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People v. Gossett





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. John E. Sype, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Mark Andrew Gossett, was charged by amended information in Winnebago County with four counts of murder for the slaying of Sylvia Ann Davis. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (2).) A jury convicted him of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-2), and the trial court sentenced him to the Department of Corrections for seven years.

He appeals, contending he was denied a fair trial because (1) the court refused to allow him to present testimony as to specific acts of violence of the deceased where his defense at trial was self-defense, and (2) because the court admitted in evidence a plastic head and mouth-and-throatpiece from an inflatable adult doll which was unrelated to the offense.

It was established at trial that the manslaughter victim, Sylvia Ann Davis, was a prostitute. Davis and another prostitute, Ora Jean Flint, encountered the defendant while they were driving on South Main Street in Rockford at about 1 a.m., on January 13, 1981. The defendant was driving a GMC Suburban van, which belonged to a friend, Robert Ricks. Flint testified that Davis, also driving a van, asked the defendant if he wanted a "date"; he did, and they agreed on a price of $20 for an act of intercourse. The defendant declined Flint's offer to join them, saying he was tired and had to work in the morning. Davis then went with the defendant in his van.

The defendant testified he and Davis shared a "joint" during the short drive to the defendant's trailer. She sat very close to him in the van, and he gave her the $20 from his wallet when she got in. He had cashed a check for $100 earlier that afternoon and still had about $90 when he gave her the $20. The defendant said he had consumed approximately 13 beers between the time he left work at noon on January 12 and 1 a.m. when he met Davis. He described himself as being "semi-intoxicated."

Defendant testified he and Davis attempted to have intercourse for about half an hour, but that he was unable to achieve an erection and that he passed out. When he awoke, he saw her take his wallet from his pants, which were hanging near the bed. He told her to "get out of there" and lunged at her, knocking the wallet to the floor. She picked up a baseball bat that was leaning against the gun cabinet in the bedroom and, using both hands, swung the bat at him while swearing and calling him a "white motherfucker." She hit him on the neck, and his glasses were knocked off by the blow. He testified he had worn glasses since he was eight years old and could see only shapes without them. He was struck in the elbow, shoulder and head. He knocked the bat out of Davis' hands to the floor, and put his foot on it to prevent her from picking it up. The bat had previously been cracked, and it broke into two pieces when she grabbed for it.

Davis began hitting him with the handle of the bat, and he grabbed her around the neck and wrestled her to the floor, telling her to quit and "it's over." When he released her, she jumped up and tried to knee him in the groin, partially succeeding, and continued to swear at him telling him she was going to kill him. He found the other piece of the bat and began striking her all over with it to get her off him, blocking her blows with his other hand. The fight ended when he swung at her head with all his might and hit her. She fell straight back into a door and the momentum carried him forward on top of her. She moaned when he rolled off her, and he searched for and ultimately found his glasses under the bed.

His nose was bleeding badly, so he got a towel from the bathroom to help stop bleeding. He then saw Davis was bleeding badly from a wound on the side of her head, so he wrapped the towel around her head. When he saw the wound, he said he knew she was going to die. He was afraid the neighbors were going to call the police after hearing all the noise from the fight, so he tried to put her pants and boots on, wrapped her in a blanket and put her in the van. He drove around for awhile, and finally left her in a park-like boat landing area. He returned to his trailer and tried to clean up the blood that was splattered extensively on the walls and floor in the hallway and bedroom area. He then gathered up Davis' wig and the bat pieces, put them in a garbage bag that was in the bathroom and threw the bag in the garbage dumpster outside of the trailer.

Davis' body was discovered later that morning in the boat-landing area, nude from the waist up, a blanket and leather jacket nearby. A blood-soaked towel was beneath her head. Pathologist William Rouse testified there were three lacerations of the face and head: one vertically along the left eye; one a few inches long in a midline over the top of the head slightly to the left side, and one extending from the right ear to the back of the head horizontally. The deceased's body also bore scratches on the right cheek and under the chin, a small cut on the right side of the lower lip and inside the right cheek corresponding to the area of the teeth, and under the jaw on each side. There was a superficial scrape or brush burn over the shoulder, and two small superficial lacerations on the outer portion of the upper left arm. The back of the inner aspect of the left hand was swollen and recently bruised, consistent with a defense-type of wound. Two transverse scars of recent origin were observed on the victim's inner right wrist. Petechia, pinpoint hemorrhages of small blood vessels, were observed in the whites of the victim's eyes, a condition indicative of manual strangulation of an intensity which could cause death by asphyxiation if maintained long enough. The doctor concluded the immediate cause of death was herniation of the brain due to its swelling caused by trauma to the brain as the result of the skull being struck with a blunt instrument.

