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People v. Jones





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, the Hon. Lehman Krause, Judge, presiding.


In an indictment returned in the circuit court of Jefferson County, defendant, William T. Jones, was charged with the murder and felony murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(2), (3)) of Margaret Dare, attempted murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 8-4(a), 9-1(a)(1)) of James Dare, armed robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 18-2), home invasion (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 12-11), residential burglary (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 19-3(a)), and aggravated battery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 12-4(b)(1)). Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of felony murder, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, residential burglary, and aggravated battery. In a death penalty hearing requested by the People, the jury found that one or more of the factors set forth in section 9-1(d) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(d)) existed and found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude a sentence of death. Defendant was sentenced to death, and the sentence was stayed (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)) pending appeal to this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b); 87 Ill.2d R. 603). Defendant was also sentenced to natural life for murder, 60 years for attempted murder, 60 years for armed robbery, 30 years for residential burglary, and 10 years for aggravated battery.

James Dare, 62 years of age, testified that on January 25, 1982, he and his wife, Margaret, resided in a rural area in Jefferson County. That night, the couple went to bed at about 10 p.m. Some time after falling asleep he heard Margaret shouting, "Come quick." He went to the living room where he saw a man with his arms around Margaret. The intruder threatened, "If you interfere, I'll kill her." Mr. Dare could recall nothing further.

Louise Breeze, Margaret Dare's aunt, lived in a trailer next to the Dare residence. She testified that Margaret visited her almost every morning, and that, when Margaret failed to answer her telephone calls on the morning of January 26, Mrs. Breeze called Margaret's sister, Lucy Baker. At approximately 9 a.m. Mrs. Breeze went to the Dare residence. She saw Margaret on the living room sofa, and James struggling toward the front door. There was blood "all over the room and her [Mrs. Dare]." Mrs. Breeze ran to her trailer to telephone for an ambulance and the sheriff.

When the ambulance attendants arrived, they examined Margaret Dare and determined that she was dead. Deputy Sheriff Jerry Almaroad and Chief Deputy Roy Bradford arrived at the scene at 9:13 and 9:15 a.m., respectively. Bradford testified that Dare stated that a black man had broken into his house in the middle of the night. When a paramedic arrived at approximately 9:20 a.m., Dare was in a deep state of shock and could not further respond to either verbal or physical stimuli.

Deputy Almaroad testified that the living room showed signs of a struggle. He determined that a stereo had been removed because a turntable dust cover was upside down on the floor and speaker wires had been disconnected. He also concluded that a portable television had been taken because its silhouette had been traced in the dust on a stand, and the wires had been cut. A large, wooden-handled knife, later identified by Dorothy Lacey as being hers, was found in a wash pan in the kitchen. The knife, together with a television set, jewelry, a clock, and a quilt, had been stolen from Mrs. Lacey's home in Mt. Vernon during a burglary on January 23.

James Jennings, defendant's brother-in-law, testified that between 10 and 10:30 p.m., January 23, defendant came to the residence where Jennings and Larry Faint lived. Defendant brought a television, a television stand, a white quilt, a clock, and some jewelry into the house. These items remained there until defendant picked them up the next day. Defendant left Jennings' home but returned sometime in the early morning hours of January 26. Defendant, Jennings and Faint decided to go to Decatur. Both Faint and Jennings testified that, on the way to Decatur, all three sat in the front seat because a television and stereo covered with a white quilt were in the back seat of the car. Upon arriving in Decatur, they went to defendant's sister's apartment.

