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People v. Thomas

OPINION FILED JULY 5, 1983.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

CLIFFORD THOMAS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Theodore Swain, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

After a jury trial, defendant Clifford Thomas was convicted of murder. A sentence of 40 years was entered on the verdict. Defendant's sole contention on appeal is that he was denied his right to a fair trial as a result of improper comments made by the prosecutors in closing and rebuttal arguments.

Theodus James was fatally shot on the night of August 20, 1981, while he was standing near a tavern at Huron and Avers streets in Chicago. Terry Coulter testified for the State that he, Jerome Steele, Kathy Steele, and defendant were riding in a station wagon that night, and that they drove to Huron and Avers. Kathy Steele left the car, went near the tavern, and began to speak with the victim. Defendant left the car and approached the two. Kathy returned to the car while defendant and the victim talked. Defendant then struck the victim in the face with a pistol. The victim turned and went toward the door of the tavern, and defendant shot him in the back. Defendant got back into the car and he, Coulter, and the Steeles drove back to the apartment where defendant was living with Kathy Steele. Coulter also testified that he saw defendant give the gun to another man at the apartment that same night.

Melvin McGowan testified that he, his brother Charles, and the victim went to the tavern at Huron and Avers on the night of August 20, 1981. Melvin went into the tavern, where he was later joined by his brother while the victim stayed outside. He looked out the window and saw the victim talking to Kathy Steele, who was formerly the victim's girlfriend. Melvin looked out the window again and saw Kathy step away from the victim as a man who he later identified as defendant approached. Defendant struck the victim in the face with a pistol. Melvin walked back towards the bar and told his brother that "something is fixing to happen." Melvin heard a shot and ducked under a table. He saw the victim run into the bar toward the washroom. Melvin went into the washroom and saw the victim lying on the floor bleeding from his chest.

Charles McGowan testified that he saw the victim talking to Kathy from the tavern window. He stated that after Melvin told him that a man was hitting the victim with a gun, he looked out and saw a man strike the victim with a pistol. He then went to the tavern door and saw the man shoot the victim in the back. As he followed the victim into the tavern, he saw the man and Kathy get into a station wagon with two other people and drive away.

Tyrone Kilgore testified that the victim and the McGowan brothers had stopped by his house on the night of the shooting. After they had left, Coulter, Jerome and Kathy Steele, and an unknown male stopped at his house and asked about the victim's whereabouts. Kilgore later identified a photo of defendant as the man with Coulter and the Steeles.

After the State rested its case in chief, the court granted a motion in limine which precluded the introduction of evidence that the victim had been convicted of possession of a controlled substance and that the Vice Lords street gang had threatened the victim with death if he continued to sell drugs in the area of Huron and Avers. The defense had made an offer of proof as to those threats, and of the fact that Terry Coulter and Jerome Steele were members of the Vice Lords.

Defendant's sister testified that defendant was at home on the night of the shooting. She stated that she left for work that night at approximately 11 p.m. and that shortly before she left defendant had received a telephone call from their mother, who was in the hospital. She stated that on that date defendant was living with Kathy Steele, whom he had recently married.

On February 5, 1982, the defense continued its case in chief. Defendant's mother testified that she spoke with defendant on the telephone on the night of the shooting at about 10 p.m.

The defense also called Odell Jennings and Torrence Evans. Both witnesses testified that they were in a holding cell awaiting court on January 11, 1982, when they were approached by Terry Coulter. Coulter identified himself as a member of the Vice Lords by a hand sign and stated that he was testifying against defendant primarily because he thought defendant was a member of the Disciples, and because the police had told him that if he did not testify, he or another Vice Lord would be accused of the murder. Evans testified that he was a member of the Disciples, and that he told Coulter that defendant was not a Disciple, after which Coulter stated that he would straighten things out.

On cross-examination, both witnesses testified that they had been visited in jail by defense counsel on February 3. Both stated that they were represented by other counsel. Evans said that he had not seen defense counsel sign in as his attorney, and an objection was sustained when the same question was asked of Jennings. Evans also denied that defense counsel told him how to act on the stand.

Jerome Steele testified that he was Kathy Steele's brother and defendant's brother-in-law. He stated that he was a "five point general" in the Vice Lords, and that the primary rivals of that gang were the Disciples. Steele testified that the primary rules of the Vice Lords were to protect each other and not to allow the sale of drugs.

Steele stated that on the night of the shooting he and Kathy drove to Huron and Avers. Kathy left the car to speak with the victim and the victim "got shot." He and Kathy drove away, picked up Kathy's children and then picked up defendant. Steele denied shooting the victim.

The jury found defendant guilty of murder, and sentence was entered on the verdict. Defendant appeals, contending that he was denied a fair trial by virtue of improper remarks of the ...


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