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People v. Ricketts





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Edgar County; the Hon. Ralph S. Pearman, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 16, 1982.

Defendant appeals his convictions upon jury verdicts of the offenses of home invasion, robbery, burglary, and felony theft. The sentence of eight years imposed was only upon home invasion.

Defendant argues that the trial court committed reversible error by (1) the partial granting of a motion in limine as to cross-examination of the principal prosecution witness concerning a pending misdemeanor charge and, (2) in permitting a police officer "to give opinion testimony" as to whether the sole of defendant's boot matched a print left on the floor of the victim's house.

The essential framework of evidence is that on January 29, 1981, defendant, accompanied by his friends, Ted Lucas and Elmer Cusick, went to the rural home of the victim for the stated purpose of getting a part for an air conditioner. Defendant was distantly related to the victim, Griff Miller, a man of some 90 years.

The victim's son, Carl Miller, and his daughter, Faye Gard, also lived in the home, but the latter was away on that day. At about 2 p.m., Carl Miller and defendant talked for a few minutes on the back porch and, at the request of the former, defendant drove with Lucas and Cusick to a farm silo, a mile or more distant, to assist Miller with some work. Defendant and his companions soon left but Miller remained to feed the cattle — a chore taking about three hours. It is the prosecution's contention that defendant, Lucas, and Cusick returned to the farm home; that Lucas and Cusick forced Griff Miller into the bathroom so violently that he suffered a broken hip and other injuries; and that defendant then entered and took firearms, silverware and jewelry. The victim was found lying in the blockaded bathroom at about 5 p.m. On January 30, Lucas and Cusick were arrested on unrelated charges and they have not been charged with this offense. Griff Miller was unable to identify the men who seized him and "threw him" into the bathroom.

At the time of the offense Debbie Lucas, a principal witness for the prosecution, was the estranged wife of Ted Lucas. At the time of the trial they were divorced. Defendant had been a friend of each for some period of time.

Apparently acting on the information received, local and state officers interviewed Debbie Lucas on April 1, 1981, and obtained her statement. This was supplied to defendant in discovery and presumably coincided with her testimony as there was essentially no cross-examination as to the facts stated into evidence.

In brief, on Sunday, February 1, 1981, at about noon defendant telephoned Debbie Lucas at the home of her mother and requested that she come to his home. She drove there with a companion. Defendant's ostensible purpose was to inquire about Ted Lucas and why he was incarcerated. The witness could not tell him what the charges were. Defendant then insisted on talking outside of the presence of the companion, and asked the witness to drive him to a place not then stated. After taking the companion home, the defendant and the witness proceeded at his direction to a small schoolhouse about eight miles from Paris. Defendant went to an adjacent propane gas tank and brought to the automobile several guns, a box or chest of silverware, and some items of jewelry. He then drove the car some distance along the road and stopped at a creek where he took the box of silverware along the bank some distance, and then returned and took the firearms some distance along the creek bank on the opposite side of the road. On April 2, Debbie Lucas took the officers to the schoolhouse and to the creek. A search party recovered a substantial part of the silverware and some of the other items taken.

Defendant, Ted Lucas, and Cusick testified for the defense where each admitted that they had driven to the Miller farm and to the farm silo, but each testified that they had returned directly to Paris and dispersed for various purposes. Defendant also admitted that he telephoned Debbie Lucas on February 1 and talked with her privately, but that he only asked her concerning the arrest of Ted Lucas. He testified that they were together only about 20 minutes, and that she then drove him to the home of his friend, Frank. A man and wife who were friends of defendant testified that he came to their place on business on that date — one said before 3 p.m. and the other said after.

Upon the sum of the evidence, it is apparent that Debbie Lucas was a critical witness. The record concerning the challenged motion in limine discloses that on July 29, 1981, the witness, Debbie Lucas, was charged with battery. The State's Attorney described the event as an altercation with two other women, who on July 31 asked that the charge be dismissed. Defendant was advised of the fact in the State's Attorney's response for discovery.

The motion was argued, although not in specific terms of cross-examination as to possible bias of the witness. The trial court spoke of it "only as a charge of simple battery," and that he did not believe that the charge supported impeachment of credibility. In ruling, the court stated:

"The motion will be granted as to any reference to this particular charge. However, I think it would be a proper question by the defense, if she takes the stand, whether she's received any promise or reward for her testimony, but without referring to the charge itself."

Examination of the record discloses no attempt to cross-examination in the context of promises by the State's Attorney, or any association with him. Cross-examination as to bias appears to be directed to the witness' attitude concerning her ...

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