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People v. Thomas

MARCH 12, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. SAUL A. EPTON, Judge, presiding.


Defendant Sam Thomas, tried by a jury on three counts of unlawful use of weapons, was found guilty and sentenced to a term of 2 to 5 years. The indictment, as originally returned by the grand jury, charged violations on September 11, 1968, in five counts, two alleging violations of the Illinois Uniform Narcotic Drug Act *fn1 and three counts charging offenses of the unlawful-use-of-weapon provisions of section 24-1(a)(4) and (a)(7) of chapter 38 of the 1967 Illinois Revised Statutes. *fn2 On the day the trial commenced on motion of the State, the court dismissed the two counts charging violations of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act.

On appeal, defendant presents the following issues for review:

(1) Whether the admission of testimony regarding other illegal conduct on the part of the defendant prejudiced his right to a fair trial;

(2) Whether defendant's right to a fair trial was prejudiced by his description in the indictment and verdict forms as having an alias;

(3) Whether the trial court properly restricted defense counsel's cross-examination of a State's witness; and

(4) Whether the State established the elements of the offense charged.

The following testimony of the State witnesses describes the events, in 1968, as they chronologically developed.

Robert Walker testified that in August and September he was chief investigator for the Illinois Crime Investigating Commission (hereinafter Commission); that on August 22 he met the defendant in a tavern in Marseilles (LaSalle County), Illinois, and Thomas asked if Walker was interested in purchasing some explosives. Walker indicated he was. On August 27, Walker again saw the defendant in Marseilles when the defendant told him about a field of marijuana he had been harvesting for about 5 years and that the defendant had a connection on the south side of Chicago to retail the processed marijuana.

Walker said that on August 28, along with two federal narcotics agents, he again saw the defendant in Marseilles. On August 29, Walker testified, he telephoned the defendant at his home and talked about a contact regarding hand guns and a machine gun. Walker said that in a telephone conversation with Thomas on September 10, Thomas, in response to a question, stated he had not contacted the man that was going to fix the machine gun to make it fully automatic.

Walker next testified that on September 11 he talked with Thomas on the telephone, at which time various personnel of the federal and state narcotic bureaus were present. At this time, Walker told Thomas a friend would pick him up in Marseilles and Thomas said he had and would bring with him the machine gun and marijuana. Again, on September 11, agent Ronald Ewert (whose testimony is set forth in detail later in this opinion) telephoned him from Marseilles, at which time Thomas talked on the phone and discussed the machine gun and marijuana.

Walker further testified that later on September 11 he saw Thomas in Chicago in a motor lodge parking lot. At that time, Thomas told Walker the machine gun and marijuana were in the trunk of the automobile, whereupon Thomas removed from a white box in the trunk a machine gun and small glassine bag containing a green crushed plant. Thomas was then arrested.

On cross-examination, Walker admitted he did not know whether the subject gun (admitted in evidence as an exhibit) is capable of discharging eight or more shots by a single function of the firing device. Defendant's efforts to ascertain the facts or circumstances of witness Walker's termination of employment with the Commission were prevented by numerous timely State objections.

Ronald Ewert, an investigator for the Commission, testified he saw Thomas on September 11 at a tavern in Marseilles; that Ewert drove (in a State car) Thomas to his home; and that Thomas went into the house and came back carrying a large white cardboard box in his arms which was put in the trunk of the car.

After a telephone call to Ewert's office in Chicago, they drove, in the State car, to Chicago whereupon he parked in a motor lodge parking area. At that time they greeted Walker; that Walker asked Thomas if he had the stuff; that Thomas responded he did; that the trunk of the car was opened and in a white cardboard box was a submachine gun, a clip, and a brown bag from which Thomas pulled a small plastic bag and said "Here's the stuff." At that time Thomas was arrested.

On cross-examination, Ewert said he did not specifically know what a semi-automatic weapon is and did not know whether the subject gun could discharge eight shots or bullets by a single function of the firing device.

On redirect, Ewert stated in August 1968 the defendant was known to him by the name of Sam Polatto.

Charles Siragusa, executive director of the Commission, testified that he was present in the parking lot of the motor lodge in Chicago on September 11 when he saw Thomas, Ewert, and Walker. After the trunk was opened, he observed a box ...

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