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People v. Kline

OPINION FILED AUGUST 25, 1981.

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

v.

PHILLIP KLINE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. ROBERT R. BUCHAR, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE ALLOY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

In 1979, after a bench trial, Phillip Kline was convicted of the 1973 bludgeon murder of Bridgette Regli in a country field in Will County. Kline was sentenced to a term of from 50 to 100 years imprisonment for the killing. From his conviction and sentence he now appeals. Numerous issues are raised by the defense on appeal, including issues on the sufficiency of the evidence for conviction, the propriety of several evidentiary rulings, the failure to provide Kline with a judicial probable cause hearing, and alleged prosecutorial improprieties before the grand jury. The final issue raised concerns the length of the sentence imposed by the court. We shall set forth the issues with more particularity as we address them in the body of the opinion.

The record reveals that 17-year-old Bridgette Regli was bludgeoned to death on December 6, 1973, in a Will County field. The State's evidence established that Miss Regli was a student at Crete-Monee High School in 1973. On December 6 of that year she finished her last class of the day shortly before 1 p.m., and, as was her custom, she then started her walk home. She was the school photographer and usually carried a camera with her. As she walked along the street south of the high school she was observed by a junior high student. Valinda Avey, a junior high school student who knew Bridgette Regli, testified that at about 1 p.m. on December 6, 1973, she was gazing out of a school window, while acting as an office aide. She testified that she saw Miss Regli walking down the street. She was carrying books and another bulky object which Miss Avey could not identify. Miss Avey stated that she noticed a car stop just past where Miss Regli was walking and that a person of high school age got out of the passenger side of the auto. Miss Regli then entered the car and it was driven off in a southerly direction. Miss Avey described the car as being two-door, tan or cream colored and with a dark interior. She stated that she did not recall if the car was two-tone. She testified that the size and make of the car was similar to that of a Mustang. She described the person who got out of the car as a young male, high school age, having dark, shoulder length hair and of average height. She testified that the male was of dark complexion, of Mexican or Latin race.

Two days later the battered body of Bridgette Regli was found in a field in Will County by a hunter. Pathological evidence indicated that the killing took place four to six hours after Miss Regli's last meal, which, according to her father, was breakfast on December 6, 1973. The pathologist testified at length at the trial. He testified that the decedent had significant wounds on the forehead and on the left rear of the head, as well as more superficial wounds on the forehead. She also had numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions on her body which indicated a considerable struggle prior to death. Concerning the penetrating wound to the right front area of the skull, the pathologist stated that it was ovoid in shape, and could have been caused by the shaft of a golf club or other similar instrument. The blow pierced the skin and went to the bone. It was the opinion of the pathologist that this blow to the forehead was not the fatal blow. The fatal blow was one to the left rear of the head, which was administered by a tree limb or similar object. The pathologist also stated that there were present, on the victim, scratches and discoloration in the neck area. He testified that the wounds to the neck were consistent with a forceful grasping of the neck, although he indicated that the victim did not die by strangulation.

The other evidence for the State, and the central focus of the contentions on this appeal, was the testimony of Anna Kline, the estranged wife of defendant Phillip Kline. Anna Kline testified that she became acquainted with Phillip Kline in September of 1973. At that time, Phillip was a high school student and Anna was a 24-year-old married woman. Later, she and Phillip lived together at various different times. They were married in February 1976. She testified that Phillip was an excellent golfer and a wrestler for the high school. She also testified that Phillip Kline was a narcotics user and peddler. She admitted the same about herself as well. Anna Kline then testified to some conversations that she had with Phillip Kline in 1975, at a time when they were seeing each other, but prior to their marriage. According to Anna Kline's testimony, in November 1975, Phillip Kline told her that he was present at the murder of Bridgette Regli but he denied touching her at all. He indicated to Anna that Miss Regli had taken a picture of a drug transaction. He stated that he and Arthur Garza were present. Anna Kline testified that Phillip told her that he grabbed the camera from Miss Regli, tried to destroy the film, and then put the camera in the trunk of his Mustang. He also told Anna that Arthur Garza had killed Miss Regli with a golf club. In a different conversation, Phillip Kline told Anna that when he took the camera from Miss Regli he felt like choking her, but he did not.

