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People v. Rodriguez

OPINION FILED MAY 14, 1981.

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

v.

JOSE RODRIGUEZ ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN J. MORAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE JIGANTI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Nestor Luis Mercado, Jose Rodriguez, and Frank Nuncci were charged by information with attempting to murder and with committing aggravated battery upon Ernesto Ramirez. Following the trial the jury found Mercado and Rodriguez (the defendants) guilty of aggravated battery and attempt murder. Finding that the aggravated battery convictions merged into the attempt murder convictions, the trial court entered judgment only on the latter. The defendants were each sentenced to a term of 15 to 25 years. Nuncci was convicted of aggravated battery but that conviction is not a part of this appeal. Mercado and Rodriguez contend on appeal that (1) it was reversible error for the trial court to refuse the requested jury instructions concerning the justifiable use of force, and (2) they are entitled to a new trial on the ground that the State exercised its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude blacks from the jury. Mercado also contends that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress a statement made to the police; (2) he was denied equal protection because under Illinois law there is no offense of attempt voluntary manslaughter; and (3) the trial court erred in failing to vacate his aggravated battery convictions.

Ramirez testified that at approximately 3 a.m., on August 27, 1977, he left a tavern located at Milwaukee Avenue and Sacramento Boulevard in Chicago. Once outside the tavern he saw the defendants and Nuncci beating another man. Ramirez, a man he knew as Felipe, and a man who had asked Ramirez for a ride home all entered Ramirez's car. As he was driving away Ramirez yelled to the defendants that they were being "very abusive." The defendants then approached Ramirez's car with tire jacks in their hands. Ramirez drove away. A few moments later Ramirez stopped his car for a red light. The defendants, Nuncci and two women pulled up behind Ramirez's car in a station wagon. The defendants and Nuncci walked toward Ramirez. Ramirez drove through the red light to get away. The defendants followed in the station wagon. While being followed, Ramirez drove at approximately 70 miles per hour.

After driving around for a short while Ramirez applied his brakes slowly. The car in which the defendants were riding rammed into Ramirez's car. To assess the damage, Ramirez pulled into a well-lighted gas station at Irving Park Road and Sacramento Boulevard. The station wagon followed Ramirez into the gas station. The defendants and Nuncci got out of their car and approached Ramirez's car carrying tire jacks. The two men who had been riding in Ramirez's car fled. Ramirez did not see them again that night.

The defendants and Nuncci broke Ramirez's car windows with the tire jacks and told Ramirez, "now we are going to get you." The three men walked toward Ramirez and he backed away. No one was in the area besides Ramirez, Nuncci, and the defendants.

As Ramirez walked backwards the defendants and Nuncci lifted the tire jacks as if to swing at Ramirez. The three men were around him. Suddenly, Ramirez received a blow on the back of his skull. From where the defendants had been standing, it appeared to Ramirez that Mercado had dealt the blow. Ramirez did not know what happened after that.

Chicago police officer Christopher Pepol testified that at approximately 4 a.m., on August 27, 1977, he was off duty, driving past the gas station on his way to buy breakfast. He heard the sound of shattering glass. Turning toward the sound, he observed the defendants and Nuncci smashing the windows of Ramirez's car. Ramirez was standing next to the car. Pepol turned into the gas station and saw the defendants and Nuncci "kicking, beating, and hitting" Ramirez, who was lying on the ground. Mercado and Rodriguez had jacks in their hands while they were beating Ramirez. Ramirez was lying in a pool of blood. His skull was split open and Pepol could see part of his brains. Ramirez's face was lacerated. According to Pepol, Ramirez was conscious.

Dr. Jeffery Karasick, a neurosurgeon, testified that he examined Ramirez on August 27, 1977. He observed a "several inch long" laceration in the back of Ramirez's head, a laceration over Ramirez's eye and several smaller lacerations on Ramirez's face. X rays revealed a compressed skull fracture. Bone fragments were broken off from the skull and pushed inward. Such an injury is usually the result of a blow from an instrument and does not generally result from a blow from someone's hand. Such an injury would not result from falling to the ground unless there was a sharp object protruding from the ground. Karasick performed surgery to remove the bone fragments.

