APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRANK
B. MACHALA, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 to 100 years. On appeal, he contends that (1) it was error to admit and to allow argument concerning evidence implying that he committed crimes for which he was not on trial; and (2) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Police officers Knych and Spearman gave testimony that they were on an evening patrol when they heard several gunshots and then saw two men running diagonally across a street toward an alley; that both men were carrying pistols one of which was chrome plated; and that the officers left their vehicle and pursued the men. Officer Knych testified also that defendant had a bandaged left hand; that he followed him down an alley and through a gangway underneath a building; that defendant dropped a nine-millimeter Browning automatic pistol in the gangway, which the officer recovered; that defendant boarded a bus, where Knych eventually arrested him; and that when he returned to the scene of the shooting, Knych recovered four expended nine-millimeter cartridge casings. Officer Spearman also testified that he pursued the other man over a fence, into a back yard and through a gangway but was unable to catch him; and that he recovered a chrome-plated revolver in the gangway. Both officers testified that they went to the hospital later that evening and viewed the body of the victim of the shooting; that they recognized him as a man they had stopped and frisked shortly before the shooting; and at that time he had no weapon on his person. On cross-examination, Knych stated that the nine-millimeter pistol which he had recovered could not have been prepared for firing by someone whose left hand was bandaged in the manner of defendant's on the evening of the shooting.
Leonard Despenza, an occurrence witness, testified for the State that on the evening in question, he and a friend named James were in a store where he heard deceased and "Cicero" in a heated argument about some money; that "Cleet" (the store owner), "Skinny" and defendant were also present; that when deceased asked Cicero for his (deceased's) money, Cicero said he would not give him any; that defendant then told Cicero, "You don't have to be talking to these chumps" and pulled a brown-handled automatic pistol from his pocket; that Cicero and defendant left the store; that later the witness, deceased, Skinny, and James were standing on a street corner talking and drinking when a car pulled up from which defendant and Cicero exited; that when defendant displayed a gun, all four of them ran; that he heard shooting and saw the deceased fall but did not see who shot him; that he kept running and heard several more shots; that the nine-millimeter Browning automatic pistol recovered by the police was the same or similar to the gun that defendant displayed at the store; that Cleet and Skinny were dead and, while he believed James and Cicero were alive, he did not know their whereabouts. The witness testified also that he was employed in 1976 with North Cicero Dodge; that he had been working for two years prior to September 1974 for Grand Elm Auto; that he had been arrested about two months prior to this trial for theft, but the charges against him had been dismissed; that when he was arrested, he lied to the police about his address and used the alias of Ronald Spencer; that he had also used the alias of Spence Lindsey; that the State housed him in a motel, paid him a $10 daily food allowance, and promised to relocate him after the trial; that he told the State he was a little short of cash, and the assistant state's attorney said he would be paid a sum of money, the amount of which would be determined after his testimony; that at the time of the shooting, he had been using heroin although he was not using this drug at the time of trial; that he did not see a bandage on defendant's hand on the night of the shooting; and that he gave an account of the incident to the police five days after the shooting.
Officer Grazioso testified that he and his partner transported the deceased to the hospital where he inspected the deceased's clothing and found no gun, bullets, or holster.
Dr. Choi, a pathologist for the Cook County medical examiner's office, testified that he found seven entrance wounds and four exit wounds on the body of the deceased; that two of the entry holes were on the back, three were on the left side of the buttock, and two were on the left side; and that three bullets were recovered from the victim's body.
Officer Sandunas, a police firearms examiner, testified that one of the bullets recovered from the deceased's body came from the Browning automatic nine-millimeter gun which Officer Knych had seen defendant drop; that the four discharged cartridge cases recovered at the scene of the shooting were fired from that same weapon; that this Browning pistol can be fired 14 times without reloading; and that once loaded with the hammer pulled back, the gun can be carried indefinitely in a loaded position.
Robert Podolski, secretary-treasurer with North Cicero Dodge, testified for defendant that Leonard Despenza was employed at North Cicero Dodge approximately one month during 1972 and one month during 1973, but was not employed there in 1976. Ralph Brindise, formerly a partner at Grand Elm AMC, testified that Despenza was employed at Grand Elm Automobile Agency from October 1973 to January 1974; and that Despenza was never employed by this agency in September 1974.
A police investigator testified for defendant that five days after the shooting incident, Leonard Despenza gave him a statement concerning that incident; and that Despenza said "the guy in the plaid coat" (later identified as defendant) fired a shot and the deceased doubled over.
Defendant testified on his own behalf that he had been convicted of two robberies and unlawful possession of a weapon; that on the evening of the shooting, he met Ronald Simmons (also known as "Cicero") on Cicero Avenue; that they started walking to Simmons' home to pick up some old receipts and two paintings when four young men ran up to them and started shouting; that one was the deceased, who argued with Simmons about poor quality "dope"; that he told Simmons to leave and, as they were walking up the street, the boys again surrounded them; that deceased drew a pistol and he then heard "boom, boom, boom" from his right side, where Simmons was standing, and saw deceased double up; that Simmons went up to the victim and snatched something; that as they started to run, Simmons passed him a gun and as he ran down an alley he threw the gun down; and that he eventually boarded a bus, where he was arrested. On cross-examination, defendant testified that when the boys surrounded them the second time, Simmons and the deceased were standing face-to-face when the latter pulled out a gun.
Defendant initially contends that he was deprived of a fair trial because of certain testimony and argument concerning evidence which inferred that he had committed crimes for which he was not on trial. We disagree. This contention centers in testimony of a State's witness (Leonard Despenza), who stated on direct examination that Cleet and Skinny, both eyewitnesses to the shooting of the victim, were dead. During cross-examination of this witness, the following colloquy took place:
"Q. Where were you when Benny, last name unknown, told you that Skinny's, last name unknown, was dead? * * *
THE WITNESS: Well, he told me, `Look out man because somebody just pulled up and shot Skinny in the ...