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People v. Szerletich

OPINION FILED AUGUST 6, 1980.

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

v.

DAVID W. SZERLETICH, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. BENJAMIN K. MILLER, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE CRAVEN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant, after a jury trial, was convicted of murdering a one-year-old infant. On appeal, defendant contends: (1) He was not proven guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) he was denied a fair trial by the introduction of a photograph of the victim; (3) he was denied a fair trial by the State's closing argument; (4) he was in custody when he made his pre-arrest admission to the police, and therefore the trial court erred when it denied the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence.

At trial, the medical evidence showed that the death of the one-year-old infant resulted from a blunt trauma to the right side of her head. The two testifying physicians concluded that the cause of the fatal injury was the impact of the infant's head against a relatively immovable object. The side of the skull where impact occurred sustained some large fractures, indicating that the head had been in motion at the time of the impact. The child also exhibited some swelling and dark coloration in areas of loose skin — the eyelids, upper portions of the neck, and behind the ears.

Defendant and Crystal Lynch, the child's mother, and the child were living together when the latter died. On the night the child sustained her fatal injuries, July 19, 1978, the defendant, after coming home from work, was asked by Lynch to baby-sit the child because the girl who usually watched the child was unavailable. The defendant agreed.

At trial, the defendant testified that he went into their apartment, after Lynch left for work, and played some records. While the child was in her crib napping, the defendant went next door to talk with the neighbor for a few minutes, then returned leaving the front door unlocked. After the child awoke, he changed her diaper and put her on the floor to play with her toys. In the meantime the defendant watched TV, listened to music, and drank eight to ten beers. Around 9:30 p.m., after changing the baby's diaper, the defendant put her to sleep. He then fell asleep himself until the injured baby was discovered by Lynch around 11:30 p.m.

Testimony at trial further showed that the defendant and Lynch rode with the baby in an ambulance to the hospital, and they followed in a taxi when the child was transferred to another hospital for emergency pediatric care. The police were summoned. Two detectives reported to the hospital and interviewed first, Dr. Pearson, the Lynch, and lastly, the defendant. The defendant, during interrogation by the police detectives, said that he had hit the child. The defendant was then read his rights, and then one of the detectives wrote out a statement, which the defendant signed at 6:17 a.m. on July 20, 1978.

In substance, the statement was the same as the defendant's trial testimony with the crucial exception that the defendant said he had gotten mad because the baby had been fussing and crying in the crib. As a result, he hit her once, and, then, when she continued crying, hit her three times. The written statement also stated that the defendant loved the child and her mother and that he needed help. When he left the child he thought she was all right.

The defendant testified that the reason he signed the statement was he did not want the child taken away from the mother. He knew that the police were either going to take him or the mother. Defendant also testified that at the time he signed the statement he did not know that the child was seriously injured.

The defendant's pretrial motion to suppress the evidence of his oral and written admissions was denied. As indicated, the State introduced evidence of both admissions at the trial.

The defendant argues that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the requisite mental state for murder, or alternatively, the defendant's conviction should be reduced to involuntary manslaughter — the reckless commission of homicide without the felonious mental state.

The State contends that the defendant's admission to police that he struck a child with his fist because he had become mad at the child for crying was sufficient proof of the requisite mental state required for murder. We agree.

• 1 The defendant was charged with murder as defined in section 9-1(a)(2) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2)), and with felony murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(3)). The felony murder doctrine is operative in Illinois even though the underlying felony — in this case aggravated battery — is not independent of the homicide. See People v. Viser (1975), 62 Ill.2d 568, 343 N.E.2d 903.

The relevant mental state for aggravated battery is that the person committing a battery intentionally or knowingly commits great bodily harm. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, pars. 12-3, 12-4.) The relevant mental state for murder as defined in section 9-1(a)(2) is that in performing the acts that cause death the defendant knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2).

Thus, the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when the defendant struck the child he knew such acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm; or, when he struck the child he intended the blows to cause great bodily harm.

• 2 It is a well accepted principle that intent can be implied or inferred from the character of the act. (People v. Davis (1966), 35 Ill.2d 55, 219 N.E.2d 468.) Therefore, it is not necessary to directly prove that the defendant had the intent to murder (or for that matter, the intent to commit aggravated battery). All that need be proved is that he voluntarily and wilfully committed an act, the natural tendency of which was to destroy another's life or inflict great bodily harm. Again, the requisite mental state may be inferred. Davis; People v. Drumheller (1973), 15 Ill. App.3d 418, 304 N.E.2d 455; People v. Kinzell (1969), 106 Ill. App.2d 349, 245 N.E.2d 319.

• 3 From the evidence presented it was reasonable to infer that the defendant hit the child's head hard enough to propel it into an immovable object, thereby causing the child's death. The force with which the defendant hit the child's head leaves little doubt that such an act had a natural tendency to inflict great bodily harm. Therefore, it was proper for the jury to infer the required mental state from the ...


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