APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon.
HAROLD L. JENSEN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
LaSumba walked into the police department, handed the desk officer a motel room key and said, "You will find a body in this room."
Dead from stab wounds. A butcher knife lay near the body.
A jury found LaSumba guilty of murder and he was sentenced to 60 years.
At trial, two children of Anna Abdullah (Lillian and Herman Bishop) were called by the prosecution. They testified to the fact that Anna Abdullah and defendant LaSumba had been married for approximately two years and then divorced in 1976. This union produced one child, Hannibal. Lillian Bishop testified that defendant lived at their Champaign home for two months in 1978 and during that time she overheard two arguments between defendant and her mother. According to Lillian, defendant charged his ex-wife with "not taking good care of Hannibal." Lillian said that on Monday, August 28, around 11 at night, she spoke to defendant on the telephone. Since her mother was not at home, defendant left a message that he and Hannibal would "be in in the morning around 11:00." The following morning, Anna Abdullah left the house around 8 or 8:30, saying that she "was going to buy some food stamps and to pick up Hannibal." Lillian Bishop did not see her mother again.
Herman Bishop testified that he used an extension and eavesdropped on the phone conversation between defendant and Anna Abdullah. This occurred several days after defendant had departed their home in the first week of August. Herman said that his mother told defendant to bring Hannibal back within 24 hours or she would call the police.
Defendant testified that he last lived with Anna Abdullah around the end of July 1978. He returned to Champaign a month later to bring Hannibal back to his mother and to appear with Anna Abdullah in civil court concerning a debt of hers that he had cosigned. The night before going to Champaign, defendant phoned the Abdullah home. He left a message saying that he and his son would arrive by bus at 11:30 a.m. Anna Abdullah picked them up at the bus station, and after they got something to eat, she took them to a motel where she had obtained a room for the defendant. Anna took defendant into the motel room so that they could discuss Hannibal, and left their son in the car. According to defendant, Anna Abdullah indicated that she wanted him to keep Hannibal for one more week and he agreed to take Hannibal back to St. Louis. They returned to the bus station and found the next bus would not leave until 4:30 p.m. Anna Abdullah then agreed to let defendant use her car for the trip. He was to return to Champaign that day. The three returned to the motel, because Anna Abdullah decided she might as well use the room she had already paid for. Defendant left for St. Louis around 3:30 p.m., after going into the motel room with his ex-wife for 5 or 10 more minutes.
Defendant recalled that both going to and coming from St. Louis he stopped for gasoline at a station in Raymond, Illinois. At trial, a gas station attendant corroborated these stops.
When defendant LaSumba returned to the motel in Champaign, he discovered Anna Abdullah's body on the floor. Unsure of what to do, he decided to go alert Anna's daughter. He drove to her home but stated that he did not stop the car and go in because "I got this feeling that something was telling me not to go there." Instead, he drove past her house and parked on a side street. He then walked to the police station. On cross-examination, defendant revealed that he had not brought a change of clothes with him when he came to Champaign.
Officer David Brady, of the Champaign Police Department, testified that shortly after midnight on August 30, 1978, he was working at the desk at the police department. Defendant approached the desk, handed Officer Brady a common motel-type key, and said, "You will find a body in this room." The station dispatcher was thereupon instructed to send a car to the Prospect Motel, where Anna Abdullah's body was found.
According to defendant's argument, the time of death set by the State's witness, Dr. Stanley Bobowski, was inconsistent with the State's version of Anna Abdullah's death. At trial, Dr. Bobowski testified that she died an estimated 8 to 10 hours before the autopsy took place. According to this hypothesis, the time of death would have been in the area of 10 p.m. on August 29. The State's other evidence implied that she was killed in the afternoon before the defendant returned to St. Louis. (Although Dr. Bobowski did not give any specific reasons for his estimation of the time of death, we do not find this discrepancy at all fatal to the conviction.)
Defendant contends that the evidence was wholly circumstantial and consistent with his account of events. But we find defendant's version of events to contain many flaws.
(1) Anna Abdullah told her daughter that she was going to pick up Hannibal. Earlier, the victim had told defendant to return Hannibal or she would call the police. This appears inconsistent with the defendant's statement that the victim asked him to keep Hannibal for another week.
(2) Also, it seems strange that Hannibal had to be returned to St. Louis with such immediacy. It would have been more logical for him to have stayed with his mother, or even with defendant, for the short time that defendant had to spend in Champaign.
(3) The State points out that defendant arrived in Champaign on August 29. He was to attend court with the victim on September 1. However, he admitted at trial that he ...