APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN A.
NORDBERG, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Clifford Hudson, on November 5, 1976, was found guilty of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2)). Defendant was sentenced to a penitentiary term of 14 to 20 years. On appeal, defendant contends that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of murder and that he was not acting in self-defense. Even if his actions were not justified, defendant contends he is guilty of no more than voluntary manslaughter.
We reduce the degree of the offense for which defendant was convicted from murder to voluntary manslaughter and remand the cause with directions.
On March 1, 1976, Clarence Williams died of a stab wound inflicted by defendant during an altercation in the deceased's apartment at 1113 South Albany, Chicago. Lealer May Williams, the deceased's common-law wife, and her brother, Willie Sanders, were also in the apartment when the stabbing took place.
According to Lealer May Williams, defendant and Willie Sanders arrived together at the Williams' apartment at about 9:15 p.m. that night. When they arrived Clarence Williams was talking on the telephone. Ms. Williams testified that she heard defendant threaten Williams and when Williams hung up the telephone several minutes later, defendant proceeded to strike him twice. Williams began to fight back and the two fell to the dining room floor where they exchanged blows for five to 10 minutes. In the course of the fight, Williams, the larger man, stood up and kicked defendant as he was lying on the floor. At this point, Sanders pulled Williams away. The fight continued briefly and then defendant, Williams and Sanders went into the kitchen. She heard Sanders say "Let's go." Ms. Williams remained in the dining room.
After about five minutes, Ms. Williams heard something metallic hit the kitchen floor. Defendant ran out of the kitchen through the dining room to the front door. Williams followed, but then clutched his side and fell to his knees in the hallway. It became obvious that Williams was injured. Defendant and Sanders lifted Williams to the couch. Defendant asked Ms. Williams to bring some towels, which defendant used to wipe the injured man's face. Ms. Williams, defendant and Sanders waited with the decedent in the apartment until the police arrived.
Willie Sanders, who resided with defendant and defendant's mother at the time of the incident, was the prosecution's second witness. He testified that on the night in question he and defendant had some drinks and then went to visit his sister, Lealer May Williams. When they arrived at the Williams' apartment, he heard defendant say to Williams, who was on the telephone, "When you're finished with that phone, I'm going to kick your mother-fucking ass."
Sanders corroborated Ms. Williams' testimony that after Williams hung up the telephone, defendant hit Williams and a fight ensued. When Williams began to kick the defendant, Sanders restrained him and said to defendant, "Let's go." Defendant agreed but then tackled Williams again and they fought briefly. Again Sanders asked defendant to leave and the three men went into the kitchen towards the back door. Near the back door, Williams leaned against the freezer and began to discuss a possible tuckpointing job with Sanders. As Sanders opened the back door to leave, he heard a noise and turned to see Williams holding his abdomen. Sanders did not see defendant stab Williams. Defendant ran from the kitchen to the front door; Williams followed slowly. Next, Sanders heard Ms. Williams calling him for help, saying Williams had been hurt.
Police Officer Padar testified that he searched the Williams' apartment that night, having obtained permission from Lealer May Williams. A knife handle was found in the front hallway and a fully loaded .32-caliber revolver was found in the front bedroom between the mattress and the box spring. Lealer May Williams and Sanders both denied ever seeing the gun or witnessing Williams threaten defendant with a weapon. Ms. Williams testified that the room in which the gun was found was occupied by her son who had not been home for four months before the incident. Sanders denied discussing the gun with Ms. Williams and both denied discussing their testimony with each other.
Officer Padar, when later called by the defense, further testified that on the night of the incident, Ms. Williams and Sanders stated to him that the fight had started in the living room-dining room area and had then moved into the kitchen. He also stated that he had noted a laceration above defendant's eye.
Prior to trial, the trial judge granted the State's motion to prohibit the defense from introducing into evidence defendant's statements to the police following the incident in which he admitted having killed Williams in self-defense.
At trial, defendant gave the following account of the events. After having something to drink, he and Sanders went to the Williams' apartment. Williams was not talking on the telephone when they arrived. Defendant testified that as he sat in the dining room, Williams began staring at him and then jumped up and came towards him. Defendant pushed him away, but Williams came at him again and a fight began. During the fight Williams kicked him and defendant suffered a cut over his eye. Someone pulled Williams away from him, and, at that point, defendant announced he was leaving by the back door. Williams yelled and came at him again and the fighting continued in the kitchen. Defendant testified that Williams put his hand in his pocket and said "I'll blow your mother-fucking brains out." Defendant stated that he could see Williams pulling a pistol from his right pocket, and became frightened because he had heard that Williams had a reputation for violence. Defendant saw a knife lying near the kitchen sink. He picked it up and ran the knife into Williams. Defendant ran to the front door but Williams followed holding the gun. In the hallway, Ms. Williams grabbed Williams' arm and he fell to the floor.
Willie Pearson, Lealer May Williams' son-in-law, testified that in his home on February 29, 1976, he had seen Ms. Williams with a brown nickel-plated gun. She told him that she carried it for protection. Pearson also testified that he later witnessed a conversation at the Williams' apartment during which Sanders told Ms. Williams that he would not testify because Williams had a gun. Pearson said that Ms. Williams told Sanders that he would either testify and say that Williams did not have a gun or find himself without a place to stay. Pearson admitted ...