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People v. Tirrell





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. PAUL E. RINK, Judge, presiding.


The Tirrell brothers, James, Sherman and Theodore, appeal from their convictions for murder following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Rock Island County. Sherman and Theodore were sentenced to 25-year terms of imprisonment. James Tirrell received a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment.

On appeal the following issues are raised: whether the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were not justified in using deadly force in self-defense; whether there was sufficient evidence upon which to base the defendants' convictions for murder beyond a reasonable doubt or whether their convictions should be reduced to voluntary manslaughter; specifically, whether there was sufficient evidence that the defendants did not act under a sudden and intense passion; and whether there was sufficient evidence that the defendants did not act under an unreasonable belief that circumstances justified the killing; and whether the trial court properly admitted into evidence testimony concerning the defendants' violent nature.

A review of the evidence adduced at trial is necessary for a resolution of the issues raised. The State presented three occurrence witnesses, each of whom described the killing of the victim, Albert Manley, as an aggressive and brutal physical attack by all three defendants.

Mark Thornton, the first State's witness, testified that he had known and worked with the defendants for approximately five months. On the date of the incident Mr. Thornton drove the three defendants, along with two women, Sonya Christopher and Gwen Wilson, to the Silver Streak Tavern in an effort to locate a friend of his, Steve Henton. Upon exiting the tavern Thornton noticed that the defendants had gathered around Albert Manley's car which was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Silver Streak Tavern and parallel to Thornton's car, which was parked in the street. Thornton could not hear any of the conversation. At that time William Lee, a friend of Thornton's, arrived in his car and began talking to Thornton, who stood beside the passenger side of Lee's car with his back towards the tavern and Manley's car.

When Lee directed Thornton's attention to Manley's car by saying, "Look at those fools over there playing," Thornton saw defendant Theodore Tirrell staring in Manley's car window and defendant Sherman Tirrell walking to the other side of the car. Manley was pushing his car door against Theodore's leg in an attempt to break away and run. When Manley jumped out and began to run, Theodore quickly caught him by the shirt. Manley tried to tear his shirt loose so that he could run. Sherman then grabbed Manley from behind. Thornton testified that he walked around his own car in order to get a closer look at what was happening and that he saw no blood on Theodore at the time Manley jumped from his car in an effort to escape. He first noticed some blood on Theodore's face at the time Theodore grabbed Manley.

According to Thornton, defendant James Tirrell jumped out of Thornton's car and joined his two brothers. When Manley had been grabbed and could not run, the three defendants, who were all bigger than Manley, took turns striking blows at him. Thornton testified that he could not see if Manley at that time was striking any blows since the three defendants surrounded Manley and blocked Thornton's sight. The defendants then took Manley out to the street and knocked him down against the front wheel of William Lee's car. Manley was not on his feet and was just lying against the tire while all three defendants were swinging at him. Up to this point the fighting lasted approximately one minute. Manley was then moved to a telephone pole, by way of the defendants picking him up and hitting him, where he was knocked to the ground and continually kicked for a period of about three minutes. During this period of kicking, Manley was merely lying on the ground and exhibiting no movement.

Defendants Sherman and James Tirrell then left and returned to Thornton's car. Defendant Theodore Tirrell remained, still kicking Manley. He then grabbed a couple of wooden sticks and swung them at Manley two or three times. Thornton testified that he saw defendant Theodore Tirrell swing the sticks at Manley, although he did not see the blows land. The sticks did break when swung at Manley, which led Thornton to assume that they struck Manley. Theodore then threw a rock (approximately two inches in diameter and four inches long) at Manley. Thornton testified that he did not see if it hit Manley.

At the time defendants Sherman and James Tirrell left Manley, Thornton testified that he noticed that defendant Theodore Tirrell was bleeding only from the left center of his chin. He did not see Sherman bleeding; however, when Sherman was inside Thornton's car he observed a cut on his chest. As Thornton began to drive away from the scene with all three defendants inside the car he testified to hearing defendant Theodore Tirrell state that he should run over Manley with his car.

Thornton estimated that the entire incident lasted from 10 to 15 minutes. When asked what was the total amount of times Manley was struck, Thornton first stated it was "pretty hard to say when all three of them were swinging." He did estimate that Manley was struck between 15 and 20 times in the period of one minute. Thornton, however, could not be sure and stated alternately that Manley was struck "[p]robably every one to two seconds" in that one-minute period. In testifying to the number of blows struck, Thornton was referring solely to the one-minute period in which blows were struck with the defendants' fists. This did not include the subsequent three-minute period in which defendants kicked Manley.

Thornton's testimony at trial contained some inconsistencies with prior statements he made during the initial investigation. Thornton was placed into custody during the initial investigation and questioned about Manley's killing, since a witness, Emily Ellis, gave the police his license plate number which she saw while at the scene of the beating. When he was initially interrogated, Thornton denied he knew any of the defendants. At the preliminary hearing Thornton also stated that when Manley initially got out of his car he started yelling "Cap him, cap him," which Thornton understood as street language for "Shoot him." This testimony was not repeated at trial. Thornton later signed a written statement which was substantially similar to his testimony at trial.

At trial Thornton indicated that after witnessing the incident he wasn't in "too big a hurry to be telling who the defendants were." Although the defendants on appeal attempt to discredit Thornton's testimony based on the inconsistencies discussed above, we are of the opinion that the explanation offered by the witness during trial is sufficient to explain the discrepancies. Obviously, the witness was frightened by what he had observed and initially feared reprisals from either the defendants or law enforcement authorities.

The State's second eyewitness, William Lee, testified as to his own observations of the incident. When Manley exited his own car, two defendants started to beat on him. Manley began to run away at one point, but was immediately caught. When all three defendants got to Manley, they "commenced to beat him and kick him and trying to pluck his eyes out [sic]" and also "tried to pull his mouth open and * * * apart." Manley's arms were stretched out at this point. He testified that he could see everything very well because he was inside his car and the fighting occurred in the front of his car's hood. The reason Lee jumped inside his car was because he was "scared to death." Lee saw that Manley was on his feet for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 minutes before all three defendants "beat him down" and "stuffed him under the [Lee's] car" and were "beating and kicking him." The beating at Lee's car lasted a total of three to five minutes according to Lee. After Manley was moved by defendants from under Lee's car, Lee immediately left the scene.

Lee testified that he did not see Manley's hands at the time Manley first got out of his car. He did, however, definitely see Manley's hands during his beating in front of Lee's car and stated there was nothing in his hands at that time. Furthermore, Lee testified that he did not see any injuries on any of the defendants. This would seem to indicate that if the defendants were injured at that time, there could not have been any serious bleeding involved.

Emily Ellis, the third eyewitness for the State, testified that while driving home from work at approximately 6 p.m. she noticed one or two black men attempting to pull another man from his car in front of the Silver Streak Tavern. Ms. Ellis stopped her car five to six feet away and observed that the victim was hit "really hard" when he was down. At least two or three men who were all larger than the victim "were hitting with their fists, and when he [the victim] went on the ground, they started kicking him and stomping him like you would smash a banana."

Ms. Ellis watched the beating for five to six minutes before driving a little farther down the street and calling the police from a resident's house. About three minutes later she left the residence and noticed one man still kicking the victim. She estimated the total length of time of the beating to be 10 minutes.

Ms. Ellis was unable to state, either at the time of the incident or at trial, exactly how many people were actually beating on the victim. She consistently stated that there were at least two people doing the ...

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