APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN J.
MORAN, Judge, presiding.
MISS PRESIDING JUSTICE MCGILLICUDDY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
A jury found Robert Triplett, the defendant, guilty of murdering his wife, Ruth Triplett. He was sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of 50 years. On appeal the defendant contends that he was denied a fair trial because the trial judge erred in: (1) allowing a witness to be designated as a court's witness and permitting impeachment of that witness on a collateral matter by use of a prior inconsistent statement; (2) failing to admonish and instruct the jury on the limited use of the prior statements; and (3) refusing to give an instruction on circumstantial evidence requested by the defendant.
Chesley Triplett, a son of the defendant and the victim, testified that he left his parents' home on the afternoon of October 1, 1977, and returned at approximately 3 a.m. the next morning. When he returned, he saw his mother sleeping alone in her bedroom. He went to his bedroom in the rear of the apartment, undressed, turned the radio on, shut the door and went to sleep. He was awakened by his father who stood three to four feet away and pointed a revolver at him. Another revolver was tucked in defendant's belt. There were no cuts or bruises on the defendant's face at this time. The defendant told Chesley to dress, hit him with the gun and said, "I will blow all you motherf. . .ers away." While the gun was pointed at him, Chesley was told to check his mother. Chesley went with the defendant into the victim's bedroom and the defendant told Chesley to call the police. After Chesley dialed 911, the defendant took the telephone receiver and said, "You better send an ambulance because she's going to need it." The defendant then left the apartment.
Joe Lee testified that he was married to defendant's niece. He stated that on October 2, 1977, between 7 and 8 a.m., his wife, who was not at home at the time, received a telephone call. Lee testified that he could not identify the caller. The prosecutor attempted to rehabilitate him on this point. Lee maintained that, although he had previously identified the caller as Robert Triplett, he did not know the identity of the caller.
The State requested that Lee be called as a court's witness because Lee's testimony had surprised the prosecutors. This request was allowed and the State questioned Lee about a conversation he had with certain Chicago Police Department investigators on October 4, 1977. Over objection, the following questioning occurred:
"[State's Attorney]: Do you recall stating to Investigators Cornfield and Diogourdi or two officers whose names you don't know the following: You reconized [sic] the caller to be Robert Triplett, and that Robert asked for your wife, Beatrice, you informed Robert that Beatrice was not home, and Triplett stated I killed Ruth.
Do you recall saying that to the policemen?
Joe Lee: I recall stating to the policemen that I received a phone call. I still was in bed when the phone rang, and they asked for my wife, Bea, and I stated to him, I stated that my wife was not at home, * * * and they said I just killed Ruth, and hung up —
[State's Attorney]: So, your testimony is you never told the police that you reconized [sic] the voice to be Robert Triplett?
Joe Lee: I testified to the police that I told my wife that I believed that her uncle called and said he just killed Ruth.
[State's Attorney]: Who was her uncle?
Joe Lee: Robert Triplett."
Investigator Robert Cornfield testified over objection that Joe Lee told him that the voice of the caller belonged to Robert Triplett and that he recognized the voice from having talked to Triplett on prior occasions.
Shaku Teas, a pathologist for the Institute of Forensic Medicine (Cook County Morgue), testified that she performed an autopsy on the victim which revealed the presence of four gunshot wounds. It was her opinion that the gun was fired from a distance of three to five feet away. She stated there were no defensive ...