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People v. Armstrong





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. Harold L. Jensen, Judge, presiding.



A jury found Armstrong guilty of murdering his estranged wife and he was sentenced to 25 years.

We affirm.

Since the hub and axle of this appeal is whether the evidence is sufficient to prove Armstrong's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a detailed recitation of that evidence is mandated.


Late in the evening on a Saturday night in August, Champaign County Deputy Sheriff James Stewart responded to a call for assistance at the Green Acres Apartment Complex located on U.S. Route 45 between Thomasboro and Rantoul. Upon arriving at the complex, Stewart was met by Armstrong — an Air Force sergeant stationed at Chanute AFB — and Armstrong's companion. Armstrong told Stewart he was worried about his estranged wife because he had not heard from her for over a day. Using the manager's master key, Stewart entered the wife's apartment and discovered her body in one of the bedrooms. The body was covered with a sheet to shoulder level and a nylon stocking was wrapped around her neck. The air conditioning in the apartment was off and there were no signs of forced entry. During Stewart's investigation, the telephone rang, he answered it and spoke with a male caller, who identified himself as the wife's boyfriend.

While Stewart was inside the apartment, Armstrong and his companion waited outside. Armstrong told his companion that he had been to his wife's apartment on Thursday night to leave some flowers as a wedding anniversary present. His wife refused to allow him in the apartment so he left the flowers in front of her door and then went home. Armstrong then explained to his companion that around 9 a.m. the next morning — Friday morning — he was on his way to Thomasboro to meet with his insurance agent when he decided to stop at his wife's apartment. Armstrong said that she answered the door and after asking her whether she found the flowers he left the night before, he then asked to use the bathroom. She allowed him to enter the apartment. Armstrong told his companion that he had the impression that someone else was in his wife's bedroom because she kept the door to the bedroom closed and he thought he heard someone moving in the bed. Armstrong said that after he used the bathroom, he left his wife's apartment and proceeded to Thomasboro to meet with his insurance agent.

Evidence concerning the cause and the time of the wife's death was presented by the pathologist who performed the autopsy. He testified that when he first observed the body of the wife, she was clothed in a negligee and had dark brown pantyhose wrapped around her neck. The word "hooker" was written on her chest in red lipstick and a lipstick case was lodged in her rectum. He testified that the wife had died of acute asphyxia caused by the tightly tied pantyhose around her neck. He testified that the death most likely occurred 12 to 20 hours prior to the discovery of the body at 10:45 p.m. on Saturday.

The prosecution produced evidence to establish a pattern of circumstances suggesting that the wife was killed on Friday morning. Armstrong's mother testified that the wife was to have picked up the couple's two daughters at Armstrong's residence by 11 a.m. Friday morning to take them to their swimming lessons. The wife never came for the girls and could not be reached by telephone at her apartment. A friend of the wife testified that the wife also promised to take the friend's daughter to the 11 a.m. swimming lesson but the wife failed to show up. This was the first time the wife had ever failed to take her girls to their swimming lessons. The manager of the Timbers Nightclub — where the wife was employed as a cocktail waitress — testified that the wife was scheduled to work from 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday. She failed to appear for work and could not be contacted by telephone. The wife's boyfriend testified that he tried to reach her by telephone at her apartment Friday afternoon and again Saturday, but received no answer.

One of Armstrong's co-workers at the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul testified that on Friday morning she took a telephone call for Armstrong because he was in a meeting. The caller would not leave his name, identified himself as Armstrong's insurance agent, and left a message for Armstrong to see him at the agent's house as soon as possible. At a few minutes before 9, she delivered the message to Armstrong and he left the office at approximately 9 a.m. She testified that she saw Armstrong approximately an hour later when he returned to the office. He told her that he had gone to Thomasboro to see his insurance agent but that he had been unable to find the agent's house. Evidence was introduced later that the insurance agent had neither called nor seen Armstrong on Friday morning.

The prosecution also presented testimony about the marital difficulties that existed between Armstrong and his wife. One of the wife's co-workers testified that the wife planned to leave Illinois and move to New Jersey with her boyfriend after the divorce. The wife had said that Armstrong made numerous attempts to reconcile with her but that she had no intention of going back to him. The wife's attorney testified that the court had awarded temporary custody of the couple's two daughters to the wife and had awarded temporary custody of the couple's son to Armstrong. According to the attorney, a hearing was to have been held on Friday to determine whether the wife could leave Illinois with the children. The attorney further testified that Armstrong had been aware of the wife's love affair with her boyfriend since March 1981 when Armstrong took the keys to his wife's locker at the Timbers Nightclub and discovered some love letters written to his wife from her boyfriend. In those letters, the boyfriend had referred to Armstrong's wife as a "hooker" — apparently as a term of endearment!

Walter Wolfe, an investigator with the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, testified that he was at the wife's apartment on the morning after her body was discovered, when Armstrong came to the apartment. After advising Armstrong that he was not under arrest and that he need not answer any questions, Wolfe told Armstrong that it was just a matter of time before the police could prove Armstrong killed his wife. Wolfe then advised Armstrong to tell him what happened. Armstrong asked what was in it for him if he did confess and then Armstrong said the outcome would be the same whether or not he confessed.

Armstrong, testifying in his own defense, stated that after he first learned that his wife wanted a divorce, the two of them sought the advice of an attorney but then decided to reconcile. The wife, however, changed her mind after her boyfriend came to town for a visit. Armstrong insisted that he never ...

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