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People v. Palmer





Appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County; the Hon. Wayne C. Townley, Jr., Judge, presiding.


Following a jury trial, defendant Jerry Palmer was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. He appeals, contending the State failed to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He also asserts he was denied a fair trial because the jury considered extraneous, prejudicial information and the judge coerced the guilty verdict from the jury.

A 12-year-old papergirl was raped early in the morning on September 23, 1982. At about 6 a.m., she left her Bloomington home to do her paper route, which took about a half hour to complete. When she reached the corner of Market and Hinshaw Streets, she noticed a black man across the street. He walked away, but she saw him again a few minutes later at the corner of Holton Drive and Hinshaw. After she delivered a paper to the house on the corner of Sheridan and Hinshaw, the man approached her. He asked if he could buy a paper, and she sold him one. She then continued on her route. Halfway through her route, the man stopped her again and asked her to go with him to get some bicycles. She refused, stating she had to finish her route. The man pulled out a knife and put it to her neck. The knife had a short dull blade and a brown handle. He took her to a secluded area and raped her. After about five minutes, the man got up and handed the victim her radio, then he left stating, "he had to go to pick up the kids over at the school bus." She got up and walked about two blocks to her home.

The girl arrived home very upset, according to her mother. After talking with the victim for a few minutes, the mother determined what had happened. She then ran one block to the nearest telephone and called the police. The police received the call at 6:33 a.m.

At trial, the victim described the rapist as a thin, black man with short hair and a mustache. He wore a short, brown leather jacket and gray pants. She stated that he was a lot taller than she. She was about five feet tall when the rape occurred. She was also cross-eyed, but she wore corrective glasses. Her glasses were knocked off during the rape, but she stated she could see "pretty good" without them. The victim identified defendant as the rapist.

On cross-examination, the victim admitted she had described the rapist to police as 5 feet 9 inches, 150 pounds, and in his late teens or early twenties. She testified she did not remember the rapist's skin tone when giving her original description. Defendant is 6 feet 5 inches, 210 to 225 pounds, and he has a medium build and dark skin tone. He was 27 years old at the time of the rape. The victim, who was about 5 feet tall, testified she did not know her own height or weight or the height of any of her family members except her father.

The victim testified her paper route took her through Holton Homes, defendant's neighborhood. She also visited a bait shop near her home to buy candy and get change. A picture of defendant holding a catfish hung on one of the doors to the store prior to the attack. Defendant also visited the store frequently.

Officer Steve Reeter responded to the mother's call. He testified the victim was upset and stammering when he arrived at her home. Reeter attempted to get a description, but he could not get anything definite from her. He testified he supplied the 5-foot 9-inch figure based upon her statement that the rapist was taller than he. Reeter is 5 feet 6 inches. The victim also told him the rapist was thin, and Reeter estimated the rapist's weight to be 150 pounds based upon experience and training. Reeter took her to the hospital for a medical examination, and then he took her to the police station.

At the hospital, doctors removed seminal material from the victim and a hair from her clothing. Testing showed the hair was not consistent with defendant's hair, but it was not matched against the victim's hair. Defendant was a possible donor of the semen, but only 17% of the black population was excluded.

The victim's 13-year-old sister was also a papergirl. She testified that a black man accompanied her on her route on nine mornings between September 6 and September 18. On one occasion, he asked if he could buy a paper from her. On September 15, he tried to kiss her. When she finished her route on September 18, he pushed her onto an old truck bed. She screamed, and he let her go. He told her that he would get her the next day.

On September 23, the victim's sister saw the man a little before 6 a.m. Although it was not very light out, she knew it was the same man. She ran to a nearby house, and the occupant, Helen Houchin, heard her knock at the door. She let the girl into her house and called the police. The police received the call at 6 a.m.

At the police station that morning, the sister described the man as black, 6 feet tall or under, 22 years old, 160 to 190 pounds with a thin mustache, a beard, and short, curly "perm" type hair. Defendant had short, nonpermed hair, and he did not wear a beard at the time of the rape. The victim's sister also told police she thought he said his name was Larry. At trial, she identified defendant as the man she had seen on all the previous occasions. She was 5 feet 1 inch tall and 80 to 90 pounds at the time of the incident.

When the victim arrived at the police station, the two girls were placed in separate rooms. Each girl was shown two sets of six pictures and neither sister recognized any of them. They were then shown 26 more pictures. Both girls picked out defendant's photograph.

After this photo identification, police went to defendant's home. Defendant's wife, Joyce Palmer, told them defendant was at work, and she denied them permission to search the house. Police stayed to search anyone who left the house. Mrs. Palmer eventually gave permission for the ...

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