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People v. Mahon





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRED G. SURIA, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, William Mahon, was charged by indictment with the offenses of murder and concealment of a homicidal death. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, pars. 9-1, 9-3.1.) Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of each offense. The court sentenced defendant to concurrent terms of 25-50 years for murder and 3-10 years for concealment of a homicidal death. Defendant appeals. We affirm.

Wade Fournier testified that in October 1973 he was a very good friend of the decedent, Charles Watts, Jr. They both worked at a service station owned by decedent's father. On October 30, 1973, at about 5 p.m., Fournier met Watts at the service station. They spent the evening with Fournier's girlfriend and her friend. Watts left Fournier's apartment at about 11:30 p.m., after making plans to see the girls again. According to Fournier, Watts left in very good spirits. This was the last occasion Fournier saw Watts alive.

The next day (October 31), Fournier was informed that Watts did not report to work. That evening Fournier and a friend went to Watts' apartment. Fournier had learned that Watts' father had gone there earlier that day but had learned nothing. No one was home, but Watts' car was in the parking lot. Fournier testified that Watts would never go anywhere without his car.

On November 2, Fournier and several friends returned to Watts' apartment. They questioned defendant, Watts' roommate and close friend, about Watts' disappearance. Fournier testified that defendant twice replied, "I didn't kill him." According to Fournier, defendant was in tears at the time. While the others questioned defendant, Fournier inspected the apartment. He noticed that Watts' bedroom furnishings were gone, Watts' clothing was no longer in the closet, and a wall had been painted black. However, Watts' toiletries were still in the bathroom and his keys were in the kitchen. Fournier asked defendant if he knew anything about Watts that he wouldn't tell Watts' parents, but received no reply.

On cross-examination, Fournier described a final encounter with defendant which occurred several days later. He and Watts' brother, Steve, confronted defendant in a parking lot. Steve grabbed defendant and angrily questioned him concerning his brother's whereabouts. According to Fournier, defendant ran away.

Charles Watts, decedent's father, testified that during the fall of 1973 defendant was his son's closest friend and roommate. His son worked at his service station as a mechanic and on October 30, 1973, put in a normal day's work. The morning of October 31, Watts noticed that his son was not at work. An employee had tried to telephone him, but didn't receive an answer. At about 10 a.m., Watts went to his son's apartment, but found no one there. As he was leaving, he saw defendant drive into the lot. Defendant said he hadn't seen his roommate recently. Watts twice asked defendant to let him into the apartment. Defendant replied that he had to drive to Antioch and didn't have time. Only after Watts insisted did defendant comply. His son was not in the apartment. On November 2, at about 6 p.m., Watts returned to his son's apartment. Defendant again insisted that he didn't know Chuck Watts' whereabouts, but said he wanted to talk to Mrs. Watts. Defendant, along with his girlfriend Carol, came to the Watts' residence a few minutes later. He tried to convince the Watts that it was normal for someone of Chuck's age to disappear without telling his parents where he went.

Dorothy Watts, decedent's mother, testified that she learned about her son's absence from her husband. On November 1, 1973, she called the Cook County sheriff's office and reported him missing. Mrs. Watts testified that during their conversation on November 2 defendant said there were no problems between him and her son. He suggested Chuck may have gone away with someone in another car because his clothes were gone. She also telephoned defendant on November 8 and asked him to place a message to Chuck on his bedroom door. Defendant replied, "What makes you think he is coming back?"

William Siers testified that on November 3, 1973, he and a friend were training dogs in a wooded area west of Elgin, in Kane County. At about 7:30 p.m., they noticed an army blanket covering something. Siers looked under a corner of the blanket and saw part of a man's head. Certain that the man was dead, Siers went to a nearby farmhouse and called the county sheriff. When the police arrived, Siers observed them uncover a nude body which was wrapped in a sleeping bag, blanket and sheet.

Officer Stephen Charles Nelson, of the Kane County Sheriff's Office, testified that he was one of the officers who viewed the body that night. Some wire and twine were also recovered at the scene. The body was subsequently transported to Elgin State Hospital.

