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People v. Kurena





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR J. CIESLIK, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied September 22, 1980.

Larry Kurena and James Damron were charged by indictment with the murders of John Taylor and Emil Lauridson. After a separate jury trial, Kurena was found guilty of both murders and sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections for not less than 200 years nor more than 500 years. Kurena appeals.

On appeal Kurena contends that (1) the jury conducted improper experiments in the jury room during their deliberations; (2) the State violated discovery rules by not tendering statements of two of its witnesses; (3) the State improperly adduced evidence regarding the deceaseds' families; (4) the cross-examination of Brian Kurena regarding his assertion of his fifth amendment right was prejudicial; (5) the evidence adduced regarding lineup identification of defendant and the change in his appearance was prejudicial; (6) the trial court erred in striking evidence of defendant's character and reputation; (7) the trial court erred in refusing to permit defendant to impeach his own witness and refusing to call her as a court's witness; (8) evidence discrediting testimony that the knife was in the possession of defendant was improperly excluded; (9) defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel; (10) the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (11) the prosecution made erroneous comments during closing arguments regarding the presumption of innocence; and (12) he did not make a knowing and intelligent election of the law under which he would be sentenced.

We affirm.

John Taylor and Emil Lauridson were fatally stabbed in the early morning of March 13, 1976. James Hughes, who knew both victims, testified that prior to their deaths the victims had been at a tavern and had assisted Jack Shannon to remove his son John from the premises after John had arrived in a drunken state. Hughes and one of John's brothers carried John into the Shannons' home across the alley from the tavern. After Hughes left the house, he heard Lauridson yell "they got me" and saw Taylor struggling backwards with a knife in his abdomen.

Tim Shannon testified that when he arrived in the alley with his mother, he saw Brian and Larry Kurena near the garage and Jim Damron and Jim Grady across the alley in an empty lot. Kurena and his friends walked across the alley after Taylor told them to leave, but ran back as John was being brought into the house. Tim Shannon observed Damron talking to Lauridson. Damron had his right hand in his pocket and Lauridson asked Damron if he had a gun.

Rosemary Severs testified that she was at a party at Jim Grady's home at 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 1976. At 11:30 p.m., Grady, James Leenheer, defendant, and Severs drove to a tavern looking for marijuana. Defendant entered the tavern and returned five minutes later claiming that someone in the tavern wanted to fight with him. They returned to defendant's home where defendant got a brown-handled butcher knife from the kitchen. She further testified that Leenheer offered to drive her home. Maria Guttierez, Grady, Damron and defendant accompanied them. While in the car, Severs grabbed defendant's arm and defendant told her to be careful because he had a knife in his sleeve. Defendant said he was going back to the tavern to see if the man that wanted to fight was still there.

They parked in a vacant lot near Hi-Low Liquors where they were going to buy beer. Damron, Grady, and defendant walked into the alley behind the lot and ran back to the car a few minutes later. She further stated that defendant said he did not know why he stabbed the two men, that he stabbed his friend Taylor, and that he left a knife in the other man.

Judy Shannon, John Shannon's mother, testified that as John was being taken into the house, she heard Taylor say, "It's all over now. Go away and mind your own business." The only persons remaining in the alley when she left were the victims, defendant, and defendant's brother Brian Kurena.

Maria Pritchett testified that she was at the party at Jim Grady's house and went to defendant's home at about 10:30 p.m. Severs, Larry Kurena, Grady and Damron left approximately two hours later. When they returned Severs, defendant, and others went into the kitchen. When Pritchett entered the kitchen Severs and defendant were arguing and defendant had a knife which resembled People's exhibit no. 6, in his hand. She did not see defendant put the knife down. When they were driving to the tavern Maria heard Severs ask defendant why he had a knife and defendant responded that he needed it for protection.

Police officers Leonard Lawrence, Stanislau Sobie, and Marcus Williams were also called as witnesses by the State. Officer Lawrence testified that he and his partners responded to a call regarding a stabbing in the early morning of March 13, 1976. They observed the bodies of Taylor and Lauridson in an alley and after speaking with Tim Shannon, Lawrence made a radio dispatch naming Larry and Brian Kurena, James Grady and James Damron as persons in the alley immediately before the stabbings. Officer Sobie found a nine-inch butcher knife, which he identified as People's exhibit no. 6, in the alley in a puddle of water. He inventoried the knife and sent it to the crime lab. Officer Williams and his partner apprehended defendant after chasing him 2 1/2 blocks.

Dr. Tae An, a pathologist at the Cook County Medical Examiner's office, performed autopsies on Taylor and Lauridson. Both Lauridson and Taylor received stab wounds to their left abdomens which Dr. An stated were the causes of death. Although the wounds could have been caused by the butcher knife which was found in the alley, Dr. An could not state for a fact that the butcher knife recovered was the weapon used. Dr. An could not determine from which side the victims were attacked.

Shirley Shannon, John Shannon's wife, testified that at approximately midnight on March 13, 1976, she saw, from the window of her mother-in-law's apartment, her husband being pushed out of the tavern by his father. Brian and Larry Kurena, Damron and Grady were in a prairie across the alley. She later saw Damron and Lauridson near a light pole where Damron, who had previously had his hands in his pockets, punched Lauridson in the chest and abdominal area. Further testimony revealed that Shirley saw Damron's hands, but saw nothing in them.

Jerry Pittman testified that he was at Grady's home on March 12. Several people came to Grady's that evening and were drinking beer. Rosemary Severs was drinking and took two "downers" that evening. She had to be carried out of the house. James Leenheer also testified that Rosemary Severs was carried from Grady's home by Larry Kurena.

Brian Kurena, defendant's brother, testified that he walked to HiLow Liquors with Damron after they left Grady's house at approximately midnight. He saw Taylor and Lauridson assaulting John Shannon in the alley behind the liquor store and shortly thereafter, defendant and Grady arrived. Brian refused to leave when Taylor told him to do so and Taylor grabbed him and knocked him to the ground. Damron struck Lauridson and approximately 10 seconds later he saw Taylor and Lauridson lying in the alley bleeding. He had not seen a knife in defendant's possession.

Joseph Kurena, defendant's brother, and Geraldine May, defendant's mother, testified that defendant was left-handed. Joseph further testified that he tried to talk to Rosemary Severs at approximately 12:30 or 1 a.m. on the day in question, but ...

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