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People v. Battles

OPINION FILED MARCH 2, 1981.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DWIGHT BATTLES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JAMES M. BAILEY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE O'CONNOR DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Dwight Battles, was convicted by a jury of the murder of his two infant daughters, Audrey and Stephanie, aged 2 and 3 years respectively, and was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 40 to 80 years. Defendant appeals, contending (1) he was not guilty of murder, but only of involuntary manslaughter, and (2) the State's final argument to the jury was inflammatory and prejudicial and constituted reversible error.

Defendant and his wife, Brenda Jones, had four children, two boys and two girls. The boys lived in a foster home. The two girls, Audrey, 2, and Stephanie, 3, lived with their parents. In January 1977, Brenda Jones separated from defendant and took her two daughters with her. In early June of 1977, she and her daughters were staying with her friend, Buanita Hughes, at the latter's home. On June 19, 1977, Brenda Jones left the two little girls with Buanita Hughes, who agreed to take care of them. The children were well fed and in good physical condition while Buanita Hughes cared for them. On June 29, 1977, because she had business to attend to which would take "a couple of days," Buanita Hughes took the two little girls back to their father's apartment and asked him to look after them until she returned to get them on July 2. Defendant said he couldn't take care of them. She said, "You are going to watch them." He said, "Whatever happens, happens." She left them well fed and unbruised with defendant.

Three days later, on July 2, 1977, she returned to defendant's house with her sister. She knocked on the back door and, when she did not receive an answer, she knocked on the front door, placed her ear to the door and "heard this little moaning sound." She told her sister there is a "funny sound in there, I should break a window." Her sister told her not to; she could be charged with breaking and entering. She and her sister then drove home.

Beverly Pender lived next door to defendant's apartment. On July 4 she moved out of her apartment. On July 6, she returned on a visit and noticed an odor in the hallway between her old apartment and defendant's. At 11:00 that night she again returned to the building to drop off her friend. She noticed several people sitting outside, including defendant, who was on the front porch drinking beer. She returned to the building on Saturday, July 9, and noticed defendant sitting in front of his apartment. She also noticed that flies covered the inside of the front window of defendant's apartment.

On July 9, Police Officer Robert Christian responded to a call to go to defendant's apartment. He noticed the strong odor of a decomposing body. A resident broke a window, entered defendant's apartment and opened the door for him. He saw the body of an unclothed child, swollen from bruises about the face and on the lower extremities. Maggots were crawling throughout the body. Further investigation disclosed a chesthigh freezer blocking the entrance to a bedroom just off the kitchen. The more decomposed body of a second child was found in that bedroom.

About that time, defendant arrived with some people in an automobile. Defendant was taken into the apartment to identify the bodies. He identified Audrey in the bedroom next to the kitchen and, when told that the body of another child was in the front bedroom, he said, "I have seen enough, my other daughter is in there." Defendant was advised of his constitutional rights, driven to the police station and again advised of his constitutional rights.

There, defendant said that he understood his Miranda rights and wanted to make a statement at that time. In his statement, which he signed after acknowledging it was made without any threats or promises, he said: His wife had a friend drop the children off on Wednesday, the 29th of June. He told them (the kids) to come into the house and Buanita Hughes left. It was late in the evening and he told them to get to bed. There was no food; there was no gas, no power at all, so he could not feed them. He went to look for their mother. After he came back, he gave them some water and they went to sleep. On Thursday morning, when he got up he checked the kitchen and the children were lying down. He gave them some more water and went out and drank all day and most of the night. He didn't remember if he came home Thursday or Friday at all. He remembered waking up Friday evening and they were in the room playing and talking together. He thinks he might have struck them on their butts because they were out of bed. Normally he would not whip them at all, but he may have hit them more because he was doing a lot of drinking. He had told his wife that she would have to whip them normally, because his hand is too heavy. He went out again Friday and did some more drinking and did not come home until about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. He went past their room and they seemed like they were sleeping. He went to bed and woke up about 10 a.m. He checked the children and they were not moving. He thought that he stayed in the house until about 4 p.m. The children did not say anything. He went out looking for his wife. About midnight, he saw his father, who gave him two dollars after he fixed his father's flat tire. He then took the bus home. The children were asleep in the one bedroom. The oldest girl had been out; things were knocked over.

He went to bed and woke up Sunday morning; he didn't know at what time. He went to get some bread at the store, but they were all sold out because of the holiday. He got some candy and tried to give it to them, but they would not take it. He gave them some water, some more water because they were looking bad. Monday he gave them some more water and they were pretty quiet. They were falling out of bed a lot.

On Monday he told an Ellen Rose that one of the children was dead and the other was in bad shape. He went out looking for his wife. On Tuesday he could not think about anything because he was scared. He knew the baby had died and he didn't know what to do. On Wednesday he walked over to his Aunt Cookie and just sat there. He knew both daughters were dead on Tuesday when he left. He was just trying to get out of the house.

Defendant also stated, "They fell out of bed and I may have hit them, I just don't know what happened."

On July 10, 1977, defendant, after being fully advised of his rights, made another statement to Assistant State's Attorney Brian Collins, with a court reporter present. Defendant signed this statement, too. Defendant stated he had had an argument with his wife and she left with the two children. The argument was "about money and I slapped my little daughter. My wife said `don't be spanking with your hands, they're too heavy.'" Approximately 10 days later, on Wednesday evening June 29, 1977, Buanita Hughes dropped his children off at defendant's apartment. His daughters slept that night. The next morning defendant gave them some water and then left. He went drinking with his friends and had about 12 cans of beer. On Friday morning defendant's children told him that they were hungry. He did not feed them. Defendant spent all day Friday sitting on the front porch with some friends. He smoked cigarettes and drank a six-pack of beer. If his daughters were crying on Friday, he did not hear them because he was sitting outside on the porch. On Friday night he watched T.V. at the apartment and then fell asleep.

On Saturday he woke up at 10 a.m. He noticed that the girls had rolled off the bed. He put them back in bed and told them to stay there; they continually fell out of their bed and he spanked them for falling off the bed. He did not feed them on Saturday. He spent most of that day sitting in front of the house. Defendant's father gave him one dollar for fixing a flat tire. Defendant then left the front porch and did not return until 1:30 a.m. Sunday. He found some rice in the kitchen, boiled it; the children would not eat.

On Sunday defendant went to a bar. The children slept all day Sunday. On Monday, July 4, defendant's aunt came to invite him to a barbecue. He went to a friend's house, played cards, drank beer and ate chicken. Defendant then went to the barbecue at his aunt's house and stayed there until 9 p.m. He did not take his little girls to the aunt's barbecue because they were sick and would not move. He did not bring the girls any chicken ...


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