Officer Lawrence Troka, of the Cook County Sheriff's Police, testified that on November 2, 1973, he was assigned the Charles Watts missing person case. As part of his investigation, Troka telephoned defendant several times. Defendant told Troka that he didn't know where Watts was or who his close friends were. Defendant also said he had taken care of a loan from Watts. On November 14, Troka received a photograph of Chuck Watts from Mrs. Watts. The next day he noticed a resemblance between Watts' picture and a photograph and description of the body recovered by the Kane County Sheriff's Office. A dental comparison confirmed that the body recovered was that of Chuck Watts. Mr. Watts, recalled as a witness, testified that he identified his son's body at Elgin State Hospital.

Officer Daniel Genty, an evidence technician for the Cook County Sheriff's Office, testified that he was assigned to investigate Chuck Watts' death. He observed, photographed and took fingerprints from decedent's body and processed the physical items found at the scene. After a search warrant was obtained, Genty and two other investigators examined defendant's car. Clothing was found in the rear seat and a dry, reddish substance was observed in various parts of the trunk. The mat for the trunk was missing. A subsequent visit to decedent's apartment also revealed dry, red spots on the bedroom wall and on the kitchen floor.

The parties stipulated that the red spots found in defendant's car trunk and apartment were Group "A" human blood and that decedent had type "A" blood. It was also stipulated that Dr. William Stweart, a criminalist for the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement, compared the speaker wire recovered from the scene of the body with wire found in the kitchen of defendant's apartment. In Stweart's opinion these pieces of wire could have the same origin.

Investigator Phillip Bettiker, of the Cook County sheriff's police, testified that he was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Charles Watts. On November 3, 1973, Bettiker contacted defendant's employer, who indicated that defendant had not been to work for several days. Bettiker also had occasion to view decedent's bedroom and observed no furniture, except for a chair. Various cleaning items were also in the bedroom. He noticed that the wall had been freshly painted and that a parachute hanging from the ceiling had a spot of blood on it.

At about 1:30 a.m. on November 16, 1973, Bettiker observed defendant and his girlfriend driving into Illinois from Wisconsin. Defendant was apprehended and taken to a police station. There he was advised of his Miranda rights and informed that a search warrant for his car would be obtained. Bettiker was present during the search of defendant's car and observed red smears on the inside of the trunk roof. Defendant was released and disappeared. In late February of 1974, defendant's car was found abandoned in a Waukegan hospital parking lot. On October 9, 1974, Bettiker apprehended defendant while he was hiding behind a gas station near an abandoned car. Defendant's girlfriend had called Bettiker and informed him she was meeting defendant at a service station near Antioch, Illinois. According to Bettiker, the police made extensive efforts to locate defendant between November 17, 1973, and October 9, 1974.

On October 11, 1974, defendant gave a statement concerning the incident. His attorney, an assistant State's attorney and Investigator Bettiker were present. In his statement, defendant stated that on the night of the incident he came home at about 1:30 a.m. and saw Chuck lying on the waterbed in his bedroom. Defendant entered the bedroom to clean up the closet, when Chuck voiced concern over the many people that had been staying at the apartment. Defendant's girlfriend had just moved out and Chuck wanted her possessions removed. Defendant continued to clean up the closet and ignored Watts. Watts began shoving defendant and shouting at him. According to defendant, Chuck was drunk. Defendant did not resist him, but walked away. He returned to cleaning the closet, but glanced up and saw Watts swing a three-foot piece of iron at him. Defendant stated that he either avoided the blow or was hit in the arm. Both men ended up on the floor and defendant gained possession of the bar.

Defendant stated that he was still on the floor when Watts attacked him again. According to defendant, he swung the bar, intending to his Watts in the side, but struck him in the head. Defendant did not remember if Watts had anything in his hands when he attacked the second time, nor does he remember how many times he struck Watts. He recalled seeing Watts bleed and breathe his "last breath" shortly after being struck. Defendant claimed great difficulty remembering the events thereafter. He said that he was confused, dizzy and mentally depressed about Watts' death.

Defendant did remember removing the body, placing it in his car trunk and driving west most of the night. Along the way, he threw the bar into a river. He left Watts' nude body in a secluded area. Defendant confirmed seeing Watts' father in the parking lot on October 31. He allowed Mr. Watts to enter the apartment. Although there was blood on the waterbed and in the bathroom, Mr. Watts made no comment. Defendant subsequently cleaned the apartment, got rid of the waterbeds, but left blood on the parachute.

