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People v. Reeves





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Franklin County; the Hon. BRUCE SAXE, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Barbara J. Reeves, was indicted for the murder of her husband, Charles Reeves. In a bench trial conducted in the circuit court of Franklin County, defendant was convicted and sentenced to a term of 14 years to 14 years and a day in the penitentiary. In this appeal, defendant contends that she was not proved guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence shows that the killing was in self-defense and justifiable. We agree.

Around 11 p.m. on August 20, 1974, defendant's sister, Patricia Reeves, and the defendant went to a tavern in Benton, Illinois known as Jolly Jack's. Charles Reeves, the deceased, came into the bar between 11:30 p.m. and 12 midnight. He argued with Barbara for several minutes and then left. No one could overhear what they were saying. After Charles left, the defendant, who was visibly upset, stated in a loud voice several times that she was going to kill that son-of-a-bitch Charlie Reeves. The bar owner testified that she also said something to the effect that you will remember me in the morning I am the one that shot Charlie Reeves; this particular recollection was not corroborated by any other witness present in the bar that evening. The owner further testified that defendant was upset and crying during the whole time she was in the bar. Patricia called defendant's sister-in-law, Deborah Reeves, and asked her to pick them up. Deborah, accompanied by her friend, Michael Standley, drove her pickup truck from her home in Sesser, Illinois, to Jolly Jack's.

After Barbara and Patricia joined Deborah and Michael, the group proceeded, at defendant's request, to defendant's rural home near Whittington, Illinois. They arrived there at approximately 1 a.m., now August 21. Defendant entered the house while the others remained outside. Crashing noises came from the house for a period of five to 10 minutes. When Deborah and Michael subsequently entered the house they found the kitchen area in total disarray.

Defendant brought a shotgun from the house which she wanted to take with her to town. She may also have had a .22 caliber pistol in her hand. Deborah, after lengthy discussion, convinced defendant that taking the ammunition would be a better idea. Michael Standley was handed the shotgun by defendant or one of the other women and he unloaded it. He was forced to discharge the shotgun once since there was a shell jammed in the chamber. The shotgun was returned to its customary place in the house and a box of shells for it and a box containing as many shells for the .22 caliber pistol as could be found scattered in the house were concealed under the seat of Deborah's truck.

Deborah testified that the defendant wanted to take the guns or ammunition so the deceased could not use them on defendant. He had taken the guns in the past and had threatened defendant with them. Deborah had hidden the guns before during family crises when Charles was in a rage. Charles Reeves had also beaten defendant many times in the past, and on several occasions the beatings were so severe that hospitalization had been required.

Deborah further testified that at this time defendant was scared to death and hysterical. Defendant told Deborah that she just couldn't stand anymore beatings, and Deborah tried to calm her. Michael Standley testified that, at sometime prior to his unloading the shotgun, while it was in the possession of the defendant, he heard her say she was going to wait there until he came home and kill him. No one else remembered her making this statement. Sometime later, after all of this transpired, it was decided that they would go to the Kewpee Cafe in Benton, Illinois, to eat breakfast. The .22 revolver was last seen lying either on the kitchen table or the freezer in the Whittington house.

Defendant, Patricia, Deborah and Michael arrived at the Kewpee Cafe around 3 a.m. They all ordered breakfast, including the defendant. She did not eat all of her breakfast and appeared depressed. They started to leave the cafe around 3:40 a.m. Michael went to the register to pay for the food. The three women started exiting. Patricia went first; Deborah and defendant followed her, respectively, into the entranceway. Charles Reeves came up quickly and pushed by Patricia and swung on Deborah. She managed to avoid his blow. Charles grabbed defendant around the neck and head with his left arm, in a chokehold or headlock, and drug her bodily out of the cafe and down the sidewalk in a southerly direction. He was hitting her continuously about the top of her head with his free hand as he drug her toward his car. Defendant was screaming for help but none was forthcoming.

Defendant testified that she was afraid since she knew what he was going to do and that as he drug her along he said, "Wait until I get you out in the country." She was being choked by his hold on her in addition to being struck upon the head. The distance which the deceased drug defendant was variously estimated by witnesses as being as short a distance as 20 feet to as long a distance as 75 feet. A shot was fired during the struggle as they neared the deceased's car and Charles Reeves collapsed onto the street. When patrons from the cafe reached the scene, defendant was crying and holding the .22-caliber gun seen earlier at the Whittington house. She was hysterical. The police arrived almost immediately.

The record shows that when the police asked for the gun the defendant took the gun from the waistband of her slacks and handed it to Officer Kellam of the Benton police. Many different exclamations were ascribed to the defendant during the period after the shot was fired but prior to the arrival of the police. Defense witness, Deborah Reeves, testified defendant said, "Oh, tell me he is not dead, I didn't mean to do it." State's witness, Michael Standley, testified she said, "Tell me he is not dead, tell me he is all right." State's witness John Miller testified as follows: "Barbara said, `I didn't think I would do it,' she said, `I have killed him.' First she said, `you didn't think I would do it, did you?' or something of that nature." State's witness, Dennis Odle, testified she said, "Oh, my God, what have I done, did I really do it?" Charles Reeves died shortly thereafter as a result of a wound caused by a single .22-caliber bullet which had entered his body under his left arm and had punctured his left lung and pierced his heart.

Defendant, Barbara Reeves, raised the affirmative defense of self-defense or use of force in defense of person to justify the killing of Charles Reeves. The trial court, sitting as trier of fact, concluded that the evidence did not establish the justification of self-defense and found her guilty of murder.

• 1 Although whether a killing is justified under the law of self-defense is always a question of fact to be determined by the trier of fact, and its determination will not be lightly set aside (People v. Jordan, 18 Ill.2d 489, 165 N.E.2d 296; People v. Vaughn, 26 Ill. App.3d 247, 324 N.E.2d 697), the reviewing court, in criminal cases, has a duty to carefully review the evidence and reverse the conviction if the evidence is so unsatisfactory as to raise a serious doubt of defendant's guilt (People v. Dawson, 22 Ill.2d 260, 264, 174 N.E.2d 817). (See also People v. Fleming, 36 Ill. App.3d 612, 618, 345 N.E.2d 10.) After reviewing the evidence in this case, we are compelled to disagree with the trial court's findings and to reverse the conviction because the evidence leaves us with a serious doubt of defendant's guilt.

• 2 The defense of self-defense is set forth in section 7-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, par. 7-1), which reads as follows:

"A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent ...

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