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People v. Robinson

AUGUST 2, 1973.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. IRVING LANDESMAN, Judge, presiding.


Clydette Jones was shot in the heart by the defendant, Ruby Robinson. Robinson was indicted for murder, tried by a jury, found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to the reformatory for women for not less than three nor more than ten years.

Robinson shot Jones in a women's clothing store in Chicago, about 11:30 A.M., on June 2, 1968. They had quarreled the previous afternoon and there was bad blood between them. Jones and two of her friends were shopping in the store when Robinson and two companions entered. No words were spoken and the Jones group left first. As they window-shopped outside, Jones said she was going to wait for Robinson to ask about the names Robinson had called her the day before. Most of the witnesses, including Robinson herself, who testified about that quarrel said it was limited to insulting words with the name "bitch" being frequently used; however, Robinson's sister testified that Jones also threatened her sister with bodily harm and death. When Robinson and her friends came out of the store the two women began scuffling. Jones was 22 years old, 5'5" tall and weighed 160 pounds; Robinson was 22 years old, 5'6" tall and weighed 131 pounds.

Jones' friends testified that the fight consisted of wrestling and cussing. Robinson produced a gun and Jones tried to take it from her. Robinson said she would shoot Jones and backed into the store. Jones exclaimed, "Come on out" and then re-entered the store herself. Robinson again threatened to shoot Jones and then fired at her when she was eight to ten feet away.

One of Robinson's companions testified that the wrestling and hair-pulling continued into the store; she saw Jones shove Robinson through the door and saw Robinson hit Jones with the gun. When Jones came into the store Robinson warned that she would shoot her and fired the fatal shot when their bodies touched.

Robinson said that during the struggle outside Jones bumped her head repeatedly against a glass showcase. She backed into the store, withdrew a gun from her coat pocket and said, "You better not come in here, or else I'll shoot you if you don't leave me alone." Jones followed her into the store and she repeated the threat. Jones kept coming, took some shiny object from a pocket and struck her hand with it, causing a finger to bleed. The object fell to the floor and one of Jones' friends retrieved it. Jones reached for the gun; they struggled for it, it discharged, Jones was shot and fell backwards five to eight feet.

A disinterested witness who was a customer in the store testified that she saw the two women fighting at the front entrance. They were pushing, tugging and using foul language as they came into the store. Each woman said, "Leave me alone." She heard Robinson say, "I'm going to shoot you." They separated and Jones stood motionless near a clothes rack as Robinson renewed her threat to shoot. Robinson aimed the gun and fired at Jones from a distance of ten feet.

Robinson raises these points on appeal: the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction; the evidence of self-defense was not overcome beyond a reasonable doubt; she was not permitted to testify about her fear, motive and intention during the struggle with Jones; the State was allowed to produce a witness' prior statement in the presence of the jury; the jury was not instructed on her theory of the case and the closing argument of the prosecutor was prejudicial.

Voluntary manslaughter is committed by a person who kills an individual while acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation, or while acting under an unreasonable belief that deadly force is necessary to protect herself from imminent death or great bodily harm. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 38, pars. 9-2(a), (b); People v. Martinez (1972), 4 Ill. App.3d 1072, 283 N.E.2d 268.

• 1 The evidence was sufficient to support the conclusion that Robinson acted unreasonably in taking the life of Clydette Jones. Although there were slight discrepancies in the testimony of the State witnesses, there was an adequate factual basis for the jury's finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she was guilty of voluntary manslaughter. According to some witnesses the fighting stopped before the combatants returned to the store; according to others it continued into the store. All agree that the altercation consisted of nothing more than wrestling, pushing, hair-pulling and name-calling. All agree that Robinson drew out a gun and threatened to use it. No serious battery had been inflicted upon Robinson. Although contradicted by her, the evidence sustains the determination that Jones had no weapon of any kind. While Jones precipitated the encounter by waiting for Robinson to come out of the store and followed her when she retreated into the store, three witnesses, including a disinterested by-stander, testified that she was eight to ten feet away when Robinson killed her.

• 2 There is no duty to retreat in the face of a wrongdoer (People v. Martinez; People v. Williams (1965), 56 Ill. App.2d 159, 205 N.E.2d 749) and Robinson had the right to protect herself, but she had no right to use deadly force in self-defense unless she reasonably believed shooting Jones was necessary to shield herself from great bodily harm or death. Although Jones weighed more than she did and at times was the aggressor, the jury could conclude from the evidence that at the time she shot Jones through the heart Jones was standing still and was a considerable distance away from her, and that she was unreasonable in believing she had to use deadly force in order to defend herself.

• 3 The first of the alleged trial errors concerns the ruling of the court in sustaining objections to questions asked the defendant in respect to her intention during the struggle outside the store, her reasons for warning Jones, what she meant by her statements that she would shoot if she were not left alone, and her surprise and feelings when the gun discharged. When material to the issue, an accused should be allowed to testify to his intention, motive or belief. (People v. Harris (1956), 8 Ill.2d 431, 134 N.E.2d 315.) The questions asked the defendant were relevant and material to the issue of self-defense and she should have been permitted to answer. However, she was allowed to testify later that she was shaky and frightened while she was outside the store, and nervous and scared when she was swung through the door and when Jones charged at her. In response to questions about her intention, Robinson testified that she was trying to scare off Jones, that she was nervous and shocked when they were fighting for the gun, that she did not intend to shoot Jones and did not know she had until she saw smoke coming from the victim's chest. Her mental state, upon seeing that the bullet had struck Jones was that of being shocked. Any error which was committed by the sustaining of objections to earlier questions was cured by her subsequent testimony in respect to her intention, fears and motive.

Another claim of error is founded upon the fact that the State produced in the presence of the jury a statement made by a witness. After the opening statements and prior to the calling of the first witness for the State, the defendant's counsel asked that the transcript of the grand jury minutes and witnesses' statements be made available to the defense. The trial judge suggested that at the conclusion of a witness' direct testimony counsel could ask if the witness made a statement to police officers or testified before the grand jury; if an affirmative answer was given, counsel would be entitled to the documents.

After one of the State's witnesses testified on direct examination, the defendant's attorney said he would like a copy of her statement to the police and a copy of her grand jury testimony. The judge told him to ask the pertinent questions; the witness answered that she made a statement to the police but did not testify before the grand jury. The attorney requested time to read the statement and the jury was excused. After the jury left the courtroom, the prosecutor stated for the record that he had furnished the attorney a copy of the witness' two-page statement. The attorney claimed that the State had committed error by handing him the document in the jury's presence. The prosecutor argued that the request for the statement was made in front of the ...

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