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People v. Tennant





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


Defendant, William Tennant, was convicted of murder in a jury trial and sentenced to a term of 15 to 30 years imprisonment. A divided First District Appellate Court affirmed (32 Ill. App.3d 1034), and we allowed leave to appeal.

Officer Eugene Earl of the Chicago police department testified that he and his partner received a radio call at about 5 a.m., August 2, 1972, concerning a "battery victim." They went to a third-floor apartment address, knocked on the door, received no response and left. At about 5:45 a.m., another call was received directing them to the same address. The radio dispatcher had given the name Tennant as the caller on both occasions. This time they were admitted by Herbert Cross, a blind tenant. The large apartment on the third floor consisted of four sleeping rooms for separate tenants, and a common kitchen and bathroom. Testimony of several witnesses established that Willa Watson and her "husband," Harry Housely, lived in the front of the apartment, Cross in a room directly across from the entrance, Peter Reeves in a room toward the rear of the apartment, and defendant in another room at the rear.

The officer testified that, shortly after he entered, he looked through the open doorway into defendant's room and saw the body of a man, later identified as Eugene Johnson, lying face up in the middle of a bed. Closer examination with a flashlight revealed that the man had sustained massive injuries to his face and skull. Blood had spattered onto the bed and wall, and there were pieces of flesh and bone on the bed. The parties stipulated that the skull fracture caused death.

After the officer discovered Johnson's body he awakened Watson and Housely. Watson answered the door to their room in a nightgown and identified the deceased. As the officer talked with Watson defendant entered the apartment, and the officer noticed several red spots on his shirt and trousers. He immediately placed defendant under arrest and informed him of his rights. The officer testified that defendant told him he had gone to his sister's apartment earlier that night; that when he returned home he lay down on his bed with Johnson, then nudged him to ask for money for some wine; that when Johnson failed to answer, defendant looked more closely at him and discovered his condition; and that he then got up, left the apartment, and called the police. Defendant, the officer said, also told him that no one responded to his first call, so he called again.

The officer requested defendant to remove his outer clothing, which was later sent to the crime laboratory. At about this time, Reeves came from his room and asked what was "going on." The officer looked into Reeves' room and saw a 3 foot 5 inch piece of angle iron leaning against the door of a refrigerator. The angle iron, with a dry reddish stain on one end, was pointed out by the officer to crime laboratory technicians who had arrived. They dusted it but found no fingerprints.

Officer Earl further testified that he examined other areas of the apartment. He found a few drops of "red substance" on the floor some 3 to 5 feet inside Watson's room. In the bathroom he discovered a "blood-type" substance in the basin, a dress soaking in the bathtub in water that had a reddish tint, and a small bucket in the bathtub containing similarly tinted water. Watson told the officer she had received a head wound earlier in the week which had stained her dress with blood. Earl stated that he noticed a 3 to 4 inch bandage on her head. The officer testified also that he checked the various doors in the apartment and that, with the exception of the front door to the apartment itself, none of the doors to the sleeping rooms could be locked. Other testimony established that the rear door to the apartment also could not be locked.

Over defendant's objection, the trial court permitted counsel for the State to read to the jury a transcript of Willa Watson's testimony given August 17, 1972, at defendant's preliminary hearing. Watson had testified for the State and had been cross-examined by counsel for defendant without limitation. The parties stipulated that Watson had died on January 3, 1973, prior to trial.

Her testimony was that she had known defendant for 6 years, and Johnson for 6 months. She, defendant, and Johnson had been together on the back porch of the apartment in the early morning hours of August 2, 1972. Other testimony showed they were drinking wine with several other people. Johnson left the group about 2:30 a.m., saying he was going to take a nap. Watson went to bed around 3 a.m. and saw Johnson sleeping in defendant's bed as she walked past the room. She did not know where defendant was at that time. Although she could not estimate the time, she testified that she was awakened later when defendant knocked on her door and entered to get some clothes she kept for him. Defendant left carrying his clothes and a metal bar. Watson identified the bar as a bed railing that had been cut off. She owned the bed railing and used it to hold the broken door of her refrigerator closed.

After defendant left, Watson testified, she heard him say "Get out of my bed * * *" with the addition of an obscenity. She heard no sounds of a struggle. Later defendant reentered her room and threw the "iron pipe" either on her bed or on the floor by her bed. Watson also testified that defendant returned a third time to retrieve the piece of metal from her room, but on cross-examination she stated she had not actually seen him on that occasion because she was asleep. She concluded, however, that "he must have" returned.

Two homicide investigators from the police department also came to the apartment that morning, one of whom testified at trial. After examining the apartment, they returned to the police station where they first took statements from Watson and Reeves. At about 10 a.m. they interviewed defendant, after he had said, in response to their warning, that he understood his legal rights. The investigator testified that defendant made an oral statement about being at his sister's house and discovering Johnson's body upon returning to his apartment early that morning. The statement was quite similar to the one given by defendant to the arresting officer.

The investigator further stated that defendant left the interview room briefly to get some water. When he returned, the investigator told him that he knew defendant had been at the apartment all evening drinking with the other tenants. Defendant then said he would tell the truth, and stated that he beat Johnson with the angle iron because the deceased was "picking on him," and that he killed him because "I was tired of being ____ with." Defendant also agreed to repeat his statement to an assistant State's Attorney. The entire conversation with the investigator took 10 or 15 minutes.

Marshall Weinberg, then an assistant State's Attorney, was called to the station by the police. He was in private practice at the time of trial and testified that he had introduced himself to defendant at the police station and advised him of his constitutional rights. Defendant then told him he had struck and killed Johnson with an iron bar because he had taken defendant's food stamps and other things. When Weinberg suggested that a court reporter be brought in to put the statement in writing, defendant said he would not sign anything until he had talked to an attorney. Attorney Weinberg then stopped the examination and prepared a written memorandum of his 10-minute conversation with defendant, which was typed 2 days later. The typed memorandum was not admitted as a trial exhibit.

The defense called Louis Vitullo, a microanalyst for the Chicago police department crime laboratory, to testify as to the results of his examination of various items of physical evidence. The parties stipulated that Johnson had type O blood. Vitullo determined that the blood on the bed where Johnson was found was also type O. The examination of the reddish brown stains on defendant's shirt and trousers revealed that all were human blood, but only one was identifiable; located near the shirt collar it was type O. The tests on the angle iron showed the presence of human blood but were inconclusive as to type. Vitullo did not find any particles of flesh, bone or hair on the angle iron. Tests on the substance found on the floor of Watson's apartment confirmed the presence of blood, but it could not be determined whether the blood was of human ...

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