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People v. West

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 30, 1977.

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

v.

MICHAEL WEST, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. SIMON L. FRIEDMAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE WEBBER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant, who was then 16 years old, was arrested on October 16, 1975. Following a transfer hearing on December 15, 1975, the court entered an order permitting prosecution as an adult under the Juvenile Court Act of Illinois. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 37, par. 702-7(3).) On January 14, 1975, a grand jury sitting in Sangamon County returned a six-count indictment charging him with the murder of Gail Krech on June 15, 1975. Various pretrial motions were disposed of and after a five-day jury trial, the jury returned a general verdict of guilty on April 9, 1976. A post-trial motion was denied and after a sentencing hearing the trial court sentenced the defendant to imprisonment for a term of 56 to 100 years. This appeal followed.

Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) That the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) that he was denied a fair trial by reason of the introduction into evidence and viewing by the jury of certain allegedly inflammatory photographs; and (3) that his sentence is excessive.

Defendant's principal contention on the reasonable doubt issue centers on the testimony of an accomplice, Thomas Cauley. Unquestionably, Cauley's testimony represented the heart and soul of the State's cause against defendant. Both sides concur in the general proposition that such testimony is admissible, but should be viewed with great caution. They differ in the application to the case at bar. Defendant contends that Cauley's evidence was so uncorroborated and unreliable as to require reversal. The State, on the other hand, claims that the evidence was corroborated and not made unreliable by any promises of leniency and that any infirmities in it go to its weight which is the particular province of the jury.

A detailed recitation of the evidence would serve no useful purpose here, so we shall begin with a general narration and later focus on individual items concerned with Cauley to the extent necessary for decision.

On June 16, 1975, the owner of a laundromat in Springfield discovered a purse in a garbage can behind his place of business. The contents revealed that it belonged to one Gail Krech. Inquiry revealed that Krech had not been seen since the prior Saturday afternoon, June 16, being a Monday. Police were summoned to Krech's apartment, located a few blocks from the laundromat, and discovered her body in a bed. A pathologist's autopsy protocol indicated that she had been dead about 30 hours at the time of discovery and that the cause of death was stab wounds to the chest, puncturing the heart.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, June 15, a householder living about six or seven blocks from defendant's home discovered two youths jumping out of a window in his house, after having apparently committed a burglary. He gave chase and apprehended one of them, who turned out to be Thomas Cauley. Police were called and detained Cauley, who asked to be taken to a nearby alley to retrieve his bicycle. Upon arrival at the alley, police discovered defendant West attempting to saw a chain holding the bicycle to another. (It later developed that the bicycles were those of West and Cauley, but Cauley had the key to the chain.)

Both defendant and Cauley were transported to juvenile quarters in Springfield after being detained for their respective offenses. Their property was removed and inventoried and placed in envelopes. Included in the property were a certain necklace and other items of ladies' jewelry. The envelopes were placed in a police evidence locker.

The investigation of the homicide continued over the summer months under the principal direction of Detective William DeMarco. By late autumn the investigation had begun to focus on West and Cauley and according to DeMarco, "at one point, probably sure happenstance," he noticed the names of West and Cauley in the property book at police headquarters. He obtained the items and they were identified by her parents and friends as belonging to Krech.

Sundry interviews were then conducted by DeMarco and others of both defendant and Cauley with the eventual result that defendant was charged with murder as above described and Cauley with voluntary manslaughter.

At trial Cauley testified that he and defendant were together on the morning of Sunday, June 15, and were seeking places to burglarize. They settled on Krech's apartment and climbed a television antenna beside the house and entered through a bathroom window which was next to the antenna and partially open. After entering, Cauley went to the kitchen and defendant to the bedroom where Krech was asleep in her bed. Both were in the process of rifling the premises; Cauley obtained a necklace and defendant a ring. While defendant was searching a bureau in the bedroom, Krech awakened and began to struggle with him. He called to Cauley for assistance and Cauley entered the bedroom and pressed Krech to the bed with a pillow over her head and chest, while defendant stabbed her numerous times in the chest with a knife which he was carrying.

They then left the apartment in the same manner they had entered and rode their bicycles to a YMCA where they had a soda. After an interval during which defendant changed his shirt, they then sought other places to burglarize. Leaving their bicycles chained and locked in an alley, they entered another residence but were surprised by the return of the owner and jumped out of a window. Cauley was then apprehended as described above. Defendant returned to the bicycles and was attempting to break the chain when he was likewise apprehended as described.

• 1, 2 The principles governing the admissibilty and credibility of accomplice testimony are well recognized and have been so often stated by the Illinois courts> as to need little reiteration here. Uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice is competent but the utmost caution is required when placing reliance on it alone. It is, however, sufficient to sustain a conviction if it satisfies the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. (People v. Piehl (1972), 6 Ill. App.3d 296, 285 N.E.2d 612.) Infirmities in accomplice testimony such as promises or hopes of leniency or the hope of benefits from the prosecution go to questions of the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses. If the jury is satisfied by accomplice testimony that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then the conviction should not be disturbed unless it is plainly apparent that such degree of proof is lacking. (People v. Hansen (1963), 28 Ill.2d 322, 192 N.E.2d 359, cert. denied (1964), 376 U.S. 908, 11 L.ed.2d 608, 84 S.Ct. 665.) Material corroboration of accomplice testimony is entitled to great weight. People v. Baker (1959), 16 Ill.2d 364, 158 N.E.2d 1.

Defendant points to the facts that without Cauley's testimony there is no evidence that he stabbed Krech, that his fingerprints were not found on the premises, and that the knife, the supposed murder weapon, was never produced. There are, however, other facts in the record which corroborate Cauley. He testified that Krech was killed in her bed; photographs of the apartment show no evidence of struggle other than on the bed. He testified that he and defendant burglarized the apartment; Krech's purse was found at the laundromat nearby; only small items were taken from the apartment, indicating that the burglary was the work of juveniles, not professionals. He testified that the murder took place mid-morning on ...


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