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People v. Soskins





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Lawrence D. Inglis, Judge, presiding. JUSTICE REINHARD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Jerome Soskins, was found guilty by a jury of theft in excess of $300 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 16-1(a)), and was subsequently sentenced to a 30-month term of probation, which included a six-month period of imprisonment in the Lake County jail.

On appeal defendant raises three issues for our review: (1) whether the State failed to prove that he obtained unauthorized control of the subject automobile in Lake County; (2) whether the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the requisite intent to permanently deprive; and (3) whether the State was improperly allowed to impeach two of its own witnesses through the use of their prior felony convictions.

The count of the information on which the State proceeded to trial alleged that on August 2, 1983, in Lake County, defendant committed the offense of theft in violation of section 16-1(a) in that he "knowingly obtained unauthorized control" over an automobile having a value in excess of $300 of the estate of Elizabeth Strawn, intending to deprive it permanently of the benefit of said property. The testimony adduced at the jury trial established the following relevant evidence.

On July 20, 1983, the body of Elizabeth Strawn was found in her apartment in Chicago. She had died of natural causes. Defendant, a Chicago police officer, was one of several police officers who came to the apartment, and he and his partner removed her body. The deceased's daughter, Billie Cowell, who was living in Maryland, was immediately informed by telephone of her mother's death. She telephoned her mother's apartment and talked briefly with the defendant about the funeral home to which the body would be taken and her intention to come to Chicago the next day. On July 22, Billie Cowell went to the apartment. She was aware that her mother owned a 1981 Ford Escort. She was not able to find the title or locate the automobile itself. On July 23 she reported the vehicle as stolen.

Chicago police officer Henry Dombrowski was one of two officers receiving the stolen vehicle report from Cowell. While looking for the vehicle in the area of the apartment on July 23, the officer saw the police vehicle defendant was assigned to, and stopped to inquire whether defendant had any knowledge of the missing vehicle. At first defendant said he did not, but then he recalled that at the time defendant was removing the body from the apartment, a black male had inquired about how he could be paid for repairs to the vehicle. Defendant said he had seen the man before and he thought he worked in a body shop. Defendant said he would look for the car.

Defendant called Billie Cowell later in the day on July 23. Cowell testified defendant said that he thought he knew where the automobile was, that a black man had done repairs to it and had the vehicle in a shop, and that he was owed money for it. Defendant said he would try to locate the car. On July 24, defendant called again and said the man who had the automobile was named Williams, and her mother apparently had a prior accident, but had not filed an accident report. Defendant said Williams was owed money. He said Williams and her mother knew each other from "A.A." Defendant said he had not yet talked to Williams, but heard this information on the street. Cowell told him that any questions of money owed for the repairs would be handled by her lawyer, Henry Golden, but she was not convinced an accident occurred.

Attorney Henry Golden received a telephone call from defendant on July 26. Defendant said he was investigating the missing car. Defendant again repeated the story about the repairman and also stated a boyfriend of the deceased may have taken the vehicle. Golden was contacted again by defendant on July 28. Defendant told Golden that he thought a repairman named Williams had done the repair work, that Williams didn't have a shop but had done it on the side for $1,100 and had been paid $500 and was looking to receive another $600, and that he would try to locate Williams and get the car. Golden told defendant that the individual should file a claim with the estate. Golden told him that Mr. Strawn, the deceased's former husband, was authorized to pick up the automobile if it was found. Defendant telephoned later the same day and said he located the vehicle, that Williams had it, that Williams had the title, too, but wouldn't turn over the car unless he got $600. Defendant suggested he might be able to find a buyer for the car, and pay off the $600 and remit the balance to Billie Cowell. Golden told him that was not the way to proceed but would consult Cowell. On July 29, defendant called Golden again and was told that Cowell was angry, that she wanted the car back, and that defendant should forget about acting as an intermediary. Golden said Cowell would sign a complaint against Williams if necessary. Defendant said he would still try to find Williams. In a final telephone conversation with defendant on July 30, Golden told him Cowell had complained to defendant's commanding officer, and it was important to get the car back now. Defendant said he would try, but he was going out of town.

William Strawn talked by telephone with defendant on July 28. Defendant said he had found the car in a repair garage and $600 was still owing. Strawn said he had no authorization to pay $600, but just was to pick up the car. Defendant said he was going on vacation and the whole matter would be in abeyance for that period of time.

Police officer Theodore Raab of the internal affairs division of the Chicago police department was assigned to investigate defendant. On August 1, he went to Great Lakes Auto Sales in North Chicago in an undercover capacity. Pretending to be a customer, he met a salesman, Ben Hopkins. After that, Raab and his partner covered other used car lots in the area and eventually located Elizabeth Strawn's automobile at Bill Archer Motors, a used car lot in Waukegan. The office was closed at the time, and a surveillance of the lot was established. The next morning, Raab and another female officer posing as his wife went to Great Lakes Auto Sales and spoke with Hopkins again. After a conversation with Hopkins and Allen Krause, Hopkins was given a set of keys by Krause, and Hopkins, Raab and the other officer left to go to the Archer Motors' lot. Upon arriving there, Hopkins gave Raab the set of keys which unlocked the door to Elizabeth Strawn's vehicle. Raab and the other officer took it for a test drive and found Elizabeth Strawn's owner's registration card inside the glove compartment. Upon returning to the Archer Motors' lot, Raab saw defendant in the office after Hopkins handed defendant the keys. Raab told defendant he would pay $3,500 for the vehicle. Defendant said he already had a $50 deposit on the car and wouldn't know until Friday whether it would go through because of the other person's credit. At that point other officers of the internal affairs division arrived. Officers of this division testified that when they arrived defendant told them the car was in probate and all he was trying to do was make a couple of bucks off the car.

Elizabeth Strawn's automobile was later inspected for body and fender damage. There was no indication of damage.

Allen Krause, owner of Great Lakes Auto Sales along with Michael Golden, defendant's brother-in-law, testified that defendant brought the vehicle in question to his lot in late July. Defendant asked him to appraise it and said the car might become available for sale. Defendant took the vehicle to the Archer Motors' lot and left it there. At that time, Krause and defendant were considering going into business together to rent the Archer Motors' lot. Krause told Ben Hopkins, a salesman of his at Great Lakes, that the automobile could become available for sale. While Raab was present on August 2, Krause called defendant, who said the car was not available at the time, but Krause sent Raab over to Archer Motors with Hopkins and the keys.

Ben Hopkins also testified to certain events already discussed above.

William Archer testified that defendant was present on the Archer Motors' lot on August 2 to discuss purchase of the lot. He heard defendant tell Raab that he could not sell the car at that time. Defendant also told Archer the car was going through probate and he would know in several days if it could be sold. Defendant along with Al Krause had ...

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