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People v. Stufflebean

DECEMBER 24, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. JOHN GITCHOFF, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal by the defendant, Thomas Edward Stufflebean, from a judgment of conviction entered, on a jury verdict of guilty, by the circuit court of Madison County for the offense of robbery and the imposition of a sentence of not less than 2 years nor more than 6 years in the penitentiary.

In the instant appeal the defendant does not contend that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, rather he contends that it "cannot be said beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury's knowledge of the defendant's prior conviction did not contribute to its verdict." Nevertheless, a brief summary of the evidence presented at the defendant's trial is necessary before evaluation of the defendant's contention that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the defendant's 1967 Missouri conviction for theft from a person and in allowing reference to it by the State in closing argument.

A review of the uncontroverted facts reveals that the defendant requested the bartender at Hook's Tavern to call for a Yellow Cab around 11 P.M. on May 17, 1973; John Fausz was dispatched to pick up the defendant; after a number of intervening stops the cab arrived at 1206 Grand in Madison; after Fausz and defendant entered the building at that address, through the basement, the defendant tied and gagged Fausz; the defendant then drove away in the cab Fausz had been operating; Mr. Fausz untied himself and notified the police; and the defendant was arrested near the County Road and McKinley Bridge where he had driven to meet another man who had driven to that location in a Ford Fairlane.

The defendant attempted to explain his conduct by testifying that he knew Fausz, by his nickname "Fuzzy," and that the two of them used to hang around together; he and Fausz met on the afternoon of May 17, 1973, and Fausz proposed a "deal" to the defendant; under this "deal" the defendant was to call Fausz that night and have Fausz pick him up in Fausz's cab, they were to go to 1206 Grand where the defendant would tie up Fausz and take Fausz's cab, Fausz would get the insurance money for the cab and pay the defendant $460 the following morning; and the events of the evening of May 17, 1973, were the culmination of this "deal."

Fausz denied that he knew the defendant and further denied that he had proposed or agreed to the plan outlined by the defendant. Edward Goclan, a Madison police officer, testified that when he requested the defendant to produce some identification the defendant said his name was Fausz and pulled out a wallet with identification in the name of Fausz. The defendant was searched and a wallet with the name of Thomas Stufflebean was found. Officer Goclan testified that $15 or $16 in change was found in one of the defendant's pockets. He also testified that the police report was in error in that it did not reflect that Fausz's wallet was taken from the defendant at the time of the arrest. Charles Mize, a Venice police officer, testified that he had been called to assist in the arrest. Officer Mize stated that he patted down the defendant and felt two wallets in the defendant's back pockets. He also stated that the defendant pulled a wallet out of his pocket and gave it to Officer Goclan, whereupon Officer Goclan asked the defendant "Are you Mr. Fausz?"

The defendant denied that he was in possession of Fausz's wallet and testified that the police added a wallet similar to that identified as Fausz's wallet to what the defendant removed from his pockets at the police station. The defendant also denied that he had identified himself as Fausz at the time of his apprehension.

After the defendant's testimony the State's Attorney presented to the court in chambers "a verified and authenticated copy" of two prior convictions from Missouri, one for theft from the person, the other for assault with intent to kill with malice. The trial court allowed the theft conviction to be introduced, but refused to allow the assault conviction. The defendant objected on the grounds that the theft conviction was "ancient" and that it would only serve to inflame the jury and prejudice the defendant. A cautionary instruction was given admonishing the jury to consider the defendant's prior conviction "only insofar as it may affect his credibility as a witness."

The defense counsel, in closing argument stated:

"* * * Now Mr. Trone [State's Attorney] has given you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a look at this man's unfortunate past and his trauma of 1967, a conviction for purse snatching, to which Mr. Stufflebean pleaded guilty.

MR. TRONE: Objection, Your Honor. I don't think that was the record —

MR. WEBER: That's what it was. It was theft from a person, but it was purse snatching. Now let me ask you a question, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what relevance other than titillating, other than trying to inflame your passion, other than trying to prejudice you against this man, does a '67 to '73 — does a seven or eight year old purse snatching record does have in this case? What does it have? Well, it has all the requirements of a true confession sensational attempt to drag you right over the issues of this case. That's what it's brought in for, and I submit that's the only reason it's all brought in for, because if — credibility — although it's not a perjury conviction — a similar type of taking from people that Mr. Trone wants you to — why did he bring that it? * * *"

Subsequently, the State, in closing argument, stated:

"* * * But he [defendant] isn't the smartest guy in the world, in the first place. The smart guys don't get involved in this stupid stuff. And particular — ...

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