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People v. Lynom





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


Rehearing denied July 23, 1981.

Defendant was charged by information with murder and armed violence in connection with the death of Hattie Gary (also known as Hattie Adams), the woman he lived with. He was convicted in a bench trial of voluntary manslaughter and armed violence and was given concurrent 6-year sentences. The issues presented for review are whether: a prima facie showing of self-defense was made by defendant which the State failed to rebut; defendant was armed with a dangerous weapon so as to support his conviction of armed violence; defendant's conviction of voluntary manslaughter is a lesser-included offense of armed violence because both offenses arose under the same transaction; and, the legislature exceeded its constitutional power to prescribe penalties in designating defendant's conduct a Class X felony. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

The State presented the following case at trial. Mildred Boyrd testified that she had been living temporarily with the victim, Hattie Gary, and defendant at 5700 S. La Salle Street, Chicago. In their apartment on December 6, 1978, at approximately 3:30 p.m., she saw the victim place a handgun in a purple purse. At about 4:30 p.m., she observed defendant and the victim arguing in the dining room over this gun. Defendant was holding the gun and said to the victim, "If I ever get my hands on that gun, bitch, I told you I was going to kill you and throw it over the Dan Ryan" Expressway. The victim asked defendant to give the gun back to her because it was the only protection she had, but he refused. Boyrd then asked defendant for the gun and he responded that he would think about it. The argument lasted a couple of minutes, after which the victim went into the bedroom and defendant went into the kitchen. One-half hour later, defendant walked out of the kitchen and into the victim's bedroom carrying the gun. Boyrd, who was sitting in the living room, then heard a shot and immediately thereafter saw defendant emerge from the bedroom door carrying the pistol. After defendant left the house, Boyrd went into the bedroom and saw blood on the victim's chest. Boyrd then ran to a neighbor's house and called the police. On cross-examination, Boyrd testified that earlier that day, she and the victim drank several cups of gin. She described the argument between defendant and victim as having been of 20 minutes duration. Defendant walked into the bedroom about 20 minutes after the argument. She heard no voices and couple of seconds later, she heard a gunshot. On redirect, she testified that she had no watch and was uncertain as to the times at which the events took place.

Chicago police officer Donald Mills testified that at 7 p.m. on December 6, 1978, after receiving a radio dispatch of a shooting at 5700 S. La Salle St., he proceeded to that location where he found the deceased victim in the bedroom. He searched the apartment for weapons but found none. Later that evening, while on patrol, he received a radio dispatch that defendant could be found at a tavern several blocks from the apartment. He proceeded there and placed defendant under arrest.

Dr. Lee F. Beamer, an assistant Cook County medical examiner, testified that his autopsy of the victim indicated the cause of death to have been a projectile wound from a bullet which entered her chest and struck her heart. The entry wound exhibited no evidence of surrounding smoke or powder "strippling." He defined "strippling" as a type of burn which occurs to the skin if particles of powder come out of the gun barrel and strike the skin while the particles are still burning. For strippling to be found on the skin would require the gun to have been fired within close range, roughly 18 to 22 inches, of the body. On cross-examination, Dr. Beamer testified that tests performed indicated alcohol in the victim's blood and that she possibly was intoxicated. Strippling may not occur even when the gun is fired within close range if the particles are screened out by an intermediate object, such as clothing. Although the victim was wearing a nightgown and a blouse when he performed the autopsy, he did not recall if they exhibited bullet holes.

Mary Shropshire, an assistant state's attorney, testified that on the day of this shooting she was assigned to the Felony Review Unit. Before interviewing defendant on the night of his arrest, she informed him that she was an assistant state's attorney, then advised him of his Miranda rights. Defendant agreed to waive those rights and speak with her. He stated that while he was sitting at a table in the apartment, the victim came out of the bedroom with a gun and said she was going to shoot him. He stood up and began struggling for the gun. During the struggle, the gun discharged while the victim's finger was on the trigger. Shropshire then asked if it was possible that he had taken the gun away and then discharged it, to which he responded that it was perhaps possible but his memory was hazy. The State then rested.

When the trial resumed the next day, defendant read a stipulation into the record that if Chicago police officers T.C. Davies and Gene Murphy were called as witnesses, they would testify that when they viewed the victim that day at her apartment, she was wearing a nightgown and blouse exhibiting a bullet hole corresponding to the location the bullet entered her body. Tommy Lynom, defendant's brother, then testified after appropriate foundation that the victim had a reputation in the community for becoming violent when she consumed alcoholic beverages.

