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People v. Weathers





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Kenneth R. Wendt, Judge, presiding.


A jury in the circuit court of Cook County found the defendant, Carl Weathers, guilty of armed robbery, and he was sentenced to imprisonment for not less than three nor more than nine years. The appellate court affirmed (23 Ill. App.3d 907), and we granted leave to appeal.

The only issue in this court is whether the many grossly improper statements made to the jury by the Assistant State's Attorney in his rebuttal argument so impaired the fairness of the trial that the conviction must be reversed. A full statement of the evidence before the jury is essential for determination of this issue.

The victim of the armed robbery, William Crueger, testified that at approximately 11 p.m. on the evening of January 9, 1971, while he was pouring water in the radiator of his overheated car in front of 9130 South Justine in Chicago, a man approached him, pointed a revolver and said: "Give me your bread, man." Crueger took out his wallet and the robber removed approximately $50. The robber then turned and ran. Crueger testified that the street was lit with high intensity lights. He described the robber to the police as a black man, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 150 pounds, and wearing a dark khaki colored army parka with the hood up. He said that he told the police that "it looked like he was trying to start to grow a mustache."

Crueger was contacted by the police later that evening and went to the station. A lineup was conducted in which there were four young black men, all about the same height and all wearing winter coats. The defendant was the only one of the four wearing an army parka. Crueger identified the defendant as the man who had robbed him, and again identified the defendant during the trial.

The second witness for the State was Mrs. Doris Conners. She testified that on the night of January 9, 1971, about 10:45 p.m., as she was parking her car a few doors from her home at 9124 South Justine, a man approached her car and said: "Miss, don't say anything. Give me your purse with your money in it." When she said that she didn't have a purse with money in it, the man stood staring for a few seconds, said "Bang," and walked across the street. She saw him approach a man working on his car across the street and went into her home and called the police. She described the assailant as a black man with a thin mustache, not much bigger than she (5 feet 7 inches, 130 lbs.) and wearing an army colored pea-jacket with the hood tied under his chin. Soon after she had given the description to the police, an officer returned to her home and asked if she would come to the station to make an identification. She agreed to do so, and as she left her home, she saw the defendant sitting in an unmarked police car with the interior light on. She identified him as the man who had approached her, and later that night she identified him again at the police station, where she also had a conversation with Crueger. Mrs. Conners identified the defendant at the trial.

The third witness for the State was Officer Ronald Spivak, who testified that after receiving descriptions from Crueger and Mrs. Conners, he arrested the defendant about a block away as he emerged from an alley. He searched the defendant, who was wearing a green army parka, but found no gun, no money, and no identification. Officer Spivak first took the defendant to Mrs. Conners's home and later to the police station for the lineup.

The State's final witness was Officer Roy Wiening; he described the procedure followed at the lineup. He also read a description of the defendant which he had prepared for a police report:

"Male, Negro; 21; height, 5'7"; 130 pounds, brown eyes; black hair, natural style; light complexion; mustache; goatee; wore gray jacket with hood; tan pants, black boots."

The defendant testified that he was presently a sophomore in college and was employed by the Parkway Community House as a youth counseling group leader. At the time of the robbery he was unemployed, although he was working for a man in exchange for music lessons. He stated that on January 9, 1971, he went to the home of a friend, Larry Reynolds, at 9325 South Laflin. He was at Reynolds's home until approximately 10-10:15 p.m., at which time the two left to visit a Mr. Stewart, an acquaintance of Reynolds, who lived at 9100 South Justine. When they arrived they went straight upstairs to Stewart's room, and defendant remained at the Stewart home until 11:15 p.m. He testified that he saw Stewart's mother, and believed that his father was there, too, and that they had seen him come in and leave. The defendant also testified that he had not been arrested by Officer Spivak, but that a black police officer had arrested him and he was later put into Spivak's car. He testified that at the time he was arrested, he had both a wallet with no money in it, and a set of house keys. He stated that Mrs. Conners had identified him at the site of his arrest rather than in front of her home, and that the army parka he was wearing when he was arrested had been dyed gray and was no longer green.

In rebuttal, the State called Mrs. Joan Stewart, the mother of Mr. Stewart. She testified that on the night of January 9, 1971, when she had returned home at 10 p.m., her son and Larry Reynolds were in her home. Later that night police officers had come to the door "and said they had a fellow who they picked up and had arrested for robbery, and he claimed he was with my son." When she was asked as to the present whereabouts of her son, she answered that he "is off on a honeymoon. He just got married." She did not know where Larry Reynolds was living at the time of the trial. "He got married, too, about a month ago." She testified that the defendant had not been in her home, and that she had never seen him before.

In his closing argument, the Assistant State's Attorney, Anthony Corsentino, made the following statements. He said, speaking of Mrs. Conners:

"* * * Of course it is not her fault Mr. Scheffler [one of defendant's attorneys] stands up here and lies about what —

"MR. GRAY: Objection.

THE COURT: The word `lies' will ...

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