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People v. Thurman

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 27, 1983.

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

v.

CHARLES HENRY THURMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Richard L. Samuels, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant Charles Henry Thurman was charged under a six-count indictment with murder, armed violence predicated on murder, voluntary manslaughter, armed violence predicated on voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and armed violence predicated on involuntary manslaughter, for the killing of Opheous Beck. Defendant was tried before a jury which initially returned only a finding of not guilty as to murder. The trial court informed the jury that there were five other charges upon which verdicts must be returned, and the jury was sent back for further deliberations. Upon returning, the jury found defendant not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and armed violence predicated on voluntary manslaughter, and it found defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed violence predicated on involuntary manslaughter. The jury did not return a verdict on the armed violence predicated on murder count. The court entered judgment of conviction on the verdict concerning armed violence predicated on involuntary manslaughter only and defendant was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals.

The facts pertinent to this appeal are as follows:

The defendant is the owner of a bar called Big C's in Chicago. At about 3 a.m. on October 3, 1981, Opheous Beck, the victim, was in defendant's bar and was intoxicated. Defendant was working in the bar at that time.

Charles Small was also in defendant's bar at 3 a.m. Small testified that he thought Beck was intoxicated. Beck was fighting with customers in the bar, and Small saw defendant engage in a verbal exchange with Beck. At about 5 a.m., Small saw Beck on the floor and Small and Lavon Rufus Nelson carried Beck out of the bar. Small then saw defendant come out of the bar and tell Beck never to come back. Beck began waving his arms and threatening to kill defendant and blow up his bar. Small then saw defendant draw the pistol he was carrying and shoot Beck in the forehead at close range. Beck was unarmed and did not touch defendant prior to the shooting.

Small's testimony was essentially corroborated by Lavon Rufus Nelson. Nelson testified that he helped Small carry Beck out of the bar and that defendant followed them outside. Nelson heard defendant tell Beck not to return to the bar, and he heard Beck threaten to kill defendant and to blow up his bar. Nelson did not see defendant draw his gun but he did see defendant fire the gun into Beck's forehead.

Defendant denied that Nelson was at the bar at the time of the shooting. Defendant testified that it was he, not Nelson, who helped carry Beck out of the bar. Defendant admitted carrying a gun and firing it at Beck, but he contends that he fired at Beck because Beck was attacking him.

Following deliberations, the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty of murder. The judge informed them that there were five other charges for which verdicts must be returned, and the foreman responded that it was their understanding that they had only one "paper" to return. The court then asked the foreman if he thought that the jury could reach verdicts as to the remaining charges and the foreman responded that he did not think so. The court asked if it could be of assistance in helping the jury to come to a decision and the foreman responded that there were some questions that the jury would like to have answered. The court then asked that the jury step out in order that he be allowed to discuss the matter with counsel for both sides.

Out of the presence of the jury, counsel for defendant stated to the court that it was his opinion that when the jury had returned a verdict of not guilty of murder, they had actually intended to acquit the defendant of all charges against him. The trial court rejected this contention by pointing out that the foreman had said "not guilty of murder" and concluded that it would be unreasonable to extend the finding of not guilty to any other charge besides murder.

The court called the jury back and it asked the foreman if they understood that there were five other charges pending. The foreman responded that they now understood that but that he did not know if they would be able to reach verdicts on the remaining charges. The foreman stated that they had taken four other ballots on the remaining charges without reaching a unanimous decision. The court questioned several other jurors as to whether they felt it was possible to reach a decision on the remaining charges. One of the jurors stated that their difficulty in reaching a decision was because "sufficient evidence wasn't there." The court again asked if it could be of assistance in reaching a decision and one of the jurors said that they had some questions. The judge responded that the questions should be reduced to writing and sent to him and, if proper to do so, he would answer the questions. The court explained to the jury that in order to acquit defendant on all charges, the jury must sign the not guilty forms for each charge. The court then sent the jury back for further deliberations.

Upon returning, the jury found defendant not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and armed violence predicated on voluntary manslaughter and guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed violence predicated on involuntary manslaughter. The jury returned no verdict on the charge of armed violence predicated on murder. After polling the jurors, the court sentenced defendant to 13 years' imprisonment. Defendant then instituted this appeal.

Defendant first contends that the jury's verdict of "not guilty of murder" should have operated as a general verdict of acquittal and that the trial court erred when it orally informed the jury that they must return verdicts on all charges before them.

After the jury read its partial verdict and was sent out by the court, defense counsel argued that by rendering only a single verdict of "not guilty of murder," the jury actually intended that the verdict apply to all six charges. The court rejected this argument noting that the jury had said "not guilty of murder." (Emphasis added.) Defense counsel apparently accepted the court's ruling by acknowledging that it was within the province of the court to so rule. Defense counsel did not object when the court informed the jury that they must return verdicts on all charges before them and did not raise the issue in his motion for a new trial. In his post-trial motion, defendant did argue that the jury's verdict of "not guilty of murder" served as a general verdict of acquittal.

• 1 A verdict is to be reasonably construed and should not be disturbed unless there is doubt as to its meaning. (People v. Clark (1979), 71 Ill. App.3d 381, 417, 389 N.E.2d 911.) We first note that the jury's verdict of "not guilty of murder" is unambiguous. If the jury had intended to return a general verdict of acquittal, they would have omitted any reference to a specific charge. We find that the first verdict returned by the jury was not intended to operate as an acquittal of all charges against defendant. This finding is supported by the fact that the jury conducted four votes on the charges other than murder but was unable to reach a verdict on any of ...


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