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People v. White





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. LOUIS A. WEXLER, Judge, presiding.


Odessa White (defendant) was charged with the murder of George Butler. After a jury trial, she was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 9-2(b).) She was sentenced to four years of felony probation with the first year to include periodic imprisonment. She appeals.

Defendant met the deceased in about 1970. They lived together from 1971 until his death on May 22, 1976. Apparently, their life together was a series of one-sided physical encounters. She described the deceased as "nice sober" and "mean drinking." On May 22, 1976, they were drinking and playing records. An argument ensued. The deceased wished to go out for more liquor and the defendant objected. Deceased told her he was going to whip her again. He seized her right arm, which he had recently injured, but she escaped into the bedroom. Defendant testified she lay on the bed for four or five minutes. She then got up and took a pistol from the top of the dresser. The deceased came toward her "walking fast," and she shot him. He started running toward her, and she shot him again. The deceased then went outside. Defendant followed him through the front door. She then threw the gun away at the back of the apartment and reentered. She had obtained the gun from her aunt about two years previously. She stated the gun was for "protection" because "someone had already tried to break in."

On direct examination defendant further stated, "I wasn't intending to kill him, but I didn't want him to hurt me no more." She added, "I thought maybe if I shoot the first time he would go back. But instead of him going back, he started coming faster upon me."

About 6 p.m., police found the deceased sitting on a nearby curb bleeding profusely from the mouth. There was a trail of blood to the basement apartment where defendant lived. Defendant told police she had stabbed the deceased after an argument. There was blood on the floor leading to the kitchen. It appeared an attempt had been made to wipe up the blood on the kitchen floor with a mop. The defendant showed police a small steak knife which she said she had washed off. She said she had stabbed the deceased with it. However, later police told her they had been advised deceased had been shot. She then agreed she had shot him and said she gave the gun to an unknown black man in the alley. A search disclosed no gun.

After proper warnings, in an interview with an assistant State's Attorney, defendant made a written confession. This confirmed that the parties had been drinking for some time. Defendant stated she then went into the bedroom and armed herself with a gun. The deceased came out of the kitchen and through the dining room toward the bedroom. As he came through the dining room, she shot him once. The deceased said, "You shot me." Defendant said, "I told you I would shoot you." She entered the dining room and shot deceased two more times. Deceased then ran out of the apartment.

Defendant also testified she worked until 1974 when the deceased broke her ankle. She had been wearing a cast on her arm as a result of an altercation with deceased during which he had twisted her hand. She had a scar on her right arm some 2 1/2 or 3 inches long resulting from surgery in connection with this injury. After this incident, the deceased kicked her elbow and dislocated it. This required a cast. At that time the deceased struck her face so that her eyes and mouth were swollen and she could neither see nor eat. On another occasion deceased struck her on the face with a bottle. This required surgery and stitches. The deceased struck her on the head with a car jack which scarred her. He struck her on the breast which ultimately required a surgical procedure for removal of a knot. He threw her forcibly across a chair and caused four fractured ribs. During May 1976, she was taking medication for her "nervous" condition and headaches.


The first issue raised by defendant is reasonable doubt because the State failed to prove defendant did not reasonably believe she was obliged to shoot the deceased to prevent her own death or bodily harm.

• 1 The Illinois statute, which codifies the theory of self-defense, requires defendant to believe that the force used is necessary "to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force." However, deadly force or that likely to cause great bodily harm is permissible only if a defendant "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another * * *." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 7-1.) Therefore, to determine whether a killing was justified under self-defense, the court must inquire "whether defendant's belief that he had to use deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances." (People v. Smith (1978), 58 Ill. App.3d 784, 789, 374 N.E.2d 1285, appeal denied (1978), 71 Ill.2d 613, cert. denied (1979), 440 U.S. 973, 59 L.Ed.2d 790, 99 S.Ct. 1539.) "This is a question to be determined by the trier of fact and his finding will not be set aside on review unless the evidence is so unsatisfactory as to leave a reasonable doubt of defendant's guilt." Smith, 58 Ill. App.3d 784, 789.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. (People v. Saunders (1974), 18 Ill. App.3d 117, 121, 309 N.E.2d 350; Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 7-14.) Defendant must present "some evidence" of self-defense. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 3-2(a).) Once defendant affirmatively has done so, "the State has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to that issue together with all the other elements of the offense." People v. Williams (1974), 57 Ill.2d 239, 242, 311 N.E.2d 681, cert. denied (1974), 419 U.S. 1026, 42 L.Ed.2d 302, 95 S.Ct. 506.

In the case before us, it appears the defense is predicated primarily upon the history of the relationship between these people. In this regard it must be remembered that "[t]he right of self-defense does not justify an act of retaliation or revenge." People v. Woods (1980), 81 Ill.2d 537, 543, 410 N.E.2d 866, and cases there cited.

A case rather close on the facts to the one before us is People v. Dillon (1962), 24 Ill.2d 122, 180 N.E.2d 503. Defendant and other witnesses testified to brutal treatment of defendant by the husband for a period of six years. The supreme court affirmed the conviction for murder using this language (Dillon, 24 Ill.2d 122, 125-26):

"[T]he right of self-defense does not imply the right of attack in the first instance or permit action done in ...

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