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People v. Sprinkle





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Schuyler County; the Hon. ERNEST H. UTTER, Judge, presiding.


A singularly gruesome, vicious act of mayhem.

Jury verdict of guilty to attempted murder, sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

We affirm across the board.

Bruce Sprinkle was charged with the offense of attempted murder. This is the way the events unfolded at the jury trial:

Douglas Kettering, a Rushville farmer, testified that at approximately 2:30 p.m. on March 7, 1978, he received a telephone call from his neighbor, Leola Ward, who asked him to help a pickup truck that had slid into a ditch near her home. Kettering agreed to help and drove to the disabled truck through the bitter cold and heavy snow that had accumulated on the ground.

When Mr. Kettering first saw the truck that was in the ditch, Richard Swann was in the driver's seat, Bruce Sprinkle was in the middle, and Keith Sprinkle was in the right-hand seat. Kettering asked if they needed assistance and both Richard and Keith indicated that they would appreciate help in getting out of the ditch. Kettering then attached his own pickup truck to the incapacitated truck and attempted to pull it out of the ditch, but was unable to obtain sufficient traction to extract it. Kettering told Keith that he would get a large bale of hay and place it in the back of his truck for additional weight and traction. Kettering drove off, returned with the hay, and again attempted to dislodge the truck, but once again was unsuccessful.

Kettering then told Keith that the only additional help he could offer would be to drive them to a place where they could obtain assistance. The defendant — who had previously remained in his truck — approached his brother and Kettering at this time. Kettering was then engaged in a conversation with the Sprinkle brothers who became very belligerent, swore at him, and accused him of not doing enough to help them.

Kettering recalled that Bruce was extremely belligerent and very hostile as Kettering gathered up his chain and rope. Keith then confronted Kettering and said, "You no good son-of-a-bitch, you hurt our friend." Kettering asked how he could have hurt his friend when he was behind the wheel of his pickup. At that time Keith allegedly said, "We kill son-of-a-bitches that hurt our friends," and Bruce said, "Kill the son-of-a-bitch," and began hitting Kettering in the side with his fist. Keith reached over and grabbed the scoop shovel from the back of Kettering's truck and began slamming him with the broad side of the scoop while Bruce continued hitting him with his fists. They kept repeating the threats, "We are going to kill you, you son-of-a-bitch. You never even tried to pull us out of the ditch."

Kettering testified that he eventually pushed the defendant and his brother away and managed to get into his truck. The engine was running and Kettering pushed the gear shift lever into drive. The truck pulled away but spun into a nearby ditch. Kettering then closed and locked his door, rolled up the windows, and tried unsuccessfully to get his truck out of the ditch.

Meanwhile, Keith, Bruce, and Richard Swann rushed toward the truck. Keith began to break the driver's window with the shovel. Bruce climbed into the back of the truck, picked up a hammer from a bucket, and began breaking the back glass in the truck while yelling, "Kill the son-of-a-bitch" and "We hate your guts." At the same time, Swann went to the front of the pick-up, opened the hood, and disabled the engine.

After Keith had broken out the driver's window, he began beating Kettering in the face and on the forearms with the shovel. Once the defendant had broken out a portion of the back window with the hammer, he attempted to hit Kettering with it but the hammer flew out of his hand inside of the cab. The defendant then proceeded to break out the rest of the window with the bucket, all the while threatening to murder Kettering.

Kettering next recalled switching on the CB radio and calling for help. As he was talking on the CB, he was facing Keith on the driver's side, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Bruce "take a knife and come through the window." He felt Bruce start to cut his throat and at the same time heard him shout, "Kill the goddamn son-of-a-bitch." Bruce continued cutting Kettering's throat with the knife, slicing up over the chin and exiting close to his mouth.

(At this point, Kettering was then asked by the prosecutor, "Now, from your point of observation in that cab, what was the defendant trying to do?" Defense counsel objected to this question, renewing the assertions he had made in a previous motion in limine, and emphasizing that such a question by the prosecutor would improperly allow Kettering to give opinion testimony on the ultimate factual issue before the jury. The trial judge overruled defendant's objection and Kettering told the jury that "Bruce Sprinkle attempted to slit my throat.")

Kettering testified that the attack on him continued with the defendant, Bruce Sprinkle, reaching in with the knife, stabbing him in the side and ribs, and ripping up his clothing. According to Kettering, the defendant exclaimed, "Let me finish killing the son-of-a-bitch," and began "coming through the back window with his head and shoulder with his knife to stab me." At this point, Kettering grabbed a heavy pair of fence pliers that were in his truck cab and struck the defendant in the head. This blow stunned the defendant (and apparently surprised his companions) so that Kettering was able to jump from his truck and flee from his assailants. He ran to Leola Ward's house and told her, "They are trying to kill me." She tried to stop the bleeding while they waited for help to arrive.

Bruce Sprinkle testified that on the morning of the altercation, he had begun drinking at approximately 10 a.m. and that he had consumed a large quantity of beer and whiskey by the time he first approached Kettering. His version was that an argument ensued when Kettering made derogatory comments about him and his brother and drove over the leg of Richard Swann. The argument then escalated to the point where Keith Sprinkle was striking Kettering with a shovel while the defendant was cutting Kettering with a knife in the jaw and upper neck. The defendant stated that Kettering struck him in the back of the head prior to the time he stabbed Kettering. The defendant also received a blow to the chin which he thought came from Kettering. He further testified that his consumption of alcohol prevented him from remembering many specifics about his encounter with Kettering. He stated that — although he did cut Kettering — he never intended to take his life.

After the jury found him guilty of the offense of attempted murder, Bruce Sprinkle was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 7 years and fined $5,000.

• 1 ISSUE I. On appeal, Sprinkle first argues that his trial did not comport with due process because the jury was not adequately instructed as to the State's burden of proving that the defendant possessed the requisite mental state to conduct himself in conformance with the law because of intoxication. Section 6-3 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 6-3) provides that one who is in an intoxicated condition is criminally responsible for his conduct unless the condition negates the existence of a mental state which is an element of the offense. Both section 3-2 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 3-2) and due process (Mullaney v. Wilbur (1975), 421 U.S. 684, 44 L.Ed.2d 508, 95 S.Ct. 1881) require the prosecution to rebut any properly presented affirmative defense (such as intoxication) with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here, the jury received Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 24.02 (1968) (hereinafter IPI), which provides:

"An intoxicated person is criminally responsible for his conduct unless his intoxication renders him incapable of acting intentionally."

The jury also received the general instructions specifying the State's burden of proof on the issues of murder, attempt, and aggravated battery. ...

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