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People v. Holsapple

AUGUST 7, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County; the Hon. GEORGE W. KASSERMAN, JR., Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Gerald Holsapple, was found guilty of the murder of Pat Armstrong by a jury in the circuit court of Jefferson County. His post-trial motion was denied by the trial court which sentenced him to the Illinois State Penitentiary for a minimum of 40 years and a maximum of 60 years.

Defendant contends that his conviction should be reversed because the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

• 1-3 The evidence in this case was wholly circumstantial. To support a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, it is essential that the facts proved be not only consistent with the defendant's guilt, but that they must be inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. (People v. Lewellen, 43 Ill.2d 74, 250 N.E.2d 651; People v. Branion, 47 Ill.2d 70, 265 N.E.2d 1.) But the defendant's guilt need not be proved beyond any possibility of a doubt even when the State relies entirely on circumstantial evidence. (People v. Branion; People v. Murdock, 48 Ill.2d 362, 270 N.E.2d 21.) The supreme court stated in People v. Marino, 44 Ill.2d 562, 265 N.E.2d 770, that a conviction may be based on circumstantial evidence, "it being necessary only that the proof of circumstances must be of a conclusive nature and tendency leading, on the whole, to a satisfactory conclusion and producing a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no one else committed the crime." (44 Ill.2d 562, 580.) The jury need not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to each link in the chain of circumstances relied upon to establish guilt, but it is sufficient that all evidence taken together satisfies the jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt. (People v. Marino.) While a conviction based solely upon circumstantial evidence cannot stand if the proof supports any reasonable theory of the defendant's innocence, the jury is not required to search for a series of possible explanations compatible with innocence to elevate them to the status of a reasonable doubt. (People v. Huff, 29 Ill.2d 315, 194 N.E.2d 230.) Since the controlling feature of this case is whether the evidence is sufficient to show the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, a critical analysis of the testimony is necessary.

Pat Armstrong, who was approximately 60 years of age at the time of her death, lived in a small three-room house about 15 feet to the rear of another house in Sandoval, Illinois. Both houses were owned by Kenneth and Zelma Day who occupied the front house. On August 28, 1971, at about 5 p.m., the badly beaten and naked body of Pat Armstrong was found by Zelma Day in a bed in the Armstrong residence.

Mrs. Armstrong had been keeping company for some time with a 62-year-old man named Sheldon Apple, whose wife had been dead for a couple of years. It was their custom to have dinner together in the Armstrong home and he would usually come by her house on his way to work about 5:15 each morning to have breakfast with her. He had bought her a clock radio about a month before her death. He had dinner with her on the evening of August 26, 1971, and then went home. At 8 o'clock that evening, Mrs. Armstrong went to a tavern in Sandoval, being transported there by Kenneth Day who testified that she hired him to take her there. Later that evening Pat Armstrong was seen in another tavern, Fat's Tavern, which was situated about five blocks from Pat Armstrong's residence. While there, the defendant, Gerald Holsapple, was introduced to Pat Armstrong by a mutual friend, Henry Martin, who testified that the defendant asked him privately if Pat Armstrong was "putting out." He said he did not know. Both defendant and Pat Armstrong had several drinks together. Martin left Fat's Tavern at 12:10 a.m. and asked Pat Armstrong if she was ready to go home. She told him that she was going home with Holsapple because they were going to drink some beer that she had in the icebox. She then invited Martin and his then fiancee to go along, but Martin refused. Holsapple told Martin he was going to walk Pat Armstrong home. Martin testified that in his opinion, both Holsapple and Armstrong were drunk at the time he left the bar. His testimony was corroborated by his wife who was his fiancee on the evening in question.

William Wilkerson, a porter at Fat's tavern, testified that he saw Pat Armstrong and Jerry Holsapple at the bar and that they both "had plenty to drink." They left the tavern together, heading east, at about 12:15 a.m. Holsapple was wearing dark trousers and a blue or black shirt. He testified that Pat Armstrong had a reputation for "going out with men."

Mrs. Jesse Peoples, the bartender at Fat's Tavern, testified that she served Jerry Holsapple and Pat Armstrong drinks during the evening of the 26th. She gave a last call for drinks about 10 minutes to 12 and Holsapple asked her for a drink after that but she refused him. She said she thought she sold him a package of Pall Mall cigarettes during that evening. She saw Holsapple and Pat Armstrong leave Fat's Tavern together shortly after 12 midnight and both had been drinking heavily. Mrs. Peoples testified that when she left to go home, she saw Pat Armstrong and Jerry Holsapple in the parking lot and Pat Armstrong was getting up from the ground at that time.

