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People v. Pittman

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 25, 1973.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,

v.

HAROLD W. PITTMAN ET AL., APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. JAMES W. GRAY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE KLUCZYNSKI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of St. Clair County, defendants, Harold Pittman, Charles Williams and Will Mobley, were convicted of the murder of William Langsdorf. Upon the jury's recommendation each was sentenced to death. The defendants appeal directly to this court (50 Ill.2d R. 603) raising numerous issues, hereinafter specifically enumerated, which they assert require reversal of their convictions. They further challenge the validity of the punishment imposed.

On Tuesday, March 11, 1969, the body of William Langsdorf, a truck driver for Associated Groceries, was found under a viaduct of an interstate highway in East St. Louis, Illinois, and defendants, together with Ronald Dansberry and Curtis Spencer, were indicted for this murder. Dansberry pleaded guilty before the same trial judge prior to defendants' trial and was awaiting sentencing. Spencer was still a fugitive, although the record indicates that he later was apprehended and pleaded guilty.

Dansberry, called by the State, testified that he knew Williams and Pittman because they had attended a vocational training program together with Mobley, with whom he had been acquainted for 15 years. Spencer was his brother-in-law. Dansberry and Spencer were working on the former's car about noontime on March 11, 1969, when these defendants arrived in a 1965 white Chevrolet driven by Pittman. All were at his house for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours where they talked and drank. During this time Dansberry claimed that he showed the defendants a loaded .32-caliber Arminius revolver (which could hold seven cartridges). It was later established this weapon had been purchased less than two months prior thereto. All left in Pittman's car and drove to the vicinity of the Ohio Market in East St. Louis, where an Associated Groceries' truck was parked in the lot. Dansberry believed Spencer said he was going "to get" the truck in which a driver appeared to be asleep. At this point Dansberry was asked to refresh his recollection by reading his statement previously given to police.

Thereafter Dansberry testified that Pittman drove the car around the corner where the market was located and toward a nearby park where Spencer got out, taking the .32 revolver with him. Mobley also alighted from the vehicle. No one at this time mentioned a knife and Dansberry said he did not know if Williams or Mobley knew of Spencer having the gun. He again read his statement to refresh his recollection concerning whether anything was said about a knife, but he still could not recall this matter. At this juncture the State made a motion to declare Dansberry a hostile witness; the motion was granted, and the State was permitted to cross-examine.

Dansberry then testified that someone mentioned that the truck driver might have money. Within a short time the grocery truck was driven from the lot by Spencer accompanied by Mobley. Pittman, Dansberry and Williams followed in the car.

After passing the truck Pittman made a U-turn and stopped. The front license plate of the car then was bent down and the rear plate covered with a paper sack in order to diminish the possibility of vehicle identification. Thereafter Pittman drove to a dirt road and they got out. Williams pointed to the location of the truck and they proceeded in that direction. Dansberry returned to the car, however, at Williams's suggestion.

Dansberry then drove Pittman's car to another street, got out and walked to the corner. As he looked toward the parked truck, he observed Spencer and the defendants walking quickly toward him. He returned to the car and picked them up. As he was driving, someone in the car mentioned that the truck driver might be dead because Mobley said the victim was shot four or five times. The car was stopped in order to uncover the license plates and Pittman then took over the driving. Williams gave Danberry the empty revolver. Someone mentioned that the victim had only six dollars, which was later divided. He said that someone handed him a yellow type white gold wedding ring which he knew did not belong to any occupant of the car. This item was subsequently discarded. The revolver was eventually given to Spencer and apparently had not been recovered at the time of the trial. Dansberry and Mobley later decided to fabricate a story as to their whereabouts at the time of the shooting and Pittman agreed to join in this.

During defense examination of Dansberry, he admitted that he had been afforded the privilege of having his breakfast brought to the jail by his sister-in-law. He denied discussing his testimony or sentence with the prosecution and further stated that no promises of leniency had been made to him by the prosecution in return for his testimony, although he said that his attorney had told him of such possibility.

Patricia Langsdorf, the victim's wife, testified that they had three children. She said that on March 11, 1969, he was wearing a wedding ring identical to her own and she described it as made of gold with a band of florentine and tiny strips of silver on either side. She further stated that it was her husband's custom to begin each week with ten dollars which he would use for his personal expenses. Several items of torn, bloodstained clothing and a jacket with holes in the back were identified by her as belonging to her husband. Defense objections to exclude these items were overruled.

