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People v. Springfield

NOVEMBER 6, 1975.

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

v.

CRAIG SPRINGFIELD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRED G. SURIA, JR., Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE MCNAMARA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Craig Springfield, was charged with the murder of Alice Robinson. After a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, he was convicted of that charge and sentenced to a term of 14 to 20 years. On appeal, defendant contends that he was not proved guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt; that the testimony of the coroner's physician deprived him of a fair trial; and that the conduct of the prosecutor was such that it deprived defendant of due process, thereby requiring a new trial. The facts follow.

During the late afternoon of November 3, 1972, Alice Robinson died from a severe laceration of the liver and the accompanying internal bleeding.

Victor Robinson, decedent's son, testified that on the morning in question he had received a telephone call from his mother who was living at defendant's apartment. Decedent appeared to be frightened and asked Robinson to take her away. That afternoon Robinson went to the apartment with two of his friends and was met at the door by his mother. He could tell she had been drinking. The decedent reiterated her desire to leave and the three boys began to collect her belongings. An argument between defendant and decedent ensued.

When the four attempted to leave the apartment, Robinson was assaulted from behind by defendant as he stepped through the door. Defendant waved a butcher knife at him, cutting his jacket, and pulled the decedent into the apartment. Defendant then closed the door. The police knocked on the door and identified themselves upon inquiry from within. After approximately 20 minutes, an elderly man emerged with the information that defendant had taken decedent out the back way. The police officers and Robinson drove around the neighborhood attempting to find the pair without success. Robinson did not see his mother again until that evening at the hospital after she had died.

Charlene Figgs, a neighbor who lived across the alley, provided an eyewitness account of the occurrences which led to the decedent's death. Figgs testified that shortly before 4:30 in the afternoon she heard a knock on her door accompanied by a female voice crying, "Help, help me Charlene." Upon opening the door, Figgs saw defendant push the decedent into the apartment and immediately knock her to the floor. Decedent was bleeding, and defendant continued to punch her with his fists. Figgs demanded the defendant leave. He agreed to leave, but repeatedly kicked the decedent over much of her body. As decedent lay on her back on the wooden floor, defendant stomped down on her stomach with his heel. While defendant continued the brutal beating, the decedent kept advising him that she loved him. Shortly thereafter the decedent collapsed. Defendant picked her up and placed her on the bed, stating to Figgs that decedent had blacked out. Figgs observed three deep breaths and commented that the decedent was dead. Defendant then took the body back into the living room and placed it in a chair.

Figgs further testified that when the police arrived, both she and defendant told them that the decedent had come alone to Figgs' apartment. She had fallen down the stairs, crawled back up to the door seeking aid, and had died after Figgs went to summon defendant. Figgs also testified that two days later defendant phoned asking for money and telling her that he was going to run. She then called the police and related her account of the beating. On cross-examination, Figgs disclosed that she had heard of threats on defendant's life made by the decedent's relatives. She had told someone that defendant would probably be safer in prison than on the streets.

The autopsy report on the decedent was filed over the signature of Dr. Edward Shalgos of the Cook County Coroner's office. Dr. Shalgos was the pathologist who had supervised the autopsy. In his opinion, death was caused by a laceration of the liver, with major internal bleeding "of the rather broadly applied trauma to the front part of the high anterior abdominal wall." The origin of the injury causing death was a blunt, heavy trauma applied to the belly, compressing of the liver between the decedent's backbone and the applied trauma, causing the liver to split open. The injury was compatible with a heavy stomping origin, and was totally incompatible with an origin such as falling down stairs.

On cross-examination, Dr. Shalgos testified that the actual autopsy had been performed under his guidance and supervision by a doctor of Thai origin and training. Dr. Shalgos was 15 feet away, and personally observed the organ changes and wounds of the decedent. In response to a question by defense counsel as to whether the cause of death and injury could have come from falling over a blunt object, Dr. Shalgos replied that anything was possible.

Investigator Lucius Moore of the Chicago Police Department testified that he took Charlene Figgs' statement from her. He also testified as to receiving telephone calls from defendant and making appointments to discuss the incident. When defendant failed to appear, a warrant for his arrest was issued. Officer Albert Jordan of the Chicago Police Department testified that defendant was located in Mississippi three weeks after decedent's death.

Faye Robinson, daughter of the decedent, testified that her mother had moved out on defendant before. The daughter testified that her mother gave as a reason that defendant would "jump on her."

Officer Thomas Wollschlager of the Chicago Police Department testified for the defense that he and his partner were called to the Figgs' apartment and were shown the body of deceased. Figgs informed the officer that the death was accidental, presumably occurring from a fall down the stairs outside her door.

Obie Holly, defendant's uncle, testified that he had met Figgs during defendant's trial and that she had telephoned him repeatedly thereafter. Figgs expressed her concern for defendant, saying that she had once slept with him. She further stated that she wanted to get a job so as to be able to buy defendant a car.

Defendant testified in his own behalf, denying that he had struck or kicked deceased on the day of her death. He stated that she had been drinking heavily, and that he had sent her across the alley to Figgs' apartment. Shortly thereafter, Figgs appeared and told him the decedent had fallen down some stairs and had been badly injured. Defendant ran across the alley and found decedent sprawled in a chair. Decedent told defendant that she had accidentally fallen down the stairs, and she then died. Defendant further testified that earlier Victor Robinson and his friends had attempted to force the decedent to leave the apartment. As she had no such intention, she pushed them out of the door and locked them out. After decedent's death, defendant's life had been threatened and he had been forced to flee to Mississippi for survival. He also testified that Figgs told him she had been coerced into making statements against him.

On cross-examination, defendant described his relationship with decedent as a "boy-meets-girl" affair and denied ever having any trouble with her. He testified that she twice had him arrested for stealing her car, but he denied any ...


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