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People v. Mitchell





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Adams County; the Hon. RICHARD F. SCHOLZ, JR., Judge, presiding.


Defendant was convicted of robbery. On appeal he raises three issues: (1) Whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant took property by threatening the imminent use of force; (2) Whether the trial court allowed a minor child to testify without properly determining the child's competency; and (3) Whether the sentence is excessive. We affirm the judgment and sentence imposed.

Defendant's first contention requires that the evidence be reviewed. Michael Houston testified that he went to Ludwig's Market in Quincy, Illinois, with his younger brother Rick on January 16, 1973, at about 6:25 p.m. On that date Mike was 15, and Rick was 10 years old. Rick went in to buy some groceries. Mike remained outside. At about that time a 1960 Chevrolet station wagon pulled up to the store. Two persons went in while several others remained in the car. All the occupants were black. In response to a call from the car, Mike went over. A man inside asked him for some money to buy gas. Mike identified that man as defendant. Mike first said he did not have any money but finally gave him a quarter in the hope that the man would leave him alone. He testified he was a little bit scared by this conversation.

After this, Rick came out of the store with a bag of groceries. Mike said he had to go and moved off. Defendant got out of the car and followed the boys to a point 10 to 20 feet from the store entrance and about 15 feet from the station wagon. Defendant asked to see Mike's glasses. Mike refused to hand them over. Defendant asked for the glasses repeatedly and repeatedly Mike refused. At some point defendant said he wanted the glasses so that he could pawn them for gas money. Mike and Rick began backing up slightly during this conversation, at which point defendant said: "Don't run 'cause I'll get you." After more demands from defendant Mike finally handed over the glasses. He testified that he figured it was better to hand them over than to get hurt. Although defendant did not make any threatening gestures with his hands or body, Mike did not run because he was afraid that his little brother might then get hurt and he was afraid of defendant and the other men in the car. During the early part of this conversation, Bill Ludwig, a young man, had come out of the store to load groceries into a lady's car. At all times the defendant was between the brothers and the store entrance. Near the end of the conversation defendant's companions yelled repeatedly for defendant to "come on." After he had been given the glasses, defendant returned to the car without any attempt to return them and the car drove off. The boys walked the block and a half home where they reported the incident to their parents who called the police. Later that evening Mike went down to the police station where he identified his glasses.

Rick Houston also testified. He corroborated his brother's testimony.

"Little Bit" Smith testified that on the evening in question he was riding around with defendant and several others. He testified defendant called the boy over and asked for the loan of some money and the boy gave defendant a quarter. According to Smith, this was a friendly transaction. He saw defendant get out and go talk to the two brothers for 10 to 15 minutes. He saw Mike hand over the glasses. Smith then heard defendant call about three times to the retreating brothers to attempt a return of the glasses. Smith never heard any threats. Defendant, who was 22 years old at the time of the trial, testified to the same story as Smith. He denied saying he wanted to pawn the glasses or that the kids shouldn't try to run or he would get them. He testified he merely wanted to look through the lenses. There was other testimony by the defendant and by an officer in rebuttal concerning a statement given to the police after defendant's arrest in which defendant had said he had been at the Social Center during the time in question and had bought the glasses from a person he knew only as "Jim."

• 1 Under section 18-1 of the Criminal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, § 18-1), "[a] person commits robbery when he takes property from the person or presence of another by the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force." The question presented here is whether the State proved that this taking was accomplished by threatening the imminent use of force.

"The requirement that the taking must be `by the use of force or threatening the imminent use of force' is satisfied if the fear of the alleged victim was of such nature as in reason and common experience is likely to induce a person to part with his property for the sake of his person." People v. Whitley, 18 Ill. App.3d 995, 999, 311 N.E.2d 282, 286.

• 2 Both boys testified that defendant made no threatening gestures. However, Mike refused to part with his glasses until defendant had said, "Don't try to run 'cause I'll get you." Under the circumstances presented here, this threat is sufficient to sustain a finding that the free exercise of the witness's will had been suspended. Mike testified that he was afraid, that he had to consider not only his safety and ability to remain free from harm but also the safety of his 10-year-old brother. Defendant was a grown man who was near several of his friends. Defendant's position also cut the brothers off from easy access to the store and the people in it. A victim is not required to find out exactly how dangerous his assailant could be. As the trial judge remarked, the question is not whether the boys should or shouldn't have run. The question is whether Mike parted with his glasses because of a reasonable fear on his part that the consequences of further refusal would be the use of force against himself or his brother.

Although no Illinois cases present exactly the same factual situation, the Whitley case shows facts analogous to those here. There, the victim observed the two defendants looking into his apartment through a hole made by their removal of a ventilator cover. One defendant said that either the victim would open the door or they would break in. The victim opened the door. After they had gone the victim discovered $65 missing. The court had before it the same question present here, namely whether the taking had been accomplished by the use of the threat of force. The court stated:

"Apart from the victim's testimony that he was `scared,' the fact that complainant complied with the assailants' demands is itself indicative of fear when coupled with the words used by the assailants which were obviously calculated to effect that result. Under these facts, the verbal threat made by defendants was sufficient to sustain a finding that the free exercise of complainant's will had been suspended." People v. Whitley, 18 Ill. App.3d 995, 999, 311 N.E.2d 282, 286.

Defendant argues that the testimony of Mike and Rick was not of a clear and convincing nature. The mere fact that the defense witnesses told a different story than the complaining witness and his brother does not raise a reasonable doubt. This is purely a question of credibility. The credibility and weight to be given to the witnesses' testimony is a matter for the trial court and will not be disturbed unless palpably erroneous. People v. Arndt, 50 Ill.2d 390, 280 N.E.2d 230.

The defendant points to facts which, he says, impair the credibility of the boys' testimony. One of these is that the boys did not seek the help of Bill Ludwig who was loading groceries into a car. However, Ludwig was outside the store only during the early part of the conversation and not, apparently, outside after the threat had been uttered. In addition, defendant was between the boys and Ludwig.

The defense also presented the testimony of Henry Pollock, defendant's lawyer at the preliminary hearing. Pollock testified Mike had indicated at the preliminary hearing that he had not been threatened. Mike did not remember what questions were asked at the preliminary hearing. A copy of the transcript of the preliminary hearing was not available. Even if a prior inconsistent statement has been made, this ...

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