Absent the lacerations to the head, the brain swelling and fracture to the back of the skull, the doctor testified there would have been sufficient findings to suggest a cause of death of asphyxia due to manual strangulation. The doctor also testified he found no evidence of "contre-coup" to the head, a type of injury which would occur if a person lying on the ground were struck with a blunt object. An examination of the vaginal cavity showed a few intact sperm heads, a finding compatible with sexual contact within several days' time, but there was no convincing evidence of fresh insemination.

The doctor neither weighed nor measured the body, but estimated it would be between five and 5 1/2 feet in length. The victim's mother, Catherine Brown, testified on rebuttal her daughter was 20 years old, five foot three inches tall, and weighed 120 pounds. She testified her daughter had cut her "leader" (the witness indicated at trial the inner aspect of the right wrist just above the palm) in August 1980, and that she was unable to grasp objects in her right hand, and often required assistance in performing certain tasks, such as dressing, hair combing, and putting on earrings. Davis was able to drive, however, partially using her arm on the steering wheel. The defendant had estimated Davis weighed about 130 or 140 pounds and was about five foot seven or eight inches tall. He indicated at trial that she came up to between his chin and lower lip. He himself was six feet tall, 160 to 165 pounds.

Acting on information from Ora Jean Flint, the police promptly located the van the defendant had been driving parked next to his trailer. Ricks, the owner of the van, was present when the police arrived at the defendant's trailer and he consented to a search of the van. Samples of blood stains observed therein were tested and found to be consistent with the victim's blood type. The defendant admitted on cross-examination he told the police the blood stains may have been animal blood since he and Ricks had been hunting a couple of weeks earlier. Defendant also admitted on cross-examination that he asked his neighbor to tell the police she had given him the marks on his neck (which looked like hickeys), which she refused to do, and he told the police he got the marks in a fight.

After the defendant's arrest, the police found a plastic garbage bag in a dumpster near his trailer. There was a paper garbage bag inside the plastic one which contained Davis' wig, a portion of a taped baseball bat, two shop towels, a pair of man's jeans, and the head of a plastic adult-size doll. A small chip of wood was found in the wig which appeared to match perfectly a piece of wood that was missing from the defendant's trailer. The police also recovered from the trailer a shop towel similar to the ones found in the dumpster, and a rent receipt for the trailer made out in the defendant's name. A plastic mouth-and-throatpiece that fits into the head of an adult doll was found in the defendant's bathroom storage closet. References to this item and the doll's head found in the dumpster were strenuously objected to by the defendant, and the defendant's second issue is based on the court's admission of those items into evidence over his objection.

Prior to trial, the court granted a motion in limine by the State to prevent the defendant from presenting evidence of specific acts of violence on the part of the deceased which were not directed toward the defendant and of which defendant had no knowledge at the time of the incident. The defendant had argued the purpose of the evidence would be to show that the deceased was the aggressor, not what his state of mind was at the time of the incident. As such, his lack of knowledge about these specific prior violent acts of the deceased would not prohibit introduction of that evidence. To preserve the issue, the defendant made two offers of proof during trial. In the first, Rockford police officer Richard Galvanoni testified that on April 6, 1978, he was involved in a violent episode with the deceased, Sylvia Davis. When he was assigned to work undercover vice and prostitution in the South Main area of Rockford, Davis solicited him and he advised her she was under arrest. She began kicking, screaming and hollering and resisting arrest, and it eventually took four police officers to place her in the marked police vehicle with a cage in it. He stated it was a possibility that he alone may have been able to incapacitate her with a punch, but that it is police policy in the course of an arrest not to punch or "choke out" women. He stated that Davis' wig came off during the fracas and due to the way she was fighting and her strength, he thought perhaps she was a man dressed as a woman.

The second offer of proof was the testimony of former Rockford police officer Gary Thurston concerning an incident involving Davis in September 1976. He was sent to a fast food restaurant to break up a fight. He observed a crowd of about 100 to 150 people, and Davis was standing on a hill yelling threats such as: "I'm going to kill you white motherfuckers. Dirty honky motherfuckers are all going to get killed." Officer Thurston testified:

"[Thurston] A. I told her three times that she had to move on, be quiet and move on, or she was going to be arrested. Each time she told me to get fucked. The third time I placed her under arrest. At that time I grabbed her by the arm. She subsequently kicked me in the crotch, bit me in both hands, knocked off my glasses, and grabbed my revolver. A fight ensued. She pulled on my revolver to the tensile strength of breaking the leather out of it. The only thing holding it on was just the snap over the hammer. At that time I threw her on the ground, got her in a [sic] arm lock. She again kicked me in the leg and nuts. By that time Officer McLester was at the scene, and with great effort we handcuffed her and drug [sic] her kicking to the squad car where she was subsequently locked in the back seat in the cage.

[Defense counsel] Q. During the time when she was kicking at you and punching you, what, if anything, ...

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