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People v. Martin

OPINION FILED JULY 30, 1981.

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

v.

SHEILA MARTIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. ROBERT E. MANNING, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Following a jury trial, the defendant, Sheila Martin, was found guilty of murder and not guilty of voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to a term of 20 years' imprisonment.

Two issues are raised on appeal: (1) whether the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified in using deadly force in self-defense; and (2) whether the State failed to prove the defendant guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt where circumstances existed at the time of the killing which caused her to believe, unreasonably, that she was justified in killing the victim. We affirm.

The State's case in chief was presented by three occurrence witnesses: Phyllis Taylor, Christine Tyler, and Jennell Nelson, all prostitutes. In the early morning hours of February 11, 1980, the three women were talking together outside the Slipper Club in Peoria, Illinois, when they were joined by Ronald Fortune, the murder victim.

About 1 a.m. the defendant, her sister-in-law, Antoinette Washington, and a man named Ray Miller left the Slipper Club where they had been drinking. What then transpired was described by the three State witnesses, whose accounts varied only slightly.

According to their testimony, Fortune noticed Miller kick the defendant from behind. Fortune then confronted Ms. Washington and the defendant and asked them if Miller, "the white guy," had kicked the defendant. Profanities were then exchanged between the defendant and Fortune. In addition, one of the prostitutes remarked: "As cold as it is out here and I'm trying to sell all the pussy I can and this bitch is out here giving it away for free."

A few minutes later, the defendant and Ms. Washington walked away toward their car, followed by the three prostitutes.

For the defense, both the defendant and Ms. Washington testified that Fortune had threatened the defendant during their brief discussion. State's witnesses Christine Tyler and Jennell Nelson expressly testified that there was no such threat, while the third State's witness, Phyllis Taylor, testified that she could not recall hearing any threat.

The three prostitutes did not walk up to the defendant's car but only watched from a corner as the defendant and Ms. Washington entered the car. By the time the three returned to the front of the Slipper Club, the defendant was slowly approaching in her car. It is noteworthy that an alternative route was available to the defendant which would have taken her away from the Slipper Club. Instead she chose to deliberately and slowly approach the club in her car.

When in front of the club, the defendant yelled, "Where's the punk motherfucker at?" according to the testimony of the three occurrence witnesses. This question was repeated a second time. The defendant and Ms. Washington testified that the defendant asked only "Where's the punk?"

Ronald Fortune exited from the Slipper Club after the defendant repeated her question a second time. According to the testimony of Ms. Taylor, Fortune was running as he approached the defendant's car. Ms. Tyler and Ms. Nelson testified that the defendant was walking. However, all three witnesses saw the defendant produce a gun and shoot Fortune. Ms. Tyler and Ms. Nelson testified that they yelled for Fortune to "duck" as they saw the defendant reach on the car seat and produce a gun.

The version of the shooting related by the defendant and Ms. Washington was in marked contrast to that given above. The defendant testified that Fortune came running towards her car and thrust the upper half of his body through her open car window, saying "[b]itch, I told you, I'm going to kill you." In further testimony, the defendant stated she feared for her life and, as she struggled with Fortune, she opened the glove compartment located on the car's right side, grabbed a gun, and shot Fortune. The defendant testified that she was in a state of shock following the shooting and that she drove away from the scene unaware of what eventually happened to the gun.

The testimony of Ms. Washington corroborated that of the defendant. Both testified that as Fortune approached the car, he had one hand behind his back, which caused them to fear for their lives. However, the testimony of Ms. Washington was substantially impeached by the introduction of statements she had earlier made to the police or given to the grand jury. In a written statement to the police, Ms. Washington stated that Fortune's hands were clearly in view, out of his pockets, and that the defendant had the gun in her hand as Fortune approached the car.

Testimony by the defendant's husband established that the .38caliber handgun used to kill the victim was a properly registered weapon kept in their house for the defendant's ...


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