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People v. Foster





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Frank W. Barbaro, Judge, presiding.


A jury in the circuit court of Cook County convicted the defendant, Sidney Foster, of murder and concealment of a homicidal death in connection with the death of Vivian Patterson. With one judge dissenting, the appellate court reversed and remanded (56 Ill. App.3d 22), holding (1) that the State had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant had caused the death of the victim, (2) that the State had failed to prove defendant's sanity at the time of his concealment of the victim's homicidal death, and (3) that the trial court had committed plain error by failing to hold a hearing to inquire into the defendant's alleged incompetency to stand trial. We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal, and we now reverse.

We turn first to the alleged insufficiency of the evidence as to the cause of the decedent's death. (The length of the record in this case (over 2,000 pages) precludes effective summarization of its every nuance. We therefore will set forth only such evidence as is necessary to illustrate the error of the appellate court's holding on this issue.) The defendant, who was a music promoter, had lived with the decedent, who was a singer, and her four children for approximately 2 1/2 years at the time of her death. The relationship between the defendant and the victim was complicated by defendant's transsexuality; i.e., he considered himself a woman. Nonetheless, the defendant claimed to be the father of the victim's 12-year-old son, Solomon. Solomon, however, testified over defendant's objection that the defendant had forced him to engage in homosexual behavior with the defendant.

Chicago Police Officer Patrick Carroll testified that, as reflected in his official police report on the day after the defendant's arrest, Diane Adams, an acquaintance of the defendant, told him and other police officers that early in December 1973 the defendant had told her that he was distressed by the possibility that the decedent would move to California without him, taking Solomon away from him. At trial, Ms. Adams denied having made the foregoing statement to police.

On or about December 18, 1973, the defendant borrowed a .38-caliber Roehm revolver and six .38-caliber bullets from Edward Thomas, a musician, telling Thomas that he (defendant) needed the gun because of harassment in connection with his music recording business. The defendant refused to handle the gun in Thomas' presence, and Thomas placed the gun and ammunition in a camera case that the defendant had brought with him for that purpose.

During most of the Christmas holiday period the decedent's children were out of the apartment, staying with their mother's ex-husband, Lucius Hudson. One of the children, Sandra Hudson, visited the apartment on December 27 or 28, at which time she saw her mother, but when Sandra visited again on December 29 or 30, she did not see her mother. Defendant told Sandra that the decedent was in California. Solomon, too, was unable to reach his mother when he called home on or about December 29, and defendant told him also that his mother was in California.

Sometime during the day of December 31, 1973, Edward Thomas called the defendant, asking for the return of his gun. At about 5:30 or 6:30 that evening, the defendant returned the weapon to Thomas, but returned only two of the six bullets, telling Thomas that "he thought he got the dude and wouldn't be needing the gun any more."

On or shortly before that same evening, the defendant offered $5,000 each to Wilbur Richburg and Marvin Morgan to dispose of decedent's body. Both Richburg and Morgan testified that they observed the decedent's deteriorating corpse at this time, though their testimony is not completely consistent as to whether this occurred on or before New Year's Eve. Neither, however, testified to seeing Solomon at the apartment, and Solomon testified that he was at home New Year's Eve.

Upon their return home from Lucius Hudson's house, the decedent's children noticed a "bad smell" coming from their mother's locked bedroom. Sometime in mid-January, Richburg and Morgan returned to the decedent's apartment, where they dismembered her corpse and transported it to the trunk of defendant's car, where police officers discovered it on January 23, 1974. The State's medical expert testified that death was due to bullet wounds, and the State's firearms expert testified that a .38-caliber bullet recovered from the corpse had characteristics consistent with its having been fired from a .38-caliber Roehm revolver. However, about four days after defendant returned the revolver to Edward Thomas, Thomas loaned it to someone else, who disposed of it while being pursued by police officers in connection with another matter. Because the revolver was not recovered, the State neither was able to demonstrate that the weapon which the defendant had borrowed was the same weapon, nor even the same model as that which had fired the bullet recovered from the victim.

Two defense witnesses and one State witness who was a friend of the defendant testified that they had spoken with the decedent after December 31, 1973. The defendant's theory was that someone known as "Jiggy" or "T-bone" had killed the decedent, but the defendant gave different motives at different times for Jiggy's alleged action. At one time defendant claimed that the motive involved sex, at another time he claimed it involved drug traffic. At one time he even suggested that "Jiggy" and two accomplices had dismembered and disposed of decedent's corpse.

The appellate court held that, as a matter of law, the foregoing evidence left a "reasonable doubt" of the defendant's guilt. We disagree.

"This court has often held that it is the function of the trier of fact to determine the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given to their testimony and the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. [Citations.] Where the evidence is merely conflicting a court of review will not substitute its judgment for that of the trier of fact. [Citation.]" (People v. Akis (1976), 63 Ill.2d 296, 298-99.) Nor has the State failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence. (Cf., e.g., People v. Garrett (1975), 62 Ill.2d 151, 163.) The State may exclude the defendant's theory by introducing evidence which indicates that the defendant is lying, because the jury is not required to believe the defendant. (People v. Heflin (1978), 71 Ill.2d 525, 533-34.) Rather, time after time, this court has articulated the following standard: "The jury need not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to each link in the chain of circumstances relied upon to establish guilt, but it is sufficient if all the evidence, taken together, satisfies the jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt." People v. Bernette (1964), 30 Ill.2d 359, 367; People v. Marino (1970), 44 Ill.2d 562, 580; People v. Williams (1977), 66 Ill.2d 478, 485.) The evidence here satisfied that standard.

We note here our agreement with the appellate and circuit courts>' rejection of the defendant's objections to the admission into evidence of (1) Solomon's testimony as to his relationship with the defendant and (2) four exceptionally gruesome photographs depicting the condition of the decedent's corpse, as found by the police. As to the first point, the law is clear: Evidence which is otherwise admissible to establish motive is not rendered inadmissible by its potentially prejudicial impact. "Of course the guilt of an accused cannot be established by proving that he committed other offenses and so is an evil man and therefore more likely to have committed the crime charged. But evidence that tends to prove a fact in issue in the case is admissible even though it discloses that the defendant committed another crime. So evidence that tends to prove motive or intent, identity, knowledge, absence of mistake or accident, and the like, is admissible although it may also involve proof of a separate and distinct offense by the accused." (People v. Harvey (1957), 12 Ill.2d 88, 91 (evidence of incestuous relationship with daughter).) Solomon's testimony not only was relevant, but was central to the establishment of defendant's motive for killing Solomon's mother, because that testimony tended to establish a reason why defendant would fear the decedent's taking ...

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