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People v. Trotter

MARCH 17, 1975.

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

v.

JAMES D. TROTTER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRED G. SURIA, JR., Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SIMON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Following a bench trial, the defendant was convicted of murder, and sentenced to imprisonment of not less than 20 years and not more than 60 years.

This appeal requires resolution of three questions: first, was the admission of hearsay evidence prejudicial to defendant; second, was a letter opener which might have been the murder weapon properly admitted into evidence; third, was clothing of the defendant admitted into evidence seized incident to a valid arrest. All three questions are answered by this court in the affirmative.

The homicide occurred in the early morning of Christmas Day 1971. The place was the apartment of defendant's estranged wife at 302 North Lotus in Chicago. The victim was a girl of 15 who was baby-sitting for defendant's 1-year-old child.

All the evidence was circumstantial. The defendant was at the apartment on Christmas Eve drinking with his wife, her sister and brother and two friends. Defendant left prior to 11:45 P.M. The victim was alive at approximately 1 A.M. on Christmas Day when defendant's wife phoned her. Within the next 15 to 30 minutes, the victim's mother called her and received no answer.

At approximately 3 A.M. defendant called the police from his wife's apartment to report the homicide. The police arrived a few minutes later and found the nude body of the victim lying on a bed in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed 15 times over her chest and abdomen and was dead. Police officers testified there was quite a bit of blood on the victim.

A police officer testified that the defendant appeared to have been drinking quite a bit.

Defendant had one of three keys to the apartment. His wife and her mother had the other two. There was no evidence of forcible entry into the apartment. All the windows were locked and the back door was bolted shut with a steel burglar bar across it.

The apartment had the appearance of having been burglarized, yet a number of valuable items such as a phonograph, a camera and Christmas presents were in plain view and had not been taken. All the drawers of the dresser in the bedroom had been pulled out, but some of the contests were still folded and in order after having been taken out of the drawers. A plastic piggy bank, in which the defendant sometimes put money for his son, was cut open and currency and silver were missing. The missing money was not found on the defendant or in the apartment. Defendant's fingerprint, which a crime laboratory police officer testified was less than 24 hours old, was found on the piggy bank on Christmas morning. To put money into the bank, defendant would have had to touch it. Defendant's wife testified she had not seen defendant touch the bank on Christmas Eve but admitted that he had not been within her sight during the entire time he was in her apartment.

When questioned at his wife's apartment by a police officer, defendant said he had just arrived. Upon further questioning, the defendant informed the officer that he had been at the apartment earlier in the evening. The same officer testified that the inside flap of the defendant's trousers was visible, and that there were several little spots on it that appeared to be blood. The defendant told the police he had not touched the victim's body, and that the blood was his own from a cut he had suffered previously. Another police officer testified that he saw a dark circular spot on the top of the defendant's left shoe. One of the officers then told the defendant that because of the change in his story about when he first arrived at the apartment, he was going to be taken to the police station as a suspect. The defendant was given Miranda warnings.

At the police station, a police officer asked the defendant to give up his clothing and he agreed. The clothes were inventoried and sent to the police department's criminalities division. A Chicago police department microanalyst testified as follows: Tests on the bloodstains on defendant's trousers showed that the blood type was not defendant's but was the same as the victim's. The spot on defendant's shoe proved not to be blood. A microscopic and chemical analysis of the sweater, coat and undershirt defendant was wearing at the time of his arrest revealed minute flakes of material which tested positively as blood, but the quantity was insufficient to test further.

The police officers did not notice any blood on the sweater, coat or undershirt of defendant before sending them to the crime lab for testing.

Defendant's movements prior to calling the police on Christmas morning are significant because of the circumstantial character of the evidence. Defendant's sister-in-law testified that he was in her apartment at 5004 West End, Chicago, until about 12:45 A.M. A police officer testified defendant stated shortly after his arrest that after leaving his sister-in-law's he went to his own apartment at 1908 West Warren, Chicago, to see if he had left the door unlocked, and then took a bus to a lounge located at 4208 West Madison Street, Chicago, which he entered but left without having a drink because he did not know anyone there. Defendant, according to his statement to the police, then boarded a westbound Madison Street bus from which he disembarked at Lotus. He walked three blocks to his wife's apartment where, finding the door open and the victim on the bed, he called the police.

The lounge which defendant told the police he visited was boarded and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, another lounge within three or four doors of the one defendant stated he entered was ...


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