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People v. Woodruff





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. ROGER H. LITTLE, Judge, presiding.


Murder — jury — guilty — 75 to 150 years — affirmed.

Woodruff was convicted of the murder of Richard Ogden, a used car salesman in Champaign, by blasting him in the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun. Following the jury conviction, the trial court sentenced Woodruff to a term of 75 to 150 years, to be served consecutively to another murder sentence of 60 to 100 years imposed in DeWitt County.

The defendant, on appeal, does not challenge the quantum or the sufficiency of the evidence produced at his trial, but rather only contends that three specific trial errors denied him a fair trial. Although he does not contest the evidence itself, we deem it appropriate to set forth at least a general outline of the facts behind this nefarious and gory slaying.

A fair synopsis of the facts indicates that on February 11, 1977, a 1973 silver and maroon Buick Century was stolen in Chicago at gunpoint by one Percy Jones, with defendant Woodruff present and acting as lookout. The weapon used was a sawed-off shotgun. Three days before the Ogden murder on February 15, both Woodruff and Jones were seen driving this same auto around Champaign. Shortly after Ogden's murder was discovered, two 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlasses were missing from the first row of the University Avenue Auto Sales lot in Champaign. Almost immediately one of the two Cutlasses (a light green one) was found about a block away and it had a license-applied-for sticker with Percy Jones' name and Richard Ogden's signature on it. Two days later, on February 17, a police officer in Peoria stopped the silver and maroon Buick which was being driven by Percy Jones. Jones was arrested, put in a paddy wagon, and on the paddy wagon floor the arresting officer found a motel key to a local motel room. Very shortly thereafter — only a few minutes — defendant Woodruff was seen by another police officer driving the missing Cutlass (a white-over-green). Woodruff drove into the motel and within a few moments was arrested. The silver and maroon Buick had a bullet hole in the front floorboard and a handgun that had been taken from the used car lot at the time of Ogden's murder was found in the Cutlass. A search of the motel room produced a .12-gauge sawed-off shotgun later identified as the murder weapon. Also, a car title made out to Percy Jones and signed by Richard Ogden was found in one of the stolen cars. The State very thoroughly and methodically connected the gun and the type of shotgun shell used in the murder to defendant Woodruff, as well as the proceeds of the crime, i.e., the stolen Cutlass and the handgun from the used car lot.

The three procedural errors that defendant claims the trial court made which resulted in a denial of a fair trial are: (1) The granting of the State's motion in limine to exclude the testimony of cellmates and a jailer concerning statements made by Woodruff's co-defendant, Percy Jones; (2) the State's testimony of other crimes committed by the defendant; and (3) the allowance of "mug shots" of the defendant to go to the jury.


A motion in limine was filed by the State to exclude testimony of certain cellmates of Percy Jones and that of one jailer where it was indicated that they would testify to certain incriminating statements made by Jones. Although defense counsel acknowledged at the time of the motion that the statements were hearsay, he argued that they were within the exception to the rule as statements against penal interest.

In the written statements attached to the motion it appeared that one cellmate would testify that according to Percy Jones the defendant Woodruff was just a "tag along guy" in the shooting. He would also testify that Jones allegedly stated that the victim (Ogden) "broke and ran" before being shot. (It is noted, however, that this is in direct contradiction to the facts on trial which clearly showed that there was no back door in the office, that the victim was shot and killed in a small back room, and that his body had not been moved.)

Another cellmate would testify that Percy Jones stated that Woodruff really didn't know about the shooting and thought that Jones was actually in the used car lot buying a car.

Yet another cellmate said that Jones admitted killing Ogden after Woodruff "chickened out." And the statement of the jailer was that he overheard Jones say that he had killed two people and that it felt good. (Jones was also involved in a murder in Clinton, DeWitt County.)

The trial judge, in ruling on the motion in limine, found that the statements were indeed hearsay, and found that no compelling reason or circumstances required the admission of the statements since they were not reliable, were not closely related to the occurrence of the crime, and had no corroboration by evidence in the record.

The defendant rested without offering evidence.

Defense argues that although they were criminals, the cellmates were disinterested in the outcome of the Woodruff trial, that the statements by Jones were supported by independent evidence, that Jones' statements were self-incriminating (therefore increasing reliability), and that Jones was available for cross-examination. The State, on the other hand, argues that this case does not fall within the narrow exception to the hearsay exclusion, that Woodruff's guilt was overwhelming, and that the four factors of reliability grounded in case law were not present. The State says that the statements were not spontaneous or closely related in time to the occurrence of the crime, that they were not corroborated by evidence at the trial, that although the statements might have been against Jones' penal interest, the real ...

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