APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD
J. FITZGERALD, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE PERLIN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant, Eugene Varnado, in a bench trial was found guilty of the murder of Hazel Durham and was sentenced to serve from 25 to 50 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary. Defendant appeals.
The issues presented for review are (1) whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was sane at the time of the commission of the offense and (2) whether the trial court's decision to exclude evidence contained in a letter written by defendant to his mother was an abuse of discretion.
The following facts were adduced by stipulation: In early September 1972 the victim, Hazel Durham, leased a room to the defendant, Eugene Varnado. Defendant's whereabouts were thereafter unknown until he was arrested in San Francisco on September 24, 1972. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on September 14, 1972, Max Terrell, another tenant of Mrs. Durham, found a set of the landlady's keys under a blanket on the bed in his room. Terrell noticed Mrs. Durham's car was not parked outside, and he assumed she was not at home. Before leaving for work the next morning, Terrell noticed Mrs. Durham's car was still missing. On his way to work he tried to reach Mrs. Durham by telephone to ask about the keys but found her line continuously busy. Fearing that something was amiss, Terrell called police. He then met two Chicago police officers, Stack and Cunningham, at Mrs. Durham's home. They discovered Mrs. Durham's body in the living room, and it appeared that her throat had been slashed. The room was in disarray, and a television set, stereo equipment, a camera and various other items belonging to the victim were missing.
On September 22, 1972, the victim's car was discovered abandoned in St. Louis, Missouri. Mrs. Durham's television set, stereo equipment and camera were retrieved from the vehicle along with a suitcase and briefcase containing defendant's name.
On September 24, 1972, investigators Sykes and Crump of the Chicago Police Department were informed by defendant's mother, Mrs. Varnado, that defendant was in San Francisco. Mrs. Varnado told police that defendant had asked her to purchase a prepaid airline ticket from San Francisco to Chicago for him under the name of Charles White. Defendant was arrested as he attempted to board the plane in San Francisco. At the San Francisco police station defendant gave a lengthy tape recorded statement detailing the murder and his subsequent flight from the scene to avoid capture by police. On October 1, 1972, Officers McCabe and Kenny of the Chicago Police Department transported defendant and defendant's taped confession back to Chicago.
After the State presented its case, defendant raised the affirmative defense of insanity. Dr. Kelleher, Director of the Psychiatric Institute of the circuit court of Cook County, testified on defendant's behalf. Dr. Kelleher examined defendant on three separate occasions totaling four hours: March 15, 1974, and April 1, 1975, to determine defendant's fitness to stand trial, and July 23, 1975, to determine defendant's mental state. *fn1
Dr. Kelleher concluded that on the date of the murder defendant was suffering from a mental illness to such an extent that he was unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior and was unable to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law. In reaching his conclusions, Dr. Kelleher relied on his examinations of the accused, discussions with defendant's mother, various psychological tests given to defendant, the report of another psychiatrist, Dr. Malek, *fn2 the police report and defendant's confession given to the San Francisco police.
Dr. Kelleher stated that defendant belonged to the Black Muslim organization, but that his ideas on the religion were fanatical and "mixed with delusions." The doctor termed defendant's illness a "paranoid type of psychosis" in that defendant was suffering from delusions and "possibly hallucinations of persecutory nature." The doctor also stated that defendant acted under the false belief that his landlady was extremely harmful to him. Dr. Kelleher concluded that because of these delusions defendant was "forced to kill Mrs. Durham," but the doctor acknowledged that the fact that defendant told the San Franciso police that he contemplated for ten minutes whether or not to kill Mrs. Durham was inconsistent with the doctor's theory that defendant was "forced" to commit murder. Dr. Kelleher also acknowledged that defendant's flight from the scene after placing the victim's keys in Terrell's room could be interpreted as defendant's desire to avoid capture and to shift suspicion to another person.
Dr. Bernard Rubin, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and law professor at Northwestern University Law School, testified in rebuttal that he examined defendant on October 8, 1975. Dr. Rubin concluded that although defendant suffered from a mental illness at the time of the offense, the illness did not preclude defendant from appreciating the criminality of his conduct or conforming his conduct to the requirements of the law. Dr. Rubin based his conclusions on his examination of defendant, his reading the reports of Doctors Kelleher, Malek and Schlensky of the Psychiatric Institute of Cook County, psychological reports on defendant, the police report and on defendant's confession.
Dr. Rubin determined that defendant did not suffer from any hallucinations. He stated that although defendant may have suffered from a delusion at the time he attacked Mrs. Durham, it was not a "compelling delusion" which would deprive him of control over his behavior. Defendant planned much of his activity and had the capacity to determine his actions.
Officer Russell Ahlgrim of the San Francisco Police Department testified that he conversed with defendant and observed his demeanor. It was his opinion that defendant was not suffering from a mental disease on September 24, 1972. The officer expressed his opinion based on his experience as a mental health officer for 4 1/2 years and his two years in the Navy as a supervisor over corpsmen working in the mental ward at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
San Francisco police officer Donald Hanson testified that he was present when defendant made his tape recorded confession. It was his opinion that on September 24, 1972, defendant appeared "lucid, rational, in control of his faculties," and ...