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People v. Fields

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 28, 1978.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

NATHSON FIELDS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. THEODORE M. SWAIN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE ROMITI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

After a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Nathson Fields, was found guilty of the murder of Larry Watkins (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 9-1), and the aggravated battery of Charles Merriweather (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 12-4). Defendant was sentenced to a term of 35 to 50 years in the penitentiary on the murder charge and 1 to 10 years on the charge of aggravated battery, the sentences to run concurrently.

Defendant presents five contentions for consideration on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in finding that defendant was accountable for the conduct of Martin in shooting and killing Watkins; (2) the highest degree of homicide for which defendant is responsible is voluntary manslaughter; (3) defendant's warrantless arrest was unlawful; (4) the trial court erred in refusing to require the State to reveal the name of the person who supposedly gave information leading to defendant's arrest; and (5) the sentence of 35 to 50 years is excessive. *fn1

We affirm.

The trial testimony of Charles Merriweather and defendant's out-of-court statement as they relate to the incident are essentially the same. On October 1, 1971, at 11:30 p.m., Merriweather, Larry Watkins and Doris Lay left a party in Merriweather's automobile. When they stopped at a stop sign at a nearby street corner, two men, defendant and Robert Martin, stepped from the corner, hollered "Stone Love" and began firing handguns at the driver's side of the vehicle. Both men put their arms through the window and attempted to further discharge their weapons, but the guns were empty at the time and they fled. The occupants of the car were not hit.

Merriweather and Watkins chased their assailants. As Martin was climbing over a fence, Merriweather caught him; they fell over into a field and began fighting. Defendant came to Martin's aid by twice striking Merriweather on the head with his gun. Watkins called out for Merriweather, who reported his position. Martin broke away from the fight with Merriweather, reloaded his weapon and shot Watkins, who had just jumped over the fence. As Merriweather broke away, defendant told Martin to shoot him. A shot was fired but Merriweather was not hit as he jumped over the fence and ran away. Several more shots were fired. Charles Merriweather and Larry Watkins were not armed during the incident.

As defendant and Martin were escaping, Martin fired two shots at an innocent bystander, George Woods. One shot creased Woods' shoulder, and the other struck him in the face. Defendant and Martin had mistakenly believed that Woods was rival gang member Merriweather.

The police recovered the two weapons from Martin's home. Two bullets were recovered from the body of the deceased, Larry Watkins. The cause of death was a bullet wound to the head. Ballistics and other evidence indicated that Martin fired the fatal shot.

At the conclusion of the trial, the court made certain findings of fact. It found that both defendant and Martin had fired at Merriweather's car and its occupants, and that Martin shot and killed Watkins, shot and wounded George Woods, and shot at, but missed, Charles Merriweather. The court found defendant guilty of the aggravated battery of Charles Merriweather, and this finding is not challenged on appeal. The court found defendant guilty of the murder of Larry Watkins on the basis of his accountability for the conduct of Robert Martin. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 5-2.

I.

• 1 Defendant's first contention is that he is not accountable for the conduct of Martin in shooting and killing Watkins. He argues that at the time Martin shot and killed Watkins, defendant was 15 feet away engaged in a fight with Charles Merriweather. He concludes that he did nothing to aid, abet or solicit Martin. The State argues that where an individual attaches himself to a group bent on illegal acts which are dangerous or homicidal in character, or which will probably or necessarily require the use of force and violence that could result in the taking of life unlawfully, he becomes criminally liable for any wrongdoings committed by other members of the group in furtherance of the common purpose, or as a natural or probable consequence thereof, even though he did not actively participate in the overt act itself. People v. Tate (1976), 63 Ill.2d 105, 345 N.E.2d 480; People v. Hughes (1962), 26 Ill.2d 114, 183 N.E.2d 834.

• 2 With this well-established principle in mind, we find that there was ample evidence that defendant aided and abetted Martin in the shooting of Watkins, and the trial court was justified in so finding. Defendant and Martin fired at the automobile occupied by Merriweather and Watkins, and there was further evidence that they attempted to shoot at the occupants at closer range. The victims chased their fleeing aggressors and caught them. Defendant came to Martin's aid during his struggle with Merriweather and exhorted Martin to shoot Merriweather after Watkins had been shot. Afterwards, defendant attempted to conceal his participation in the episode. It is evident that defendant countenanced and approved the acts of Martin in killing Watkins. He was present when Watkins was shot without disapproving or opposing Martin's actions. There was sufficient evidence to find him accountable. People v. Morgan (1977), 67 Ill.2d 1, 364 N.E.2d 56; People v. Cole (1977), 47 Ill. App.3d 775, 362 N.E.2d 432.

II.

Defendant's second contention is that the homicide committed by Martin was voluntary manslaughter and, therefore, defendant should be accountable for the lower grade of homicide. Defendant claims that Martin had ceased being the aggressor and was under attack by his victim, but his use of deadly force was unreasonable within the meaning of section 9-2(b) of the Criminal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 9-2(b)). Defendant also cites the proposition that a homicide committed ...


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