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People v. Yancey





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EARL E. STRAYHORN, Judge, presiding.


Thomas Yancey (defendant) was tried jointly before a jury with Nathaniel Brown, Jr. (co-defendant). Both were found guilty of murder. Defendant was sentenced to 75 to 90 years. He appeals. The judgment and sentence of co-defendant were affirmed after a separate appeal to this court. (People v. Brown (1977), 55 Ill. App.3d 569, 371 N.E.2d 140.) The sole contention raised by the co-defendant on appeal was directed to severity of the sentence.

The defendant presents four issues for review: proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; prejudicial trial error when his attorney was cited for contempt in the presence of the jury; denial of his sixth amendment right to confrontation and prejudicial closing argument by the prosecutor.

The body of William Wilkerson, 15 years old, was discovered on October 13, 1974, in the bottom of an elevator shaft in a Chicago apartment building. The details surrounding his death were provided principally by two accomplice witnesses for the State, Andrew Dickens and Demetrius Parks.

Andrew Dickens, 17 years old at the time of the trial, testified that he was then confined at St. Charles, Illinois, for escaping from the Illinois Youth Center at Hanna City, Illinois, where he had been confined for armed robbery. He was scheduled for a parole hearing on the day following his testimony. He testified he and Parks encountered the co-defendant as they walked down the hall on the 11th floor of the building. They were beckoned into the laundry room on that floor. There they saw the co-defendant, who was holding a .25-caliber automatic pistol in a .32-caliber frame, the defendant and the victim, who was still alive. The co-defendant said he had shot the victim and was planning to kill him, and instructed the crying and shaking victim to show them a bullet wound in his chest. The co-defendant told Dickens and Parks to tie up the victim. Parks tied the victim's hands with the cord from an electric iron. The witness stated he and Parks were then instructed to stop the elevator between the 11th and 12th floors. The defendants dragged the struggling victim to the open elevator door, and, after unsuccessfully attempting to push him down the open elevator shaft, returned to the laundry room. The witness stated he remained in the hall, but, according to details provided by the co-defendant, later learned the defendants attempted to strangle the victim with a stocking and broke a broom handle over the boy's neck. The co-defendant finally shot the victim in the left temple. The witness observed the defendants throw the body down the elevator shaft and stated he heard a noise each time the body hit a floor.

On cross-examination Dickens explained he stopped the elevator between floors by pushing in the red stop button on the inside of the car. He had spoken with the defendant's attorney, assistant public defender William Murphy, on May 14, 1975, stating at that time the defendant was not involved in the murder. However, he testified that the defendant "was there." The witness further testified he had written a letter to the defendant in which he stated that the defendant was not involved in the murder and he had so informed defendant's lawyer. However, the police made him implicate defendant. He wrote this letter in the presence of Sherry Heard, defendant's girlfriend. He included the words "Black P. Stone" in his signature on the letter. He denied being a member of this organization.

Demetrius Parks, 16 years old at the time of the trial, stated he was present in the laundry room when the defendants attempted to strangle the victim. He saw the defendant start choking the victim and saw both defendants break the broom handle over the victim's neck. After viewing a photograph of the body, the witness stated that the necktie appearing in the victim's mouth had been placed there by the defendant. On cross-examination the witness stated he had been sent to Hanna City for burglary and that a warrant had been issued for his arrest at the time of the murder because he failed to return to Hanna City after his furlough expired. He stated he was brought to the courtroom that day from the Audy Home where he was confined for not returning to Hanna City. He telephoned Mr. William Murphy from Sherry Heard's home on April 23, 1975, but denied stating in that conversation that he wished to tell the court the defendant was not involved in the murder.

The State also called John Markham, an investigator for the Chicago Police Department, and Harry Wilson, an assistant State's Attorney. Both witnesses testified that on October 14, 1974, the defendant orally admitted he took the victim to the 11th floor of the building and threw him down the elevator shaft. Markham stated that on October 14, 1974, the co-defendant admitted he shot the victim. The defendants refused to give written statements. Markham also found a .32-caliber bullet casing when he investigated the 11th floor laundry room.

Two witnesses described the condition of the victim's body when it was found on October 13, 1974. Dr. Culala, the pathologist, found two gunshot wounds in the left front chest wall and one gunshot wound in the left temple. The latter was the cause of death. There were abrasions on the knees consistent with the body being dragged. There were no protruding bones and no apparent trauma to the internal organs or neck area. The witness did not X-ray the body. He stated that generally, but not always, he would expect multiple fractures resulting from a fall from a great height. His pathological examination was not "a very accurate way of assessing fractures or any trauma to the body."

Andrew Brooks, an employee of the City Crime Laboratory, who photographed the body while it lay at the bottom of the elevator shaft, testified that, in his opinion, the victim's left arm was broken. On cross-examination, Brooks stated he always has been correct in the 10 to 15 times he has decided there was a fractured arm or shoulder. He also stated the victim was found with a cord around his neck and a sock in his mouth.

Robert Williams, an elevator repairman, found the elevator stuck between the 11th and 12th floors. In his opinion, the only method of depositing the body at the bottom of the elevator shaft was by pushing it through an open door on one of the floors. He observed that the red stop buttons on the exterior roof of the elevator were pushed in and the tape switches dislodged. He noted that these buttons can be pushed from inside the elevator and that jumping inside the elevator could dislodge the tape switches.

The defense called George Brobst, an investigator for the public defender. He testified that on May 14, 1975, he recorded a conversation between Dickens and attorney William Murphy. He stated that Sherry Heard, was also present during this conversation. The witness did not hear Sherry Heard threaten or intimidate Dickens in any manner.

Charles Murphy, also an assistant public defender, testified that on April 23, 1975, he heard Parks state on the telephone the defendant was not present the day of the shooting. Attorney William Murphy also testified Parks telephoned him on April 23, 1975, and denied that defendant had any involvement in the murder. William and Charles Murphy are brothers. William Murphy was trial attorney representing the defendant. The defense also called Sherry Heard, who testified she was present when Dickens wrote the letter to defendant on May 14, 1975. She did not threaten Dickens or Parks.

• 1 Defendant initially contends he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for a number of reasons. Turning first to the accomplice testimony, Illinois follows "the rule that uncorroborated accomplice testimony is a sufficient ground on which the trier may base a conviction * * *." The issue of "whether accomplice testimony, corroborated or uncorroborated, is a satisfactory basis for conviction goes to the weight of the evidence and is, therefore, in the province of the jury or the court." (People v. Wilson (1977), 66 Ill.2d 346, 349, 362 N.E.2d 291.) In the record before us, the detailed testimony of Dickens and Parks was corroborated by physical facts including the finding of the body at the bottom of the elevator shaft, the elevator stopped between the 11th and 12th floors, the .32-caliber bullet casing in the laundry room, the gunshot wounds in the victim's left chest wall and left temple, and the electrical cord and cloth gag on the victim's neck and in his mouth. The ...

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