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People v. Tripp

APRIL 18, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. J. ARNOLD WELFELD, Judge, presiding.


Willie Tripp was tried by the court and found guilty of battery and attempted theft. He was sentenced to serve 6 months for the former offense and 1 year for the latter, the sentences to run concurrently.

His first contention is that his guilt was not established beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, he attacks the identification evidence as insufficient to convict and asserts that the prosecution failed to prove that he either demanded or attempted to remove money or property from the complainant.

The complainant, John Scrobacz, and two eyewitnesses to the occurrence, Felicitad Aroyo and Romunaldo Sanchez, testified at the trial. Scrobacz stated that while returning home around 8:30 on the evening of November 11, 1971, he was set upon by two men who punched and stabbed him repeatedly. He called for help and his cries were heard by Romunaldo Sanchez, who was in his home one door away from the place of attack. He looked out from a first-floor window and saw two men "stomping" a third. One assailant, whom Sanchez identified as Willie Tripp, held a knife and demanded Scrobacz's money, while the victim shouted for help. Sanchez said he had a clear view of both men, but he was unable to describe the second one.

Felicitad Aroyo also saw the attack, which occurred beneath a street light approximately 30 feet away from her. She testified that she saw Tripp whom she recognized, having seen him about the neighborhood, stabbing Scrobacz while another unidentified assailant was kicking him, and she screamed at them to leave him alone.

A scant 24 hours after the attack, Sanchez and Miss Aroyo saw the defendant at a social gathering in a neighborhood church. Aided by a large number of those present, they held him until the police arrived.

Tripp denied the battery and attempted theft. He testified that the first time he saw Scrobacz was in the hospital the day after the attack and that he was at home at the time it took place. His alibi was unsubstantiated.

• 1 Where the identification of an accused is at issue, the testimony of a single credible witness is sufficient to sustain a conviction if the witness viewed the accused under circumstances permitting positive identification. (People v. Reed (1968), 103 Ill. App.2d 342, 243 N.E.2d 628.) Here not one, but two eyewitnesses identified Tripp. Both saw him under a street light a short distance away; one had seen him before and recognized him, and both were able, independently, to single him out in a large crowd only a day after they witnessed the crime.

Scrobacz and Miss Aroyo experienced difficulty communicating their testimony because of language problems. Aroyo required an interpreter and, at the suggestion of the defendant's counsel, an unnamed court bailiff was sworn to perform that function. Although the force of her testimony was somewhat blunted by her trouble in relating it, her identification was positive. Minor inconsistencies, arising from a language difficulty and not relating to the identification of a defendant, will not vitiate the value of such testimony. (People v. Brinkley (1965), 33 Ill.2d 403, 211 N.E.2d 730.) Sanchez had no language problem; his identification was also positive, and he further testified that the assault had been accompanied by demands for Scrobacz's money.

Scrobacz could not describe the assailants nor could he recall hearing what they said. No money or property was taken from him. The fact that he could not identify Tripp does not cast serious doubts on the accuracy or veracity of those who could. His testimony indicates that he may have panicked when attacked and that he may have been assaulted from the rear. In view of his outcries and the screams of Miss Aroyo, it is not surprising that the assailants abandoned their attack before consummating the theft.

• 2, 3 When a case is tried without a jury it is the function of the trial judge to evaluate conflicting evidence, and his determination will not be reversed unless the reviewing court finds that the evidence is so unreasonable, improbable or unsatisfactory that it raises a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. (People v. Vail (1966), 74 Ill. App.2d 308, 221 N.E.2d 165.) When witnesses labor under the handicap of language difficulties, an appellate court, which sees only the written record, should pay more than ordinary deference to the conclusions drawn by the trial judge, who observed demeanor and gestures of the witnesses and heard possibly important variables of inflection and emphasis. The finding of the judge that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt was fully supported by the evidence.

The defendant urges that multiple trial errors, combined with ineffective representation of counsel, deprived him of due process of law and that trying him as an adult instead of as a juvenile denied him equal protection of the law.

The trial errors complained of are: (1) interruptions of unsworn, unidentified persons prompting or offering to explain and translate the testimony of witnesses; (2) the failure to exclude witnesses from the courtroom while others testified, and (3) the reliance placed by the court on an unsworn witness at the hearing in aggravation and mitigation.

Although it appears that the trial proceedings amounted to something less than a model of legal decorum, the defendant can show no prejudice resulting from the trial's informal atmosphere. From the record, we surmise that all persons interested in the trial gathered around the bench. There were extra-judicial interjections but these were usually excited attempts to explain irrelevant facts, or mere offers to translate. Neither of the two alleged "prompting" incidents can properly be so characterized. One involved a spectator's explanation of the direction in which Rockwell Street ...

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