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People v. Sparkman





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN A. NORDBERG, Judge, presiding.


After a jury trial, defendants were convicted of armed robbery. On appeal, they contend (1) that they were denied a fair trial because the trial court (a) failed to narrow the scope of cross-examination of defense witnesses and (b) improperly admitted certain opinion testimony; and (2) that they were not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

At about 7:30 p.m. on a February evening, Ava Davis and her two daughters, aged 4 and 7, arrived at the apartment building where they resided. As Ava checked her mailbox located in the ground floor lobby of the building, she saw two men whom she later identified as defendants walking backwards toward her. They turned in her direction, and she observed them for five seconds before they pulled scarves over their faces and announced a holdup. William, who had been seen by Ava around the area on four or five prior occasions, stood facing her while pointing a gun at her head, and Robert, standing a few feet to the rear of William, held a knife to the throat of her four-year-old daughter. In response to William's demand, Ava gave him her bag containing her wallet, a cosmetic bag, meat, brandy and $7, which he handed to Robert. Robert, in taking the bag, released the child and, when he did so, the scarf fell and exposed his face. At the same time, the child began to run from the building, and when William turned to see what was transpiring behind him, Ava pulled the scarf from his face. After a six- or seven-second interval, defendants ran from the building, followed by Ava. Reaching the exit, Ava and the child fled to the left while defendants turned right and ran into an adjacent building.

Ava located her boyfriend, Charles Kemp, a Chicago police officer, and when she told him what had happened he accompanied her to the building entered by defendants but they found no one in the stairwell, and an official call was then made to the police.

At about 8:45 that evening four Chicago policemen went to the same building in search of Anthony Sparkman, defendants' brother, to arrest him for three unrelated robberies. When they knocked at the door of apartment 301 and announced their office, they heard the sound of three different voices and the scuffling of feet within. After approximately 30 seconds, two of the officers left the building and positioned themselves outside at the building's southeast corner to observe the windows of apartment 301. While there, they saw a smoldering purse fly out of the south window of the apartment. They lost sight of the east window when they were retrieving the purse.

Meanwhile, the two officers who had remained stationed at the apartment door were admitted after 5 to 10 minutes by Hollis Sullivan, a friend of defendants' mother who leased the apartment. The officers found no one else in the apartment; but, in the meantime, the other two officers had discovered that the purse contained documents indicating it was owned by Ava Davis. Via radio communication, they learned that Ava had earlier reported a robbery. Responding to that radio call, Officer Kemp went to apartment 301, where he identified Ava's purse as well as the brandy and meat he had purchased for her earlier that evening. Sullivan then told the police that Anthony and Robert had been in the apartment but had jumped out of the window when the officers came to the door.

Shortly after 10 p.m., the police received a telephone call from a man identifying himself as Robert Sparkman, and officers were dispatched to apartment 301, where Robert was apprehended. At 12:45 a.m. Ava viewed a lineup composed of six men, including Robert, whom she identified as one of her assailants. Thereafter, police evidence technicians, while photographing the interior of the apartment, found Anthony sleeping in the bedroom and placed him under arrest for the unrelated robberies. At about 2 a.m. Ava viewed Anthony in a one-man show up but said that he was not one of the offenders. Later, William was arrested in the apartment of a friend, Maria Lewis, who resided down the hall from apartment 301 and, at about 3 a.m. in another show up, Ava identified William as the man who had held her at gunpoint and robbed her. At approximately 4 a.m., Lewis went to the station and told police that she had observed the incident in question and that Anthony and one Gregory McNulty were the offenders. The police were unsuccessful in their attempts to locate McNulty.

At trial, Lewis testified that at approximately 7:45 p.m. on the night in question she heard sounds from outside and went to her kitchen window. She observed a woman, two children and two men run from the building adjacent to hers; however, she was unable to identify any of these people at that time. She then went out on her porch and saw two men known to her to be Anthony Sparkman and McNulty ascend the stairway located near apartment 301 and, when they reached the third floor, one of them dropped a knife. She also saw that Anthony was carrying a tan purse when they entered apartment 301.

Anthony testified that he and McNulty robbed Ava, using a knife but not a gun, and that after running from the scene he saw Lewis on the first floor of her building. He and McNulty then went upstairs to apartment 301 in the same building, where they divided the proceeds. When the police arrived at 9 p.m., he set fire to the purse and threw it out of the bathroom window. After about 10 or 15 minutes, the police left without gaining entry to the apartment.

Sullivan testified that when he spoke to the officers he told them that he had not thrown the burning bag from the window; that Anthony and McNulty had been in the apartment since 8:30 that evening and that they must have exited the apartment by jumping from the window, as there was only one door.

Pearline Digby testified that on the night in question William arrived at her home at 7 p.m. to visit her daughter, Aretha, and that he remained until she left the house at 9 o'clock. Aretha testified that William did not leave the Digby home until 9:50 p.m.

Defendants' mother testified that she drove Robert to the home of his great-uncle, Early Hemphill, at 5 p.m. on the date in question to inquire about a possible job opportunity; that Anthony had a pair of dark-rimmed prescription glasses but that Robert did not wear prescription glasses. (In her description to police, Ava indicated that Robert wore dark-rimmed glasses with clear lenses.) Mrs. Hemphill then testified that Robert visited with her and her husband from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on the evening of the robbery.


Defendants first contend that they were denied a fair trial because the trial court refused to restrict the cross-examination of certain defense witnesses which was calculated to harass and humiliate them, and because the opinion of a police officer regarding the ...

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