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People v. Starling

JUNE 25, 1974.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

WILLIE STARLING, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant, Willie Starling, was charged, together with Martha Branch, a deaf-mute, with the armed robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 18-2) of Sergio Bolanis. The indictment as against Martha Branch was dismissed during the course of defendant's trial. After a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of simple robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 18-1) and sentenced to a term of not less than 1 year nor more than 3 years.

Upon a review of the record, the pertinent facts, as adduced by the testimony in the trial court, can be summarized as follows. Sergio Bolanis, the complaining witness, spoke only Spanish, save for a few words in English. Prior to his testifying in the trial court, the court appointed an interpreter, Teresa Avila, to translate from English to Spanish and Spanish to English. Both counsel for defendant and the State told the court that they were satisfied to have Teresa Avila act as interpreter.

On direct examination, Sergio Bolanis testified, in pertinent part, that, at approximately 9 P.M. on July 4, 1972, he arrived at a tavern located at 1758 West 21st Place in Chicago; that, at the time, he carried about $500 on his person, all in $20 denominations; that after defendant, Martha Branch, and defendant's aunt, Queenola Starling, arrived at the tavern, he (Bolanis) offered to buy them a beer and that he used a $20 bill to pay for the beers; that Martha Branch asked him if he wanted to play a game of pool; that, after a time, he left the tavern and went outside with Martha Branch; that, while he was outside, defendant took out a gun and demanded money from him (Bolanis) and that Martha Branch then removed $480 in $20 bills from his shirt pocket; that, after he had been robbed, he threw a bottle at the windshield of defendant's car and broke the window; that he immediately reported the robbery to the police; and that he was later taken to a police station, where he saw defendant and Martha Branch. During his direct examination in the trial court, Sergio Bolanis identified defendant as the man who had had the gun and Martha Branch as the woman who had taken his money.

On cross-examination, Bolanis testified that Martha Branch, on the night in question, by making certain motions with her hands, had asked him to have sex with her. In response, he had motioned with his hands that they should go walking, as he did not have a car. Bolanis was shown a pair of pants allegedly worn by Martha Branch that evening. He was asked whether he had ripped those pants from Martha Branch, to which he responded that he had not done so.

Officer Stump of the Chicago Police Department testified on direct examination that, at approximately 12:15 A.M. on July 5, 1972, he and a partner, who were working out of uniform in an unmarked patrol car, learned through the police communications center that a robbery had been committed at 1758 West 21st Place and that the two possible offenders were heading toward 3014 West Polk Street in Chicago. One individual, a male Negro, was described as wearing a gray and black shirt and a red hat, and as having a bandage on his hand; the other, a female Negro, was described as a deaf-mute, who was wearing a purple blouse. At about 1 A.M., after the officers had placed the Polk Street address under surveillance for 30 minutes, Martha Branch was observed in a gangway at the address and the defendant in an open doorway nearby; both individuals fit the descriptions given earlier by the police communications center. The officers placed defendant and Martha Branch under arrest and advised them of their rights. Defendant was searched, and $180 in United States currency was found on defendant's person. Officer Stump had inventoried the currency, and it was introduced into evidence in the court below.

Continuing, Officer Stump testified that he had been informed that the individuals might have been driving a brown auto with a broken windshield; and that, subsequent to the arrests, defendant's auto, which fit the description and had a broken windshield, was found in front of 3015 West Lexington Boulevard, across the alley from the Polk Street address where the arrests were effected.

On cross-examination, Stump testified that, after a search of defendant's person, apartment, and auto, no gun was recovered, and, further, that no money other than the above-mentioned $180 was recovered. He also testified that Martha Branch was not searched and that no money was discovered on her person. At the conclusion of Stump's testimony, the State rested its case.

Martha Branch was called as a defense witness, and her testimony was elicited with the assistance of a certified interpreter for the deaf. *fn1 She identified the pants which had been placed in evidence as those she was wearing on the night of her arrest. She testified that, on the evening in question, she was dancing at the tavern; that it was hot and she walked outside to cool off, but that she did not leave the tavern with Sergio Bolanis; that when she was outside, Bolanis grabbed her and pulled her pants, and that she hollered; that she had not taken any money from Bolanis that night and had not asked him to have sexual intercourse with her; that defendant never pulled a gun that night; and that she had not danced with Bolanis and did not play pool with him, and that he did not buy her any beer or liquor. On cross-examination, she testified that defendant supported her.

Defendant testified on direct examination that he lived at the Polk Street address with his mother, grandmother, and, for a time, with Martha Branch; that, on July 4, 1972, he had arrived at the tavern on 21st place between 10:30 and 11 P.M.; that after he, Martha Branch, and his aunt, Queenola Starling, had taken seats and bought some beer, Sergio Bolanis came up to their table and had engaged in a conversation, in English, with his aunt; that, at approximately 12 or 12:30 A.M., the witness had left the tavern with "rent money," with which he was to pay his landlord the rent at the Polk Street address; that, earlier in the evening, before he had come to the tavern, his mother had given him $180 with which to pay the rent, pay other bills, buy some gasoline for his car, and use as spending money; that he had told his aunt he was going to leave the tavern to go home and pay the rent and that she had asked him to later return and pick her up; that, at this time, Martha Branch had "stepped out" of the tavern, and that he had walked outside, but didn't see her; that, after having returned to the tavern briefly, he left, entered his car to leave, and then heard a scream; that he knew it had to be Martha Branch screaming; that he exited his car and left it in the street; that he then came upon Sergio Bolanis and Martha Branch wrestling on the ground in an alley near the tavern; that Martha Branch's blouse and pants had been torn; that he picked up a stick and started screaming at Bolanis, and Bolanis ran into the tavern; and that he put Martha Branch in the car and drove her to the Polk Street address. Defendant further testified that he had not taken $180 from Bolanis, had not drawn a gun on Bolanis, and had not observed Martha Branch solicit Bolanis to have sexual intercourse for money on the night of the incident.

Defendant's mother, Mary Harris, was then called by the defense in an attempt to corroborate defendant's account of how he had come into the possession of the $180.

The defense then rested its case, and defendant was subsequently found guilty of plain robbery. This appeal followed.

The issues presented for review are: (i) was defendant proven guilty of robbery beyond a reasonable doubt, and (ii) questions relative to the appointment of an ...


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