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People v. Beacham

OPINION FILED JUNE 29, 1977.

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

v.

MAURICE BEACHAM, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT E. CHERRY, Judge, presiding.

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

A jury convicted Maurice Beacham, a Chicago police officer, of attempt murder, two counts of aggravated battery, three counts of perjury and two counts of obstruction of justice. On appeal, Beacham contends: (1) the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense or that he was guilty of perjury; (2) he was prejudiced by the joinder of the perjury count; (3) the proof of obstruction of justice did not conform to the allegations in the indictment; and (4) the prosecutor's closing argument was intentionally misleading and prejudicial. We reject these contentions and affirm the judgment of conviction.

Leroy Watts, a tenant in an apartment building owned by Beacham, moved out of his apartment. The next day, while Beacham and Watts were in the apartment, a fight began and Beacham shot Watts. Watts and Beacham were the only two occurrence witnesses.

Watts testified that Beacham ordered him to remove garbage Watts had left in the kitchen. When Watts refused and tried to leave, Beacham shot him in the chest. Watts ran into the dining room and threw up his hands, pleading with Beacham not to shoot him again. Beacham shot him in the stomach and told Watts to go back to the living room. Watts went into the living room and knelt when Beacham told him to do so. Beacham then shot him twice in the shoulder and arm, struck Watts in the head with the gun, told Watts he was under arrest and ordered him out of the apartment. When they reached the open front door, Watts shoved Beacham. Beacham's back hit the stairway, the gun fired, Watts fell on Beacham and then jumped up and back into the apartment and held the door closed against Beacham.

According to Beacham, he shot Watts in self-defense. He testified that after they argued about cleaning out the garbage, Watts knocked him down and attacked him with a knife. The men came together, Watts cut Beacham through his jacket with the knife and Beacham hit Watts in his head with his gun. They kept fighting as they moved through the dining room to the living room, with Watts controlling the scuffle. As Watts pushed Beacham out the door, Beacham fired his gun. Beacham landed on his back on the stairs outside the door with his feet facing downward, and Watts fell on top of Beacham torso to torso. By this time Beacham's jacket had risen up over his head. Beacham raised his gun and fired three successive shots into Watts, who jumped up and begged Beacham not to kill him. Watts then ran back into the apartment and tried to prevent Beacham from entering by pushing against the door. Beacham told his cousin, Gregory Beacham to call the police.

When the police arrived, Beacham identified himself as a police officer and told them that Watts had attacked him with a knife which he then gave to one of the officers. Watts was taken to the hospital, where his wounds were treated, and the police found a knife in Watts' clothing. A physician connected with the chief surgeon's office of the Chicago Police Department testified that Beacham came to his office at 8:30 the morning after the shooting. The physician testified he examined Beacham and found he had contusions of the lower back and two scratches on his left mid-abdomen, which the physician labelled superficial. He further testified that the scratches could have been inflicted by anything that was sharp, and based on the encrusted blood on the scratches, they could have been inflicted from 6 hours to 72 hours prior to the examination. The incident for which Beacham was convicted occurred about 2 o'clock the afternoon before his examination.

Beacham signed two misdemeanor complaints for aggravated assault and battery against Watts; eventually, these charges were dropped and Watts filed a complaint against Beacham. Beacham was indicted for the substantive offenses of which he was convicted. One of the perjury counts related to false testimony before the grand jury and two counts to false complaints Beacham made against Watts. The obstruction of justice counts covered Beacham's furnishing false information to law enforcement agencies and handing the police a knife he claimed Watts used. The aggravated battery counts were for using a deadly weapon and for causing great bodily harm to Watts.

There was no dispute that Watts received gunshot wounds and that Beacham did the shooting. Beacham's affirmative defense to the attempt murder and aggravated battery charges was that the shooting was in self-defense. This required the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, pars. 3-2, 7-14.

