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People v. Vandiver

OPINION FILED AUGUST 23, 1984.

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

v.

RONNIE G. VANDIVER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Anthony J. Bosco, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 13, 1984.

Defendant, Ronnie G. Vandiver, was charged by indictment with the murder of Goldie Hibbs. Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 40 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

On appeal, defendant claims that (1) the State failed to prove him guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, (2) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the use of two interpreters for a deaf-mute witness and thereby violated defendant's sixth amendment right to confront witnesses against him, and (3) the trial court erred in admitting evidence of an aggravated battery to which defendant had pleaded guilty.

We affirm the decision of the trial court.

FACTS

Testimony adduced at trial established that on November 14, 1981, defendant was employed as a bouncer at a Cicero, Illinois, tavern called the Hollywood Lounge. After going out for the evening with his aunt and uncle and having a few drinks, he reported for work at 2 a.m., had a few more drinks, played some pool, and talked for a while with the barmaid and the tavern's owner, Travis Tidwell.

At approximately 5 a.m., while some of the customers in the bar were dancing, an older man named Goldie Hibbs, who had been dancing by himself, bumped into a table, knocked over a glass, and fell to the floor. Hearing the thud, defendant moved around the end of the bar and saw Tidwell help Hibbs to his feet and take him outside through the side door. Defendant followed, along with several other patrons of the bar.

The key witness for the State was Timothy Justice, a 27-year-old deaf-mute, who testified by means of two interpreters. He stated that, as he sat with two women at a table near the back door, he became aware of a commotion as several of the bar's patrons moved toward the spot where Hibbs had fallen. He then saw defendant and another man drag Hibbs out the door near him. Justice testified that he watched through the door as defendant and the other man beat and kicked Hibbs repeatedly, causing such severe bleeding from his nose that Justice could see blood splattering out of Hibbs' head and little spots of blood on defendant's clothing. The two men then dragged Hibbs to the back alley, where defendant continued to kick and beat him. According to Justice, the entire episode lasted approximately one-half hour. Hibbs was later found in a nearby carport, dead from injuries received in the beating.

A second witness for the State, Terry Schroeder, testified that after defendant and Tidwell had taken Hibbs outside, Tidwell returned alone shortly thereafter. Approximately five minutes later, defendant and the other patrons re-entered the tavern. As defendant walked up to the bar, he flexed his muscles, and another man patted him on the back. Both witnesses particularly noted defendant because he was the only person who did not wear a jacket when the crowd went outside. Both clearly saw his clothing, which consisted of blue jeans and a dark tee shirt with a plant design, but Schroeder did not see any blood on defendant after the first fight.

A short time later, defendant was playing pool with a Mexican man, Orlando Cruz, when a fight between them broke out. Defendant struck and kneed Cruz in the face and hit him over the head with a pool cue, causing severe bleeding. Cruz called the police, but defendant slipped out the back door and went home, where he was awakened shortly thereafter by the police and taken to the police station for questioning. The dark tee shirt and blue jeans were subjected to tests for blood and blood type.

Defendant's version of the incident with Hibbs differed significantly from that of both Justice and Schroeder. His story was corroborated by Schroeder and was not directly contradicted by Justice up to the point at which the victim was taken outside. At that point, defendant testified, Tidwell laid Hibbs down on the grass, but he got up again. Defendant inquired if he wanted a cab; Hibbs said he did not and began walking toward the alley, whereupon defendant went back into the bar. According to defendant, the only fight he had that evening was with Cruz during a game of pool. The only blood found on his clothing matched that of Cruz, not Hibbs.

The only other witness was Dr. Robert Kirchner, deputy medical examiner of Cook County, who testified that Goldie Hibbs' face and head displayed fractures and abrasions consistent with being struck by a fist, while the fatal wound, a laceration of a major artery to the back of the head, had resulted from Hibbs' head striking against concrete or being struck with a heavy object. He testified to heavy bleeding from Hibbs' fractured nose, which was borne out by photographs taken at the scene, and acknowledged that although blood on the assailant's clothing would be consistent with Hibbs' wounds, such an occurrence was purely conjectural, and it was just as likely that an assailant's clothing would show no traces of the victim's blood.

Following closing argument, the trial court orally presented detailed findings of fact, pronounced defendant guilty of murder, and entered its sentence. ...


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