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People v. Lopes

MARCH 26, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of DuPage County; the Hon. ALFRED E. WOODWARD, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE GUILD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant was found guilty of the murder of his wife in a jury trial and was sentenced to 50-99 years in the penitentiary. In this appeal he contends that he was not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; that the trial court erred in allowing into evidence pictures of a rope found in a bedroom closet of defendant's residence; and that the remarks of the prosecuting attorney in his closing argument denied the defendant a fair trial.

Defendant's wife was employed by the Plentywood Farm restaurant. During the last week in June, Lois Ruppert, a fellow employee of Mrs. Brown, visited defendant and his wife at their home. Ten witnesses, including neighbors and fellow employees, testified that they never saw her after this visit by Lois Ruppert. A few days before June 28, 1970, a neighbor heard a man and woman quarreling in the home of the defendant. On the night of June 28 this neighbor returned home with her husband between 3 and 3:30 in the morning. She was suffering from a toothache and was in the living room when she observed the defendant's vehicle leave his driveway about 4 in the morning. She then observed defendant's car return about an hour later.

On July 5, 1970, a neighbor called the defendant's residence and asked to speak to his wife, but the defendant stated that she was out shopping. A fellow worker also called the residence numerous times during the month of July, and defendant told her that his wife was either out shopping or in the yard. She asked the defendant to have his wife call her back so that a work schedule could be arranged. Mrs. Ruppert visited the home in the middle of July and defendant told her that his wife had left him a couple of days earlier. Another fellow employee called the residence several times during the month of July, and in each instance she was told by the defendant that his wife was out shopping.

Finally the supervisor at Plentywood Farm attempted to reach Mrs. Brown by telephone, but it had been disconnected. She then went to the residence with the head of the payroll department, did not find anyone, and she thereupon contacted the police. The chief of the Bloomingdale Police Department went to the Brown residence on July 30, 1970, and again defendant stated that his wife was out shopping. The chief replied he would wait for her. The defendant then changed his story and told the police chief that he and his wife had had an argument and that she had left him and was staying with her brother in Chicago. Upon contacting the brother, the police discovered that he had not seen Mrs. Brown at all during the months of June and July, 1970. Following this, the police put defendant's residence under surveillance, but the defendant had disappeared. He was not found until approximately a year later when he was returned by the authorities from Florida on July 25, 1971.

About 6 months after the disappearance of Mrs. Brown an excavation was being made for a septic system on property near Route 59 and North Avenue, which is a 10- or 15-minute drive from the defendant's residence. The septic tank had been placed in the ground. The contractor was in the process of trenching for a lateral from the tank when he dug up the badly decomposed body of Mrs. Brown which was in a shallow grave. Examination of the body disclosed that the hyoid bone in her neck had been broken.

We first consider the issue as to whether defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Examination of circumstantial evidence homicide cases in Illinois discloses one general rule: each case is determined by the totality of the facts and circumstances disclosed by the circumstantial evidence, excluding every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

Defendant has cited a number of cases where the reviewing court found that the circumstantial evidence of defendant's guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The early case of Mooney v. People (1884), 111 Ill. 388, is oft cited where the reviewing court does not find that the circumstantial evidence of the guilt of the defendant was sufficient. Briefly, in Mooney, two convicts were confined in the same cell in the state penitentiary. One of them was found with a number of wounds on his body from which he died. A good deal of blood was on the victim, in the cell, and on the floor. However, his cell-mate had no blood on him except for a small patch on one pant leg. Because of this, one of the supreme court justices stated, "Thus it is satisfactorily shown, by the decided weight of evidence, that the deceased may have inflicted the wounds himself." 111 Ill. at 389.

In People v. Campagna (1909), 240 Ill. 378, 390, 88 N.E. 797, 802, the supreme court quoted Mooney as follows: "`The unquestioned rule in such case is, that before conviction can properly be had the guilt of the accused must be so thoroughly established as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis.'" The facts in Campagna are completely distinguishable from the case before us. The defendant Campagna and the victim were good friends and both worked for the Illinois Central Railroad in Freeport. On the afternoon of June 18, 1908, a railroad box car used as a work shop was found on fire, and the body of the victim was found inside. The defendant testified as to his whereabouts on the afternoon in question; no identification of the defendant was made, and the evidence, as the court stated, "does little more than excite a suspicion of guilt." The court further found no motive and thus stated, "There is not, in our judgment, any evidence in the record showing any satisfactory motive for him to murder his intimate friend." (240 Ill. at 389.) Defendant has called our attention to the statement in Campagna: "As presented in the record this case is so surrounded with mystery and doubt that it is our duty to set aside the judgment of conviction." (240 Ill. at 390.) From our examination of the facts as set forth by the court in Campagna we fully agree with the court's statement. However, we do not find that the facts in Campagna are in any way comparable to the situation before us as will be pointed out later.

In People v. Wilson (1948), 400 Ill. 461, 81 N.E.2d 211, we find another case quite closely akin to the facts in Campagna. In Wilson, the defendant, a farmer, went out to the barn in the early hours to do the chores. The barn caught on fire from the lantern and his wife was burned to death. The defendant testified and "denied in toto that he had committed the crime." (400 Ill. at 469.) The court, stating that "* * * if there is any reasonable hypothesis arising from the evidence, consistent with the innocence of the defendant, it must be adopted" (400 Ill. at 473), found "[a]s a matter of fact, there is nothing in the evidence which could be seriously urged as a motive for murder * * *." (400 Ill. at 471.) Again we find this case is not applicable to the facts delineated in the case before us, as we will point out.

Another oft-cited case, where the reviewing court found that the evidence did not support the finding that the defendant murdered his wife, is People v. Ahrling (1917), 279 Ill. 70, 116 N.E. 764. Here again, the facts are inapposite to those in the case before us. In Ahrling the husband was charged with the murder of his wife after her body was found in the ashes of their farm residence early one Monday morning. However, the evidence disclosed that on Sunday morning the defendant with his two children went to the home of his brother-in-law where he remained until Monday morning. He did not return to his home until after the building had burned and his wife's remains were found in the ruins. The court here, again, made the same statement as cited from the Campagna case, supra, that the case was surrounded by mystery and doubt. See also People v. Willson (1948), 401 Ill. 68, 81 N.E.2d 485; People v. Lewellen (1969), 43 Ill.2d 74, 250 N.E.2d 651.

• 1, 2 It is an established principle of criminal law that:

"The elements of murder which must be established are: The proof of death and the proof of a criminal agency causing death. Both of these elements must be established by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. After these elements, termed in law the corpus delicti, have been proved, then the law requires that the evidence establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the criminal agency or put in motion the criminal ...

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