APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon.
HOWARD LEE WHITE, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE SIMKINS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied July 30, 1976.
On January 25, 1973, the grand jury returned a seven-count indictment charging the defendant-appellant Jack Cannon Simpson, Jr. (in the first five counts) with the murder of Gwen Ellen Woods on October 30, 1972. The sixth and seventh counts charged defendant with voluntary manslaughter in connection with her death. On April 2, 1973, the jury convicted defendant of murder. The two counts of the indictment charging voluntary manslaughter were dismissed, on motion of the State, over defendant's objection at the close of all the evidence. Defendant was sentenced to a term of 25 to 75 years.
Since the issues raised deal, in large measure, with the admissibility of certain evidence a recital of pertinent facts is set forth.
On October 31, 1972, the body of Gwen Ellen Woods was discovered under a bridge in a rural area in Sangamon County. In the opinion of Dr. Grant C. Johnson, who performed the autopsy, death was due to a gun shot wound in the head. The point of entry of the bullet was very slightly to the right of the center of the upper lip, it had entered the head perpendicularly to the lip and pursued a straight course backward. Dr. Johnson also testified "* * * that the muzzle of the gun was not a contact wound, nor was it within a short distance from the skin * * * that is a matter of six, seven inches. Beyond that I can make no statement." He also observed several other wounds or scratches or bruises on the body, the larger portion of which were inflicted, or occurred, after death. The bullet which was recovered from the decedent's skull was examined by employees of the Illinois Bureau of Identification. They described the bullet as a .38-calibre pistol bullet. The examiner could not recall whether the bullet's lands and grooves indicated that it could have been fired by a Titan Tiger .38, and that the projectile could also have come from many other models of .38-calibre weapons. There was testimony that defendant had purchased a .38 Special Tiger on April 21, 1972, from Fishman Sporting Goods.
All of the witnesses who testified were called by the State. Martha Fry, manager of the Harness House, a restaurant-bar in Springfield, observed defendant and the decedent in her place of business on the evening of October 29 (all dates are referenced to 1972). They arrived about midnight, had one drink and left. She observed no argument between them, observed no cuts or bruises on defendant's face, and saw no fight or scuffle inside the restaurant.
Oren Dalby, a deputy sheriff, while on routine patrol during the evening of October 29 observed a late model Corvette, license number JL1787 on a street in the outskirts of Springfield. Standing by the car was defendant and a young woman engaged in a loud argument. Dalby stopped, got out, and defendant rushed up to him and said some belligerent words. Dalby told defendant to get back in the car and take the young lady home. He saw no facial cuts on defendant's face. Defendant and his companion left and Dalby followed them for a few miles feeling that another altercation might start, and wanted to give the couple time to "cool off." He did not believe that the argument he had observed was so heated that he was concerned about the woman's safety.
A driver for a Springfield Dairy, at 3:30 a.m., on October 30, observed a late model Corvette parked near a bridge on Route 6E. At about 5 a.m., on the same day, Keith Fry, a local farmer observed a late model Corvette parked near the bridge. He stopped and looked at the car, and noted that the gearshift was in the "drive" position. The license number of the car was JL1787. He saw no one in the vicinity. That evening, seeing that the car had not been moved, Fry called the State Police. Galan Johnson, a State Trooper, proceeded to the scene, made a cursory examination which revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Johnson then called George Day, operator of a local towing service and had the car towed away.
Jay Dodd, brother of the decedent, testified that immediately prior to her death she had been living with defendant. On October 30, defendant called Dodd and inquired if he had seen his sister. Dodd had not, and defendant then told him that the decedent had dropped him off at his car in Pawnee, Illinois, and that was the last he had seen of her. Dodd also stated that Gwen owned a 1972 Corvette. On the morning of October 31, defendant again called Dodd and stated that he had been unable to find Gwen and asked Dodd to assist him in locating her. Dodd continued his testimony as follows:
"We left my house in our own cars. * * * he parked his * * * in Pawnee and he got in my car with me and we went out to where the car had been off in the ditch * * * then we went back up town and had a cup of coffee * * * and after we had the cup of coffee, Jack called the State Police and asked them about the car and they said that George Day had towed the car in * * *. We went to George's, * * * I paid the towing bill on the wrecker towin' * * * and he was gonna take it to * * * Lowder to her trailer, * * * and I backed the car out of George Day's garage and got out of it and was gonna' get back in my own car and Jack got in the car and found the blood on the door and the seat of the car and he called me back over to the car and then we went back in and I asked George, I said, `George, what do I do?' and he said to call Trooper Johnson, so I called him up on the telephone and he said to stay there and he'd be down there in about five minutes.
So we waited there for him and he came down and looked at the car and so he decided we should go back out to where the car was off in the ditch. We went back out there and the Trooper went in his pick-up truck. He was off-duty and Jack and I went in my car out there where the car went off * * * and I went down on the west side of the road toward the water there in that stream and looked under the bridge and found her."
When Dodd backed Gwen's car out of the garage he did not see her purse, although he looked for it. He also noted, on the morning of October 31, that defendant had a cut "* * * clear across the bridge of his nose".
The Sangamon County coroner summarized the testimony given by defendant during the inquest into the death of Gwen Woods as follows:
"* * * he stated he was in the company of Gwen Ellen Woods in the afternoon and evening hours of October 29. I asked him if * * * they had done some socializing * * * I asked * * * if it was local establishments and he said, `Yes, the last of which was the Harness House' * * *."
He stated Gwen Ellen Woods had encountered a male subject known to him only by the first name `Tom' and appeared to be having some type of verbal altercation with ...