Faint testified that the stereo and television were taken into defendant's sister's apartment and that it was necessary to wipe off the stereo because it appeared that there was blood on it. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the stereo and television, defendant found an auction where he sold the television for $50. Defendant and his companions then left Decatur for Mt. Vernon. On their way, they stopped in Centralia to attempt to sell the stereo. The stereo was not sold, and they returned to Mt. Vernon. Defendant testified that he then took Faint to his apartment and took Jennings to a restaurant where they saw Jennings' sister. She informed them that the police were looking for Jennings and defendant. Defendant returned home, spoke with his wife, and went to the police department. He drove to police headquarters in his 1971 Ford Torino. A confidential source had informed Deputy Sheriff Lamar that a friend of defendant had told him that stolen property could be found in defendant's car. A search warrant was issued, and defendant's car was searched. The officers discovered a white quilt and jewelry, all later identified by Mrs. Lacey as items taken during the burglary of her home in Mt. Vernon two nights before the crimes at the Dare residence. Her identification of these items was the basis for connecting defendant to the crimes committed at the Dare residence because, as noted earlier, the wooden-handled knife found at the Dare residence had been identified by Mrs. Lacey as being hers.

Defendant contends first that the conviction must be reversed for the reason that the People failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We do not agree. The testimony shows that an individual with the same type of blood as defendant had been in the Dare home on the night of the murder. The evidence also shows that a knife taken in the burglary at the Lacey home was found in the Dare home and that other items taken in the Lacey burglary were found in defendant's automobile. Defendant's testimony, and the testimony of the other individuals whom he saw that night and with whom he went to Decatur and Centralia, do not exclude the possibility that sometime during that night defendant could have perpetrated the crimes.

Defendant contends correctly that when a conviction for murder rests upon circumstantial evidence the guilt of the defendant must be so thoroughly established as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis. (People v. Garrett (1975), 62 Ill.2d 151, 163.) It is not necessary, however, that the jury be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to each link in the chain of circumstances. It is sufficient if all the evidence taken together satisfies the jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt. (People v. Foster (1979), 76 Ill.2d 365, 374.) We have considered defendant's argument that he presented credible, corroborated testimony which accounted for his whereabouts at the time the murder was committed. The credibility of defendant and the witnesses who testified in his defense was for the jury to determine. Defendant, in electing to testify in his own behalf, submitted his credibility to the usual tests applicable to the testimony of other witnesses, and the jury could take into consideration the probability or improbability of the truth of his statements. From our examination of the record we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

We consider next defendant's contention that the circuit court erred in failing to declare a mistrial when a mimeographed copy of a racist "joke" was found in the jury room. We refuse to disseminate this scurrilous material, and it suffices to note that it contains denigrating, racist comments which are insulting to black people. At the conclusion of defendant's case and before rebuttal, after the court had adjourned for the day, a courthouse janitor discovered a mimeographed copy of the "joke" in the jury room. He notified the bailiff, who, in turn, notified the trial judge. The following day the parties met in chambers to discuss the matter. It was agreed that the jurors should be examined individually to determine who, if anyone, had seen it, and whether it would affect his deliberations. Of the 12 jurors, 8 had not seen the material. The juror who had brought the material into the jury room was questioned, dismissed, and replaced by an alternate juror who had not seen it. Three jurors on the panel as finally composed stated that they had seen the material. Two of those jurors had read at least part of the material. All three testified that it would have no prejudicial effect on their deliberations.

The juror who brought the material into the jury room testified that he had brought two copies, one of which was taken by "a lady," but that she was not one of the jurors. He testified that he made no remarks concerning the material to the other jurors but simply set it on the table in the jury room. Arguing that the entire panel had been tainted by exposure to the material, defendant moved for a mistrial. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that no evidence of prejudice had been presented.

Defendant argues that the entire panel had been tainted by exposure to the material because its content "evinces an attitude which precludes the fair and impartial consideration of evidence which is constitutionally guaranteed to every person charged with a crime." He also argues that the circuit court could not have made an informed decision whether the jury was influenced by the material because the court failed to ascertain whether the second copy of the material had been taken out of the jury room by another juror. Citing People v. Cole (1973), 54 Ill.2d 401, the People argue that defendant must be able to point to specific evidence in the record establishing prejudice and that mere suspicion of prejudice is not evidence. They argue that the trial judge is in a superior position to observe the jurors' demeanor and that the determination is within the sound discretion of the circuit court. They contend that defendant is unable to point to ...

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