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People v. Akins





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Livingston County; the Hon. William T. Caisley, Judge, presiding.


A jury convicted defendant Michael Akins of the armed robbery of a gas station and a separate theft of an automobile. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 18-2(a), 16-1(a)(1).) The trial court sentenced him to concurrent terms of 10 years' imprisonment for theft and 25 years' imprisonment for armed robbery. On appeal, defendant asserts the State failed to prove his guilt of either offense beyond a reasonable doubt. He also maintains the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him.

At trial, Jeffrey Patten testified he worked in a gas station on Odell Road in Odell. At about 3:15 a.m., on August 22, 1983, a purple 1982 Pontiac Firebird pulled into the station. The car's license plate had three letters and two numbers. The driver was a black man, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 140 to 160 pounds, and about 23 or 24 years old. He wore a light blue or purple sweater, a nice pair of blue jeans with fancy stitching on the pockets, and a fairly heavy belt. After Patten filled the tank, the driver pulled out a blue-finished revolver. He told Patten, "I am sorry, I don't have any money and I am going to take what you do have inside." The robber took all the bills from the cash register. He also took three canvas change bags. The robber instructed Patten to take the keys from his own car and throw them into a garbage can. After the robber departed, Patten called the Livingston County sheriff's department.

Later that morning, police called Patten to tow away a vehicle. Patten testified it was the same one used in the robbery. The car was upside down in a ditch. At trial, Patten identified three bank bags that police found at the scene as the ones taken in the robbery. He identified a gun found as similar to the one the robber had used. He also testified that pants and a belt taken from defendant resembled those worn by the robber.

On August 22, Livingston County Deputy Roger Dobbs was on patrol on Odell Road a few miles from the gas station. He received a radio call informing him of the robbery. The car involved was described as a purple Firebird with a license plate that had three letters and two numbers. At about the same time Dobbs received the dispatch, a car matching the description drove by him. He followed the car, which he testified was a maroon Firebird and had "three letters and three numbers" on its license plate. The Firebird accelerated to over 85 miles per hour and began to pull away from Dobbs. It then went out of control and crashed. Dobbs stopped about 15 feet from the car, which was lying upside down in a ditch on the south side of the road. After waiting two or three minutes for assistance, Dobbs approached the vehicle. Inside, he discovered a revolver and two green bank bags marked Odell State Bank. A third bag was lying outside the car. The driver had left the car. A farmer across the road thought he heard noises in his house. Dobbs searched but found no one.

Detective Patrick Bost arrived on the scene at 3:55 a.m. Bost and another officer noticed a trail from the ditch on the south side of the road leading into a soybean field. They followed the trial, and approximately 200 feet inside the field, they found defendant. Defendant, who was injured, was wearing a shirt and blue jeans.

Detective Ken White noted the Firebird's license plate number was YZD 42. White also identified defendant as the man that Bost had found in the field. Defendant had been wearing blue jeans.

Pontiac police officer Michael Bernardini was also on the scene. He testified Bost discovered defendant at about 4:15 a.m. Bernardini stated the car in the ditch was a Pontiac Trans Am. Bernardini drove defendant to the hospital. There, Bernardini cut off defendant's pants. He found approximately $400 in defendant's pants, socks, and underwear. Bernardini testified defendant had no shirt on at the hospital, although he could not recall if defendant had one on in the field.

Alexander Mankevich, a fingerprint expert, found several fragments of prints on the gun, but none could be identified. He did not find any prints on the cloth bags or the paper money, but he testified it is difficult to get prints from such objects. Mankevich was not asked to attempt to get prints from the car.

James Buckner testified he owned a dark maroon 1982 Pontiac Firebird with license plate YZD 42. On August 18, in Chicago, a "gentleman with a gun" asked him for the keys to the car. Buckner complied, and the man took the Firebird. Buckner next saw his car in an insurance company parking lot. Although the plates were not on the car, Buckner recognized his bicycle rack and a lantern in a secret compartment of the car. The car had been in an accident.

Defendant testified that he served as an organizer for young voters in Illinois. On August 18, he was in Aurora for a political rally. On August 19 he drove from Aurora to Decatur with a friend, Kevin Johnson, for another rally. He was to meet James Davis and another individual named Goldberg. Instead, three men stopped him on the street and told him that he was not needed there. At gunpoint, they forced him into a 1965 Lincoln. For several days they drove around and beat him. Finally, they beat him until he became unconscious. He awoke in the field when police found him. He assumed he had been dumped out of the car. He was wearing jeans and a cream-colored terrycloth sweater. The money in his pants belonged to his organization, and he kept his personal money in his socks.

• 1 Defendant contends the circumstantial evidence presented was insufficient to prove that he committed the armed robbery beyond a reasonable doubt. Circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support a conviction if it is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. The jury, however, need not seek out all possible explanations and raise them to the level of reasonable doubt. People v. Rhodes (1981), 85 Ill.2d 241, 249, 422 N.E.2d 605, 608.

• 2 Defendant complains because Patten failed to identify him as the robber and no fingerprints were found. He asserts Patten's description of the robber is not sufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, every link in the chain of circumstances relied upon to establish guilt does not have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It is only necessary that the evidence, as a whole, produce, with a reasonable and moral certainty, the conclusion that the accused committed the crime. (People v. Armstrong (1983), 111 Ill. App.3d 471, 475-76, 444 N.E.2d 276, 280.) Except for a seven- to eight-year age difference, defendant matched Patten's original description of the robber. Patten identified defendant's belt and pants. Finally, between 45 minutes and one hour after the robbery, police discovered defendant lying injured some 200 feet from where the robbery vehicle crashed. A trail led from the car through the soybean field to defendant.

Defendant alleges inconsistencies in the State's evidence precluded the jury from concluding that the car in the ditch was the robbery vehicle. Patten originally described the car's color as purple, but all the other witnesses testified it was maroon. Defendant also notes one officer mistakenly referred to the car as a Trans Am. Additionally, the officer in pursuit testified the license plate had three letters and three numbers. Whether that officer misperceived the license plate during the high speed chase or simply erred while testifying is not clear. The officer, however, never lost sight of the vehicle during the chase. The car in the ditch was a Firebird, and its license plate had three letters and two numbers. It contained bank bags taken from the gas station and ...

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