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People v. Lechner





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JAMES M. BAILEY, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Frederick J. Lechner, was charged with the murder of his wife, Betty Lechner, and one Richard Taylor. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2).) Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of murder for both homicides and was sentenced to serve in the penitentiary a term of not less than 14 nor more than 30 years.

Defendant appeals from these judgments and presents the following contentions: (1) the trial court erred by denying a lay witness the opportunity to express an opinion regarding defendant's mental state at the time of the homicides; and (2) both convictions must be reversed because defendant presented sufficient evidence to shift the burden to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was legally sane at the time the homicides were committed, and the prosecution failed to sustain this burden.

On November 30, 1971, defendant called his office at Talman's Savings and Loan and advised that he would not be coming to work. At approximately 4 or 5 p.m., that afternoon, defendant was in Ron's Tap, a tavern located in Chicago. As he departed from the tavern, defendant told one Stanley Lakas that he was going to visit his wife, Betty Lechner. The Lechners had been living apart since October 15, 1971, and Betty had been residing with her sister, Gertrude Samborski, since about the first week in November.

On the evening of November 30, 1971, defendant twice telephoned the Samborski home to speak with Betty, but was informed that she had not returned from work. Gertrude testified that defendant sounded "quite angry" during the second telephone call. At 7:50 p.m. that evening, Gertrude observed defendant drive by her home and look into the driveway.

At approximately 8:25 p.m., Betty Lechner, accompanied by Richard Taylor, drove into the driveway adjacent to the Samborski residence. As Gertrude approached the back door to meet Betty, she heard two or three sounds which she thought were "backfires of a car." When she opened the door and turned on the light, she heard voices and observed Betty get "out of the car as if Fred pulled her out." Defendant was holding a "silver" gun. After Betty told defendant that "she still loved him and didn't care what anybody else said," defendant replied he "was tired of her lying, her bullshit." Defendant then shot Betty, firing approximately three shots. Although Gertrude did not observe defendant shoot Taylor, it was stipulated that defendant caused both deaths.

Defendant returned to Ron's Tap at approximately 9 p.m. and informed Stanley Lakas that "I have just killed those people." Defendant was taken into custody later that evening and was described by the arresting officers as "loud," "profane," and "obviously drunk." The weapon which was used to slay the victims was recovered from Ron's Tap.

While Betty was living with Gertrude, defendant came to visit his daughter two or three times. On each occasion, defendant came alone, stayed for about four hours, and never created a disturbance. During this period, defendant telephoned the Samborski residence almost nightly, usually talking to Gertrude. Gertrude testified that although defendant sometimes sounded intoxicated, he never cried during their conversations. In a few of these telephone conversations, defendant expressed his belief that Betty was pregnant by Richard Taylor. The witness further testified that defendant repeatedly threatened to kill Betty, his daughter, Taylor, and Taylor's children. He also warned that "he would get all of us." Defendant reasoned that "if he couldn't have her, nobody else was going to have her * * *."

Two days before the homicides occurred, Gertrude overheard defendant arrange to call Betty on Tuesday (the day of the shootings), and Betty was to inform him at that time of her intentions with respect to their marriage.

The "affirmative defense of insanity" was adduced by defendant as follows:

The secretary for defendant's supervisor testified that on one morning in early November, 1971, defendant came to work "crying in an uncontrollable way, and shaking quite badly." Defendant stated that his wife had left him. Defendant's supervisor also observed defendant's condition. Defendant was taken to a hospital where he was treated with tranquilizing medication. The attending physician, Dr. Roche, considered defendant's condition to be normal, but "nervous, and sort of mixed up, that's all." Defendant spent the evening at home and returned to work the next morning.

Prior to this occasion defendant's job performance at Talman's since he commenced employment there in January of 1971 was described as "very good," "very stable," and "did not miss a day of work." Thereafter, defendant continued his perfect attendance, but he experienced three or four crying spells each day, interspersed with periods of recovery. The secretary had never seen a man cry like defendant, and defendant's supervisor had never observed such a depressive condition. Defendant continued to work at his appointed tasks, but he was not assigned additional duties because of his condition.

Dr. Roche saw defendant on a professional basis on a few occasions subsequent to defendant's initial hospital visit. After a suicide threat by defendant, Dr. Roche examined defendant and advised him to consult a psychiatrist. It was the witness' belief, as is common in instances of threatened suicide, that defendant was dangerous to himself and required professional counseling. Although Dr. Roche did not employ his training in psychiatry when examining defendant, it was his opinion that there was "something wrong" with defendant and that defendant was "mentally disturbed."

Defendant's aunt testified that defendant moved to Chicago from a small town in Wisconsin at the age of 17, subsequently entered into his first marriage which ended in divorce, and then married Betty. His second marriage lasted nearly 10 years. She further related that during 1970, defendant reacted severely to the deaths of his parents and an aunt. In November of 1971, defendant came to the witness' house and was very upset and emotional, claiming that his wife had left him. During this visit, defendant gave his aunt two shotguns and a revolver because "he didn't trust himself." He then collapsed, but was "coming out of it a little" by the time the fire department arrived. During Thanksgiving dinner at the witness' home, defendant brooded and cried and stated that his wife was "running around with" another man with whom she worked.

Dr. Marvin Ziporyn, a psychiatrist, examined defendant in the county jail for 45 minutes in July of 1972. He testified that as a result of that examination, it was his opinion that defendant was competent to stand trial. However, during the examination, he found defendant to be extremely agitated, unable to address himself to questions, and responding in a "very circumstantial fashion." In addition, defendant manifested marked respiratory signs, teared when discussing emotionally charged material, appeared restless and hyperactive, and had marked tremors throughout the examination.

Based upon this examination, Dr. Ziporyn opined that defendant suffered from "agitated depression," a psychoneurotic condition in which there is no departure from reality in terms of thinking processes, but in which "swings in mood and feeling" are exhibited. This form of "mental illness" is characterized by depression, sleeping and working difficulties, frequent weeping, and suicidal tendencies. When this depressive condition becomes agitated, the above symptoms are accompanied by tension, hyperactivity, and often panic states, in which the individual "loses his control of himself, and acts beyond the ability or capacity of his brain to control his actions." In response to a hypothetical question predicated upon the facts of this case, it was Dr. Ziporyn's opinion that the hypothetical man appreciated the criminality of his conduct, but as a result of a mental disease, he was unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. The witness further explained that the personality displayed by the hypothetical man was such that the basic family structure was of paramount importance to him and that his need for dependence gratification was continually unsatisfied due to the loss of loved ones, either by death or divorce.

In rebuttal to the evidence presented by defendant to establish the defense of insanity, the prosecution ...

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