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People v. Eckles

OPINION FILED APRIL 11, 1980.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

GERALD B. ECKLES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Perry County; the Hon. ROBERT BASTIEN, Judge, presiding.

MME JUSTICE SPOMER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied May 19, 1980.

Defendant was convicted of the murder of his wife after a jury trial in the circuit court of Perry County and sentenced to an extended term of 50 years' imprisonment. On appeal, he contends (1) that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) that he was denied a fair trial because of (a) being handcuffed during a portion of jury selection, (b) admission of prejudicial exhibits and testimony, and (c) prejudicial remarks by the prosecutor; (3) that the court erred in giving a form of verdict which improperly shifted the burden of proof regarding insanity to the defendant; and (4) that the sentence imposed was excessive.

The evidence disclosed that in the afternoon of June 11, 1977, while the defendant's wife, Darla Eckles, was at work as a waitress in the lounge of the St. Nicholas Hotel in DuQuoin, the defendant entered, drew a revolver, and fired twice at her from a distance of 5 to 10 feet as she walked toward him. After she fell to the floor, he shot her four more times, fatally wounding her, and fled. Several patrons were in the lounge when defendant entered. Two of them positively identified him as the assailant and described the occurrence in detail, testifying that no words were exchanged between defendant and his wife before the shooting, and that there appeared to be no provocation on her part.

Defendant was apprehended within an hour at his grandfather's house in Sesser, sitting on the front porch drinking beer. He appeared nervous, but conversed normally. Later, at the sheriff's office, he gave coherent, responsive answers, although denying any memory of the shooting. His car was found in a wooded, secluded area near the Sesser city limits, some 200 yards off the road and not visible from the highway. Several .357-caliber cartridges and a box for a Colt Python revolver were recovered from the car. The gun was never found.

A review of the events preceding the occurrence is necessary. The testimony disclosed that on May 14, 1977, the defendant had so severely beaten his wife that she required medical attention. He not only threatened her life, but also the lives of her three children from a prior marriage. She then separated from him and moved into the home of her mother; she sought legal advice preparatory to filing suit for divorce. Defendant continued to threaten and harass her, all of which incidents she reported to the police.

On May 26, 1977, the mine workers' union of which defendant was a member referred him to Dr. Julius Clyne, a psychiatrist. Dr. Clyne admitted him to Memorial Hospital in Belleville for treatment for depression. He was released on June 9, 1977, at which time his condition was diagnosed as "psychotic depressive reaction, in remission." He returned to Sesser, where he resided with his parents, but he continued to threaten and harass his wife.

On the day in question defendant had awakened, read the newspaper, washed and waxed his car, and seemed to be in a good mood, according to his father. Only a half-hour before he shot his wife, he stopped at the garage of a distant relative in the area for a short visit. He appeared sober at that time, consuming only a soft drink while there. He then telephoned her at her place of employment and attempted a reconciliation. When she refused, he responded, "All right, I am going to kill you. I am going to kill the three children. I am going to kill your dad. I am going to kill the whole family." Shortly thereafter, the defendant arrived at the hotel, and the shooting occurred.

Defendant relied on the defense of insanity at the time of the commission of the offense. Dr. Clyne testified for the defense that he had diagnosed the defendant as "psychotic depressive reaction" and also noticed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Upon discharge from the hospital, defendant was taking Noludar, a nonbarbiturate sedative for relief of insomnia, and Triavil, an antidepressant, for relief of depression. Dr. Clyne at that time witnessed no manifestations of antisocial personality, although the history related to him indicated that defendant had suffered mental problems while in the service, was absent without leave on several occasions, and finally accepted a year's incarceration in Leavenworth rather than a medical discharge. Defendant had been married five times; while married to his first wife, he once shot at her parents through a window of their house, causing personal injuries, as a result of which he spent five or six months as a patient in the Anna State Hospital. After several escapes from the institution, he was eventually returned to court and sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of six years. While still on parole for that offense, he was again imprisoned, this time for approximately five years in the State of New Mexico for the crime of kidnapping. Although he released his victim unharmed, he shot and seriously wounded himself as the police were apprehending him.

