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People v. Neeley





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. KENNETH J. JUEN, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, James Neeley, Jr., was convicted of the offense of burglary by a jury in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years. On appeal defendant challenges the competency of his court-appointed counsel.

Christine Winston testified at defendant's trial that she was at home on September 28, 1978, when she heard an automobile motor idling and a dog barking in the vicinity of the home of a neighbor, Frederick Boyd. She estimated the time to be approximately 3 p.m., because she was expecting her daughter to arrive home from school shortly. Looking out a window she observed an automobile parked beside Boyd's house. She saw four men, all who were short and of average build, carry objects from the house and load them into the automobile. She was able to ascertain the make and model of the vehicle and noticed that it bore Missouri license plates. While telephoning a police dispatcher concerning a possible burglary, she continued to watch the men as they drove away heading east. She relayed to the dispatcher details about the automobile, its license plates, the number of men she saw and what they were doing at the Boyd residence.

Jerry McHenry, a patrolman for the East St. Louis Police Department, testified that he was on duty on September 28 when he received a dispatch at 3:18 p.m., concerning a 1972 green Buick with Missouri license plates which was suspected of being involved in a burglary at a nearby home. Immediately thereafter, he saw a vehicle matching the description stopped in traffic at an intersection. He followed the vehicle and radioed for help.

Another patrol car eventually pulled the Buick over, and an Officer Pritz asked one Yates, who was apparently the driver of the car, to open up the trunk. Yates replied that the officer could open it. Once Officer Pritz got the keys, he opened the trunk and found a television set and a stereo component set there. Another television set was found in the back seat of the car. Officer McHenry identified defendant as one of the four occupants of the vehicle.

Frederick Boyd testified that neither he nor his wife were at home that day and that the doors to the house were locked as usual. When he returned home that afternoon, he found the police were there and noticed two stereo component sets and two television sets missing. Boyd observed that the kitchen window was open and slightly damaged, as if something had been used to pry it up.

The last State's witness was Detective James W. Cowan, who conducted interviews of each of the four men regarding the burglary. Defendant was the last to be interviewed; and after he had initialed a Miranda rights acknowledgement form, he told Detective Cowan that he would be willing to make a statement. Defendant then told Cowan that he was living in St. Louis, Missouri, and that Thomas Davis had picked him up there. They then went to Arthur Treacher's restaurant in East St. Louis, Illinois, and were riding around in Davis' automobile afterward when they saw a house and decided to break into it. After Detective Cowan had put that information in statement form, defendant read and signed it. According to Cowan, defendant told him that he had family in East St. Louis and neither denied that he had participated in the burglary nor claimed that he was with his family at the time. At the conclusion of Cowan's testimony defendant's signed statement was read to the jury.

Defendant denied any involvement in the burglary. He testified that he saw his co-defendants, Yates, Davis, and Bland around noon on September 28, 1978, in St. Louis. He got into their automobile and drove into East St. Louis with them because he wanted to see his stepmother, Julia Bolden, who lived on Martin Luther King Drive. He claimed that he wanted to see her because he had just been released from prison in Missouri. According to defendant, the men first went to an Arthur Treacher Restaurant in East St. Louis, where defendant completed a job application and talked to Davis' uncle, who was the manager. The other three then dropped defendant off at his stepmother's house and drove away, saying they would be right back. The defendant stayed about an hour, talking to his stepsisters and stepbrother. His stepmother was at work, but she telephoned during this time. The three men returned about 3 p.m., and offered defendant a ride back to St. Louis. After defendant got in the car, he saw the television set and asked Davis where he got it. Davis told him that he had obtained it from his "partner," and nothing more was said.

Defendant asserted that at the police station he initially told Detective Cowan that he knew nothing about the burglary. Defendant kept insisting that he was innocent, whereupon Detective Cowan said, "You must want to go into my back room." Defendant testified that Cowan then struck him on the head and called in two guards, who took him into another room, then beat and cursed him for a period of about 30 to 35 minutes. Defendant admitted that he subsequently signed the statement produced by Cowan but denied knowing that it was a confession; instead, he signed it because Detective Cowan told him it was a property slip and because of the beating and harassment. He related that the statement was not read to him nor did he read it himself. He denied telling Cowan that he had been involved in the burglary and instead told Cowan about going to Arthur Treacher's and visiting his stepmother's house.

On cross-examination the following colloquy occurred between defendant and the State's Attorney:

"Q. Okay, now we are getting at the accurate version. He hit you right here and then he handed you these documents which you thought were property slips and you signed them and then the two guards were brought in and beat you for 35 minutes in the back room after you signed this document, is that what you are saying?

A. Yes, sir."

Defendant also testified that his stepmother had visited him once while he was in the penitentiary and that his visit to his stepmother's house on the day of the burglary was his first visit there since his release from prison.

After the defense rested its case, the State called defendant's stepmother, Julia Bolden, as a rebuttal witness. She denied ever visiting defendant at the penitentiary, and recalled that he had visited her twice at her home after his release, the first time in late August and the second in early September. Upon further examination, she admitted that it was "very possible" that ...

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