Defendant testified that he had lived with the victim for five years before her death and considered her to be his "common law" wife. Mildred Boyrd and her infant son were living with them during December of 1978 because their apartment had no heat. At about 6 p.m. on December 6, 1978, he and Boyrd's older son, Charles, were drinking beer in the apartment and the victim was lying down in the bedroom. Defendant later walked into the bedroom and saw the victim standing by the closet holding a gun, which she pointed at him. When defendant turned to walk out of the bedroom, she cocked the gun and walked up to him. Defendant turned, grabbed her hand, and as he began to struggle with her, the gun went off. The struggle lasted only a couple of seconds. Defendant came out of the bedroom and told Boyrd that the victim had been playing with the gun and "I went [in] and she got shot." He told Boyrd to call the police while he looked for a policeman on the street. Unable to find a policeman, he stopped in a tavern to phone the police station. He then called his apartment and was told that the police had already arrived there, so he told them of his location. The police came to the tavern and arrested him. At the police station, he tried to explain what happened but "they didn't let me explain." On cross-examination, defendant testified that when he tried to explain to Shropshire what happened, she said he was lying.

The trial court found defendant not guilty of murder, but guilty of voluntary manslaughter and armed violence.

• 1 Defendant contends that the evidence submitted in his behalf was a prima facie showing that he acted in self-defense when he shot the victim which was not disproven by the State beyond a reasonable doubt, requiring reversal. The basis for defendant's argument is that his testimony of the struggle with the victim over the handgun was not contradicted and his self-defense theory was not disproved. He argues that under section 3-2(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 3-2(b)), once he presented some evidence of self-defense, the State was required to sustain the burden of proving that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to that issue, together with all the other elements of the offense. When a defendant is the only witness to the events under consideration and his testimony allegedly constitutes the only evidence of what actually took place, the trier of fact is not obligated to accept all, or even any part, of his statements but may consider the reasonableness of the defense offered, assess its improbabilities, if any, and reject that evidence which it finds contradictory, unlikely, or improbable in light of other facts before it. (People v. Wesley (1978), 65 Ill. App.3d 25, 31-32, 382 N.E.2d 358, cert. denied (1979), 74 Ill.2d 589; People v. Sykes (1977), 45 Ill. App.3d 674, 679-80, 359 N.E.2d 897.) Defendant's version of how the shooting took place was controverted by the circumstances of the events both before and after the shooting. The trial court had the right to believe Boyrd's testimony that defendant had maintained possession of the gun from the time he first took it to the time he left the apartment after the shooting. This conclusion could have been considered supported by the absence of the weapon when the victim's apartment was searched by Officer Mills. The successful termination by defendant of the alleged struggle with the victim could have appeared improbable to the trial court, since the victim weighed 178 pounds and defendant only 120 pounds at the time. Further, although the action was alleged to have taken place at close range, the absence of strippling or gunpowder wounds could have been considered by the trial court as having supported the theory that he was further removed from the victim than the arm's length defendant insists that it was. The trial court had the right to disbelieve his testimony that no argument between himself and the victim took place, in the face of Boyrd's repeated insistence that there had been such an argument over the handgun and the defendant threatened to kill the victim. We cannot say that these circumstances could not justify the trial court's rejection of defendant's version of events.

• 2 Defendant's reliance upon People v. Reeves (1977), 47 Ill. App.3d 406, 362 N.E.2d 9, and People v. Goodman (1979), 77 Ill. App.3d 569, 396 N.E.2d 274, is without foundation. In Reeves, witnesses testified that the victim had placed defendant in a headlock as he struck her, notwithstanding the State's theory that defendant sustained no bruises. In Goodman the claim of self-defense was corroborated by physical evidence that defendant had been beaten by the victim and the shooting occurred after a struggle, together with the identification of powder burns on the victim's body consistent with the theory that the gun was fired at close range. Defendant's attempt to discredit Boyrd's testimony in the case at bar, because she had been drinking with the victim during the day and was ambiguous about the times at which certain events took place, was a matter for the trial court in its determination of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony. We are not authorized to set aside that determination unless the proof is so unsatisfactory as to cause a reasonable doubt of guilt to appear. (People v. Lofton (1977), 69 Ill.2d 67, 72-73, 370 N.E.2d 517.) We do not find the proof so unsatisfactory.

The defense advanced the theory of voluntary manslaughter in the trial court in its argument that the State had failed to sustain its burden on the charge of murder but that, at best, a case of voluntary manslaughter had been made out. Defense counsel reviewed the evidence for the court and made the following statement:

"I believe at best, Your Honor, the State's evidence shows a case of voluntary manslaughter and that there was a serious argument between Hattie and Mr. Lynom, that this argument escalated to the point of seriousness on behalf of Mr. Lynom, and perhaps there was a struggle over a gun, and that Hattie ...

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