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People v. Buxton

MAY 7, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. HAROLD O. FARMER, Judge, presiding. MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Archie Buxton, the defendant-appellant, was found guilty by a jury of the senseless and brutal murder of Louis Sheets, a 79-year-old man. The court sentenced him to a term of not less than 100 years nor more than 101 years in the penitentiary.

On appeal the defendant raises the following questions: 1) whether the trial court erred in denying the defendant's motion to suppress an oral statement given to police; 2) whether the State proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; 3) whether the court imposed an excessive sentence.

On New Year's Day, 1972, Louis Sheets was found dead in a cemetery in St. Clair County. The deceased had been brutally beaten. An autopsy revealed that Mr. Sheets, a man 5'6" in height and 140 pounds in weight, had been killed by multiple blows to the head and face. Three of the deceased's ribs had been fractured.

On January 23, 1972, at 3:50 A.M., police entered the defendant's home and arrested him and his wife. Defendant Archie Buxton, who was 25 years of age at the time of arrest, 6'2" tall, and who weighed 266 pounds, was taken with his wife to the East St. Louis Police Station. The defendant asked the police if they planned to hold his wife, who was pregnant, and was told by Detective Lawrence Brewer that the initial investigation showed her to be implicated. Detective Brewer explained to the defendant that his wife could be released if upon further investigation she was found to be not involved. The defendant stated that he was told that if he did not sign a statement regarding Mr. Sheets' death, his wife would be held.

Six witnesses testified for the State at the trial, four of whom implicated the defendant in the death of Louis Sheets.

Spencer Lowery testified that he was at Franklin's house with Franklin and Quintella Hall, his host's girlfriend, when the accused and his wife drove up in a 1958 Ford. In an earlier statement to the police, however, Lowery had stated that he was at Franklin's house when Willie Franklin and the defendant arrived together in the 1958 Ford with Louis Sheets in the trunk. Lowery further testified that Willie Franklin, the defendant, and he drove to a cemetery where Buxton took the struggling victim from the trunk and beat him with a hammer. After the beating the defendant returned to the car with blood on his coat and pants and threw the hammer into the back seat of the car. The three drove off leaving the victim lying in the cemetery. On the way to the cemetery, the defendant had given Franklin and Lowery the following reason why he was going to kill the deceased: "Well, he [the defendant] had a cut on this hand; he was looking at this cut; that is when he said he ought to kill him."

Willie Franklin testified that Lowery and he were at his house when defendant Archie Buxton drove up with his wife. Franklin stated that Lowery, Buxton and he went to get some liquor. He explained that they went to a cemetery where the defendant opened the trunk, took a man out, and beat him. The man moaned. Franklin saw the defendant standing with a hammer in his hand near where he thought the man's body lay. According to Franklin, the defendant returned to the car after the beating and then threw the hammer in the trunk. The witness corroborated Spencer Lowery's testimony that the defendant had stated he was going to kill Mr. Sheets because Sheets had cut his hand.

Franklin gave two statements to Detective Brewer, a written one on January 23, 1972, and an oral one the following day. The written statement was substantially the same as his in-court testimony. According to Detective Brewer's report of the oral statement, however, Franklin stated that he was with the defendant when Sheets was abducted.

Quintella Hall attempted to corroborate the testimony of Franklin and Lowery in her direct testimony. On cross-examination, however, she acknowledged that she had given contradictory statements to the police and subsequently told a confusing story about her as well as Franklin's involvement in Sheets' abduction. Notwithstanding this confusing testimony, Quintella clearly stated that the defendant brought a hammer to her house and that she later gave the hammer to Officer Brewer.

The victim's brother-in-law, Melvin Geiger, also testified at the trial. After learning that Louis Sheets had mysteriously disappeared, Geiger and William Shannon, Mrs. Sheets' brother, searched for Mr. Sheets. They observed and followed Mr. Sheets' car to the vicinity of 16th and St. Clair, where it turned in a driveway and parked behind a house. Mr. Geiger testified that he observed three black men in the car. He described the driver as a big, broad-shouldered, fat man. Geiger had been within three car lengths of Sheets' car.

Geiger and Shannon then returned to the Sheets' home where they verified the license number of the car they had followed. They called the police, and returned to the place where they had seen the car parked. The car was no longer there.

Detective Charles Airhart, an investigator for the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department, testified that upon receiving information that the victim's car had been followed to 16th and St. Clair, he proceeded there and searched the area. He found a black billfold which later was identified by the victim's wife as belonging to Mr. Sheets.

The State's sixth and final witness, Dr. Clifford C. Kane, performed an autopsy of the deceased.

The defendant did not testify at the trial, but made two statements to the police. The first was written and signed by him but according to his testimony at the hearing on the motion to suppress, he did not read it before signing. This statement was made at approximately 5 in the morning of January 23, following his arrest about an hour earlier. The second, the substance of which is included in Detective Brewer's police report, was oral and made the following day. Detective Brewer testified at trial regarding ...

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