In addition to her testimony about the 1975 admissions, Anna Kline also testified as to specific occurrences on the day of the killing. This was December 6, 1973, and prior to the time she and Phillip had become intimate. She testified that on that date, around 5:30 p.m., she saw Phillip Kline and Arthur Garza at her apartment. She testified that Kline and Garza were selling records to raise money for a trip to Florida that night. She testified that Garza was about 5'11" tall, slender, with dark shoulder length hair and an olive complexion. She also testified that Phillip Kline that day was driving a 1970 tan or cream-colored Mustang with a brown scroll top. Anna Kline testified that she still loved Phillip Kline.

The defense cross-examination of Anna Kline established that she was a narcotics user and had on occasion sold narcotics. She admitted to having taken valium, about 30 milligrams per day, in December 1978, the time when she first informed the police of Phillip Kline's incriminating statements made to her in 1975. Also established was that for the 10 months prior to October 1978, while separated from Phillip Kline, Anna Kline resided with Mark Pascarella. Pascarella moved out after a dispute with Anna Kline and shortly thereafter she contacted the sheriff's department to accuse him of sexually molesting her daughter. No charges were filed.

In addition to its efforts in cross-examination, the defense called numerous witnesses in an attempt to discredit Anna Kline and her testimony. An investigator for the public defender's office testified that Anna Kline told her that Phillip Kline had denied involvement in the Regli killing. The investigator also testified that Anna told her that she was threatened by a court deputy with criminal proceedings and loss of custody of her children, if she did not cooperate with the police. She admitted to the investigator that she had sought to get money from Phillip's parents but had been unsuccessful. The defense produced Anna Kline's sister, Rhonda Shambo, who stated that Anna told her that she was not going to testify against Phillip and that she was on narcotics when she told the police of the statements. When asked why she had started the trouble in the first place, Anna Kline told her sister, "for revenge." Two persons testified to hearing Anna Kline tell a sister of Phillip Kline that she would get revenge on Phillip for running off to California with a Sherry Mason. Mark Pascarella, with whom Anna Kline had lived for a 10-month period, testified that Anna used a lot of valium while they were together. He also testified that after an argument over rent she ordered him out of the house. He left, and about a month later was contacted by the sheriff's department in connection with allegations made by Anna that he had molested her daughter. No charges were brought from the allegations. Marlena Wooten, Anna Kline's sister-in-law (married to Anna's brother), also testified for the defense. She testified that Anna was angry because she was not going to get any money from the Klines. She stated, too, that Anna told her that her daughter had not been attacked and that she had accused Pascarella because he would not pay the rent.

Further testimony concerning Anna Kline's bias and prejudice against Phillip Kline came from his parents, who indicated that Anna had constantly requested money from them, which they supplied at first, but later stopped. Anna threatened them, telling them she would get even with them and have her revenge on Phillip. She told them she would see him "rot in jail." This conversation was confirmed by an employee of the Klines who was listening in on the conversation on another extension.

In addition to the defense witnesses called to discredit Anna Kline's testimony, two alibi witnesses took the stand for the defense. James Roberts and Bernice Clark, classmates and friends of Phillip Kline, as well as drug purchasers from him, testified that they were with Phillip on December 6, 1973, in the afternoon. Clark testified that she was with him until 1:30 p.m. and that Arthur Garza was not with them. Roberts testified that he was with Kline until 3 or 3:30 p.m. on the 6th of December. Rebuttal testimony by police officers who had previously interrogated both Roberts and Clark indicated that both had given prior inconsistent statements about the occurrences of December 6.

Phillip Kline also took the stand in his own behalf. He denied seeing the decedent on December 6 and denied any part in or knowledge of the murder. He stated that he was with some other truants on that day and that they rode around in his car during the afternoon. He admitted to smoking a marijuana cigarette in the high school parking lot and passing it to Roberts. He denied participating in any drug transactions on December 6, 1973. He testified that he had planned to go to Florida because of problems with his parents. The State's evidence indicated that Kline left for Florida with Arthur Garza on the night of December 6, 1973. They drove Kline's Mustang, and he carried his golf clubs with him in the trunk. Kline testified that he was a "scratch" golfer and hoped to earn money with golfing in Florida. He testified that he first learned of the killing of Miss Regli when he called his home on December 14, 1973. At that time he learned that he and Garza had been named in warrants in connection with the murder. He stated that he and Garza began hitchhiking home to clear themselves. Kline denied ever telling Anna Kline that he was present at decedent's killing. Phillip Kline's testimony as to his movements and whereabouts on December 6, 1973, was impeached through the introduction of several prior inconsistent statements he had given to the police.

