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People v. Powell





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT C. DOWNING, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Monty Powell, was indicted for the attempted armed robbery and murder of an East Chicago Heights Police Department dispatcher, Oscar Brumfield. At his first trial in the circuit court of Cook County, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Following a subsequent jury trial, he was convicted of both charges and judgments were entered. Upon the jury's recommendation he was sentenced to death for the murder and now appeals to this court (50 Ill.2d R. 603) contending that various errors, hereinafter enumerated, denied him a fair trial and that his sentence was improper.

John Gallano of the sheriff's police testified that on March 9, 1969, at about 1:50 A.M., he went to the East Chicago Heights police station in response to a call and discovered deceased lying in the station corridor. A pistol, apparently owned by deceased, was found under several books which had fallen from an overturned carton. A coroner's pathologist stated that death was caused from a bullet wound in the heart.

At the time of the shooting Donald Wright was incarcerated at the station. He testified that he was awakened by a gunshot but from his cell could not see what occurred. He estimated that the police arrived fifteen minutes after the shooting.

Two police dispatchers testified that they knew defendant, who was the admitted leader in that area of an organization known as the Blackstone Rangers. They claimed that on several prior occasions defendant had asked them about weapons which were kept at the police station.

The State produced several members of this group as its witnesses. Johnell Perry testified that in the early evening of March 8, 1969, he was with Charles Smith and others when East Chicago Heights police seized a gun from Smith. Later that evening he and others were at the home of Jerome Branch, and when the defendant arrived there was a discussion regarding the loss of the gun. Defendant said that he had to have it back. Further discussion followed regarding the recovery of the gun, and the number of people that could be expected at the police station at that hour was contemplated. Defendant selected four others to accompany him to the station. They obtained disguises and left. Upon their return a short time later defendant had a gun in his hand and, when asked what had happened, said he had to shoot the man because he pulled a gun on him.

Eugene Perry corroborated the testimony of his brother Johnell. Andre Hood testified that the defendant was the chief of the Blackstone Rangers in East Chicago Heights. Hood was at the home of Jerome Branch when the loss of the gun was discussed. Defendant then talked about knowing where they could obtain many guns — "at the police station." Defendant, after requesting disguises, selected the persons who were to go with him. Upon their return a short time later, defendant was holding a gun, and when someone asked him what happened, he said that the old man went for his gun.

Joseph Harris was the only occurrence witness to testify to the events which took place at the police station. He stated that upon his arrival at Branch's house that evening everyone was "hollering" about the gun which had been seized by the police. During their conversation defendant said that he knew where other guns could be obtained. After procuring disguises, Harris testified that he, defendant and three others departed for the station in a car which Harris had previously stolen. They drove about the area to ascertain whether there were any police patrols. Further reconnaisance indicated that the dispatcher was alone in the station. Harris then stated that he remained in the car while Charles Smith, who was unarmed, entered the station. He was followed by another member who was armed. Harris further testified that defendant, who was carrying a gun, then entered and immediately a shot was fired but Harris did not see who fired it. The three ran from the station to the car and they all returned to Branch's house where defendant made a statement that he shot deceased. Defendant and several others then went to a restaurant.

Harris also testified that in the early evening of March 12, 1969, prior to his departure for Tennessee, he was again at Branch's house. There, he said, defendant gave him a gun and told him to keep it until "things blow over."

Harris was arrested in Tennessee for an unrelated charge. The gun was found concealed in his car and was identified by a ballistic comparison as the murder weapon. He was then returned to Illinois and detained in the Cook County jail.

On cross-examination Harris denied that he and one Ronald Johnson had killed deceased. It was established, however, that certain promises had been made by the State to Harris in return for his testimony. Harris claimed that shortly before defendant's first trial (July, 1969) the State promised to recommend a sentence of 5 to 10 years for charges which arose against him from the shooting as well as for the charge of stealing the automobile which was used in connection with the killing. The State also promised to contact the Tennessee authorities concerning the charges pending against him there. Harris refused this offer and another offer of 3 to 7 years. Finally, he agreed to testify when he was offered a recommendation of a 1-to-3-year sentence. He admitted that he knew one Thomas Johnson and Theotis Clark, who were in the county jail with him at about the time of these offers, but denied telling them about the "deal" which was promised in return for his testimony.

On redirect examination, Harris, over defense objection, testified that his statement given to the police upon his return from Tennessee in March, 1969, was substantially the same as his testimony given at trial.

Ronald Johnson, another member, in substance corroborated the testimony of Harris and other witnesses concerning the events at Jerome Branch's house on the evening of the murder. He also testified that as he was leaving the house to go to the restaurant he asked defendant what had occurred. Defendant responded that when he approached the door of the police station, Brumfield, apparently observing that one of the intruders was wearing a scarf over his face, reached for his weapon and defendant said he shot him. Johnson further stated that he was at Branch's house on March 12, 1969, and ...

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