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People v. Rodriquez





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. FRANK BARBARO, Judge, presiding.


Following a bench trial, defendants were convicted of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1) and sentenced to prison terms of 20 to 35 years. On appeal they argue that they were not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because (1) the prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves and each other; (2) defendant Luis stabbed the victim in self-defense; and (3) even if the stabbing was not justified, Luis' acts constitute no more than voluntary manslaughter. Defendants further argue that the court imposed excessive penalties because of defendants' failure to admit guilt; consequently, they must be resentenced. We affirm.

The record before us contains the evidence adduced at defendants' two trials. The first, a jury trial, ended in March of 1979 when the jurors were unable to reach a verdict and the court declared a mistrial. In the fall of 1979, defendants were tried before the bench and found guilty. To avoid the confusion of reciting each witness' testimony from both trials, we will focus on the primary discrepancies in the witnesses' versions of the incident as they become relevant to the reasonable doubt issue. The following fact summary, therefore, is an overview which does not attempt to catalog every conflict in the evidence.

On October 16, 1977, Antonio Vasquez-Rodriquez (Tony), an off-duty bartender, was fatally stabbed in a Chicago tavern. The prosecution's eyewitnesses were Inez Graciani, the bartender on duty that night, and Luis Rodriquez (Indigo), a friend of Tony's who occasionally helped tend bar. According to Inez and Indigo, the incident began when defendant Luis intervened in Tony's attempt to prevent a man named Pachuco from pushing other patrons in the bar. There was a scuffle, during which Luis told his brother, Pedro, to stab Tony. Luis stood behind Tony, holding him while Pedro stabbed him in the chest. Indigo testified that Luis also stabbed Tony in the back.

Juan Luquis, the tavern owner, noticed the disturbance when he came out of the bathroom. He picked up the telephone but Luis, holding a knife, told him not to call the police or "the same thing" would happen to him. Luquis testified that he then watched Pedro kick Tony, who was lying on the floor, in the face, saying, "Johnny, you have a dirty bartender working here." Pedro and Luis left the tavern shortly thereafter and Luquis ran after them, firing his gun.

When police arrived, Tony was dead. They found a white-handled knife on the floor. The police interviewed all of the tavern patrons concerning the incident.

Two days later, police officers knocked on the door of defendants' apartment. Defendants jumped out of a window to escape, but the police captured and arrested them.

At the trial, the pathologist testified that Tony had died from stab wounds. He identified three stab wounds in Tony's chest, one in the left leg and another in Tony's back. There were other minor wounds on Tony's chin and finger.

Juan Luquis, the tavern owner, testified that two weeks before the incident, defendant Pedro was arguing with another patron in the bar when Tony, who was tending bar, intervened. Pedro was ejected from the bar and allegedly threatened Tony, "Don't worry, I'll get you."

After the prosecution rested, defendants related their version of the stabbing. Pedro, who testified that he was not involved in the fight, said he saw his brother and Tony on the floor and noticed that Luis was bleeding from the neck. A few seconds later, Pedro and Luis fled the tavern when Luquis ran to them with a gun. Pedro testified that when he and Luis jumped from the window of their apartment when the police arrived, they had thought their pursuers were people from the tavern. Pedro further denied that Tony had been involved in the incident that took place two weeks prior to the stabbing, when Pedro had argued with a customer.

Luis testified that he and Pedro were in the tavern when Pachuco entered and started pushing people. Tony came from behind the bar and started hitting Pachuco. Luis then stepped in to ask Tony to stop the beating. He testified that Tony, who appeared drunk, pulled a knife on him and stabbed him in the neck. Luis then grabbed Tony's knife hand, twisting it behind Tony's back. In so doing, Luis cut his hand. He believed that twisting Tony's arm probably caused Tony to stab himself in the back before dropping the knife. Luis grabbed Tony to prevent him from retrieving the knife and Tony began hitting him in the face. The two men fell on the floor. Tony sat astride Luis and put his hands around Luis' neck. Luis then grabbed the knife and stabbed Tony in the chest, fearing for his life. Luis corroborated Pedro's account of their arrest following their attempt to escape through the window of their apartment. He explained that the police did not announce their office and that he and Pedro feared that Tony's relatives were pursuing them.

Dr. Michael Schaeffer testified for the defense. On the basis of certain tests, he believed that Tony was under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.

Following closing arguments, the court found both defendants ...

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