APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon.
JOSEPH J. BARR, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE EBERSPACHER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendant, James Humble, was charged by indictment in Madison County with the crime of murder. Trial was held to a jury and the jury returned a verdict of guilty to the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The defendant's post-trial motions and application for probation were denied. The court then sentenced the defendant to serve a term of not less than 2 nor more than 8 years in the Illinois State penitentiary system. The defendant has brought this appeal asserting that the State failed to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that the court erred in the instructions to the jury.
On the evening of March 21, 1971, the events which led to the defendant's conviction and this appeal unfolded. The defendant along with Thad Harrell, "Trigger" Terrell and Alvin Thompson, the victim, left the Madison Garrett Pool Room, also known as Venice Pool Hall, in Venice, Illinois. The defendant told Thompson that Thompson had forgotten his coat whereupon the defendant returned to the pool room and brought back a coat for Thompson. Thompson, Terrell and the defendant then left to go to a liquor store.
Later the defendant returned to the pool room and gave the coat to the manager of the pool room. The true owner of the coat, Carl Waters, attacked and beat the defendant. The defendant attempted to get Thompson to explain to Waters what happened with the coat but Thompson refused. The testimony of the witnesses differed as to whether or not Thompson also participated in the defendant's beating.
Subsequent to the beating the defendant left the pool room. Again there is a variance in the testimony as to the length of time the defendant was gone from the pool room but testimony other than the defendant's did indicate a minimum of 5 minutes; Harrell testified that the defendant was gone for 20 minutes; Waters testified 7 or 8 minutes and Terrell testified 5 to 10 minutes. The defendant in testifying in his own behalf said that he staggered outside the pool room, saw more men outside whom he testified he thought were going to attack him again, so he picked up a pipe and ran back into the pool room.
Testimony was that upon returning to the pool room the defendant struck the deceased with whatever he had in his hand. The defendant admitted that the object was a pipe. The deceased expired. There was testimony to show that prior to the deceased being struck that the deceased had held up a pool stick. One witness, Mr. Terrell, testified that the deceased did not raise the pool stick until after he was hit by the defendant and that after the pool stick was raised the defendant struck the deceased twice more whereupon the deceased collapsed and never again regained consciousness. There was no testimony other than the defendant's that the deceased ever struck the defendant either during the first altercation or the second when the defendant returned into the pool room.
The Madison County Coroner, Robert Thomas, testified that he examined the body of the deceased and the only mark found on the deceased was a slight abrasion over the nose.
The final State witness was Dr. Francisco Campos, a pathologist of 22 years. He testified that on March 22, 1971, he had performed an autopsy on the deceased. The witness first made an external examination of the body. He found that there was an abrasion with a small amount of skin discoloration over the right side of the nose and that the right wrist was swollen and possibly fractured.
The internal examination by the witness revealed that the deceased had a persistent thymus. He explained that this is an organ which should shrink up and go away after puberty but that the deceased's thymus was five times the normal size. The doctor diagnosed the cause of death as status thymicolymphaticus. He also stated that the condition exists from birth and renders a person in a weakened condition, thereby making the person susceptible to sudden death from trivial trauma, shock or fear. The doctor further testified that a person with this condition could die suddenly where no shock or fear was apparent and the cause precipitating death could not be determined. He also testified that status thymicolymphaticus renders the adrenal gland smaller than normal, causing a loss of body sugar, but he stated that science has been unable to explain why the body is not able to cope with this malady.
Finally the doctor testified in response to the State's hypothetical question that he was not positive as to three blows causing the deceased's death based upon the autopsy and reasonable medical certainty.
• 1, 2 The defendant first asserts that the corpus delicti of the offense of voluntary manslaughter was not established beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no doubt that such proof is necessary to sustain the conviction. (People v. Manske, 399 Ill. 176, 77 N.E.2d 164; People v. Bailey, 56 Ill. App.2d 261, 205 N.E.2d 756.) The defendant's assertion is based upon the testimony of the pathologist. The doctor stated that although he was not certain that the three blows caused the death that the blows may have caused the death. The corpus delicti in a homicide case consists of proof that the death was caused by the criminal agency of some person. (People v. Watts, 101 Ill. App.2d 36, 241 N.E.2d 463.) The defendant asserts that because of the doctor's testimony that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the death was caused by the defendant. The State does not have the burden of proving guilt beyond any possibility of doubt. (People v. Branion, 47 Ill.2d 70, 265 N.E.2d 1; People v. Hunter, 3 Ill. App.3d 676, 279 N.E.2d 490.) The defendant's conviction need not be reversed, therefore, merely because there is a possibility that his criminal agency did not cause the death.
The defendant cites People v. Benson, 19 Ill.2d 50, 166 N.E.2d 80, a case in which the supreme court reversed a murder conviction. In that case, a 69-year-old woman died shortly after she had been raped by the defendant. The doctor who performed an autopsy on the woman testified that she had been suffering from brain lesions which had caused seepage of blood into the brain for weeks or months prior to the decedent's death. The doctor stated that in his opinion the death resulted from a combination of several things and that the main thing was the sexual assault in conjunction with the recent brain damage. He also stated that a lesser cause was the older brain lesions. The court reversed the murder conviction because it was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that death resulted from criminal agency and stated:
"* * * it is a maxim of our law that where an act may be attributed to a criminal or to an innocent cause it will be attributed to an innocent cause rather than to the criminal one. A crime is never presumed where the conditions may be explained on an innocent hypothesis." 19 Ill.2d at 61, 166 N.E.2d at 86.
The Benson case, however, is distinguishable from the instant case. In Benson the evidence showed that it was very possible that the deceased died from a cause, the brain lesions, which was completely independent from any criminal act by the defendant. It was possible, in other words, that the deceased would have died from the brain lesions whether she was sexually attacked or not. In the instant case, the physical defect of the decedent would not cause death unless triggered by some event. There is evidence that the triggering event was the defendant's criminal agency. Also, in Benson there was no evidence of how the sexual attack could have combined with the physical condition of the woman to cause death. In this case there is medical testimony that the attack by the defendant could very likely have combined with the decedent's physical condition to cause death.
The case of Cunningham v. People, 195 Ill. 550, 63 N.E. 517, is nearer the present factual situation. In Cunningham the evidence indicated two men robbed the decedent and punched him in the head. The decedent then got up, staggered a few feet, fell down, and died soon thereafter. Medical evidence indicated that the man's heart was in such a condition that any excitement at all could have produced a sudden death. Although the defendant's conviction of manslaughter was reversed for other reasons, the court stated:
"It was a question for the jury to determine whether the bruises upon the head of the deceased were caused by the blow from the fist or by the fall upon the pavement, and whether the fall upon the pavement was because of an injury or shock resulting from the blow, or from drunkenness, ...