Defendant recalled making two trips to see his parents in Wisconsin. He left his car in a hospital parking lot and went hitchhiking. He hitchhiked to different parts of the country for nine or 10 months and used various assumed names. Before he started hitchhiking, defendant threw out his wallet and camping gear, including warm camping outfits and gloves. He stated that during this time he wasn't ready to report Watts' death to the police. Defendant returned to Illinois intending to inform the authorities about Watts' death and his involvement. He returned because he had recovered from a nervous breakdown, felt strong-willed, reliable and responsible. He maintained that Watts' cause of death was the blow he delivered with the iron bar. He was aware that the pathologist had noted a bullet wound as the cause of death, but denied shooting Watts.

Dr. William Gibbons, a pathologist, testified that he performed an autopsy on decedent on November 5, 1973. An external examination of the body revealed a 4 1/2-inch-long laceration of the scalp, a two-inch deep hole in front of the ear and bruises and abrasions on the neck, left eye, lips, right shoulder and right hand. An internal examination revealed extensive shattering of the skull, a broken jaw and bone and brain tissue missing under the skull laceration. Dr. Gibbons further testified that he found stomach contents in the respiratory tract and mouth and sperm present in the rectum. On cross-examination, Dr. Gibbons conceded that the rectal examination method he used could have caused the victim's sperm to contaminate the rectal smear.

Dr. Gibbons testified that in his opinion the cause of death was the extensive destruction of the brain and skull and associated hemorrhaging. He believed the injuries represented at least four or five blows. The fatal head injury was caused by the use of extreme force. He concluded that decedent lived for a very brief duration after the injury to the head.

Margaret Mahon and Joseph Mahon, defendant's parents, testified in his behalf. They stated that during November 1973 defendant and his girlfriend visited their home in Wisconsin on two occasions. Mrs. Mahon said that her son appeared thin and tired, but otherwise seemed all right. Mr. Mahon testified that his son did not look well, appeared rundown, nervous, upset and was not his normal self. When Mr. Mahon inquired about defendant's condition, defendant said he was a little bit worried. When defendant and his girlfriend left after the second visit, the Mahons noticed the local police followed. The next day they saw defendant at the Niles police station. He came home with them for a day. After that his parents did not see him or receive any messages for 11 months. Mrs. Mahon stated that her son was never a behavior problem. Both parents stated that it was unusual for their son to fail to tell them where he was going. When they saw him again, he had gained weight and his physical appearance had improved.

Dr. William Fisher, a clinical psychologist, testified that he examined defendant on February 13 and 23 of 1976. Dr. Fisher administered numerous psychological tests to defendant. Based on the various tests, Dr. Fisher believed defendant was psychotic, in that he had limited contact with reality. Dr. Fisher was of the opinion that defendant would have tested the same on October 30, 1973.

Dr. Albert Stipes, a psychiatrist, testified that he examined defendant on two occasions. Based on these examinations and the results of the psychological tests administered by Dr. Fisher, Dr. Stipes diagnosed defendant as schizophrenic — latent type. He was of the opinion that defendant suffered from this mental illness on October 30, 1973. People suffering from schizophrenia — latent type can become psychotic under severe stress or while under the influence of certain drugs. Based on defendant's statement to the police on October 11, 1974, Dr. Stipes believed that defendant was grossly psychotic on the date of the incident. He believed defendant could not conform his behavior to the requirements of the law. It was also Dr. Stipes' opinion that defendant suffered from a psychotic episode after the incident and recovered while out of the State.

On cross-examination, Dr. Stipes testified that his conclusions were based exclusively on information from defendant and upon defendant's behavior. He acknowledged that defendant's answers were evasive and that in his opinion defendant lied at times. This was also evident in defendant's statement to the police. He stated that schizophrenia — latent type individuals are not psychotic all the time and there is no accurate way of determining the existence of past psychotic episodes.

