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People v. Gill





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. CARL H. BECKER, Judge, presiding.


After a jury trial in the circuit court of St. Clair County, John Henry Gill was convicted on July 13, 1968, of the murders of two brothers, Thomas and Terry Morrissey, and upon the jury's recommendation was sentenced to death. On this appeal, he contends that the jury was improperly selected, that he was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel, and that his conviction was the product of prejudicial materials brought out by the prosecutor in examining the victims' mother. Alternatively, he argued that in any event the death penalty was unconstitutionally imposed.

At about 6:30 on the morning of October 13, 1967, the bodies of Thomas Morrissey and his fourteen-year-old brother, Terry, were found in the auto-body shop operated by Thomas in East St. Louis, Illinois. Evidence offered at trial indicated that each of the victims had died from bullet wounds in the head inflicted sometime after 11:00 the previous evening.

A deputy sheriff of St. Clair County, Hosea Gines, testified that he lived next to the Morrissey shop, which is located approximately twelve blocks from the Hondo Lounge, a tavern. The witness stated that while driving in the vicinity of the lounge on his way to work he saw the defendant enter the Lounge between 11:00 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. on October 12, 1967. Gines testified that he stopped his car and followed the defendant into the tavern, because he had been informed by another police officer that the defendant was under suspicion of having committed an offense two weeks earlier, which was not identified.

The defendant was seated at the bar when the witness entered the lounge. After speaking with the owner for a few minutes, Gines observed the defendant get up as if to leave. Turning to the defendant, the witness asked him if he knew Gines's identity. The defendant answered yes, spoke Gines's name, and then shot him four times, firing through his trench coat. After the shooting the defendant pulled a small automatic pistol from his coat and ran out of the tavern. Based on his knowledge of weapons, Gines identified the weapon as a .25-caliber automatic.

Margaret Marie Moore, of East St. Louis, testified that the defendant twice came to her home in East St. Louis during the early hours of October 13, 1967, looking for her cousin, Barbara Gilmore, whom the defendant had formerly dated. The first time, which was between 12:30 A.M. and 1:00 A.M., he showed her a small pistol and jokingly asked if she wanted it for protection. He did not give the gun to her. The defendant also said that he had another gun, and she observed what appeared to be the butt of a pistol protruding from his pocket. The defendant returned to her house between 1:30 and 2:00 A.M., stayed for five or six minutes, and then left. He told her at this time that he had his brother's car.

The victims' mother, Mrs. Marie Morrissey, testified that she had seen her sons about 7:30 P.M. on October 12, 1967, when they left home for the shop. She last spoke to Thomas on the telephone at 11:00 P.M., when, she testified without objection, he told her that he and his brother were almost finished with their work and expected to be home soon. She then retired. The following morning she discovered the sons' beds had not been slept in and she later learned that they had been killed.

Albert Reid testified that he was working at a service station in East St. Louis on October 13, 1967, when the defendant, at about 1:00 A.M., purchased gasoline for a 1962 or 1963 Mercury, gold in color except for a blue right fender. At about 3:45 or 4:00 the same morning, the defendant returned in the same car, purchased more gasoline and then ordered Reid at gunpoint into the driver's seat. The defendant forced the witness to drive along Route 40 to a ramp connecting with Interstate 70, which leads to Springfield. When they reached the ramp, the defendant ordered Reid out of the car. When Reid left the auto, he was shot by the defendant but he was able to run to a service station and employees there called the police. The witness reported the license number of the vehicle the defendant was driving to the Illinois State Police and the office of the sheriff of St. Clair County.

Gerald Campbell, an officer of the East St. Louis police force, testified that on the morning of October 13, 1967, he was on duty in a squad car with Patrolman Gerald Vardiman. They were directed by radio to proceed to the Morrissey body shop, where they were met by State Trooper Harry Burr. Looking through a window in the door of the shop, the officers observed that the lights were on and a body was lying on the floor.

Breaking a window in the door and entering the shop, they observed another body approximately three feet from the one they had observed. The officers then called the coroner. On the floor of the shop, they found three empty .25-caliber casings which were introduced into evidence by the People.

Clifford C. Kane, a physician and the coroner of St. Clair County, testified that when he arrived at the shop at 6:30 A.M. on October 13, 1967, the bodies were in a state of rigor mortis. An hour or two later that same morning, he conducted autopsies and found two bullet wounds in the head of Thomas Morrissey and three in the head of Terry. He testified that any one of the wounds would have been fatal. Dr. Kane also testified that one of the wounds in Thomas's head and two in Terry's were ringed with powder burns, which according to the witness indicated that "* * * the gun would have been at close proximity to the head at the time it was fired * * *."

State troopers William L. Sykes, James Merrifield, and Kenneth L. Decker testified to the circumstances surrounding the defendant's arrest. Officer Sykes testified that on the morning of October 13, 1967, between 6:30 and 7:00, he was patrolling an area near Springfield when he received two radio reports that a Negro man was wanted by the East St. Louis police in connection with the murder investigation. The man was reported to be driving a gold 1964 Mercury hardtop with a blue right front fender, bearing Illinois license number NT 1022. This matched the identification of the car which the defendant had forced Albert Reid to drive. There was evidence presented that the auto, though owned by Thomas Morrissey's mother, was actually used by Thomas, and that it was parked in front of the body shop on the night of the shootings.

Officer Sykes said further that at about 7:20 A.M. he observed the reported auto on Interstate 55 just north of Springfield proceeding in a northerly direction. Shortly after Sykes radioed this information to police headquarters, he observed the defendant pull into a service station. Officer Sykes entered the station at the same time as another trooper, James Merrifield.

The two officers placed the defendant under arrest. Trooper Merrifield testified that he searched the defendant and found a .38-caliber Smith and Weston pistol with four live rounds in his pocket. Other evidence offered by the prosecution showed the gun was registered in the name of James S. Anderson, a friend of Thomas Morrissey. Anderson testified that he had purchased the weapon for Thomas at his request ...

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