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People v. Griffith





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. JOHN J. HOBAN, Judge, presiding.


Defendant-appellant Thurman Griffith, Jr., was found guilty of murder after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, and was sentenced to a term of 25-75 years in the penitentiary. On appeal, he claims that the cumulative prejudicial effect of evidentiary errors by the trial court, ineffective representation by defense counsel, and improper argument by the prosecutor deprived him of a fair trial. We affirm the judgment and sentence of the court below.

The evidence adduced at trial revealed that the defendant and one Johnnie Freeman decided in the early morning hours of October 24, 1976, to rob a patron of the Avalon Lounge in East St. Louis. After obtaining a sawed-off shotgun, they accosted their victim outside the lounge, led him into an alley, searched him for money, and took his hat and coat. A shot was fired, Freeman and the defendant fled into a waiting car, and the victim was found dead in the alley. His death was caused by a shotgun wound into the chest wall which extended into the right lung and caused a massive hemorrhage.

At the hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress his confession, Illinois State Police Detective Delaney testified that a confidential informant told him on the morning of October 27 that she had talked to both the defendant and Freeman after the killing. She told Delaney that the defendant had admitted to her that he had shot a man and taken a black hat from him, and that Freeman had taken the victim's leather coat. She had observed blood on the defendant's hands and trousers.

At trial, Delaney testified that later on the morning of October 27 he and another officer went to the defendant's apartment. They had information that the defendant was present and armed. After identifying themselves numerous times, and requesting that the door be opened, the officers forced their way into the apartment. The defendant was not present, but on the floor in an open closet lay a pair of blood-stained levis which matched the informant's description of the defendant's clothing on the night in question. Subsequent laboratory tests indicated the presence of human blood.

The defendant was arrested about 3 p.m. on October 27. The police had not obtained either an arrest warrant or a search warrant. No pretrial motion to suppress the blood-stained levis was filed by defense counsel. They were admitted into evidence over objection.

About 4:30 p.m. on October 27, the defendant was informed of his constitutional rights against self-incrimination and signed a waiver of those rights. Upon initial interrogation about the homicide, he denied any knowledge or involvement. However, after having been confronted with a statement which had been obtained from Johnnie Freeman, he gave an oral statement which was reduced to writing and signed by him. In the statement, the defendant admitted to his participation in the armed robbery, but attempted to blame Freeman for firing the shot which killed the victim. He stated in part:

"* * * [W]e both circled the building in opposite directions and met in the front and that's when Freeman started talking to the dude that we were going to rob because he was standing in front of the building. Freeman grabbed the dude by the arm and began to walk him behind the Avalon towards the alley and with that I grabbed the dudes other arm and we finally got him in the alley by an old burnt out shed.

This dude kept saying that he didn't have any money and that he knew John and why was he doing him that way because Freeman had hit him in the head several times with the shot gun. Freeman kept insisting that the guy had money and he made him take his shoes off and his leather jacket and a ring or rings and I then told Freeman to come on he didn't have any money.

At that point I began to walk away but first I picked up the dudes Black Felt Knox Hat that had dropped off his head and was walking down the alley when I heard a shot. I didn't turn around but I began to run West in the alley towards 12th St.

Freeman caught up with me and handed me the shot gun and to throw it away but before I could his girlfriend came up the alley in the car and we got in and I gave the gun to one of the young dudes in the car and they drove me to Gray Blvd where I got out and went to a friend house where I stayed for a while and then I went home on North 14th St.

Later the same morning I got up and was going over to a friend house in the South End and I had the Black Knox Hat with me that I threw in the weeds near 15th and 16th and Boismenue. Also that same day while at Azell Manleys house I heard that the dude behind the Avalon had been killed."

Freeman, who had negotiated dismissal of murder charges against him in exchange for his testimony at the defendant's trial and a plea of guilty to armed robbery, testified in substance that the defendant held the shotgun on the victim while Freeman searched him. After Freeman determined that the victim did not have any money, he left with the victim's leather coat. A few seconds later, he heard a shot. After he and the defendant were both back in the car, the defendant told Freeman that the victim had grabbed the gun.

In this court, the defendant urges vigorously that the levis introduced into evidence were the tainted fruit of an unconstitutional warrantless search of the defendant's apartment, and therefore should not have been introduced into evidence. He argues alternatively that admission of this evidence was plain error, and that the failure to file a ...

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