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People v. Fletcher

OPINION FILED JULY 29, 1976.

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

v.

JERRY FLETCHER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. CHARLES M. WILSON, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE STENGEL DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of murder and indecent liberties with a child. Consecutive sentences of 50-150 years for murder and 40-120 years for indecent liberties were imposed. The issues presented to this court are whether the evidence is sufficient to prove defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, whether results of a polygraph examination taken by defendant were improperly excluded and whether the trial court erred by refusing to give second paragraph of IPI — Criminal No. 3.02.

The State's evidence showed that on April 19, 1973, Shirley McCune, age 13, was baby-sitting at the Karen Gentile residence in Sparland, Illinois. Miss McCune's grandmother talked with her by telephone at 10:30 p.m. On April 21, 1973, Miss McCune's body was found in a cemetery in Peoria. The body, which was wrapped in two blankets, was nude from the waist down and her brassiere was cut in front. Medical examination revealed a fractured skull and other bruises, but death was caused by strangulation due to a sash which was looped around her neck. A vaginal swab revealed the presence of intact sperm. The time of death was not accurately determined; however, the examining physician stated that the body could not have lain in the position in which it was found for more than 18 hours.

While the victim was baby-sitting, Karen Gentile and two male companions, Williams and Denmark, had been drinking in a bar in Lacon, Illinois, during the evening of April 19. Williams testified that he saw defendant playing pool in the Lacon bar around midnight, although Williams had been unable to identify defendant from a series of photographs shown to him prior to trial. The three drove to Peoria to continue drinking and, after arriving in Peoria at 4 a.m. April 20, 1973, Mrs. Gentile walked off to purchase beer. A short time later Denmark attempted to locate her and found her conversing with defendant, who was sitting in a tan-colored van. After a brief conversation in which defendant propositioned Mrs. Gentile, Denmark walked away with her, and defendant drove off in the van. Denmark identified defendant from a series of photographs shown to him by the police.

Mrs. Gentile and her two companions then drove back to Sparland, arriving at her house at 6 a.m. By this time Mrs. Gentile was quite intoxicated, as were Denmark and Williams to a lesser extent. Williams remained in the car and fell asleep while Denmark and Mrs. Gentile went inside and almost immediately fell asleep on the couch. Neither Denmark nor Mrs. Gentile remembered seeing Miss McCune at this time. When Denmark awoke at 9 a.m. he did not see Miss McCune, although he saw her shoes, jacket and panties lying on the floor by the dining room table.

Defendant and two other men, Sutton and Louchs, were employed by an Indianapolis firm which had contracted to do maintenance work at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria. Defendant and Sutton rented a trailer at a mobile home park in Peoria, and Louchs lived in his camper. The three men used a company vehicle, a tan-colored van, for transportation.

On April 19, they finished work at 10:30 p.m. and drove to a gas station where the gas tank was filled and the windows were cleaned. Then they stopped at a tavern and drank a few beers. Louchs left around midnight and could not recall if defendant and Sutton were in the tavern when he left. Sutton was uncertain as to what time he and defendant left the tavern, but in an earlier statement he had told police he was with defendant until midnight. Defendant dropped Sutton off at their trailer and drove away. The next morning the van was parked by the trailer with the gas tank three-quarter's empty and the windshield covered with bugs. Defendant arrived at work shortly after 8 a.m. saying that he had taken a cab to work. Defendant used the van during his lunch hour, stating that he wanted to look at a used car which was for sale. Sutton and Louchs testified that defendant had been very interested in purchasing a used car during the month of April and that defendant had expressed an interest in a 1962 Chevy II.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill lived in a trailer directly across from the trailer occupied by defendant and Sutton at the mobile home park in Peoria. When they returned to the trailer on April 25, they found blood stains on and around the bed and a previously unused meat cleaver that had been unwrapped and washed during their absence. The telephone wires were cut and there were pry marks at the outside of the rear door. Mr. Hill found a classified ad on the floor advertising a 1962 Chevy II for sale for $195. Mrs. Hill subsequently identified the blankets in which the victim's body was wrapped and the sash as belonging to them. Lab tests revealed that some of the blood stains were type "O", which was the same type as the victim's blood.

The police searched defendant's trailer after obtaining permission and found a screwdriver underneath defendant's clothing in a chest of drawers. Defendant initially told the police that the screwdriver belonged to him. However, the screwdriver belonged to Louchs and had previously been in the van, and subsequently defendant told police that he had taken it to repair a radio. A police officer testified that when he showed defendant the classified ad found in the Hill trailer, defendant stated that he had cut out an ad like that and carried it with him.

A tool mark expert testified that he made a microscopic comparison of the pry mark on the Hill trailer door with samples of pry marks made by the screw driver found in defendant's possession. In the expert's opinion, the screwdriver positively made the pry mark on the door.

Ronald Edwards, who had been incarcerated in the county jail with defendant, testified that defendant had told Edwards that he killed Miss McCune after a "sex party." Edwards had three previous felony convictions, and in return for his testimony the State offered to move for an appeal bond in his behalf and agreed to attempt to have Edwards incarcerated in Vandalia rather than Joliet. Edwards also admitted reporting another jail-house admission of a fellow prisoner.

Defendant testified that he stayed in Peoria during the evening of April 19 and engaged the services of a prostitute in the early morning hours of April 20. Defendant stated that he left the van at his trailer and drove to the woman's house in her car, and then took a cab to work. During his lunch hour on April 20, he took the van to look at a car advertised for sale. William Murr testified for the defense that defendant came to his place of employment between noon and 1 p.m. on April 20 to look at a car being offered for sale and stayed between 15-20 minutes.

The first issue is whether the evidence is sufficient to establish defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We find that it is.

It is the function of the jury to weigh testimony, judge credibility and resolve disputed factual matters. Weight and sufficiency of the evidence are matters peculiarly within a jury's province, and a reviewing court will not disturb the jury's finding unless based on evidence so improbable or implausible as to cause a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt. People v. Williams (1968), 40 Ill.2d 522, 240 N.E.2d 645, cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1123, 22 L.Ed.2d 129, 89 S.Ct. ...


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