Watts testified that he first was shot in the kitchen and then ran into the dining room, where he was shot again, following which he was shot twice in the living room. Beacham, on the other hand, testified that the shooting took place on the steps outside the apartment. Large quantities of blood found in the apartment support Watts' testimony and discredit Beacham's. The physician who treated Watts did not remember any noticeable head injury to Watts and the medical reports did not indicate Watts suffered any head wounds. Thus, the blow in the head Beacham claimed he gave Watts with his gun inside the apartment was not likely to have caused the amount of blood that was found.

The State's expert witness, the doctor who treated Watts for his injuries, testified that two of the bullets entered his body from an upward to a downward angle. This is in keeping with Watts' story that he was on his knees in the living room when Beacham fired the last two shots. Beacham's account that he fired three shots in rapid succession while Watts was on top of him on the apartment steps, torso to torso, does not explain the downward trajectory of two of the shots Watts received.

Beacham suggests several reasons why the State's evidence is so improbable, unconvincing and contrary to human nature as to require reversal. First, he questions Watts' ability to have pushed Beacham out of the apartment after Watts had been shot four times. Yet, the record shows that Watts was strong enough to walk to the police vehicle which took him to the hospital and that Watts testified he shoved Beacham when Beacham was looking away, and so caught him unawares. Second, Beacham contends that the bullet hole in Beacham's jacket is inconsistent with Watts' testimony. But Watts testified that immediately after he shoved Beacham onto the stairs, the gun fired but missed Watts. This could have been the shot that went through Beacham's jacket. Third, Beacham says that the presence of cuts in his jacket, scratch marks on his side and contusions on his back discredit Watts' story. At trial, a microanalyst testified that the leather jacket straps had been pulled apart rather than cut. The scratch marks on Beacham's side were superficial and he could have inflicted them on himself before he was examined by the police department physician to lend credence to his self-defense story. Similarly, he could have torn his own jacket. His back contusions do not conflict with Watts' version, since Watts told the court Beacham fell on his back when he pushed Beacham down on the stairs. Fourth, Beacham argues that Watts' blood could not have gotten on Beacham if Watts' story were true. However, Watts testified that after he had been shot four times and shoved Beacham outside the apartment, he fell directly on top of Beacham; this would account for the blood on Beacham and does not discredit Watts' testimony.

• 1, 2 Finally, Beacham contends that because the State failed to call witnesses to testify about whose blood was on Beacham's clothing, whether there were powder burns on Watts' clothing, where the spent bullets were found, and how many bullets were left in Beacham's gun when the police arrived, the proper inference is that such testimony would have hurt the State's case. In this case, it is unclear whether there were witnesses available who could have testified on the matters Beacham raises. But, even if witnesses with such knowledge were available, the State would not have been obligated to present them. The State is not required to present every witness to a crime or every possible expert witness who might testify to some facet of a crime, and it need not seek out and disprove every possible alternative explanation of a crime before an accused can be found guilty. Here the State was free to accept the risk that the jury might draw negative inferences from its failure to offer evidence if it otherwise proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Beacham was not acting in self-defense. People v. Scott (1967), 38 Ill.2d 302, 306, 231 N.E.2d 441; People v. Jones (1964), 30 Ill.2d 186, 190, 195 N.E.2d 698.

• 3 Whether Beacham acted in self-defense was a question of fact for the jury. (People v. Pearson (1976), 40 Ill. App.3d 315, 317-318, 352 N.E.2d 240; People v. Akins (1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 908, 912, 351 N.E.2d 366.) While Beacham's version of the shooting directly contradicted Watts', the jury, which heard and saw both witnesses, was free to believe Watts and disbelieve Beacham. In addition, the State's circumstantial evidence — the blood in the apartment and the expert testimony about the bullets' trajectory — was sufficient to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Beacham was not acting in self-defense. It supported Watts' version and rendered Beacham's unlikely.

• 4, 5 A reviewing court will not set aside a jury verdict unless it is so unsatisfactory as to raise a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. The evidence here was not so unsatisfactory as to raise a reasonable doubt about whether Beacham was acting in self-defense, and this court should not substitute its judgment for that of the jury, particularly when that decision primarily depended on the credibility of two witnesses the jury observed and heard. People ...


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