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People v. Woods





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRANK J. WILSON, Judge, presiding.


Sterlyn W. Woods, defendant, was charged with murder and after a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-3). He was sentenced to a four-year prison term with an additional one-year term of mandatory supervised release. On appeal, defendant contends he was not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after presenting a credible and consistent defense of self-defense.

We affirm.

Defendant, who was then 18 years of age, was charged with the September 25, 1978, fatal beating of Tarran Jones. The pertinent evidence discloses that at about 9 p.m. that evening, defendant was at Miss Quincy's Lounge, where occasionally he was called upon to maintain order and sometimes to assist as a disc jockey. Defendant was regularly employed as a meat-cutter and lifter. At the time of the occurrence, he was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. Defendant had been a member of his high school football team but had no training in boxing.

Minnie Senior testified on behalf of the State. She asserted that she was employed as a barmaid in the lounge. On the evening of the incident, several men came into the lounge. They did not order any drinks. She then told defendant to tell the men that if they did not purchase any drinks, they would have to leave.

She noticed defendant relay her message and then observed that one of the men appeared to be angry. She talked to the men again and they seemed to be ready to leave, when suddenly a fight broke out. While she did not see how the fight started, she did see one of the men strike defendant with a beer bottle. She also observed that defendant was hit over the head with a flower pot. A crowd had formed in front of the bar, around the area where the men were fighting. Shortly thereafter, the people who worked at the lounge got everybody out of the lounge and closed the door. She called the police who came and "saw everything was over and they left."

Senior testified further that as the police left, someone came into the lounge and said there was a person outside who appeared to have a seizure. She then called the police. She went outside of the lounge and saw a man lying on the ground. She had seen that man previously but he was not one of the men who had engaged in the fight with defendant. She thought she saw the man on the ground bleeding from the mouth, but breathing. She described the man as black, 5 feet 8 or 9 inches, and sort of thin.

On cross-examination, Senior stated that on a number of times prior to the incident, she had seen one of the men who had been fighting with defendant. She described that man as being about 6 feet tall and weighing 180 pounds. She described the other men who had engaged in the fight and said that they had appeared disturbed by defendant's request for them to buy a drink. "They said they didn't like the way he had asked them." She acknowledged that she had told a police investigator that she had observed one of the men start fighting with defendant. Further, she saw defendant by himself, fighting with three of the men.

Senior recounted going outside of the lounge and seeing a man lying on the ground. She described the position of his body and the surrounding area. She acknowledged that she saw no "pipes, guns, baseball bats or large objects lying near the person * * *." She again asserted that she observed defendant being punched by the men during the course of the fight in the lounge and noticed defendant bleeding from a bruise near his ear. He had been struck with a beer bottle and over the head with a flower pot.

The prosecution then called assistant state's attorney James Heinzel as its next witness. He related the substance of the three conversations he had with defendant on October 2, 1978. He described the procedure relating to the defendant making a statement which was reduced to writing and then signed by defendant. The statement, without objection, was admitted into evidence on motion of the State.

The forensic pathologist called by the State testified that Tarran Jones' death was caused by bleeding within the membranes of the brain, and this bleeding was produced by blunt force injuries.

Defendant, testifying on his behalf, stated that some time during the evening of September 25, 1978, he observed four men enter the lounge where he sometimes helped the disc jockey spin records and where he helped "keep the peace." They remained there without ordering any drinks. At that point, Minnie Senior, the barmaid, directed him to notify the men that they had to order drinks or leave the lounge.

Defendant asserted that he approached the men and related the barmaid's message, whereupon one of the men who appeared to be about 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 210 pounds, "poked his chest out * * * bumping against me and I pushed him off me." At this, the man struck him under the eye. One of the other men struck him with a glass; another hit him on the head with a beer bottle and another hit him over the head with a flower pot.

Defendant, bleeding from wounds on his head and ear, drove his head into the first man's chest and then struck the man in the face five or six times before being held back by someone in the lounge.

Defendant testified further that the man he had struck then ran out of the lounge and into the street. He chased after the man, but was unable to find him. He stopped and saw Tarran Jones, ...

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