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People v. Merritt





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


Defendant, Otis Merritt, Jr., was charged by information with the offenses of rape and intimidation. Following a trial by jury, the defendant was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to concurrent terms of 5 to 10 years for rape and 1 to 3 years for intimidation.

The defendant's principal claim on appeal is that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt of the crime charged. The complaining witness, Valerie Ingram, a freshman student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, testified that she had first met the defendant during the week of August 22, 1977. Ingram and the defendant saw each other subsequent to this first meeting, but always in the presence of other students or persons. Approximately a week and a half after they first met, Ingram told the defendant that he was beginning to annoy her and her roommate, and she asked that he not visit them anymore.

Three days later, on September 5, 1977, the defendant called Ingram and insisted on seeing her that evening. When the defendant arrived at Ingram's dormitory, she first declined to leave with him, but acquiesced after the defendant insisted and took hold of her arm and ushered her into a waiting cab.

Ingram and the defendant were driven to two different bars in Champaign-Urbana by the same cab driver at the direction of the defendant. After leaving the first bar, Ingram asked the defendant to take her back to her dormitory, but he refused, and directed the cab driver to proceed to a second stop, a nightclub called the "Smiling Eyes." When they arrived, the defendant left the cab and told the driver not to go anywhere. Ingram remained in the cab and after a few minutes she asked the driver to take her home, but he gave no response and failed to comply with her request. Ingram's account of her request to the driver was not contradicted.

After the defendant returned to the cab, he told the driver to go to a place called Graveyard Hill. On the way there, Ingram allegedly told the defendant that she wanted to go home, and, upon her doing so, the defendant became angry and stated that if she did not do what she was told he would hurt her and her family. When they arrived at Graveyard Hill, the driver left the cab. Ingram testified that the cab had stopped on a secluded side road bordered by trees and shrubs. She further stated, that being a new resident of Champaign-Urbana she did not really know where she was. After the driver had left the cab, the defendant, according to Ingram, told her he wanted her to work as a prostitute for him. When she refused, the defendant slapped her face several times and again threatened that if she did not do what he asked he would "mess up" her face and hurt her family. The defendant then pushed Ingram out of the cab where he repeated his threats and again struck her. Ingram testified that she did not try to run away because she did not know where she was and she did not seek assistance from the cab driver because it seemed to her that the driver knew the defendant.

After they had returned to the cab and while riding back to Ingram's dormitory, the defendant tried to remove Ingram's pants. Again, she did not ask the driver for help because of the defendant's prior threats and her belief that the driver would not assist her. The State also introduced the testimony of the cab driver, William Brainard, that during the drive from Graveyard Hill to the dormitory he overheard the defendant ask Ingram, "You're going to call the police, aren't you?"

When they arrived at the dormitory, the defendant followed Ingram to her room and as they walked through the lounge of the dormitory, Ingram and the defendant passed by other students. Ingram stated that she did not ask any of these people for help, because just prior to entering the building, the defendant threatened he would kill her if she tried anything.

When they entered Ingram's room, the defendant had a short conversation with Ingram's roommate, Peggy Taylor, and Taylor thereafter left the room. The defendant, after pushing Ingram, told her to get on her bed, which she did, and he began to pull her pants off. As he was pulling her pants, he told her that "from now on you're going to do what I say," and that she was a "whore." Ingram also testified that he again repeated that if she tried anything or went to anyone he would kill her and her family. Ingram who was 5 feet tall and weighed 103 pounds, stated that she attempted to resist the defendant's efforts by demanding in a loud voice that he leave her alone and by twisting her legs and locking her ankles.

The defendant succeeded in eventually removing Ingram's pants and underwear and in undoing her blouse. During this struggle, however, none of her clothes were torn. After the defendant had undressed, he climbed on top of her, but because she had again twisted her legs and folded her body, the defendant was unable to have intercourse with her. The defendant then told Ingram to get on top of him, and she complied with the demand and changed her position. The defendant then made penetration. Ingram testified that she had acquiesced in his demand to get on top of him because he had threatened that if she didn't cooperate with him he would kill her. After the act was completed and while she dressed, the defendant told her that "now [she] was really a whore," and again threatened her and her family if she tried to go to the police.

After she had dressed, Ingram left the room and went across the hall to a dormitory bathroom. On the way, she saw her roommate who followed her into the bathroom, while the defendant remained in the hallway outside the bathroom door. While in the bathroom, Ingram grabbed Taylor and told her, "Don't leave me alone with him." On direct examination, Taylor testified that Ingram appeared scared, frightened, and had tears in her eyes. On cross-examination, Ingram admitted that the bathroom she had entered had two entrances and that it would have been possible to exit through the other entrance into a different hallway. She stated, however, that she didn't leave by this other entrance because the defendant was standing by the bathroom door watching every move she made. After leaving the bathroom, Taylor entered their dormitory room and the defendant closed the door behind her while he and Ingram remained in the hallway. He then told Ingram to walk him to a waiting cab. On cross-examination, however, Ingram could neither remember whether the defendant had asked her to walk with him or whether he had kissed her goodnight before he left.

After returning to her room, she began to cry and told her roommate, "You don't know what I've gone through to keep my life tonight." Taylor, in her direct testimony, stated that Ingram informed her in so many words that "he" had raped her. Ingram did not call the police at that time because the defendant, prior to leaving, had told her that if she tried to tell anyone or call the police, he would know because he had contacts in the police department. She thereafter decided she would leave town, but was unable to reach any of her family or friends in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, at approximately 1:30 or 2 a.m. on September 6, Ingram and Taylor decided to go to the home of Taylor's sister who lived in Champaign. During direct examination, both stated that they became lost and that they did not arrive at the house until 5 or 6 a.m. that morning.

Later, on the morning of September 6, Ingram, Taylor, and Taylor's sister returned to Ingram's dormitory. Don Kamalsky, a resident coordinator for the university, was contacted concerning the incident in Ingram's room, and following a discussion with the three women, the police were called.

Later that same day, the defendant returned to Ingram's dormitory. Kamalsky testified that he called the police. While the defendant was talking to another resident director, the police arrived and the defendant began ...

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