APPEAL from the Circuit Court of De Witt County; the Hon.
WILLIAM C. CALVIN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE REARDON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendant, Percy Lee Jones, appeals his convictions for murder, aggravated kidnaping, theft of property valued in excess of $150, and unlawful use of weapons, violations of sections 9-1, 10-2, 16-1(e)(3), and 24-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, pars. 9-1, 10-2, 16-1(e)(3), 24-1). Defendant received concurrent sentences of 60 to 100 years' imprisonment for murder, 15 to 30 years for aggravated kidnaping, 3 to 10 years for theft, and 1 to 3 years for unlawful use of weapons. Defendant only appeals his convictions, not the sentences imposed thereon.
On appeal, defendant contends that he was denied a fair trial by: (1) the presentation of a post-mortem facial photograph of the victim to the jury; (2) the prosecutor's opening statement; (3) the presentation to the jury of evidence of his involvement in the allegedly unrelated theft of two automobiles; and (4) the alleged incompetence of his court-appointed counsel.
During defendant's trial, testimony established that the defendant and an acquaintance from Chicago, Donald Woodruff, left Chicago during the early morning hours of Friday, February 11, 1977, in a 1973 silver and maroon Buick Century automobile bearing license plate number DS 8841. The automobile was stolen from Derrick Smith by the defendant who used a shotgun to shoot Smith in the foot. From that time until approximately noon on Monday, February 14, 1977, the defendant and Woodruff resided at a rooming house in Champaign which was maintained by Katherine Lewis. After 2 p.m. on February 14, 1977, a number of witnesses observed defendant and Woodruff in the Buick. Two witnesses even observed a white man with defendant and Woodruff as the trio suspiciously entered the Buick at the parking lot of a Clinton foodstore. Later that afternoon, an Illinois Central-Gulf R.R. Co. employee discovered the body of the 18-year-old victim, Tony Fairchild, lying face down in a snowy ditch south of Clinton. Fairchild appeared to have been shot in the head with a shotgun.
At noon on the day of the murder, the victim's girlfriend, Sheila Thompson, accepted a 1/2-hour ride in the victim's 1976 Pontiac Firebird "Trans Am" at which time she observed a coffee can (People's Exhibit No. 30) which was three-fourths full of small change. The witness also identified People's Exhibit No. 50 as an 8-track tape deck she had given the victim at Christmas 1976. Another witness, Richard Lynn, a motel employee in East Peoria, testified that he installed the tape deck in an Oldsmobile Cutlass for Donald Woodruff for $5. The Cutlass was parked next to Derrick Smith's Buick Century at the time of the installation.
Edith Karch, a teller at the Commercial Bank in Champaign testified that at 3:35 p.m. on the day of the murder, a black man asked her to cash a coffee can full of change for him. The coffee can was People's Exhibit No. 30. The change totaled $41.65 and the man left the coffee can at the bank in the pot of a window plant. Although Ms. Karch could not identify the black man, another customer present at the time, Paul Selin, identified Woodruff as Ms. Karch's customer.
At the time of their arrests on February 17, 1977, Woodruff and the defendant were registered guests at the Best Inns Motel in Peoria. The defendant was assigned Room 245 and Woodruff was assigned Room 243. Upon obtaining search warrants for the rooms, the police discovered a shotgun, People's Exhibit No. 37, beneath a pillow in Room 245. Sergeant Gary Locke of the Peoria Police Department testified that he arrested defendant while defendant was driving the Buick which had been stolen from Derrick Smith in Chicago. Locke testified that, at the time of his booking, the defendant stated that: "[I]f his partner had been in the car, his partner would have crawled into the back seat and shot me, * * * [that] they had rented more than one motel room at the Best Inns Motel
* * * [that] they had planned to die, if necessary
* * * [and that] they were waiting for their girlfriends to arrive from Chicago at midnight." Shortly after his arrest and while being interviewed at the county jail in Peoria, defendant stated, "Those people will probably think the killing was racially connected, but it really wasn't."
Daniel Edminson testified that he was a Vandalia inmate serving time after pleading guilty to forgery and auto theft. He stated that he and the defendant served time together in the Champaign County jail in late February and that he occasionally spoke with the defendant. During one of those conversations, the defendant told him he had killed a man in Clinton by shooting him with a sawed-off shotgun because he wanted the victim's "Trans Am," that he enjoyed the murder, that he thought it was funny, and that a fellow named Don "chickened out" so he committed the crime himself after ordering the victim to lie down in a ditch. On cross-examination, the witness stated that he originally denied overhearing defendant's statement, but that he admitted hearing the statement just prior to his sentencing hearing. Dale Locke, Sr., the Champaign County jailer, also testified that he overheard the conversation between Edminson and the defendant on February 26, 1977.
The photograph objected to by defendant is an 8" x 10", black and white photograph of the victim's upper body as it rested at the scene of the crime, after a State crime scene technician rolled the victim onto his back. The photograph clearly displays the part of the victim's head which was blown away by the pointblank blast of a shotgun. Although defendant objected to admission of the photograph into evidence, it was admitted after the coroner and crime scene technician testified that it accurately depicted the condition of the victim.
1 The general rule is that the admission of photographs of the victim of a murder is a matter reserved to the sound discretion of the trial judge. (People v. Myers (1966), 35 Ill.2d 311, 331, 220 N.E.2d 297.) Where the photograph is relevant and establishes some fact in issue, it is admissible even though it has a gruesome nature. (People v. Henenberg (1973), 55 Ill.2d 5, 13-14, 302 N.E.2d 27.) The photograph may be relevant to the victim's identity (People v. Gerecke (1977), 45 Ill. App.3d 510, 514, 359 N.E.2d 1178), to corroborate evidence concerning an unusual cause of death (People v. Newbury (1972), 53 Ill.2d 228, 242, 290 N.E.2d 592) or to assist the jury in understanding medical testimony concerning the cause of death. People v. Owens (1976), 65 Ill.2d 83, 90, 357 N.E.2d 465.
In Henenberg, the court stated it was not error to admit a photograph of the victim's badly decomposed skull (showing a bullet hole) and left arm (in a cast). In Myers, the court found no error in the admission of photographs of a 10-year-old female victim's body with her hands tied behind her back, a cloth tied across her mouth, and a bullet wound in her forehead. In Gerecke, five color photographs were taken at the scene of a shotgun slaying and at the morgue prior to an autopsy.
2 In the instant case, the photograph to which the defendant objects clearly corroborates the testimony of a pathologist, Dr. Abraham Ginsberg, who examined the victim's body and gave his opinion as to the cause of death. The photograph also corroborated the testimony of a number of other witnesses who testified in regard ...