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People v. Fields

AUGUST 7, 1975.

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

v.

NATHSON FIELDS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EARL E. STRAYHORN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MEJDA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Nathson Fields, was tried by a jury and found guilty of the murder of Larry Watkins, the aggravated battery of Charles Merriweather, and the attempted murder and aggravated battery of George Woods. The trial court sentenced defendant to serve concurrent terms in the penitentiary of 35 to 50 years for murder, 10 to 20 years for attempted murder, and 1 to 10 years for aggravated battery. Defendant appeals, raising the following contentions:

(1) The trial court erred in refusing to suppress defendant's written statement as the "fruit" of a warrantless arrest made without probable cause;

(2) The trial court erred in refusing to suppress defendant's involuntary written statement;

(3) The trial court erred in permitting the prosecution to read to the jury a defense witness' prior inconsistent written statement which inculpated the defendant in the offenses charged;

(4) The trial court erred in permitting defendant's alibi witnesses to be impeached upon an improper basis;

(5) The defendant was not proved guilty of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt;

(6) The defendant was improperly convicted and sentenced for both the attempted murder and aggravated battery of George Woods;

(7) The sentence imposed for murder was excessive for a 17-year-old with defendant's background;

(8) The defendant was denied equal protection of law by being tried as an adult while females of the same age are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

A narrative of the pertinent facts follows.

The offenses with which defendant was charged occurred at approximately 11:30 p.m. on October 1, 1971, in the general vicinity of 144th and 147th Streets and Leavitt Avenue in Dixmoor, Illinois. Charles Merriweather, Larry Watkins, and Doris Laye had left a party at 145th Street and Leavitt Avenue and were riding in a car owned by Merriweather's brother. When they halted at a stop sign at 145th Street, two young black male pedestrians yelled "stone lover" at them and began firing pistol shots at their car, then fled. Merriweather and Watkins left the car and gave chase on foot. Merriweather caught one of the assailants about a half block away, and as he and Watkins fought with them Watkins was fatally shot. Merriweather was then struck over the head with a pistol and left the scene. Soon after the attack, investigating officer William Hooks of the Dixmoor Police Department discovered that another youth named George Woods had been shot near 147th Street and Cooper Avenue. Larry Watkins died before he could be questioned by police. Doris Laye did give the police a general description of the two assailants as to height and clothing.

On October 5, 1971, defendant was arrested in Robbins, Illinois, by Dixmoor Police Officers William Hooks and Robert Vinson and taken to the Dixmoor Police Station. Another youth named Robert Martin was arrested that day in connection with the offenses and was also taken to the Dixmoor Police Station. The next day defendant and Martin each gave written statements to assistant State's Attorney Anthony Montemurro in his office in Chicago.

In defendant's statement he admitted that he was armed with a pistol and was present at the scenes of the attacks, but accused Martin of firing all the shots. Defendant further stated that he later gave Martin his pistol and that Martin had hidden their weapons at a location unknown to him. The statement of Robert Martin also admitted that he was armed with a pistol and was at the scenes of the attacks; that he had shot Larry Watkins once in the shoulder during the fight; and that he had later hidden his pistol and the defendant's in his backyard. However, Martin's statement accused defendant of shooting Larry Watkins in the head and shooting George Woods at another location when he mistook Woods for one of the occupants of the Merriweather car. On the basis of Martin's written statement a search warrant was issued and executed, resulting in the recovery of two pistols which had been hidden behind his home. Defendant and Martin were then jointly indicted for the alleged offenses, but severed for trial.

Prior to trial, defendant moved in two separate motions to suppress his written statement. He contended respectively that the statement was inadmissible: first, that there was no probable cause for his warrantless arrest, thus rendering the statement to be the fruit of a poisonous tree; second, that the Dixmoor police had coerced him into making the statement through physical abuse and threats against his family.

At a pretrial hearing on defendant's motions Officer William Hooks testified that he assisted in arresting defendant on October 5, 1971; and that at the time of arrest defendant was neither committing a crime, nor was he arrested under a warrant. Defendant testified that after his arrest he was taken to the Dixmoor Police Station and placed in a room alone with Officer Robert Vinson. He stated that after denying any knowledge of the offenses he was kicked in the groin and punched in the ribs by Vinson who told him he would either say Robert Martin did the killing or he himself would be dead. Defendant stated that he was then placed in an empty cell; that later, Police Chief Clifford Wood and Officers Vinson and Lytherio O'Connor came in, and that after he again protested ignorance of the offenses he was beaten by Vinson and O'Connor. When he finally agreed to cooperate, Vinson took out his service revolver, pointed it at defendant's ...


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