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People v. Jenkins





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. David F. Smith, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Terry E. Jenkins, was convicted of the murder of Naunette Bartleson, following a jury trial, and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. The issues raised for review are whether the defendant was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the jury was properly instructed concerning circumstantial evidence, and whether the prosecutor's conduct deprived the defendant of a fair trial.

The defendant was charged with beating and killing Naunette Bartleson without lawful justification knowing that his acts in beating her created the strong probability of death or great bodily harm to her, in violation of section 9-1(a)(2) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2)). He was tried before a jury, and the following evidence was adduced.

According to the defendant, he and Sandra Bartleson and her 16-month-old daughter, Naunette, had moved into their home a few days before the injury occurred. On January 27, 1981, the defendant got off work at 3 p.m. and went home. Sandra left for work at 4 p.m. Naunette, who had been asleep when the defendant came home, awoke at 5 p.m. The defendant fed and bathed her, did some laundry, and called his sister to pick up the clothes to dry at her house. Between 7 and 7:30 p.m., he was playing with Naunette and chased her into the living room, where she fell on the floor and hit her face. He noticed a bruise under her right eye, which started swelling, and placed an ice pack on it. At about 8 o'clock his sister arrived. She picked up Naunette and noticed the bruise. Naunette seemed normal at the time. The defendant's sister left at about 8:30. The defendant called Sandra at work to have her pick up the laundry at his sister's house. At 10:15, Sandra called from his sister's and spoke to him and Naunette. The defendant then gave Naunette a bottle of juice and told her to go into the living room. He remained in the kitchen. About five minutes later, he heard a loud thud coming from the living room and ran into the room. Naunette was on the floor, three or four feet from the television set. He picked her up and she was crying. She turned white and went limp, and the defendant ran to the bathroom with her and splashed water on her face to revive her. The water knocked her bangs back, revealing a bruise on her forehead. At about that time, Sandra walked in and asked what had happened. The defendant told her that Naunette had fallen and he thought she had knocked the breath out of herself. Naunette's eyes were fluttering, and the defendant slapped her face very slightly to revive her. When he got no response, he slapped her on the back, but not very forcefully. As Sandra arrived, Naunette was gasping for breath. She appeared to have stopped breathing, and the defendant ran into the living room, laid her on the floor, elevated her feet, and gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for 10 to 15 minutes. As he was moving to the living room, he told Sandra to call an ambulance.

The fire department received Sandra's call at 10:41 p.m. Paramedics arrived at the defendant's residence a few minutes later and observed Naunette unconscious on the floor. They noticed a bruise on the front portion of her head and on her right cheek. She was breathing, her pupils were fully dilated, and she was not responsive to painful stimuli. They asked the defendant what had happened, and he said that Naunette was running into the living room and fell. When the paramedic asked how far she had fallen and whether she had fallen off a couch or chair, the defendant responded that she had run into the living room and fallen. When another fireman questioned the defendant about what had happened, the defendant replied that Naunette was running across the floor and fell and added, "As a matter of fact, she fell twice." Either the defendant or Sandra said that Naunette had been in her current condition for about 20 minutes. There were no signs of violence in the house or to the body of the defendant. The room was photographed with a tape measure held in front of the furniture, and the height from the floor to the seats and arms of the furniture ranged from 15 1/2 to 22 inches.

Naunette was taken to the hospital emergency room, where a doctor who examined her observed a bruise on the right side of her face and three or four bruises on her forehead that were not distinct. She was unconscious and appeared to have intercranial bleeding. In a brief conversation, the defendant told the doctor that Naunette had run across the uncarpeted floor and fallen, that she had bumped her head, that after about five minutes she had lapsed into unconsciousness, and that he had tried to revive her. The doctor testified that he was unable to judge the age of the bruises, and he did not recall having estimated their age to a police officer. A police officer testified that the doctor had said the bruises on the forehead and right cheek were at least a day old and were definitely not fresh and that other bruises on the abdomen were older.

The defendant was interviewed by detectives at the hospital at about 12:30 a.m. on the night of the incident, after being advised of his rights. He related the events of the evening, including the first fall when Naunette was running across the floor and the thud he later heard before he found her lying on the floor. The defendant accompanied the detectives to the police station and repeated the same facts, adding more details, such as the phone call to his sister and the position of Naunette near the television set. He said he had drunk four or five beers during the course of the evening. He consented to having his house searched by the police, and he furnished a written statement to the police.

The defendant's sister's testimony affirmed her visit to the defendant's house on the evening of the incident. She noticed nothing unusual about the defendant or Naunette that evening, but she did see the bruise on Naunette's right cheek. She offered to take Naunette home with her and have Sandra bring her back when she picked up the laundry, but the defendant said he would keep her.

