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People v. Meagher





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of La Salle County; the Hon. WILLIAM P. DENNY, Judge, presiding.


Following a jury trial, judgments of conviction for two counts of aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated battery were entered against the defendant, Leo John Meagher, Jr. The circuit court of La Salle County sentenced defendant to three years probation on each count, the sentences to run concurrently. As a condition of probation, defendant was to serve a term of periodic imprisonment for six months.

The charges were based upon an incident occurring in Earlville, Illinois, on August 28, 1976. Melvin Cronin, a part-time police officer for Earlville, testified that on the evening of that day he had a meeting with Police Chief Owen Finnegan in the parking lot of the Earlville high school. Finnegan told Cronin that friends of his would be driving through Earlville that evening in a dark green Charger and that he did not want Cronin stopping them. Finnegan explained that he would stop the vehicle for a routine traffic stop and then radio for Cronin to come by to see the car he was to leave alone. Later, Finnegan radioed Cronin and gave him his location. Finnegan was standing at the driver's side of the automobile as Cronin drove by. Although Cronin in a prior sworn statement stated that he never really got a good look at the front seat passenger, at trial he identified defendant as that passenger. Cronin recognized defendant because he had previously met him at Finnegan's home.

Several other State witnesses testified that on the evening of August 28 they observed Finnegan talking to the driver of a dark green Charger. One witness stated that one of the individuals in the car looked like the defendant.

During the course of the evening, three men, Hovious, Little, and Stults, were stopped by the occupants of a green Charger and Little was questioned at gun point as to the whereabouts of three individuals named Fultz, Kuntz, and Wittaker. A canister of mace was displayed by one of the assailants. During the questioning, Fultz and Kuntz drove by in another vehicle and were pointed out to the assailants, who returned to the green Charger and pursued the Fultz vehicle.

Scott Fultz testified that on August 28 at about midnight he and Mat Kuntz were driving through Earlville when a green Charger approached them. One of the passengers leaned out and pointed a gun at them. After Fultz stopped his car, the three occupants of the Charger got out of the car armed with guns. Fultz noticed one of them had a canister of mace in his shirt pocket. Fultz identified People's exhibits 11 and 12 as similar to the canister he observed. After Fultz identified himself, one of the assailants drove the Fultz car into the country while holding a gun on Fultz and Kuntz. The other car followed. After the two cars stopped and everyone got out, Fultz and Kuntz were told by one of their assailants that he did not like rocks being thrown at cars and cars being painted. He said they were going to straighten out the town of Earlville. The assailants put away their guns and two of them took baseball bats out of their car and started swinging at Fultz and Kuntz with the bats and their fists. Fultz received a blow on the back which he thought came from a baseball bat. Kuntz ran away with shots being fired in his direction as he left. Fultz was told to walk down the road and after walking some distance, he ran into a corn field and escaped. Neither Fultz nor Kuntz could identify any of their assailants.

According to Cronin, on the following day, August 29, Finnegan called Cronin at his home concerning a possible change in work shifts. At that time Finnegan told Cronin that some boys from Earlville had been roughed up a bit the night before by some of his friends. Cronin testified over defendant's objection that Finnegan said one of the individuals involved was the individual Cronin had met at Finnegan's home the previous week. From the context of Cronin's testimony, all concede that this reference was to the defendant. Finnegan also told Cronin he would not be implicated in the incident in any way.

Cronin talked to other police authorities and the state's attorney and based upon his information, the La Salle County Sheriff's Department obtained an arrest warrant for defendant and a search warrant for his home and his automobile. After arresting the defendant, authorities executed the search warrant and discovered several canisters of mace later identified at trial as being similar to the ones used by the assailants of Kuntz and Fultz. Defendant was read his Miranda rights upon arrest and again before he gave an oral statement. Defendant stated he went to Earlville that night with Bill Fredericks and John Marincic in a green Charger in order to teach "those kids" a lesson. Defendant admitted to holding a can of mace. He explained his actions were motivated by a rock-throwing incident. A week before kids had thrown rocks, stones and bricks at the squad car he and Finnegan were riding in. Defendant refused to give a written statement. Two police officers were present when the oral statement was given.

John Marincic was arrested and his green Charger seized. At trial his car was identified as being similar to the one seen in Earlville on August 28 except it was without wide tires, white stripe and a C.B. antenna that some witnesses stated were on the assailants' car.

Defendant presented an alibi defense. Defendant, his wife, Virginia Fredericks, William Fredericks, and John Miller all generally testified that on August 28 defendant arrived at the Fredericks residence at about 8 p.m. and did not leave until 3 a.m. the next morning. The State impeached William Fredericks by means of a 1968 burglary conviction. The State presented evidence that statements given by the defendant's various alibi witnesses, apparently prior to trial, were typed by Mrs. Fredericks.

Defendant took the stand in his own behalf and denied leaving the Fredericks home on the evening of August 28, and denied any participation in the crimes. While defendant admitted being in Earlville with Finnegan on several occasions prior to August 28, he denied making any statement to police about the incident.

Finnegan took the stand and generally denied arranging to have Kuntz and Fultz "beat up." In his conversation with Cronin on August 28, Finnegan did not tell Cronin that defendant was involved in the incident. Finnegan denied telling John Gunderson, the assistant chief-of-police of Earlville, that the abductors screwed up by ordering the boys to leave him alone.

John Gunderson testified that on September 1, 1976, he and Finnegan were looking for a subject who had escaped from custody. At that time, Finnegan told Gunderson he had done it and that he had screwed up by stopping the car in which the abductors were riding.

Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion in limine asking the court to deny the admission of Cronin's testimony concerning out-of-court declarations by Finnegan implicating the defendant. The trial court believed that a declaration by a co-conspirator after the crime was fully executed is admissible against any co-conspirator if the declaration was made for the purpose of covering up the commission of the offense. Accordingly, at trial the court allowed Cronin's testimony as to Finnegan's ...

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