APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. HARRY
D. STROUSE, JR., Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BOYLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Daniel Slaughter, hereinafter "defendant," was indicted in Lake County for the theft of a Chevrolet truck. After a jury trial the defendant was found guilty of theft and was sentenced to a one- to three-year term.
On appeal, defendant presents two issues for review: (1) Whether he was denied a fair trial by the trial court's admission of testimony concerning a pistol found in the glove compartment of the truck at the time it was repossessed; and (2) Whether he was denied a fair trial where the court prevented him from offering testimony material to his defense.
The defendant does not question the sufficiency of the evidence. However, it is necessary for a disposition of the issues raised that the pertinent testimony be set forth in this opinion. The defendant and his girlfriend, Susan Weinberg, filled out a retail order form in Weinberg's name for a 3/4-ton, four-door pickup truck at Bernard Chevrolet in Libertyville, Illinois, on June 7, 1975. Bernard's finance officer, Jim Winterick, agreed to a $1,003.10 downpayment on the truck, which left a balance of $5,990. Bernard also agreed to install a rear step bumper and platform hitch on the truck. Winterick then transmitted the credit application Weinberg had filled out to the Libertyville National Bank.
On June 10, 1975, the defendant and Weinberg returned to Bernard, and the truck was sold for $6,993.10. Winterick informed the defendant that day that Weinberg's credit application had been approved, but the downpayment had been increased to $1,500. Weinberg then signed the retail installment contract for the truck and defendant made the downpayment with a $1,500 check drawn on the Gurnee National Bank. The defendant then drove away with the truck. On June 20, defendant's check was returned to Winterick, stamped N.S.F. The defendant assured Winterick, when he was informed of the situation, that he would bring him a certified check or cash for $1,500 later in the day. However, the defendant made no appearance, and Winterick asked a repossession firm to recover the truck.
On June 22, 1975, the defendant called Winterick again, and Winterick advised him to return the truck or give it to the repossessors. Defendant promised to bring the money over that day, but again he did not do so. Defendant also informed Winterick that a brake or bearing had malfunctioned, and Winterick told the defendant that the required repairs would be made if the defendant made the downpayment. Winterick also stated that the defendant never tendered the $1,500 to Bernard.
Miss Weinberg testified that she dated the defendant for two years and that he approached her in May of 1975 and asked her to purchase the truck in her name for insurance purposes. The defendant indicated, however, that he would make the downpayment, all monthly payments, and her sole obligation would be as the owner. She admitted signing the contract on June 10, 1975, as well as the credit application on June 7, 1975. She stated that she had several conversations with the defendant about the truck, including the fact that the locks had been changed and further that she had received a note from the bank indicating that payments on the truck were in arrears. She also testified that in August of 1975 she had made plans to return the truck, but that the defendant's parents had persuaded her otherwise. On cross-examination she further testified that defendant had told her he had not made any payments on the truck because he thought the payments were due at a later date.
Tito Nickolls, the automobile repossessor, testified that he made a number of attempts to repossess the truck. Finally, on September 6, 1975, he repossessed the truck in front of the defendant's parents' home by disconnecting the kill switch and starting the engine. Nickolls further testified that he found a pistol in the glove compartment of the truck and that the defendant was arrested by two police officers who had a warrant for his arrest.
Russell Warye was the owner of the Outdoor Sportsman store in Waukegan, Illinois. He testified that according to his records the gun shown him at trial, which was taken from the truck at the time it was repossessed, was sold to the defendant on March 31, 1975. Defendant's objection to the relevancy of this testimony was overruled, and it was admitted by the trial court only for the limited purpose of establishing the ownership and possession of the truck.
The Assistant State's Attorney, Kenneth Welker, in questioning Roy Lamprich, a Waukegan police officer, asked him if he knew "what happened with the charges about possession of a fire-arm." Defendant's objection to this question was sustained by the trial court, who admonished counsel, "Whatever happened it is immaterial in this case. I tried to explain to you the only reason this is going in is because it tends to show ownership. It has absolutely he's not charged with any gun violation in this case."
The parties further stipulated, due to the unavailability of the State's last witness, that on June 9, 1975, the defendant deposited $100 in his personal checking account at the Gurnee National Bank. The parties stipulated that the account was opened on that date and that no further deposits were ever made. The parties also stipulated that a $1,500 check to Bernard Chevrolet, drawn on this account on June 13, 1975, was returned on June 14, 1975, due to non-sufficient funds.
The defendant, a self-employed businessman, testified that he had been unable to purchase the truck in February of 1975 because a bankruptcy three years earlier had made him ineligible for credit. He testified that Weinberg agreed to purchase the truck in her name if he would make the payments. He further stated that the parties agreed to a downpayment of $700, plus $300 in special accessories. He stated that on June 10, 1975, when he returned to Bernard Chevrolet to purchase the truck, he had $900 in cash and a check book. He then was informed that the downpayment was raised to $1,500, and he issued a check for $1,500 to Bernard Chevrolet. The defendant testified that he was under the impression at this time he could cover the check with the $900 in cash, plus $350 which was Miss Weinberg's next paycheck, and that he could raise the rest.
Later that day, the defendant said he called Bob Perry, a racing associate. He told Perry that he needed $1,000 he had given him as soon as possible. The trial court, however, sustained the People's general objection as to what Mr. Perry said to the defendant at this time. The defendant also testified that on June 14, 1975, Bernard's service manager, Paul Hulik, directed him to have the brakes repaired on his truck and send the bill to Bernard. However, after defendant had the truck repaired by Bud Dennis Auto Repairs in Gurnee for $360, Bernard refused to pay. The defendant was told he would have to file a claim with General Motors.
Defendant testified that on June 18, 1975, he again tried to contact Perry to obtain the $1,000. He stated he first received notice from Bernard on June 20, 1975, that his check had been returned. Prior to this, the defendant admitted he had only deposited a little over $100 to cover the $1,500 check. The next morning, the defendant testified, a repossessor who did not identify himself attempted to pick up the truck for Bernard Chevrolet but was unsuccessful. He then contacted Mr. Winterick who told him his check had come back and he would wait until Monday evening for the $1,500, because the defendant again believed he would have the check from Perry by then. The defendant also testified at this time that he offered to pay the $1,500 minus the $360 repairs, and Winterick refused. ...