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People v. Lett





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Christian County; the Hon. DANIEL H. DAILEY, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Michael Lett, was charged in the circuit court of Jasper County with the offenses of murder, aggravated kidnapping, indecent liberties with a child, concealment of a homicidal death, felony theft and armed robbery. Upon a motion to change the place of trial, defendant was tried before a jury in the circuit court of Christian County following which he was found guilty as charged. From the judgments entered, defendant brings this appeal and contends that certain trial errors were committed and that the State failed to prove a material element of the offense of indecent liberties with a child.

On April 19, 1976, 12-year-old Cathy Jo Harris of Newton was murdered. At the trial of defendant, the State introduced evidence that on April 15, 1976, a brown, 1972 Dodge Dart bearing a yellow, New Jersey license plate, AVJ958, was stolen from a parking lot in Elkhart, Indiana. Subsequently, on April 22, 1976, Collier County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff Larry Graham observed the Dart in Naples, Florida. Following a computer check of the license plate, he issued a radio broadcast to be on the lookout for the car. Later that day, Naples police officer William Gootee saw the automobile and arrested defendant who was driving it.

There was testimony that inside the trunk of the Dart an umbrella was found which had blood stains on it. Additionally, knife cuts were found on an armrest and on the seats within the car. Upon subsequent police interrogations of defendant, defendant confessed that he had stolen the car and that he had abducted Cathy Jo Harris, had robbed her and stabbed her. He also gave police directions and drew a map of where her body could be located.

There was also testimony by 13-year-old Tonoah French that on the morning of April 19, 1976, she had seen defendant in Olney. Pursuant to a motion in limine she was not permitted to testify further.

The mother and step-father of the victim testified that at around 5 p.m. on April 19, their daughter was sent to the grocery store where she was to purchase hamburger, onion, green pepper and cigarettes. They described her as wearing a white football jersey with the number 68 on it, blue jeans and blue sandals. Since it had been raining, she took an umbrella with her, which they stated was identical to that found in the trunk of the Dart.

Further evidence showed that the victim had gone shopping at the grocery store after which she was seen carrying a sack of groceries. Charles Gorrell, an employee at the store, stated that between 5:20 and 5:25 p.m. he last saw the Dodge Dart in question parked behind the store with its engine running. He had seen the car parked there every time he had stepped out of the store since 5 p.m., all of which totaled about five or six times.

Lawrence Jansen testified that shortly after 5:15 p.m. he observed the victim and a man walking in an alley behind his home.

Carol Ann Rohr then testified that at around the same time she saw the victim and a man walk up and down the alley behind her home apparently looking for something. She stated that Cathy Jo Harris was carrying an umbrella identical to that found in the Dart. They then entered what she described as a brown car with yellow license plates. Subsequently, from memory, she wrote down the license number as AVJ189. She stated that she had observed the two for around four minutes under overcast daylight conditions. She then identified defendant as the man she had seen with Harris that day.

Michael Cusimano testified that he was hitchhiking in Mount Vernon, south of Newton, on the evening of April 19, 1976, at which time he was picked up by defendant. Inside the car on the back seat, Cusimano observed a sack of groceries which included an onion and a package of hamburger. He stated that defendant drove him all the way to Naples, Florida.

Illinois state trooper Donald Ziegler testified that on April 28, 1976, after following search instructions given him, he found the body of the deceased in a field. The evidence further showed that the jeans on the deceased were unzipped and that the breast area was exposed. Two photographic slides were shown depicting the body at the location it was discovered. A third photographic slide was shown of the body after it had been prepared for autopsy. This showed the upper torso of the body and stab wounds thereon.

A pathologist testified that the victim had died as a result of five stab wounds in the chest made with a sharp instrument. A vaginal examination showed the presence of sperm.

Blood analysis showed that the victim's blood type was A and defendant's blood type was O. A blood stain on defendant's watch was type A. Further, there was evidence that shoe prints found near the location of ...

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