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People v. Price

JUNE 28, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DANIEL J. RYAN, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied August 26, 1974.

On the night of 17 February 1970, a number of men broke into the apartment of Albert and Clara Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins was not at home at the time; however, Mrs. Jenkins was present and was beaten by one of the intruders; she died, as a result, 3 days later.

On 21 May 1970, Lee Arthur Hodges, Johnny Price, and Melvin Battie were jointly indicted under indictment number 70-1408 for the murder of Clara Jenkins (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 38, par. 9-1 (a) 2, 9-1(a)3). On 20 April 1971, Johnny Price (hereafter defendant) was severed from his co-indictees for trial. After a bench trial, a jury having been waived, defendant was found guilty of murder and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of years not less than 30 nor more than 60. Defendant appeals that conviction.

Defendant's first contention on appeal is that the testimony of the accomplice witnesses (Hodges and Battie) was uncorroborated, discredited, and contradicted, and, therefore, did not establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to consider this contention, it is necessary to examine all the evidence adduced at the defendant's trial.

Lee Arthur Hodges, defendant's co-indictee, testified for the State. He indicated that, in exchange for his testimony, he would be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense than murder. Hodges' narrative started at 11 A.M. on 17 February 1970. At that time he went to a grocery store on Roosevelt Road at California Avenue (2800 West) with his cousin, Melvin Battie, the other co-indictee who also testified for the State. There Hodges met defendant, who stated that he needed help to "rip off" a place and who threatened Hodges physically if he did not promise to help. Hodges testified that he refused because, at that time, he was on parole from St. Charles School for Boys. The witness then left the store, but stated that he had to return a short time later because he had forgotten to buy a newspaper. Again defendant allegedly threatened him, saying that he and some other boys would "get" him. Hodges testified that he believed defendant to be a member of the Vice Lords street gang, and that these were probably the boys to whom defendant was referring. At 11 P.M. that night, Hodges and Battie again returned to the grocery store to buy some T.V. snacks, and they again encountered defendant. This time defendant followed the cousins home, again asking for their assistance. When the witness again refused, defendant allegedly pulled a knife on him, grabbed him by the collar, and held the knife to his throat. Defendant again threatened the witness, if the witness did not agree to help him. After discussing the problem with his cousin, Hodges testified that he agreed to help defendant, since he feared for the safety of his mother and sisters. Hodges then accompanied defendant, along with Battie, to 1219 Wn.tenaw Street (2700 West and just South of Roosevelt Road, and the address of the Jenkins apartment). He waited outside while defendant and Battie went up the stairs. Defendant knocked on the door of the Jenkins apartment, stating that he was looking for a Mr. Jenkins. According to Hodges, when defendant found that Jenkins was not there, defendant kicked in the door. At this juncture, Hodges ran from the scene to tell his mother (who, with Hodges, lived across the street), but went back out of fear of what defendant might do to his cousin, Battie. When he returned, defendant and Battie were calling him. According to the witness, defendant had a lady on the bed with a coat over her face. Hodges stated that he grabbed a small T.V. set from the bedroom and joined his cousin in the living room, who was working on a larger T.V. set. He put his small set on the larger set, and both men together carried the two sets down the stairs and out of the building. Hodges stated that they called to defendant before they left the building, but that he did not answer. They stored the T.V. sets in a vacant apartment in Hodges' mother's building, on the floor above the mother's apartment. Twenty or 30 minutes later, defendant allegedly arrived in the Hodges' kitchen with blood on his sleeve. According to Hodges, when he asked about the blood, defendant answered that he had to "keep her quiet" and gave the same response to Battie upon Battie's subsequent inquiry. At this point defendant allegedly warned Hodges that he would "fuck him up" if he (Hodges) "tricked on him." Hodges then stated that, on the following day, he sold the two television sets. Finally, he testified that, when he was arrested, he had failed to tell investigating Detective Sandberg about how defendant had threatened him.

On cross-examination, Hodges stated that he had been in the Jenkins apartment before the night of the incident. In fact, Hodges admitted that he had originally sold one of the stolen T.V. sets to Mr. Jenkins. He in turn had originally purchased it from a "dope fiend." The witness stated that he and Battie split the $70 received from the resale of the T.V. sets; and he admitted that he was unemployed at the time of the incident. Hodges stated that he had never been to the victim's apartment. Finally, for some unknown reason, the witness contradicted his own direct testimony and stated expressly that he had been promised nothing for his testimony.

