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People v. Coleman





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. John Donald O'Shea, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied August 11, 1983.

A jury convicted the defendant for the murder of Ima Jean Smith. The trial court sentenced the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment. The defendant appeals his conviction and sentence.

On July 16, 1981, at approximately 5 p.m., the defendant and Smith entered a tavern in Rock Island. They were talking normally and appeared to be on friendly terms. Before they left the bar, the defendant asked to see a telephone directory. After the defendant and Smith left the tavern, a waitress noticed that the telephone book was open to the section which listed bus lines.

At approximately 7 p.m., Smith called her mother, Marie Vaughn in Davenport, Iowa. At some point in the conversation, Smith asked Mrs. Vaughn about her brother, Jack. Smith ended the conversation after stating, "Momma, I got to go. This fool is standing here rolling his eyes at me like he is crazy."

One or two hours later, a woman called a dispatcher for a local taxi company and requested a cab to go to 715 Fourth Avenue. That was the address of Smith's apartment. The dispatcher received another call from a man approximately 1 1/2 hours later. This man requested a cab to go to the same address. Sometime later, the defendant appeared at the taxi office with two pieces of luggage. The company is located next to the bus station, which was closed at the time. The defendant asked about a bus schedule and returned to Smith's address about 45 minutes later.

Sometime between 10 and 10:30 that evening, Mrs. Vaughn received another call from daughter, requesting that she pick up Smith in Rock Island. Mrs. Vaughn and a friend left to pick up Smith. When they met Smith she was crying and apparently upset. Smith told Mrs. Vaughn that if she had not come to pick her up, she might never have seen her (Smith) alive again. Smith also said that the defendant broke two of her fingers because he thought that Smith was talking to her mother about another man. Mrs. Vaughn took Smith back to Davenport. After her fingers were taped, Smith left to spend the night with a friend.

The following morning, July 17, 1981, the defendant returned to the tavern alone. The owner inquired of Smith's whereabouts, and the defendant explained that he and Smith broke up. He also said he was going to California. At approximately 9 or 9:30 a.m., the defendant appeared at Mrs. Vaughn's apartment. He told Mrs. Vaughn that he came to say goodbye. Mrs. Vaughn testified that the defendant asked her not to hate him. According to Mrs. Vaughn, the defendant then turned away and whispered, "for what I'm about to do." Mrs. Vaughn asked the defendant what he said, and the defendant replied that he was undecided about what he was going to do. The defendant also told Mrs. Vaughn that Smith broke her fingers during an argument, when he pushed her and she fell over a chair.

A few minutes later, Smith arrived at her mother's home. She was surprised and, according to Mrs. Vaughn, upset that the defendant was there. She talked with the defendant for a few minutes, though, and left with him. Later that morning, at approximately 10:15 a.m., the defendant and Smith returned to the tavern. They left a short while later, and the defendant had his arm around Smith. At trial, Mrs. Vaughn admitted that she did not approve of the defendant as her daughter's boyfriend. She also told the jury that her daughter dated Reginald Simon for two years prior to meeting the defendant and that Simon was the father of Smith's daughter.

Brenda Carter, a child-welfare worker, went to Smith's apartment at 1 p.m. on Friday. No one answered the knock on the door. Carter returned on Monday, July 20, 1981. Again, no one answered the door. Carter testified that she noticed an unpleasant odor at that time. Smith's landlord also tried to reach her on Friday and Monday. On Tuesday, when he noticed a strong door and flies around the door to Smith's apartment, he called the police.

The police gained entry into Smith's apartment and discovered Smith's body in an advanced state of decomposition. The police also found Smith's apartment in disarray. Men's and women's clothing was scattered about the living room and a torn photograph of the defendant and Smith was on the stove. Both the photograph and a pile of men's clothing in the kitchen were partially burned.

A witness testified that he saw the defendant at the Greyhound bus station in Davenport at 5 or 6 p.m. on Friday. The defendant checked into an alcoholic treatment center in Wichita, Kansas, at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Mrs. Vaughn testified that the defendant called her about two weeks later, and told her that he was in Chicago. When the defendant was arrested, he was in possession of three items of jewelry that belonged to Smith. The police also found a bus ticket dated July 17, 1981, in the defendant's possession.

Due to the advanced decomposition of the body, the pathologist was unable to pinpoint an exact time of death. The pathologist estimated that the body could have been dead for as little as two days. He attributed the cause of death to suffocation by a rag lodged in the victim's throat. The pathologist testified that several teeth were in the rag, indicating the victim had been beaten around the mouth. Several of the victim's ribs were also broken.

• 1-3 The first issue is whether the State proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the jury unless the jury's decision is so palpably contrary to the weight of the evidence or unless the evidence is so unsatisfactory as to raise a reasonable doubt of guilt. (People v. Crossno (1981), 93 Ill. App.3d 808, 417 N.E.2d 827.) The fact that the State relies upon circumstantial evidence does not, alone, create a reasonable doubt as a matter of law. A conviction may rest upon circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom. (People v. Fletcher (1978), 72 Ill.2d 66, 377 N.E.2d 809.) Although the evidence properly admitted against the defendant was ...

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