The trial judge, sitting also as the trier of fact, found the defendant guilty of murder. A sentence of 50 to 100 years was imposed, to run concurrently with sentences received in connection with two Cook County murder convictions.

The first issue raised by the defense is whether the defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is argued that the State's case was insufficient to establish guilt because it was based primarily upon the testimony of Anna Kline. The defense argues that her testimony must be found to be incredible because she came forward with Phillip's admissions years after they had allegedly been made, because she came forward only after Phillip had left her for another woman, and because her testimony as to Phillip Kline's incriminating admissions was contradicted by the physical evidence. The essence of the defense position is that Anna Kline fabricated the alleged admissions in order to have her revenge upon Phillip Kline and his parents.

This is a case of conflicting evidence wherein credibility assessments are of great importance. As the Illinois Supreme Court stated in People v. Ellis (1978), 74 Ill.2d 489, 496, 384 N.E.2d 331:

"Where there is conflicting testimony, as here, regarding five separate incidents in the polling place, the appeals court must not substitute its judgment, because the weight of the evidence and credibility of witnesses are strictly within the competence of the fact finder. [Citations.] Only where the evidence fails to sustain the verdict, or is improbable, unsatisfactory or inconclusive, may we set aside a conviction; and there it is our duty to do so. [Citations.]"

This court made similar observations in the case of People v. Hunt (1979), 75 Ill. App.3d 1023, 1026, 394 N.E.2d 759, wherein we stated:

"It is the trial judge, not the reviewing court, who has the opportunity of observing the attitude and demeanor of the witnesses. In such a case where there is obviously bias and prejudice on the part of the witnesses, a reviewing court should be ever so reluctant to disturb the decision of the trial court."

There is no doubt that there was evidence presented to the court which, if believed, was sufficient to prove Phillip Kline guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. There was the testimony of his admissions about participation in the killing, and there was circumstantial evidence about the crime which was consistent with those admissions. It is obvious that in reaching its decision to convict, the court found credible Anna Kline's testimony about Phillip Kline's incriminating admissions. The principal basis for that finding was the correspondence between the circumstantial evidence and the substance of the admissions. The defense, in raising the reasonable doubt issue, is in reality attacking the trial court's finding that Anna Kline's testimony was credible.

• 1 Her testimony was that in November 1975, she asked Phillip Kline about the killing of Bridgette Regli. She testified that she and Phillip were engaged at the time, and before she married him she wanted to know about it. The basis for her question, she stated, was the presence of rumors she had heard about the killing and Kline's involvement with it. According to her testimony, Phillip Kline told her that he had been with Arthur Garza when Garza killed Miss Regli by hitting her with a golf club. He told her that the killing was the result of a photograph Miss Regli had taken of a drug transaction. Kline indicated that he took a camera away from Regli and put it in the trunk of his car. He said he felt like choking her but that he did not. He also told her that he had not laid a hand on Bridgette Regli. As the trial court noted, the specifics about the killing contained in the admissions to Anna Kline were largely corroborated by the other evidence about the slaying. There was the pathologist's testimony that the wound to Miss Regli's forehead was consistent with a blow from a golf club. Kline admitted that a golf club was used in the attack. There were Kline's admissions that Arthur Garza was involved in the killing and that his automobile was involved. Valinda Avey testified as to the description of the auto used, saying it was cream or tan colored and similar to a Mustang. That description substantially fit Phillip Kline's auto. Miss Avey testified about the physical characteristics of a young man who got out of the auto to let Bridgette Regli into the auto. Her description of that man fit Arthur Garza, who was also put in Kline's company by other testimony. Kline stated that the motive behind the slaying was Bridgette Regli's photograph of a drug transaction. There is evidence in the record that illicit drug activity did take place on December 6, 1973. The defendant admitted that he rolled and smoked a marijuana cigarette in the school parking lot on the morning of December 6. He admitted to perhaps passing it to Jim Roberts for a couple of drags. It was established that Bridgette Regli usually carried a camera with her and that she was the school photographer. Miss Avey testified that she had a bulky object with her as she walked down the street. This independent circumstantial evidence about the murder, all consistent with specifics of Phillip Kline's admissions, give added credence to Anna Kline's testimony about those admissions. Noting the corroborative effect of the circumstantial evidence upon her testimony, the trial court found that Anna Kline was telling the truth when she testified to the statements by Phillip Kline about the killing of Bridgette Regli. We find the evidence supportive of that determination, and, therefore, find no basis to reverse the finding of the trial court on the crucial question of credibility.

