APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. CHARLES
P. CONNOR, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE ALLOY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Will County, the defendant, Ernie Slaughter, was found guilty of escape and intimidation and was sentenced to concurrent terms of six years for escape and four years for intimidation. These sentences are to be served consecutive to a prior term imposed by the Circuit Court of Cook County.
On appeal, the defendant raises a number of issues: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendant's motion to substitute counsel, or, in the alternative, in denying the defendant the right to proceed pro se; (2) whether the prosecutor's remarks during opening and closing arguments were so improper as to deny the defendant a fair trial, and, thus, to constitute reversible error; more specifically, whether it was prejudicial error for the prosecutor to introduce statements concerning the nature of the defendant's earlier conviction and incarceration; (3) whether it was prejudicial error for the prosecutor to express his personal opinions regarding the defendant's guilt; and (4) whether the prosecutor's references to the defendant's absence from the courtroom during closing arguments was prejudicial. According to the State, the issues raised concerning the prosecutor's remarks during opening and closing arguments have been waived, because the defense counsel either failed to object to them during trial or to include them in his post-trial motion.
The defendant was an inmate at Stateville Penitentiary when, on April 12, 1978, he was charged by indictment with the offenses of escape and intimidation. The case proceeded to a jury trial on October 24, 1978. At that time, the defendant was represented by counsel from the public defender's office.
Following opening statements by the prosecutor and by the defense counsel, the State presented its case, consisting of the testimony of two witnesses. The first witness was Stateville correctional officer William Buffington, one of two officers assigned to medical furlough on the date in question, May 19, 1978. Officer Buffington related how the defendant had broken free and started to run as he and another inmate were about to leave St. Joseph's Hospital in Joliet to return to Stateville.
The defendant managed to free one hand from the cuff of the security belt he was wearing as he ran from the hospital and into Joliet West High School. There the defendant entered a classroom and emerged holding a girl by the arm. The girl, Kristine De Salvo, was the other State witness.
She recalled that the defendant told the other people to stay away and then told her that if she did not tell them to get away that he would hurt her. After she did as she was told, the defendant whispered in her ear that he would not hurt her and that he would let her go. Then the defendant kissed her and pushed her away from him. Kristine testified that she was shaken but was not injured in any way.
At the end of the State's case, a certified copy of conviction and mittimus, demonstrating that the defendant had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 100 to 300 years, was admitted into evidence. The jury was then released and the court adjourned until 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.
When the proceedings resumed that afternoon, the defense moved for a directed verdict. After the motion was denied by the court, the defendant addressed the court and asked that an attorney other than the public defender be appointed to represent him. The court inquired whether there was any specific reason for such a substitution and was informed that the defendant did not believe his counsel was "asking the witness precisely questions [sic]." The trial court denied the defendant's motion, indicating that it had not observed any impropriety or incompetence.
Because the series of exchanges which took place in the courtroom following the Judge's denial of the defendant's motion to substitute counsel are critical to the issues of whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendant the right to be represented by other counsel or to proceed pro se, those exchanges are quoted below:
"THE COURT: Fine. I can find no ground with which to grant you that relief. The State's case is over and I suppose we could come to some agreement as to well, I don't even know about that. You're not getting another attorney. You can make up your mind whether you want to testify or whether you don't want to testify. You're not getting another attorney at this stage.
THE DEFENDANT: You don't need to keep me in the courtroom, then.
THE COURT: Well, I don't know if there is any legal necessity to keep him in the courtroom.
PROSECUTOR: In fact, the law is he has the right not to be present if he wishes.
THE COURT: That is up to you. I would think the jury would be more friendly to you if you were here. But perhaps you have the right not to be here if you don't want to. Let me call about a five minute recess. You talk to your attorney.
If you're still of that mind, the Court will probably allow that request, as to whether you can leave the courtroom. You better talk to him anyway, just so I know you at least have been instructed as to the law. Whatever you want to do, you may have that right. I don't know. Court's in a five minute recess.
THE COURT: Is the defense going to present any testimony, Mr. Defense Counsel?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Mr. Slaughter, do you wish to testify in your own behalf?
THE DEFENDANT: I just want another lawyer, period.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Your Honor, we have no witnesses to present.
PROSECUTOR: Does Mr. Slaughter have anything else to ...