Ed Houston, the manager of the Ohio Market, testified that he purchased groceries from Langsdorf's employer. He said that his store closed every day between 1:00 and 2:00 P.M. for the employees' luncheon convenience. On March 11, 1969, the normal delivery day, Houston said that Langsdorf arrived shortly before 1:00 P.M. but because the store was closing no one was there to aid in unloading the truck. This witness testified that as he left he saw Langsdorf sitting in the truck but upon his return at 2:00 P.M. the vehicle was gone.

Omar Troland, a former grocer who had done business with Associated Groceries, testified that he now was employed by a real-estate firm. In conjunction with his present occupation he said he was in the vicinity of the Ohio Market after 1:00 P.M. on March 11, 1969. He noticed a truck in the parking lot and drove toward it because he said he thought he might meet a driver he knew. However, he did not recognize the two Negroes in the truck as it was driven away.

Herbert Shaw, an employee of Associated Groceries, testified as to an instrument known as a tachograph which was in the cab of the victim's truck. He explained that this device measures the speed and time during which the truck moves. He interpreted the graph as indicating that the vehicle was stopped shortly before 1:00 P.M. on the day of the murder and was moved about 1:40 P.M. for several minutes. The next movement took place at 4:35 P.M., after Langsdorf's body was discovered by police. Shaw and two other employees also testified as to the discovery of a bullet in the cab of the vehicle several days after the shooting. This bullet was given to the police.

Louise Jennings, who lived near the viaduct, said she saw a grocery truck drive by her house and about 1:30 P.M. saw a white 1965 Chevrolet parked on the road just below her house. She further stated that four youths ran from the direction of the bridge toward that car and that the group consisted of three Negroes and one white male who were talking and looking back toward the bridge. She described the white youth as having a beard and sideburns and wearing a leather jacket. The State then asked her if she could identify the white youth. Counsel for Williams objected, and a side bar conference was held. She did not identify anyone on direct examination. On cross-examination the witness was asked about a statement she gave to the police, and at this time another side bar conference was granted at the request of the State and a recess held. Thereafter, she was further questioned by other defense counsel and finally identified Pittman, during cross-examination by Mobley's attorney, as the white man because of the structure of his nose and his glasses. She said that as she stood by her door Pittman walked by about 15 feet from her on his way to the car.

Grady Lockett, a garbage-truck driver, testified that he parked his vehicle near the viaduct during his lunch break. He said he saw a truck under the viaduct and three or four people running from it, one of whom he described as light skinned and the others definitely as Negroes. He further observed a white Chevrolet being driven from the area. He could not specifically identify anyone because of the distance (300-400 feet) between the grocery truck and his vehicle.

Jeff Haire, another area resident, testified that at about 1:30 P.M. he saw a white Chevrolet in the vicinity. He said it contained one white and two Negro men. His attention was attracted to the vehicle when it was stopped and one of the Negroes placed a "newspaper or something" over the rear license plate before it was driven away. He believed that Pittman was the white man, whom he described as having a beard and sideburns.

Dr. Clifford Kane, the county coroner, performed an autopsy on Langsdorf and recovered three bullets. He described in detail the results of his examination, stating that the victim had facial lacerations and a recent head wound which he believed was caused by a blow from a blunt instrument. He said the victim had been shot six times. One bullet had entered and exited from the right arm. Another had struck him in the hip. A third bullet had lodged in the right shoulder. He was also shot in the lower part of the back with the bullet traveling in an upward direction through the liver, lung, large blood vessels and heart before lodging beneath the sternum. A fifth bullet had entered from the back, piercing a lung and exiting from the chest. There were also two wounds in the abdomen apparently caused by one bullet which pierced several blood vessels before exiting. Dr. Kane was of the opinion that any one of three shots could have caused death and that the bullet which entered the lower portion of the back may have been fired as the victim was bending over.

Detective Joseph Brasser, a ballistics expert, testified that he had examined the bullets given him in connection with this case. He said they were .32 caliber and from the distinctive characteristic markings found thereon may have been fired from an Arminius revolver.

Sergeant Bruce Morrison of the East St. Louis Police Department testified that at 2:45 A.M. on March 18, 1969, he and other officers arrested Pittman at his home and seized a leather jacket. A pile of hair was found on the floor. Morrison also testified, without objection, that during a conversation Pittman admitted he had ...


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