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People v. Ward





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, the Hon. John J. Hoban, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied June 4, 1984.

The defendant, James Ward, was convicted of murder by a jury in the circuit court of St. Clair County for the beating death of a four-year-old boy and was sentenced to 25 years in the penitentiary. The appellate court reversed the conviction (112 Ill. App.3d 547), and we granted the State's petition for leave to appeal under Rule 315 (87 Ill.2d R. 315).

The child, Montez Moore, lived with his mother, Harriet Young, and a younger brother. The defendant was a boyfriend of Young, knew her for about a year, and lived with her on occasion. About 2:30 a.m. on the morning of February 19, 1983, the defendant went to Young's house. Harriet Young apparently told the defendant that she had earlier whipped Montez because he had wet his bed and had put hot chocolate in their dog's water pan. The two children were asleep at this time.

The testimony regarding the fatal beating was conflicting. Young testified that she awoke and found that Montez had again wet his bed. She stated that, as punishment, she hit him on the "rump" with a mop stick, but did not beat him. She testified that later, at about 11:30 a.m. on the 19th, the defendant first beat Montez with the mop stick on the chest, stomach and back, for wetting the bed. Young testified that an hour later the defendant again beat the child severely, without apparent reason. She said that the child, at one point, cried for help, but that after a while had stopped crying during the beatings. The defendant testified that he did not touch Montez that day. He stated that he was awake at 11 a.m. for a short time, slept again until 3:45 p.m., and left the house at 4 p.m.

Mary Owens, the defendant's sister, testified that she arrived at Young's house at 4 p.m., as the defendant was leaving it, to check on her children who had been left at Young's house earlier. She had had a conversation with Young and then had fallen asleep, when one of her children awoke her and said that Montez would not awaken. She immediately went to another bedroom where Young was trying to awaken Montez, who felt like ice, she said. An ambulance was called and Montez was pronounced dead at 8:20 p.m. February 19, by an emergency room physician at St. Mary's Hospital in East St. Louis. He testified that there were multiple linear bruises on the child's body too numerous to count. Specifically, his face, arms, legs, chest, back and buttocks were swollen and deeply bruised. In his opinion, the child, when admitted, had been dead for about five to seven hours. The pathologist who performed the autopsy testified that the child died from respiratory arrest due to cerebral edema. He said that there were compression injuries of the lungs accompanied by aspiration of partially digested milk into the airway, which contributed to the child's death. The linear bruises could have been caused by an instrument such as a mop stick, and he concluded that the death could not have been accidentally caused. His opinion was that the beating took place about 4 to 12 hours before death.

At the hospital, Young was questioned by a nurse about the child's injuries. At trial, in testifying for the People, Young admitted having given numerous conflicting stories to explain the injuries because, she stated, she was frightened and wanted to cover up for herself and the defendant. She said that the defendant had told her to make up a story explaining the child's injuries.

At the time of the defendant's trial, Young had been tried and convicted of the murder of Montez in a separate, earlier trial.

Officer Louis Moore of the East St. Louis police, accompanied by Viola Moore, grandmother of the child, testified that he had gone to Young's home and picked up items apparently used in the beating. A shoe, a roller shade and a mop stick were taken by him. Officer Moore testified that while the defendant was in custody he asked to see Viola Moore. Officer Moore testified that after escorting Mrs. Moore to a desk where the defendant was seated, he overheard the defendant say to Mrs. Moore, "I didn't mean to do it," and that the defendant said that he had beaten Montez for putting some cocoa in the dog's water.

Viola Moore also testified that she talked to the defendant at the police station and asked him if he had beaten the child. She testified that he answered yes, but that he didn't mean to do it and that he had beaten the child for putting cocoa in the dog's water. She testified that the defendant said he began hitting the child with a shoe, but got angry and had beaten him with a stick. She also testified that she asked the defendant why he didn't get medical help for the child and the defendant stated that "he was scared." The defendant admitted seeing Viola Moore at the police station, but denied asking for her or speaking to her.

There was additional testimony that the defendant and Young had beaten her children on prior occasions. Mary Owens testified that she had seen the defendant spanking Montez with a belt and with his hands on two prior occasions. Pat Lynn, a social worker of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said that, in 1977, Young admitted beating her older child, Reginald, with a TV antenna cord. The defendant sought to introduce testimony of Vivian Sanders, a supervising social worker of the Department of Children and Family Services, that persons with previous histories of child abuse will continue that abuse if they are not restrained or given psychological therapy. The court sustained the prosecution's objection to the proposed testimony as irrelevant and ruled, too, that she was not qualified as an expert witness. The defendant's two sisters, Mary Owens and Havana Owens, and a neighbor, testified that the defendant had babysat for their children and never had harmed them.

The appellate court's ground for reversing the conviction was that the trial court erred in failing to give the defendant's tendered instruction on involuntary manslaughter. The court considered that there was evidence in the record which, if believed by the jury, would support a conviction of involuntary manslaughter. The court stated that, since the case was to be remanded for retrial, it would address defendant's other contentions of error. The court went on to hold that not only were parts of the prosecutor's closing argument improper, but that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of prior child abuse by Harriet Young and in rejecting the proposed testimony of Vivian Sanders.

The contentions of the State include these points: (1) there was no evidence in the record to support an involuntary manslaughter conviction, since the severity of the beatings negated any possible inference of recklessness, coupled with the fact that the defendant testified that he had never struck or touched the child; (2) the prosecutor's remarks represented fair comment on the evidence, but even if improper, they were harmless error and did not deny the defendant a fair trial; and (3) that the introduction of Young's prior acts of discipline was not relevant as to whether the defendant had beaten the victim on the day in question and that the trial court did not err in excluding such evidence.

The jury was given instructions on the elements of murder and aggravated battery. The court also instructed that to sustain a ...

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