According to defense testimony, Mercado was at the tavern drinking. Rodriguez, Nuncci and Nuncci's sister, Carmen Vivar drove to the tavern in Mercado's car to pick him up. There was a commotion in front of the tavern, but Mercado, Rodriguez, and Nuncci testified that Mercado was not involved in a fight. As the defendants and Nuncci were walking to their car outside the tavern, Ramirez tried to run them down with his car. The defendants and Nuncci entered Mercado's car. They were chased by Ramirez. After a while Ramirez's car hit the back of Mercado's car. Thereafter the defendants and Nuncci followed Ramirez. The two vehicles pulled into a gas station at Irving Park Road and Sacramento Boulevard. Ramirez got out of his car carrying a tire jack.

Mercado broke the windows of Ramirez's car with a metal pipe. After breaking the windows he dropped the pipe and approached Ramirez. Ramirez swung the jack he was carrying, striking Mercado on the back of the neck, the shoulder, and the lower chest and stomach area. Mercado was bruised and bleeding. He tried to avoid the blows, but he did not hit Ramirez. While Ramirez hit Mercado, Mercado tried to get the jack away from him. Nuncci and Rodriguez were not nearby.

Mercado testified that he saw Ramirez fall to the ground. Ramirez fell backwards. He was bleeding after he fell. On cross-examination Mercado testified that he saw Ramirez on the ground but he did not see Ramirez actually fall. No one hit Ramirez.

Rodriguez testified that Ramirez tried unsuccessfully to hit him with the jack. Rodriguez backed away. Then Ramirez backed away. The next thing Rodriguez noticed was that Mercado and Ramirez were near one another. Rodriguez saw Ramirez swing the jack and hit Mercado. Ramirez hit Mercado again. Rodriguez then threw an oil can spout at Ramirez. Ramirez was hit on the side of the face. He fell to the ground. Rodriguez saw that Ramirez was bleeding.

When questioned by Mercado's lawyer, Rodriguez testified that he did not see Ramirez strike Mercado. He did, however, see bruises on Mercado's body later that day at the police station. Under cross-examination Rodriguez testified that he did see Ramirez hit Mercado with the jack, once on the shoulder and again somewhere around the head or back of the head or neck area. Blood was dripping from Mercado's shoulder as a result of being hit with the jack.

The defendants first contend that it was reversible error for the trial court to refuse the requested jury instructions concerning the justifiable use of force. It is well settled that a defendant is entitled to have the jury consider his claim of justifiable use of force where that defense has some foundation in the evidence. (People v. Harris (1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 805, 350 N.E.2d 850.) Very slight evidence upon a given theory will justify an instruction. People v. Bratcher (1976), 63 Ill.2d 534, 349 N.E.2d 52; People v. Harris.

• 1 We believe there is evidence in the record here sufficient to require the giving of the requested self-defense instructions. According to defense testimony, Ramirez tried to run down the defendants with his car. A high speed chase followed, and defense witnesses testified that Ramirez's car hit the back of Mercado's car. When the two vehicles reached the gas station, Ramirez exited his car with a tire jack in his hand. Most significantly, there is testimony that Ramirez hit Mercado with the tire jack on the back of the neck, the shoulder, and on the lower chest and stomach area. Rodriguez testified that he threw an oil can spout at Ramirez after seeing Ramirez hit Mercado twice with a tire jack. The spout hit Ramirez on the side of the face and he fell to the ground, bleeding. The defendants testified that Mercado was bruised and bleeding as a result of being hit by Ramirez with the tire jack. We recognize that the victim and an apparently disinterested witness testified that the victim was brutally beaten by the defendants and Nuncci without provocation and that a jury would not be likely to accept the defendants' diametrically opposed version of the events. However, the credibility of the witnesses can only be resolved by the jury, not by the trial court. (People v. Dowdy (1974), 21 Ill. App.3d 821, 316 N.E.2d 33.) The defendants were entitled to their theory of defense even if the trial judge believed that the evidence offered in support of that defense was inconsistent or of doubtful credibility. People v. Woodward (1979), 77 Ill. App.3d 352, 395 N.E.2d 1203.

The State argues that the defendants are not entitled to a self-defense instruction because they did not admit to hitting Ramirez. We are not persuaded by this contention. A defendant is entitled to the benefit of any defense shown by the evidence, even if the facts on which such defense is based are ...


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