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People v. Garza





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. JOHN F. MICHELA, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 19, 1981.

The defendant in this cause, Arthur Garza, was found guilty of the murder of Bridgette Regli by a jury in the Will County Circuit Court. Two other men, Phillip Kline and Glen Schultz, Jr., were convicted in separate trials for the same offense. On this appeal defendant Garza urges us to find that multiple errors occurred in the trial below.

On December 6, 1973, Bridgette Regli was a 16-year-old high school student at Crete-Monee High School. After eating breakfast on the morning of the 6th, Miss Regli left for the high school, which is approximately one mile from her home. Later that day, at approximately 1 p.m., Valinda Avey saw Miss Regli get into a small two-door car that was cream or tan in color with a darker interior. Miss Regli was never seen alive again.

On December 8, 1973, a hunter found Miss Regli's body in a wooded area in Crete Township. Sheriff's deputies were called and testified that at the time the body was found, it appeared to be frozen. They found blood on a tree near where the body was found, as well as on two old pieces of wood which lay on the ground approximately two feet from the body. The decedent was fully clothed and clutched in her frozen lifeless hand was a lock of human hair.

More than five years later, on December 29, 1978, the defendant, Arthur Garza, was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint which charged him with the murder of Miss Regli. On January 26, 1979, the defendant was indicted for the same act by a Will County grand jury. Later that same year, on August 15, a Will County petit jury found the defendant guilty of murder, and the court subsequently sentenced him to a term of not less than 15 nor more than 25 years' imprisonment. The defendant appeals that conviction, alleging that errors occurred in the trial and pretrial procedures which transpired below. Moreover, the defendant alleges that the evidence presented at his trial below was, as a matter of law, insufficient to support his conviction.

The defendant reminds us that one of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed precepts of our criminal justice system is that the State must prove the defendant in any criminal matter guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant urges us to find that notwithstanding other matters which occurred below which defendant characterizes as reversible error, the State simply failed to prove the defendant guilty of the murder of Bridgette Regli beyond a reasonable doubt. In so urging, the defendant relies primarily on several witnesses who placed him elsewhere at the time Miss Regli was slain. Further, defendant suggests that the credibility of the State's primary witnesses should be seriously questioned.

The State's two principal witnesses were Marlena Wooten and Anna Kline. Both of these women testified that they were present at the Dixie Inn on November 15, 1978, when the defendant admitted his role in the slaying of Bridgette Regli. According to Ms. Wooten, the defendant boasted that he was the only lucky one out of the three individuals who participated in the killing of Miss Regli. He continued his boast by pointing out that "one went crazy and one was in jail." Ms. Wooten recalled that the defendant identified Phillip Kline as the one in jail and Glen Schultz, Jr., as the one that "went crazy." The defendant allegedly admitted to striking the decedent with a tire iron because she had taken a photograph of a drug transaction that he and Mr. Kline were engaged in. He also admitted that he sexually assaulted the decedent after killing her. Finally, Ms. Wooten recalled that according to the defendant's Dixie Inn confession, after murdering Miss Regli, Garza secreted the decedent's books and camera in Regli's boyfriend's car.

Ms. Kline was Ms. Wooten's sister-in-law. Also, she was Phillip Kline's estranged wife. Anna Kline's recollection of the Dixie Inn confession is much the same as that testified to by Ms. Wooten. There were indeed differences in their recollection, and the defendant suggests that these differences cast serious doubt on their credibility. One witness remembered the defendant admitting that his weapon was a tire iron, the other witness thought the defendant said jack handle. Since these terms could be said to be essentially interchangeable, we do not believe this discrepancy in their recollections is significant. Further, each of the witnesses to the Dixie Inn confession recalled the defendant as using a different vulgarism to describe his sexual assault of the decedent. Again, we do not believe this casts a serious shadow on the witnesses' credibility.

The defendant makes several other attacks on the credibility of the witnesses to the November 15 confession. First, it is suggested that Ms. Kline used and sold drugs. Ms. Kline's sister, Rhonda Shambo, testified that Ms. Kline's only motive for testifying was to get revenge on her estranged husband. Both Ms. Wooten and Ms. Kline had been warned by agents of the State that a refusal to testify could have adverse consequences. The jury considered all of these matters, but it is apparent from the verdict that they were nevertheless impressed with the credibility of Ms. Kline and Ms. Wooten. The jury undoubtedly drew a distinction between being compelled to testify and being compelled to testify falsely. Ordinarily, it is the province of the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses. (People v. Rolon (1979), 71 Ill. App.3d 746, 390 N.E.2d 107.) Where the jury has made a determination on issues within its province, that determination will not be reversed unless the supporting evidence is improbable, unconvincing, or contrary to human experience. (People v. Graydon (1976), 38 Ill. App.3d 792, 349 N.E.2d 127.) We cannot say that the credibility of the two Dixie Inn witnesses was so thoroughly undermined that the jury could not as a matter of law choose to believe the testimony which those witnesses proffered.

The defendant also urges us to find that the Dixie Inn confession recounted by Ms. Kline and Ms. Wooten is not supported by the circumstantial evidence in this case. A review of that evidence causes us to reach a contrary conclusion.

Miss Regli was a photographer for school activities and she virtually always carried a camera with her. On December 6 as she entered the small, two-door tan or cream-colored auto, she carried her books and a "bulky object" with her. Later investigators found scattered near her body some books, a portfolio for clarinet, spiral notebooks, a clarinet and a purse, all of which were identified as belonging to the decedent. No camera was ever found.

Analysis of the lock of hair clutched in Miss Regli's hand revealed that it matched a hair sample taken from Glen Schultz, Jr. Similar samples, although not numerous enough to make a positive match, were found on a glove in a creamish-white Mustang belonging to Phillip Kline's father.

When Miss Regli entered the tan or cream-colored vehicle on December 6, 1973, Valinda Avey was a student in the eighth grade. According to Ms. Avey, she did not recognize the make of car on that day in 1973, but later when she started driving she realized that it could have been a Mustang. Ms. Avey watched the slain high school student enter the light-colored vehicle as a high-school age male with dark shoulder-length hair and dark skin got out and then back in. The defendant admitted that in December of 1973 he had shoulder-length hair and, of course, the jury observed his skin color.

Phillip Kline admitted having the use of his father's Mustang all day on December 6, and the defendant admits that he spent all day with Mr. Kline. Specifically the defendant admits being with Kline from 8:15 a.m. until the two left for Florida that same evening. The autopsy report suggests that Miss Regli was bludgeoned to death sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Taken together, this circumstantial evidence places the defendant together with the driver of a motor vehicle which matches the description of the vehicle that Miss Regli entered just prior to her death. Further, hair samples in the Kline car were not distinguishable from the hair samples found in Miss Regli's death grip. Standing alone, the similarity of the vehicles and the similarity of the hair samples would leave considerable doubt in the minds of many. In light of the Dixie Inn confession, however, much credence is bestowed on the testimony of Ms. Kline and Ms. Wooten.

Not all the elements of the Dixie Inn confession comport with other evidence presented at the trial below. The autopsy report indicated that the death blow was delivered with a blunt object with wood fragments found in the wound. In defendant's confession, he allegedly used a tire iron. This discrepancy may be explained by other nonfatal wounds on the decedent's head and torso, including an egg-shaped injury caused by an instrument ...

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