The defense responds with argument that the other evidence is not consistent with the admissions testified to and that Anna Kline's motive in testifying against her husband was revenge. We have already noted the consistency of the other evidence with the admissions made by Phillip Kline. That the forehead wound is consistent with other objects, as well as a golf club, does not indicate inconsistency. Nor do we find an inconsistency between Miss Avey's description of the auto and the description of Kline's auto. She had the basic color and make correct, even though she could not recall if it was a two-tone. Her description of the man she saw fit that given of Garza by others at trial. The minor discrepancies between the admissions and other evidence are not sufficient to require a reversal of the trial court's factual finding on the question of credibility. As to the alleged revenge motive, we are not overlooking the strong evidence of Anna Kline's bias and prejudice against her husband. Neither did the trial court. However, as indicated, evidence independent of her testimony corroborates the admissions she testified were made by Phillip Kline. That was the key factor in the trial court's finding on credibility. We must also note that while revenge may have been the motive behind her disclosure of the admissions, such evidence of her bias does not establish that the substances of her disclosures were fabricated for the purposes of revenge. In this regard, it is worth noting that Anna Kline did not seek the police out, but they came to question her. Also to be noted, is the fact that in her statements to the police she faithfully reported that Phillip had denied participating in the beating and had indicated Garza was the killer. The evidence on motive was not such as to require the trial court to disbelieve her testimony. We find no error in the court's findings, and, accordingly, we find that there was sufficient evidence before the court for it to have concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Phillip Kline participated in the murder of Bridgette Regli.

• 2 The next issue raised by the defense is whether the court erred in restricting the cross-examination of Anna Kline when it refused to allow defense counsel to inquire into conversations Anna Kline had with an attorney about a possible divorce from Phillip. We find this issue to be groundless, in light of the other evidence admitted on the same subject. The trial court permitted counsel to ask Anna Kline if she had written to Phillip to tell him she planned to divorce him. She admitted that she had written to him. Evidence from the defendant's father indicated that he received a letter from Anna's attorney about a divorce action and a property settlement. This sufficiently apprised the fact-finder of her feelings toward their marriage. The area where the court refused to allow cross-examination pertained to conversations between Anna Kline and her attorney. The court felt such conversations were confidential and privileged. Regardless of whether a waiver took place with the attorney's letter to Mr. Kline, it is clear that the contemplated divorce action was brought before the fact finder through other evidence. Where prejudice is lacking because similar evidence was introduced through other testimony, a trial court's evidentiary ruling disallowing duplicative evidence will not require reversal. (People v. Limas (1977), 45 Ill. App.3d 643, 359 N.E.2d 1194.) There was no reversible error in the court's ruling.

• 3 The court also refused to allow the defense to cross-examine Anna Kline about her alleged 1978 nervous breakdown. The defense purpose in seeking admission of the evidence was to demonstrate her lack of stability. It is well established that the scope of cross-examination is within the discretion of the trial court. (People v. Blakes (1976), 63 Ill.2d 354, 348 N.E.2d 170.) It is evident from the record that the defense was given wide latitude, and utilized it, in seeking to establish Anna Kline's incredibility. They showed her adulterous relationships. They established her drug use and her drug peddling. They showed her valium intake over an extended time in 1978. They produced numerous witnesses who testified about her prior inconsistent statements and about her revenge motive in talking with the police. With all this evidence before it, in addition to Anna Kline's appearance as a witness, the court had ample basis to assess and judge the condition of Anna Kline and her credibility. The crucial focus in its determination, as noted previously, was whether her testimony about the 1975 admissions was credible. That she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1978 may have had some relevance to ...


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