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People v. El





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JAMES E. STRUNK, Judge, presiding.


At the conclusion of a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, George Meares El, was found guilty of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1). He was sentenced to 25 to 75 years imprisonment.

On appeal defendant contends the trial court committed reversible error by: (1) unduly restricting his right to cross-examine a State's witness; (2) improperly allowing the State, during its case-in-chief, to produce evidence of his prior bad conduct and the victim's good conduct; and (3) denying him a fair trial in allowing the State to present irrelevant and prejudicial information to the jury.

We affirm.

The evidence discloses that the incident occurred in the lobby of the LaSalle Plaza Hotel in Chicago. The victim, Charles Lee, died of a knife wound inflicted in his left side. At trial, defendant claimed self-defense. He admitted stabbing Lee but alleged he did so in self-defense since Lee first attacked him with a dagger. This dagger was never found.

The State's witness, Robert Williams, testified that on the morning of June 17, 1976, he was working as desk clerk at the LaSalle Plaza Hotel. At approximately 11:45 a.m., he saw Lee enter the hotel where Lee met the defendant who had been standing in the lobby for a short while. No one else was in the lobby area. Both the defendant and Lee were residents of the hotel.

Williams heard the defendant and Lee arguing over a debt of $20 that defendant claimed was due him from Lee. During the course of the argument, Williams went to answer his telephone, which was located behind a plywood partition that separated his desk from the hotel lobby and blocked his view into the lobby. When he returned to his original position, he saw Lee standing against the wall with blood flowing down his left leg. Defendant was standing nearby. Williams walked over to Lee and held him so that he would not fall. Williams did not see any weapons or knives being held by either Lee or defendant, nor did he see any on the floor.

Together with defendant, Williams attempted to carry Lee to the Henrotin Hospital located a block and a half from the hotel. Just before they reached the hospital, Lee collapsed. Williams ran into the hospital for help. When he returned to Lee he noticed that defendant had left. Lee was taken into the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Several police officers testified on behalf of the prosecution. Officer Raymond Cowell testified that at the hospital he inspected the clothing and other personal effects of Lee and found no weapons. Officer Jack Runyon testified that while investigating the scene of the incident he did not find any knives or other weapons that may have been used in the fatal wounding of Lee. Further testimony disclosed that several police officers, after arriving at the hotel, went to defendant's room and upon being admitted by defendant they placed him under arrest. As defendant was being led from the hotel, he asked the police, "The man I cut, is he dead?"

Inside defendant's hotel room the police found a hunting knife in a sheath, a stained towel, and a small notebook that was open to a page indicating that the defendant had recently loaned $45 to a man named "Charles", with a notation that either $20 or $25 had been repaid (defendant later admitted that this page referred to Charles Lee). These items were admitted into evidence. Expert testimony at trial established that the knife found in defendant's room had traces of blood on it, but an insufficient amount to determine a blood type, and that the knife could have been used to inflict the type of wound that caused Lee's death.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. He asserted that he was talking to Lee in the hotel lobby and was inquiring when Lee would repay him the $45 owed him when suddenly, and without forewarning, Lee attacked him with a dagger. Defendant alleged he then reached into his pocket and took out a pocket knife that he carried with him at all times, opened it, and while defending himself from Lee's attack, stabbed Lee before Lee could injure him. Defendant denied that the knife found in his room was the weapon he used to wound Lee. Defendant said that after Lee was stabbed both of them dropped their knives on the hotel lobby floor.

In rebuttal, Investigator Joseph Stachula, testifying on behalf of the State, asserted that shortly after the arrest, defendant told him that Lee and he had been fighting, that he had struck Lee, who then fell on a piece of broken glass and cut himself. Stachula said he then told defendant that the wound that killed Lee could not have been caused by a piece of glass; whereupon, defendant related that he had stabbed Lee in self-defense since he was being attacked by Lee.


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