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People v. Gaitor

OPINION FILED MAY 31, 1977.

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

v.

GEORGE GAITOR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. LOUIS B. GARIPPO, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, George Gaitor, was charged by indictment with the offense of murder in violation of section 9-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 9-1). Upon a bench trial defendant was found to be guilty of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Judgment was entered on the finding and defendant was sentenced to serve a term of confinement of 3-15 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary.

From entry of the judgment of conviction defendant appeals contending (1) that the failure of the prosecution to comply with certain pretrial discovery demands served to deny defendant due process of law; and, (2) that the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to establish defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A review of such evidence reveals that at approximately 9 a.m. on Monday, July 17, 1972, the body of Dorothy Hall was discovered in the bedroom of her apartment located at 645 W. 62nd Street in Chicago, Illinois. Hall had been severely beaten and her body evidenced numerous and massive bruises and lacerations. The cause of her death was determined to be asphyxia induced by manual strangulation or the infliction of a blow to her larynx. A section of "bannister rail", approximately two feet in length and bearing a protruding nail, was positioned near Hall's body. The nail bore traces of blood and hair fibers. A bloodstained Bulova men's wristwatch was also recovered from atop a nearby dresser.

The victim's father, Thomas Knight, testified that at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 16, 1972, he observed his daughter approach her apartment in the company of defendant, George Gaitor. The lease to Hall's apartment had been executed by defendant and he occasionally remained at the apartment overnight.

The next morning, at approximately 8:30 o'clock, Knight observed defendant exit the vestibule of the victim's apartment building. Knight approached defendant and stated, "George, I told you to stay away from Dorothy's apartment and to stop beating Dorothy because she's self-supporting and you're not doing anything at all." According to Knight, defendant responded, "Mr. Knight, as long as I live I'll never put my hands on her again." Knight also indicated that he had previously had occasion to reprimand defendant in connection with an assault upon his daughter.

Approximately one-half hour prior to the aforementioned conversation between Knight and defendant, Thomas Williams observed defendant park his automobile in the alley behind the victim's apartment building, walk up the rear stairway, return 3 to 4 minutes later, and drive away.

Several hours later, defendant was arrested in connection with the Hall homicide investigation. Defendant was advised of his constitutional rights and expressed a willingness to discuss the matter with investigating officers.

According to Chicago Police Department Investigator Ray Luth, defendant gave two versions of the events preceding Hall's death. Initially, defendant indicated that he had last seen the victim at 3 a.m. on Sunday, July 16, 1972, when they returned to her home after a date and that he thereafter returned to her home Sunday evening but failed to find her at the apartment. Defendant also stated that he had attempted to return to the apartment on Monday morning but had been unable to secure access inasmuch as he had inadvertently left his apartment keys at a "transmission shop" where he had taken his automobile for repairs. Investigator Luth telephoned the aforementioned shop and was informed that the missing apartment keys had not been left in their custody. Luth informed defendant of this discovery.

Thereafter, during the course of defendant's interrogation, Luth had occasion to observe that defendant's right hand was swollen and that defendant's left wrist was discolored. Defendant indicated that he had injured his right hand while playing softball on Saturday, July 15, 1972. In connection with the discoloration, defendant was asked if he wore a wristwatch. Defendant responded that he did own a Bulova men's wristwatch but was unable to recall its whereabouts. Luth informed defendant that such a watch had been recovered from Dorothy Hall's apartment.

At this point, according to Luth, defendant "stated that he would like to tell us what really happened." In this regard defendant admitted that he had been at Hall's apartment on Sunday evening; that she was present on that occasion; that he had been drinking quite heavily on that day; that an argument ensued between defendant and Hall on the subject of defendant's drinking habits, and that he became angry and struck Hall on the face causing her to fall to the floor and strike her head upon a heater. Defendant further related that he then lost control, became enraged and continued to beat Hall. Defendant was unable to recall the number of times he struck Hall or whether he had employed the section of bannister rail recovered at the scene. However, defendant stated that when he left the apartment Hall was alive.

Dr. Edward Shalgos, an expert forensic pathologist, testified that he was unable to determine the precise time of the victim's death but indicated that at the time of the autopsy performed on July 17, 1972, Hall had been dead for a few hours. Nor was Dr. Shalgos able to ascertain whether the blows inflicted upon the victim were sufficient to induce unconsciousness. However, Dr. Shalgos indicated that in situations where a temporary manual strangulation effort causes disruption of the laryngeal structures, the victim's death might occur sometime thereafter. In this regard, Dr. Shalgos noted, "that could be five minutes, that could be a matter of a couple of hours, and I have seen cases where it happened the following day." Dr. Shalgos was unable to determine which time frame was applicable to the instant case.

Defendant testified in his own behalf and indicated that on Sunday, July 16, 1972, he arrived at the victim's apartment at approximately 5:30 p.m. and discovered a note informing defendant that she was at a party with her father. Defendant left the apartment and joined a party at the home of Cornell Lowe.

Defendant testified that he returned to Hall's apartment again at 7:45 p.m.; that he and Hall argued; that he pushed her several times causing her to fall to the floor; and, that he "slapped her a couple of times across the mouth" causing her lip to become bloodied. Defendant, however, stated that Hall was alive when he thereafter left the apartment at 8:30 p.m. and rejoined the Lowe party. Defendant also reiterated his earlier statement that he returned to Hall's apartment on Monday morning but was unable to enter because his keys had been left in the repair shop. Defendant admitted that he had left his watch in the victim's apartment and elaborated ...


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