Sandra's testimony agreed with that of the defendant for the most part. She added that Naunette had whimpered and called "Mommy" when she spoke to her on the phone but that that was not unusual when she was away from the child. She testified that when she arrived home, found the defendant holding Naunette and sprinkling water on her face, and asked what had happened, he told her he thought Naunette had fallen and knocked her breath out. When Naunette's eyelids began to twitch, the defendant said he thought she would be all right and Sandra thought so too. It was after the defendant carried Naunette into the living room and she stopped breathing and the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was begun that Sandra called the ambulance, but she was uncertain whose idea it was. She denied that the defendant had told her not to call an ambulance. One of the detectives testified that on the night of the incident Sandra had said that, when she arrived home and the defendant told her that Naunette was unconscious and she went to call an ambulance, the defendant told her not to because the child would be all right and that she called the ambulance when the child stopped breathing. The detective also testified that on the morning after the incident Sandra had stated that, when she arrived home and asked what was wrong with Naunette, the defendant had answered that Naunette had held her breath until she passed out, and when she asked if Naunette was unconscious the defendant replied that she was all right. Sandra repeated those statements during a conversation in August 1981.

There was also testimony by the child's babysitter, who cared for Naunette on the morning of the incident, that she observed no marks or bruises while changing Naunette's diapers and clothes and washing her face and forehead. Other witnesses testified that five days before the incident Naunette had run into a kitchen table and hit her forehead and that two days before the incident Naunette had fallen onto the floor and struck the right side of her forehead.

Naunette died on February 2, 1981. Two pathologists testified that they had performed autopsies. They observed bruises on her face, chest, groin, and thigh, as well as a surgical incision closed with sutures on the right side of her skull, 8 1/2 inches long. There was an extensive fracture on the back of her head extending from the point where the spinal cord joins the brain toward the top of the head, as well as extensive bleeding under the skull, which produced swelling. The surgical incision had been performed to relieve pressure on the brain. There was no bruising to the skin on the stomach, but there was blood in the abdominal cavity at the right side of the abdomen, indicating that Naunette had received a rapidly applied, penetrating, blunt impact. The blow appeared to have come from the front. Such abdominal damage rarely occurs as a result of resuscitation efforts; if it were caused by a hand, it would have been equivalent to some form of punch. The cause of death was severe brain injury with compression of the brain stem. The hemorrhage in the brain stem was caused by a single skull fracture, due to a severe blow to the back of the head, and it was consistent with contact by a flat or very blunt surface. The head injury would have caused unconsciousness within a few minutes and within no longer than 30 minutes after receiving the fracture. The skull injury could not have been caused by a child of Naunette's size running across a wooden floor and falling.

The jury found the defendant guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.

• 1, 2 The first issue raised is whether the defendant was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant argues that the evidence presented failed to prove the facts alleged by the State in the information — i.e., "that he beat and killed Naunette Bartleson without lawful justification, knowing that his acts in beating Naunette Bartleson created the strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Naunette Bartleson." The defendant posits that the medical testimony in no way contradicted his account of what happened, since he never professed to know what the child was doing at the time of the second fall. He asserts that his conversations with the authorities, which initially focused on the child's fall while running and did not more fully recount the incident until later, were quite natural since that fall was the only one he witnessed, and he notes that he mentioned the second fall when first questioned. The defendant concludes that there was no evidence proving a physical act committed by him, and there was none indicating whether the alleged act was knowing or reckless. In addition, the defendant argues that all proof of guilt was circumstantial, that the State therefore had the burden of excluding every reasonable theory of innocence, and that the State did not meet that burden. He acknowledges that there was direct evidence of certain facts adduced at the trial but contends that it was not direct evidence of guilt. He notes that there was no medical testimony regarding the possibility that the child fell from a piece of furniture or establishing when the stomach injuries occurred. The State responds that there was sufficient evidence to dispel any reasonable doubt of guilt, that the evidence was not entirely circumstantial and the defendant's proposed standard is incorrect, and that even if there were no direct evidence the State met its burden at trial.

We find that the State did meet its burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, even assuming that the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. A conviction may be based upon circumstantial evidence, and the manner of death and the means by which it was inflicted may be inferred from the circumstances proved. (People v. Huff (1963), 29 Ill.2d 315, 320.) When the evidence finding a defendant guilty is entirely circumstantial, the facts proved must be consistent with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. (People v. Evans (1981), 87 Ill.2d 77, 83.) The guilt of the accused must be so thoroughly established as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis. (People v. Lewellen (1969), 43 Ill.2d 74, 78.) However, proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that the State is required to establish guilt beyond the possibility of a doubt. (People v. Garcia (1981), 95 Ill. App.3d 792, 797.) The jury need not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to each link in the chain of circumstances relied on to establish guilt so long as all the ...

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