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People v. Porterfield





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ALBERT S. PORTER, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Sentell Porterfield, and his co-defendant Ricky Harris, were charged with burglary and tried jointly in a bench trial. While Harris was found not guilty of the charge, Porterfield was convicted and sentenced to a term of 1 to 3 years in the penitentiary. Porterfield now appeals that conviction on the ground that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The charges brought against Porterfield stemmed from his alleged participation in a burglary of the B&R Soul City Record Store at 3615 South State Street in Chicago, on the evening of April 27, 1975. The prosecution of this case consisted primarily of the testimony of two witnesses: Lendell Webb and Robert Gardner. Webb testified that at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 27, 1975, he was directly across the street from the B&R Soul City Record Store. At the time of the occurrence Webb was 15 and was an employee at the store. The evidence shows that the store was not open on that date, and Bernadette Crenschew and Robert Richardson, the owners of Soul City Records, both stated that the store had been closed that day, and no one had been given permission or authority to enter. Webb testified that while located across the street from the store, he noticed that the front gate of the store had been pulled back and that there were a number of individuals inside, including Porterfield and Harris.

Webb further testified that he saw Porterfield and Harris leave the store, along with a group of 5 or 6 other people; at the time Harris was allegedly carrying some record albums while Porterfield had some records as well as a vacuum cleaner in his arms. Webb asserted that he recognized Porterfield and Harris because he had previously seen each of them in the record store on other occasions but that at the time of the burglary he did not know Porterfield's name and that he only knew Harris' nickname.

Webb testified that upon leaving the store, Porterfield went into a tavern which was situated about five stores down the street from Soul City Records while Harris entered a different tavern located directly across the street from the record store. Porterfield stayed only a short time at the tavern and, after he left, Webb immediately went inside and called the police.

The police arrived shortly before 6 p.m. For a reason which is not entirely clear, the police did not at first realize that Webb was an eyewitness to the burglary. Webb testified that when the police arrived at the store, they told him to get away. Webb thereafter stood on the opposite side of the street until Bernadette Crenschew came to the store; he then waited with Crenschew until Robert Gardner arrived sometime after 8 p.m.

Gardner, the State's other witness, testified that between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m., on April 27, he was in the vicinity of 36th and State Streets when he noticed Porterfield leave a tavern located on the same block as Soul City Records. He stated that at the time, Porterfield was carrying some record albums. He observed Porterfield walk to the rear of the tavern and put the records in a garbage can located there and, after Porterfield returned to the front of the tavern, Gardner retrieved the records and immediately went to the record store.

The police were again called and, upon arriving at the store, they were given the records which had been recovered by Gardner. Both Webb and Gardner then accompanied the officers outside the store where they saw Porterfield and pointed him out to the police. Porterfield was then stopped on the street by the officers and was immediately arrested.

Later that evening, at the police station to which Porterfield had been taken, Webb identified Harris as another of the participants in the burglary. It is not clear from the record why Harris was at the station when Webb identified him; Webb simply testified that upon his arrival at the station, he recognized Harris and pointed him out to the police as one of the participants. At the police station, Crenschew also identified the records as belonging to her because they had a "B&R" price sticker still attached to them.

At the trial, both Porterfield and Harris presented alibi witnesses. Harris' mother testified that he was at home until 6 p.m., while Porterfield's wife testified that Porterfield was at home until after 6 p.m. In addition, Dorothy Sims testified that she observed the burglary from a 10th floor apartment of a building located about a block away from the record store and that she did not see either Harris or Porterfield participating in the crime. She also stated that at the same time she was watching the activity in the record store she was also watching an ambulance which had pulled in front of the building in which she lived and therefore her attention was divided between the ambulance and the record shop.

At the close of the evidence, the trial judge acquitted Harris but convicted Porterfield of the crime of burglary. In finding Harris not guilty, the trial judge made the following observation:

"There was quite a bit of inconsistency in the testimony of Lendell Webb and whether or not Ricky Harris is guilty or not guilty, must rest upon the testimony of Lendell Webb. And Lendell Webb gets — I mean Ricky Harris gets the benefit of the doubt. He is found not guilty."

As to Porterfield, the judge again recognized that Webb had been impeached "to some extent about certain things." However, because he felt that Gardner's testimony had provided corroborative evidence, the judge believed that the State had met their burden of proof with respect to Porterfield.

Porterfield's claim on appeal that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is based upon the argument that Webb's testimony is unbelievable. He first asserts that Webb's credibility as a witness has been undermined by certain discrepancies in his testimony. Since Webb provided the only direct evidence of Porterfield's participation in the burglary, Porterfield asserts that the impeachment of Webb leaves insufficient credible evidence upon which to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Porterfield also points to the fact that the trial judge relied upon the inconsistencies in Webb's testimony in finding Harris not guilty; ...

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