While defendant was in custody on the charge in the case at bar, Dr. Clyne again examined him. He concluded that it was possible that the defendant lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct on June 11, 1977, and this possibility was substantially greater for him than for a normal person because of his lack of good contact with reality. On cross-examination, however, he noted that many people suffering psychotic depressive reaction could understand the nature of their acts and know the difference between right and wrong; and he believed the defendant knew the difference between right and wrong when he was released from the hospital on June 9.

Pat Hartman, a counselor at Perry County Help, whose qualifications included a master's degree in rehabilitative counseling, conferred with the defendant on May 3 and May 11, 1977, and it was her conclusion that he was unwilling to accept responsibility for his marital problems, but was basically a normal person.

Defendant's father testified that the first of many psychological problems was exhibited by his son at age 17, while he was in the army. Thereafter, he had several marital failures, the first four ending in divorce.

In rebuttal, Dr. C.E. Boyd, a psychiatrist, testified that he had examined the defendant on two occasions in 1957 and again on November 12, 1977, while he (defendant) was awaiting trial. At the earlier examination, his diagnosis was "sociopathic personality disorder antisocial type," now termed "personality disorder antisocial personality." In 1977, his diagnosis was the same, and he found no neurosis or psychosis. When given the diagnosis of Dr. Clyne of June 9 and asked whether or not, in his opinion, defendant could appreciate the criminality of his conduct on June 11 when he killed his wife, Dr. Boyd answered that defendant at that time could appreciate the difference between right and wrong.

The defendant first asserts on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he was sane beyond a reasonable doubt when he shot and killed his wife. However, the evidence taken in its entirety does not support a reasonable doubt. The psychiatric evidence was conflicting, in which case the jury's finding will not be disturbed unless it is so manifestly against the weight of evidence as to indicate that the verdict was based on passion or prejudice. (People v. Myers (1966), 35 Ill.2d 311, 220 N.E.2d 297; People v. Lane (1974), 23 Ill. App.3d 287, 294-95, 319 N.E.2d 90, 96.) Nor does defendant's argument that his expert witness was more qualified than the State's expert witness raise a reasonable doubt of sanity, where the testimony conflicts. People v. Rennert (1977), 49 Ill. App.3d 485, 490, 364 N.E.2d 506, 510.

When the evidence presented to the jury in the case at bar is considered, it appears that the jury concluded that the defendant's conduct manifested the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his actions. The shooting followed a beating and threats against Darla, which apparently were a result of their marital difficulties. The shooting itself was a planned, expressly deliberate act, which immediately followed a phone call during which defendant told Darla he would kill her. The witnesses who observed the shooting testified that defendant was acting in a deliberate, purposeful manner. While these facts of themselves may not be conclusive, the defendant's actions subsequent to the shooting preclude any claim that defendant did not appreciate the criminality of his actions. His expressed mission of killing Darla accomplished, he returned to his car and fled. In an apparent attempt to conceal evidence, he drove to a secluded spot outside of Sesser and hid the car behind a thatch of trees and bushes some 200 yards up a farm path. He effectively disposed of the gun; it was never found. Then he went to his grandfather's house, sat on the porch and drank beer. When arrested, he denied any knowledge of the gun. When later questioned, he gave coherent, responsive answers, although he continued to deny any knowledge of the shooting.

• 1, 2 A jury may properly conclude that the defendant was sane at the time of the offense by accepting lay testimony over expert testimony. (People v. Bloodworth (1979), 68 Ill. App.3d 341, 348, 385 N.E.2d 904, 908; People v. Spears (1978), 63 Ill. App.3d 510, 518, 380 N.E.2d 423, 429.) The fact that defendant took elusive measures and destroyed evidence of the crime significantly rebuts the psychiatric testimony offered by defendant, and tends to establish defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. (People v. Ellis (1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 373, 374, 350 N.E.2d 326, 328; People v. Young (1978), 60 Ill. App.3d 351, 353-54, 376 N.E.2d 739, 741.) This is ...


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