Zelma Day, who with her husband, Kenneth, owned and occupied the house in front of Pat Armstrong's house, testified that on the morning of August 27, 1971, at 2:25 a.m., she was awakened by Pat Armstrong's loud talking. She looked through her window and saw Pat Armstrong, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, standing partly inside her screen door talking loudly and gesturing with her hands. She then came over to the Day home, pounded on the door and called for Mrs. Day. She appeared to be intoxicated at the time. She told Mrs. Day that a man was out there fighting her and would not leave. She asked Mrs. Day to call the police, but before Mrs. Day could do so, Mrs. Armstrong returned and said the man had gone.

Sheldon Apple testified that at about 5 o'clock on the morning of August 27, he went into the Armstrong residence to have breakfast with Mrs. Armstrong, as was his custom. He said that she usually slept on a couch in the living room, but when he did not see her there, he put a bag containing a coffee cake that he had brought on the kitchen table and left the house. He said he did not see anything disturbed or out of the way in the house. The radio was not playing while he was there.

At about 5 on the evening of August 28, 1971, Mrs. Day discovered the body of Mrs. Armstrong in Mrs. Armstrong's home. The local police were called and they picked up the defendant Holsapple for questioning. Holsapple readily gave them full access to his room and to the clothing that he had been wearing.

The knuckles on both of Holsapple's hands were skinned and he had a deep gash between the middle and third fingers of his right hand. A knife which the State contends was Holsapple's was found in the Armstrong residence. There was no blood on the blade nor prints and it was not contended that the knife was used in the murder. Blood samples were taken from Holsapple which matched the blood of someone who had been smoking cigarettes in the Armstrong home. This was ascertained by testing cigarette butts found in an ashtray. However, Kenneth Day testified that Mrs. Armstrong emptied her ashtrays only about once a month.

Hair was found on the outer shirt worn by Holsapple which could have come from the head of Mrs. Armstrong. However, the testimony indicated that this could have occurred from any kind of social contact. There was also dog hair on his clothing which did not come from Mrs. Armstrong's dog. No fingerprints of Holsapple were found in the Armstrong house; however, fingerprints of Sheldon Apple were found on an empty beer can and a glass on the kitchen table. Mrs. Armstrong's hair and another person's hair were found on a dress and a pair of torn underpants of Mrs. Armstrong which were found lying on the floor next to the bed where she was found lifeless. The other hair did not match that of the defendant. Although the State's evidence tended to prove that no one had been in the Armstrong house from 5 a.m. on August 27 until 5 p.m. on August 28, when Mrs. Armstrong's body was discovered, there was no evidence that her little dog which would have had to be in the house between those times, either defecated or urinated in the house.

The Chief of Police of Sandoval, Howard Weems, testified that on August 28, 1971, he received a call from Mrs. Zelma Day at approximately 5 p.m., and proceeded to Pat Armstrong's home. He met Kenneth Day in front of the house and when they entered the house they found Pat Armstrong's body on the bed in the bedroom. He did not detect any odor in the house and he did not see any place where Pat Armstrong's dog might have defecated or urinated in the house.

Kenneth Day testified that on a Saturday in August, 1971, at about 5 p.m., his wife told him that someone had been hurt or killed in the cabin behind their house. He said that the front of the cabin was about 15 feet from the rear of his house. On the evening in question, only the screen door of the cabin was closed and this was the only entrance to the house. He did not hear the radio playing and did not recall seeing the dog inside or outside the house. He did not notice any unusual odor in the house.

After the body was removed and the investigation was completed, Mr. Day boarded up the door to the cabin. A few days later, he went into the cabin to clean up and to burn the bed and the clothing. He observed that there were a couple of beer cans on the kitchen table, the same as there were on the night the body was found. He did not find evidence that the dog had dirtied the house. The mattress was soaked with blood and there was blood scattered all over the bedroom.

Day said that he did not usually pay much attention to Mrs. Armstrong's activities. It was possible that people might go in and out of her house and he would not notice it. She had lived in the house for 2 or 3 years and had occasional visitors. He identified Sheldon Apple as a good friend of Mrs. Armstrong, who would bring rolls and have breakfast with Mrs. Armstrong. He said that sometimes he would not see Mrs. Armstrong for a period of days, so it was possible that she could have come and gone from her house on Friday or Saturday.

Mrs. Zelma Day testified that on Saturday, August 28, 1971, at about 5 p.m., she was in back of her house when she heard Mrs. Armstrong's dog whining. She called to Mrs. Armstrong but when there was no response she opened the cabin door, let the dog outside and put it on a chain. She heard the radio playing, although it was not on a station, so she called out again and decided to enter the house to turn off the radio. Upon entering the house, she discovered ...

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