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People v. Owens





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRED G. SURIA, Judge, presiding.


On January 11, 1974, defendant, Deborah Owens, shot and killed Laurence Richardson. Following a bench trial, defendant was convicted of murder. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, par. 9-1.) She was sentenced to the Department of Corrections for a term of 14 to 28 years. Defendant appeals, contending: (1) The State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was not acting in self-defense when she shot the decedent. Alternatively, defendant argues that the evidence, at most, can only support a conviction for voluntary manslaughter. (2) The court erred in refusing to admit testimony of the deceased's prior threats towards the defendant.

At trial, two occurrence witnesses, both of whom were employees at a drugstore located in Chicago, testified for the prosecution. The testimony of Lillian Taylor, a cashier, and Albert Jude, a security guard, was substantially the same: At approximately 9:45 p.m. on January 11, 1974, defendant entered the drug store and approached the counter which Taylor was attending. Taylor asked the defendant whether she could help her. Defendant did not respond. A few minutes later, the deceased, Laurence Richardson, entered the store, joined defendant at the counter, and asked her what she wanted. Defendant walked away from the counter to another part of the store. When she returned to the counter, Richardson touched defendant's shoulder. Defendant then stated, "I told you to keep your hands off me" and walked out of the store. Richardson stated to Taylor that the only thing defendant wanted was a butcher knife. A moment later, Richardson walked away from the counter and stood with a few other persons.

Defendant then returned to the store and fired two shots. Jude saw Richardson lying on the floor and defendant standing near him, a gun in her hand. Jude ordered her to drop the gun. She complied and Jude retrieved it. After Richardson had fallen, defendant leaned over and told him to get up and that she was sorry. She asked someone to call an ambulance. When the police arrived, Jude turned the gun over to them and told them that "the girl" had shot Richardson. Jude did not notice whether defendant had a gun when she entered the store the first time, but observed it upon her return. Both witnesses testified that after the shooting defendant was not visibly scratched, cut or injured.

Officer Pelligrini of the Chicago Police Department testified that on January 11, 1974, at about 9:50 p.m., he and his partner responded to a call to proceed to 321 W. 63rd Street and upon arriving, found Jude detaining the defendant. Jude handed them a gun which he stated had been recovered from the defendant. The officer noticed no cuts, scratches or bruises on defendant's face or body. Her hair was not mussed and her clothing was intact.

Pelligrini placed defendant under arrest after Jude told him what had happened. Pelligrini also stated that he spoke to a woman that night whom he believed to be Lillian Taylor, who told him that "she didn't see anything."

Charles and Carlon Ford, who were with the victim and defendant, testified on behalf of defendant. They stated that prior to arriving at the drugstore the group of four had been drinking and playing records and had then gone to a wake. After leaving the funeral home, they went to the drugstore to purchase more liquor. They saw Richardson push defendant when the two left the car to enter the drugstore. Mr. Ford testified that he didn't think anything of it. Mrs. Ford, who remained in the car, never saw defendant leave the drugstore. Neither observed the actual shooting.

Elizabeth Owens, defendant's mother, testified on behalf of her daughter. She was permitted to recount an incident where she had seen Richardson "tussling" with her daughter approximately four months before. However, the court sustained the State's hearsay objection regarding the contents of a certain telephone conversation between Richardson and Elizabeth Owens which had taken place 11 days before the shooting. During the conversation Richardson allegedly had made threats concerning defendant.

Defendant testified on her own behalf. She had known the deceased for approximately seven years and had gone out with him socially for over a year. He had beaten her once during that time. She recounted the events prior to the shooting as follows: Defendant, Richardson and the Fords played records, attended a wake, and drove to the drugstore. At some point between leaving the wake and entering the drugstore, Richardson had knocked her down in the snow. Upon arriving at the drugstore, she went in first, and Richardson and Charles Ford followed. She went to the counter, whereupon Richardson joined her and asked her to pay him some money she owed. She replied that she would pay him when she was paid. Richardson demanded his money immediately and told her to buy a knife because she would need it when she stepped out the door. She told him to leave her alone.

As she approached the door, Richardson grabbed her from behind, shoved her against the wall, and began choking her. She screamed the entire time and tried to fight him off until she turned around and shot him. She stated that she was not trying to shoot him and that she carried a gun because she had been raped and needed protection. She admitted that she did not see the victim with any weapon.

After the shots were fired, defendant asked someone to call an ambulance. She took off her coat and propped it under Richardson's head. Defendant claimed to have suffered a swollen lip and scratches on her neck, but did not show her injuries to anyone. She also stated that her coat collar had been torn in the struggle.

After closing arguments, the trial court rejected defendant's assertion that she acted in self-defense and found her guilty of murder.

Initially, defendant contends that the State failed to sustain its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she was not acting in ...

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