sane. He also testified that the defendant had ...

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