In rebuttal for the State, Investigator Phillip Bettiker, Wade Fournier, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Watts all testified that in their opinion defendant appeared sane. Sergeant Walter Treiber, of the Kane County Sheriff's Police, testified that he was the first officer to view decedent's body. Decedent's right hand was tightly grasping the blanket and there was a wound on the back of the hand.

Dr. Frank Lorimer, a psychiatrist for the Psychiatric Institute of the Circuit Court of Cook County, also testified for the State. He conducted an examination of defendant pursuant to the trial court's order. Dr. Lorimer's evaluation was based upon his examination of defendant, the results of psychological tests administered by Dr. Garvin and police reports. In Dr. Lorimer's opinion, defendant was sane at the time of his examination. Moreover, there was no evidence indicating he was other than sane at the time of the offense. There was no deficiency in defendant's contact with reality; hence, he was not psychotic. Dr. Lorimer diagnosed defendant as suffering from an antisocial personality disorder.

On cross-examination, Dr. Lorimer read defendant's statement to the police of October 11, 1974, and testified that it did not indicate that defendant was psychotic at that time. He interpreted defendant's throwing away his belongings as an attempt to hide his identity.

In surrebuttal, Dr. Robert DeVito, a psychiatrist and superintendent at Madden Mental Health Center, explained that individuals suffering from schizophrenia — latent type experience brief psychotic episodes in which they lose contact with reality, yet may appear sane. Dr. Stipes was recalled and testified that such persons may appear sane, although they may not remember events during the psychotic episode.

Defendant contends that he was not proved guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, he argues: (1) that the State failed to prove he was not acting in self-defense and used reasonable force; or (2) that there is evidence of sufficient provocation to require imposition of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter.

• 1 We are of the opinion that the record (as summarized above) demonstrates overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt of murder. Defendant's inculpatory statement to the police is corroborated by ample circumstantial evidence of guilt and evidence of his flight.

Turning to defendant's specific objections, self-defense is not supported by the evidence adduced at trial. According to defendant's statement on the night of the incident, Watts voiced concern over the many people who had been staying at the apartment. Watts began shoving defendant around with his bare hands and shouted at him. Defendant claimed he did not resist but walked away, thinking Watts was drunk. Defendant glanced up and saw Watts swing a three-foot piece of iron at him. Defendant avoided the blow and both men ended up on the floor. Watts came at defendant again and defendant struck him in the head with the iron bar. Defendant claimed he meant to hit Watts in the side. He could not remember if Watts had anything in his hands during his second attack, nor could he remember how many times he struck Watts.

There was considerable medical evidence concerning the nature and extent of decedent's injuries. Dr. Gibbons' examination revealed a 4 1/2 inch laceration of the scalp, a two-inch deep hole in front of the ear and bruises and abrasions on the neck, left eye, lips, right shoulder and right hand. Moreover, decedent's skull was shattered, jaw bone broken, brain tissue was missing, stomach contents were found in his respiratory tract and mouth, and sperm was present in his rectum. Dr. Gibbons believed that these injuries were occasioned by four to five blows of extreme force.

The nature and extent of decedent's injuries certainly militates against defendant's theory of self-defense. Moreover, even if the jury accepted defendant's statement, it is apparent that he delivered a tremendous blow to decedent's head after he disarmed Watts. Defendant's statement contains no reference to his belief that his actions were necessary to prevent his imminent death or great bodily harm. Nor can we imply a reasonable belief that such circumstances existed at the time as are required to justify the use of deadly force under section 7-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 38, par. 7-1). It is apparent that under the circumstances of this case the blow or blows administered by defendant constituted unreasonable force. Even if defendant believed he was in danger of great bodily harm, the jury properly found that belief was also unreasonable. (See People v. Shipp (1977), 52 Ill. App.3d 470, 367 N.E.2d 966.) Moreover, even assuming the statement raises a valid claim of self-defense, it is not incumbent on the trier of fact to accept defendant's version of the incident. See People v. Russell (1975), 29 Ill. App.3d 59, 329 N.E.2d 450.

People v. Benedik (1974), 56 Ill.2d 306, 307 N.E.2d 382, concerns comparable circumstances. Defendant claimed that the victim attacked him with an object in his hand but was stabbed in the ensuing struggle. Defendant also said he found the other victim dead after the fight. Both victims died of knife wounds. ...

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