The next State witness was Melvin Battie, the other co-indictee and the cousin of Lee Arthur Hodges. He also related that he was to be allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of armed robbery in exchange for his testimony. As with his cousin, Battie's narrative of the events of 17 February 1970 began at 11 A.M. outside the grocery store on Roosevelt Road. At that time, he and his cousin met defendant, and Hodges had a conversation with him which the witness was unable to hear. The witness stated that he and his cousin returned to the store five minutes later and, again, Hodges and defendant had a conversation which the witness could not hear. After spending the day in unrelated activities, the two cousins again returned to the same grocery store at 11:30 P.M. Upon leaving, they were allegedly followed by defendant, who asked Hodges if he was "going to help him do that", to which Hodges responded "no". The witness stated that defendant then pushed Hodges into a hallway, pulled a knife on him, and grabbed him by the collar. Hodges then approached the witness and stated that defendant had threatened to shoot up his (Hodges') house and burn it down if Hodges did not help him rob a certain place. The witness stated that he thought they should help defendant with the robbery, since, in Hodges' opinion, defendant was serious about his threats. Battie then stated that he and his cousin accompanied defendant to the Jenkins apartment; that defendant kicked down the door after Mrs. Jenkins stated that her husband was not at home; that Hodges was acting as a look-out down the stairs; that they had to call two or three times before he came up the stairs; that they went into the apartment, and Hodges took a small T.V. set from the victim's bedroom while he (the witness) grabbed a larger one from the living room; that he and Hodges called for defendant as they were leaving, but defendant did not answer; and that he and his cousin then stored the T.V. sets in a vacant apartment in his cousin's building. According to Battie, defendant arrived in the Hodges' kitchen 30 minutes later with blood on his sleeve and a knife in his hand. The witness stated that, when he inquired about the blood, defendant stated to him that he (defendant) had to hit the lady to "keep her quiet", and defendant then threatened both him and his cousin if they said anything.

Under cross-examination, Battie admitted that he was also known by the name of Henry Jones, and he stated that he had never been to defendant's house, and he did not recall his cousin borrowing a pair of pants from defendant. He stated that he was outside the hallway when defendant threatened his cousin in the hallway before the incident, and that he himself had not been threatened but went along because he did not want to see Hodges' mother (his aunt) get hurt. The witness stated that defendant had held Mrs. Jenkins down on the bed with a coat over her head. He finally stated that he and his cousin shared in the proceeds of the sale of the stolen T.V. sets, and defendant got nothing.

Albert Jenkins, the victim's husband, was called as a life and death witness by the State. According to his testimony, he left for work on the afternoon of 17 February 1970 and returned home at 3:30 A.M. on 18 February 1970. At that time he discovered his wife lying on the floor, her face swollen, her eyes closed, and able to speak only in a mumble. She was taken to a hospital and died 3 days later. When he examined the apartment, he discovered that two radios and two T.V. sets were missing.

Under cross-examination, it was revealed that Mrs. Jenkins was crippled and wore a brace at the time of the incident. Mr. Jenkins stated that Hodges lived across the street from him and had been over to his home four or five times trying to sell him different things. He also indicated that Hodges was aware of the time at which he usually left for work. Finally, Mr. Jenkins stated that he had never seen defendant prior to defendant's arrest.

Detective Richard Sandberg, a Chicago police officer assigned to investigate the murder of Clara Jenkins, testified that in his investigation he had questioned Lee Arthur Hodges. Hodges had made a statement to him in which he had implicated defendant, but had failed to mention that defendant had threatened him with a knife prior to the incident. Through Hodges' statement, he was also able to recover the two television sets which Hodges, Battie, and Mr. Jenkins all identified as the ones which were taken in the robbery of the Jenkins apartment.

There was a stipulation that the cause of death was a traumatic subarachnoid cerebral hemorrhage, after which the State rested its case.

Annie Allen, defendant's sister, testified on behalf of her brother. She stated that defendant had returned home from work around 6 P.M. on 17 February 1970. A short while later, Hodges and Battie had come over to borrow some pants. The witness stated that John Price, Sr., defendant's father, and one Billy Carton were also present. At 7 P.M., Carton, Hodges, Battie, and defendant had left the house together. At 10:00 P.M., defendant had returned home with Carton, who was intoxicated. At this time the witness' husband and father were present. Sometime before 11 P.M., defendant went to bed and did not leave home for the rest of that night. According to the witness, at midnight, Hodges and ...

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