Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Fred G.
Suria, Jr., Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE JIGANTI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Following a jury trial, the defendant, Larry Brown, was found guilty of the murder of Charles Harris and was subsequently sentenced to serve 30 years' imprisonment. The defendant was found not guilty of armed robbery and attempted armed robbery. On appeal, the defendant argues that statements made by the prosecutor during the State's rebuttal closing argument deprived the defendant of a fair trial and that the trial court improperly allowed certain State witnesses to testify regarding inadmissible hearsay. The defendant further contends that the cumulative effect of these trial errors prejudiced him to such an extent that they contributed to his conviction and were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. For these reasons, the defendant asks this court to reverse his conviction or, in the alternative, remand his case for a new trial.
On July 14, 1979, Kirby Hoskins and Roy Richardson entered an alley with the defendant following a brief conversation during which the defendant asked the other two men if they wanted to earn some money. Richardson testified that upon entering the alley, the defendant pulled out a gun, fired a shot into the air and announced a robbery. He further testified that once it appeared that the two men had little or no money, the defendant threatened to kill them both. Meanwhile, the victim approached Leonara Harrison, Pearline Posey and Dianne Clark, who were standing on a street corner near the alley, and asked Harrison where he could find Richardson. The victim then entered the alley and encountered the defendant, Hoskins and Richardson. Richardson testified that following a brief verbal altercation between the victim and the defendant, the defendant fatally shot the victim four times. The jury found the defendant guilty of the victim's murder, but acquitted the defendant on the armed robbery and attempted armed robbery charges which stemmed from the alleged robbery of Hoskins and Richardson. Leonara Harrison and Roy Richardson testified as State witnesses. Richardson was the only eyewitness to testify regarding the alleged robbery and the alleged murder. Hoskins, Posey, Clark and the defendant did not testify at trial.
The defendant first argues that allegedly improper comments were made by the prosecutor during the State's rebuttal closing argument. As the result of these comments, the defendant contends that he was denied the fair and impartial trial to which he was constitutionally entitled. We agree. We find the prosecutor's comments to have been so reprehensible as to constitute a shameful affront to the court system of this State and consequently are compelled to remand this cause for a new trial.
In essence, the prosecutorial comments cited to us by the defendant can be divided into two categories. The first group of comments is made up of statements that were objected to by defense counsel at trial and the objections were consequently sustained by the trial court:
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever wondered why criminals get away with things in today's society, why there is a problem with crime on the street, why people are afraid to come forward —
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: I will permit counsel —
PROSECUTOR: — (Continuing) to the police, you have just witnessed one of the reasons, one of the reasons why criminals run these streets and why they run those projects to the dismay of those poor people that have to live there. For you have just witnessed someone get up and had the unmitigated gall to criticize someone who has testified in this trial, who has taken that stand and behind that person's back when that person is no longer in the court here today and make one of the most vicious attacks I have ever heard in my 10 years as a State's Attorney on a witness that has testified in a case.
That is one of the reasons why people are fed up with this system because they know if they come to Court they are going to be cross-examined by some slickster like him, some mouthpiece like him who is paid to defend guys like this, guys that walk around with —
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Sustain the objection.
PROSECUTOR: * * * [H]e and his type, ladies and gentlemen, are the type of people that run around with tattoos of stars on their cheeks, are the type of people ...