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People v. Thomas





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. John Crowley, Judge, presiding.


In a jury trial defendant Henry Lee Thomas was convicted of the murder of Dorothy Terrell and was sentenced to a prison term of 40 years. On appeal defendant contends: (1) his statements should have been suppressed as the products of his illegal arrest; (2) reversal is required because the prosecution adduced trial testimony concerning a polygraph examination of the defendant and because in final argument the prosecutors told the jury that defendant had failed that examination; (3) the jury was not properly instructed on the issues of murder and voluntary manslaughter; (4) the trial court abused its discretion when it sentenced defendant to a 40-year prison term.

We reverse and remand for a new trial.

At trial the State established that on the afternoon of October 21, 1978, the nude body of Dorothy Terrell was discovered in a forest preserve near Waukegan Road and Dundee Road in Cook County. A bedspread and an extension cord were found nearby. An autopsy revealed that her death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck. The victim also had blunt trauma injury to the mouth, consistent with having been struck with a fist.

The victim's mother informed the police that she had last seen her daughter on October 15 when she went out on a date with the defendant. Defendant was arrested and first told the police he had dropped off Terrell that night at the home of a girlfriend of hers. However ultimately defendant confessed to having killed Terrell. He told the police and then an assistant State's Attorney that in the early morning hours of October 15 after an evening spent at various Chicago lounges he and Terrell came back to his apartment. After Terrell fell asleep defendant, who was upset about problems they were having, got a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Terrell in the neck. She awoke and said, "Why did you do this, I love you." He struck her twice in the mouth, stabbed her several times in the chest, and smothered her with a pillow. The body remained in his apartment three days. Defendant then wrapped it in a quilt and an electric cord and took it to a wooded area near Dundee Road.

Having lost a pretrial motion to suppress his statements to the police, defendant took the stand and admitted having killed Terrell. He testified that at his apartment, after a night of drinking at several lounges, they began arguing and Terrell struck him in the eye. Defendant, in an intoxicated state, became angry, picked up a knife in the bedroom, and stabbed Terrell. He admitted having told the police that Terrell had been asleep when he stabbed her with a knife from the kitchen, but said he made that statement because he was frightened. He also admitted that his first exculpatory statement to the police was a lie. The jury rejected the defense theory that defendant was guilty only of voluntary manslaughter and convicted him of murder.


We first consider defendant's contention that his statements to the police should have been suppressed because they resulted from his illegal arrest. At the hearing on defendant's motion the following pertinent testimony was adduced. Officer Alvin Riddle of the East Chicago, Indiana, police department testified that on October 23, 1978, he spoke by telephone to Investigators Smith and Behrens of the Cook County sheriff's police. They informed him that defendant was a "likely suspect" in the murder of Dorothy Terrell because she had last been seen in his company. They wished to talk to the defendant and sought Riddle's aid because they believed the defendant worked and lived in East Chicago. Riddle then determined that defendant worked at an East Chicago factory. The night of October 25 Riddle, a Sergeant Johnson, and three members of the tactical unit went to the factory and arrested the defendant as he prepared to leave work. According to Riddle no guns were drawn during the arrest. It was stipulated that the defendant was immediately given his Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602), and stated that he understood them. He was taken to the factory parking lot where he surrendered his car keys and his car was seized and towed to the police garage. It was subsequently searched and fingerprints and other items were taken for laboratory tests. The tactical unit officers transported defendant to the detention center at the East Chicago police station at about midnight. Investigators Smith and Behrens were then notified of the arrest.

Investigator John Smith testified that on October 21, 1978, he and Investigator Behrens went to Somme Woods and viewed the victim's body. From the state of decomposition Smith concluded that the body had been there three or four days. The following day he learned from members of the victim's family that she had been missing since early Sunday morning, October 15, when she had left on a date with the defendant. Later that Sunday defendant had called the family to ask if the victim was home. The family members had been told by another woman that she had seen the defendant and the victim having an argument or altercation at a lounge that night. Smith was also told where the defendant lived and worked. He contacted the East Chicago police and subsequently learned that defendant had been found by them.

In subsequent rebuttal testimony Investigator Behrens testified that the victim's sister had also told him it had been the defendant's custom to drive to the apartment every day to wait for the victim but after she became missing he no longer came around. According to Behrens he had also been told by Smith that the manager of the restaurant where the victim worked had stated that there also the defendant had discontinued his practice of visiting the victim since her disappearance.

Smith testified that he arrived at the East Chicago police station at about 1 a.m. on October 26. It was stipulated that defendant was then given his Miranda rights and stated that he understood them. Defendant told Smith that late Saturday night or early Sunday morning he had gone drinking with Terrell at several bars. At her request he then dropped her off at the home of a girlfriend of hers. Defendant claimed not to know the girlfriend except by the name Ernestine, and further stated that he left the victim on a street he was not familiar with. He also stated this was the last time he saw her. Defendant offered to help the officers and to do anything they asked. He read and signed forms waiving his Miranda rights, waiving his right to challenge extradition, and allowing the police to search his car and his apartment.

At about 3 a.m. Behrens and Smith took the defendant to his apartment where they were met by an evidence technician. Defendant unlocked his bedroom door for the police. Inside they observed blood spattered on the wall above the bed. At about 6:30 a.m. they all left the apartment, taking with them certain items seized there. Defendant was placed in detention at the Maywood sheriff's facility at about 8 a.m. It was stipulated that at 1 p.m. that same day, October 26, defendant voluntarily took a polygraph examination. Smith again saw the defendant at 2:30 p.m., transporting him to the Niles sheriff's facility. According to Smith defendant was then questioned for the next 12 1/2 hours by various officers. At 4:30 p.m. Smith and Lieutenant Brown spoke to the defendant. It was stipulated that he was again informed of his Miranda rights. The questioning lasted two or three hours. Other police officers also questioned the defendant until about 3 a.m. the next morning, October 27, when defendant was taken back to Maywood after complaining of being tired and wanting to sleep. Smith testified that defendant was fed prior to questioning and did not complain of any mistreatment. However Smith did state that defendant cried in his presence that day.

On October 27 defendant was brought back to the Niles facility. Smith testified that at 2:30 p.m. defendant gave an inculpatory statement in the presence of Smith, Behrens, an assistant State's Attorney, and a court reporter. In that statement the defendant said he had been fed, had not been mistreated and had not been threatened. According to Smith the defendant had been questioned for about four hours that day.

The defendant testified to substantially the same sequence of events following his arrest, with the following significant variations. His arrest was at gunpoint. Smith told him, before he signed the consent to the search of his apartment, that if nothing was found he would be released. When taken to the apartment he was in handcuffs but on arrival they were removed and he was told to unlock the door. After he took the polygraph exam he was told it showed he was lying. Defendant recalled that after that examination it was Behrens who drove him to the Niles facility. Behrens stopped the car on the way and talked to the defendant for 45 minutes. He told the defendant he could get the death penalty. According to the defendant the 12 1/2 hours of questioning on the evening of October 26 were conducted by six officers, working in two-man shifts. During the questioning he asked Behrens if he could speak to his mother, but this was denied. In the presence of Smith and Behrens Lieutenant Brown threatened to hit him if he did not talk. Investigator Peterson pushed him against a cabinet, called him a nigger, and told him to talk. At one point during this prolonged questioning defendant requested an attorney but this was refused by Officers Grode and Burke. In the midst of the questioning Officers Peterson and Schenk told him he was going for a ...

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