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People v. Ong

OPINION FILED APRIL 3, 1981.

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

v.

ALICE ONG, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Marshall County; the Hon. EDWARD E. HAUGENS, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE ALLOY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, 24-year-old Alice Ong, appeals from a conviction for arson (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 20-1(a)). She was sentenced to four years' probation, including six months' imprisonment in the Marshall County jail, restitution of $1,500, and $500 in fines.

Three occurrence witnesses testified at the trial of the defendant. Roger Wilson testified that, on the evening of September 12, 1978, he and his brother Larry went out driving in Roger's Chevelle automobile. Larry drove. They drove to the home of Alice Ong and invited her along. The three of them then drove into the town of Wenona, purchased three six-packs of beer and a pint of whiskey, and drove around, at first in town, and later in the country. Roger testified, "I think we each had one [beer] — broke it. * * * All three of us" were drinking. As they drove around, they passed a vacant house, owned by Robert Dose, that had been occupied by Alice Ong during the summer and fall of 1977. Roger testified that, as they drove past, Alice said, "Let's burn the house down because I don't like anybody moving in there." Roger testified that Alice said she had bad memories of the house, arising from the time she lived there with her ex-husband. Roger testified that they drove around the section and Alice again said, "Let's burn it down." On cross-examination, Roger said that Alice had made only one statement about burning the house.

Roger testified that Larry pulled the car into the driveway next to the Dose house, and that Roger got out and went behind the car to "go to the bathroom." Roger testified that, when he returned to the car, Alice was gone. He testified that he next saw Alice and Larry walking around the house. He saw a reflection in the window "like a fire * * * inside the house." He indicated on a prosecution diagram that he saw this "reflection" in a livingroom window of the house.

On cross-examination, Roger testified that, just before they entered the driveway, Larry said, "I'm going to burn the house down." Roger acknowledged that, on December 5, 1979, he told Charles Lore, the deputy sheriff of Marshall County, that Alice was in the house alone and that she had lit the fire. He also told Deputy Lore that, in response to Alice's request, he (Roger) handed her a book of matches. At that time, he told Deputy Lore, Alice was standing in the kitchen of the house and he was standing on the porch, just outside the kitchen. He told Deputy Lore that Alice lit the kitchen curtains on fire. At trial, Roger admitted that all of these statements to Deputy Lore were false.

It was also brought out at trial that, on December 26, 1979, at a preliminary hearing for his brother, Larry, who had also been charged with arson, Roger testified that Alice had remained in the car, and that only Larry had entered and burned the house. At Alice's trial, Roger testified that this statement was true when he made it.

Roger testified that he had called Alice on February 1, 1980, a month before the trial, and invited her to go riding around with him. He testified that he had not spoken to her prior to this for over a year, and that this had hurt his feelings "a little." He testified that he had animosity toward Alice Ong, and when asked, "[I]s your desire to do everything you can to get her into trouble?" he answered, "Well, I won't — I'm going to try." On redirect, when asked to explain this last remark, Roger said, "She's just at fault as everybody else is. She was out there too. * * * I think she lit the curtains on fire, too, because she was the one in the room." Roger later testified that Alice had told him that she had gone into the house and, while inside, had been "flickering her lighter." Roger acknowledged that Alice had never admitted setting the house on fire. He also acknowledged that he had seen neither Larry nor Alice in the house and had no personal knowledge of what transpired inside. Roger had been charged with the crime of arson, but the State chose not to prosecute him.

The second occurrence witness was Larry Wilson. Larry had pleaded guilty to arson of the Dose house, and was a prisoner in the Marshall County jail at the time he testified. Larry, likewise, testified that he drove Roger's car on the night in question. He testified that they picked up Alice, drove to Wenona, and there bought beer and whiskey. They proceeded to drive around town and into the country. They drove past the Dose house without incident. Larry testified that the second time they approached the Dose house, Alice mentioned that she was thinking of burning it down, because she had bad memories of the time she lived there with her ex-husband. Larry testified that, by that time, all but four cans of beer and a small amount of whiskey had been consumed. Larry testified that he had drunk four or five shots of whiskey, that Roger had done the same, and that Alice had drunk the rest of the whiskey. When asked about his state of sobriety at the time of the incident, Larry replied, "I was feeling pretty good." When asked about Alice's state of sobriety, he replied, "Feeling pretty good, too."

They drove past the house and proceeded to go around the four-mile section, making a series of left turns. Larry testified that Alice stated she wanted to go back to the house. He testified that he thought she wanted to go back to finish her beer. When asked if Alice had made any further statements about wanting to burn the house, Larry replied, "I think she did." This, said Larry, occurred as they approached the house. Larry then pulled the car into the driveway. Larry testified that Roger went to the back of the car, but that he and Alice went into the house through the back door. The house was dark. He stayed within three feet of the kitchen door and set fire to a curtain on the window of the kitchen door. Alice walked through the kitchen and into the livingroom. Larry testified that he saw two flashes of light from the living room. He and Alice then exited the house. Larry testified that, as they drove around for three or four hours that evening and night, Alice sat on a pillow, between himself and Roger, who were seated in the front bucket seats of the Chevelle. Larry did not know whether the car stereo was on that evening. Larry testified that his brother, Roger, was in love with Alice Ong, and had dated her.

Alice Ong testified in her own behalf. She denied having made any statements about wanting to see the house burned or having bad memories about it. She stated that during her childhood the house had been owned by her grandparents, and before that by her great-grandparents. She had lived there in 1977, with her ex-husband, during a period of reconciliation subsequent to their divorce. She testified that she and her ex-husband were still close, and that she had only good memories of the house. She testified that she drank only two beers on the evening of September 12, and that if she drank more, she would have become sick. She denied having consumed any whiskey. It was brought out that, at the preliminary hearing for Larry Wilson, she testified that all three of them had been "drunk" on the evening of September 12. Alice testified that she rode in the back seat of the Chevelle, and that the car stereo was played very loudly during the entire time they were in the car.

Alice testified that Larry said, "Wouldn't it be fun to burn that house down." She said that she and the Wilson brothers laughed at this remark, and that she thought Larry was joking. She testified that Larry drove to the Dose house to steal gasoline. She testified that Larry had driven to another farm, earlier that evening, and had tried to steal gasoline, but was unable to because the storage tank there was locked. She testified that Larry went into an outbuilding on the Dose property to look for gasoline and then went into the house. She testified that she remained in the car the entire time. Alice testified that she did not have a romantic relationship with either Roger or Larry. She testified that Roger had called her some 10 days before the trial, and told her that, if she would go out drinking and driving with him, he would tell the truth at her trial. She declined the invitation.

All of the occurrence witnesses testified that, after they left the Dose house, they drove to a cemetery. From there, they saw the house burn and returned briefly for a closer look. The testimony is in dispute as to what words were spoken during these events.

The defendant's first contention on appeal is that she had not been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After examination of the entire trial transcript, we cannot agree. Guilt or innocence is a matter to be determined by the jury.

"Unless the evidence is so palpably contrary to the verdict or so unsatisfactory as to raise a reasonable doubt of defendant's guilt, a reviewing court will not set aside a jury's verdict, for any inconsistencies or discrepancies in the testimony of the witnesses, any possible bias or interest affecting the credibility of the witnesses, and the weight to be attributed to the testimony of the witnesses are matters ...


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