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People v. Sayles





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. Robert J. Steigmann, Judge, presiding.


The defendant was charged by indictment in Champaign County with the offenses of burglary and theft in violation of sections 19-1 and 16-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 19-1 and 16-1). Following a jury trial, he was convicted of burglary and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. The conviction and sentence occurred in absentia. Defendant appeals from his conviction. The State has moved to dismiss this appeal because the defendant remains a fugitive at this time. We have taken this motion with the case. We now deny the motion to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

On December 1, 1983, defendant was charged by indictment with the offenses of burglary and theft. The theft charge was later dismissed upon the motion of the State. Defendant had been released from custody after posting a $250 cash bond. He subsequently appeared at the December 6, 1983, arraignment and pleaded not guilty. At that time he was admonished that if he failed to appear at trial when required, such failure would constitute a waiver of his right to confront the witnesses against him and that the trial could proceed in his absence. The record reflects that defendant was represented by a Champaign County assistant public defender. The record also reflects that the arraignment hearing was the defendant's last court appearance. He did not appear for his February 14, 1984, trial and, at the time of this appeal, he remains at large.

On January 27, 1984, the cause was set for trial. Defense counsel appeared without the defendant on February 14, 1984, the scheduled trial date. Upon the defendant's failure to appear, the State moved for a bench warrant to issue for defendant's arrest. This motion was granted by the trial court, and the warrant was issued. The State also requested a trial in absentia.

On February 24, 1984, a hearing was held on the State's motion to try defendant in absentia. The motion was granted, and a jury trial was scheduled for April 18, 1984.

On April 18, 1984, prior to the commencement of the trial, defense counsel moved for a continuance stating that she had never met or spoken with the defendant. (Another assistant public defender had originally represented the defendant, and he had subsequently terminated his employment with the public defender's office.) The motion was denied.

Also prior to trial, in a ruling in limine, the court held that evidence concerning another burglary allegedly committed by the defendant would be admissible. Defendant had been charged by information with this alleged incident; however, the charge was subsequently dismissed by the trial court since defendant had never been arraigned on it.

The testimony at trial indicated that a burglary occurred at the Illini Towers student housing facility in Champaign on November 24, 1983, which was Thanksgiving Day. John Betterman, a resident assistant at Illini Towers, testified that he was doing maintenance work in the building on November 24, 1983. At approximately 1 p.m., he noticed a man in an elevator carrying a television, a portable stereo, and a canvas bag. The man appeared "flustered" because he could not properly operate the elevator. Betterman identified a picture of the defendant as the same man who was in the elevator. Betterman testified that he subsequently reported the incident to his supervisor, Tina Frighetto. Betterman then accosted the man outside of the building as he was mounting a bicycle, still holding the stereo and canvas bag but without the television. Betterman asked the man why he was in the building, and the man responded that he was visiting "Nancy Carter." He then left on his bicycle, traveling east. Betterman returned to the building and asked Frighetto if a "Nancy Carter" lived in the housing facility. She responded that no such person lived there. Betterman then left to pursue the suspect on foot while Frighetto telephoned the police. Betterman was subsequently picked up by an Urbana police officer who had responded to Frighetto's call. From the squad car, Betterman identified the defendant as he rode his bicycle, and the defendant was arrested soon after.

Betterman later returned to Illini Towers with Detective Gary Wright of the Champaign police department. Together they located a television in a garbage dumpster near where Betterman had seen the defendant mounting his bicycle. Betterman and Frighetto later checked all of the rooms in the 16-story building and discovered that a room on the 13th floor had a door with a broken lock. The door had apparently been forced open.

Frighetto testified that she was the resident director at Illini Towers. She stated that special security procedures were taken over the Thanksgiving vacation. Of the 600 residents, only 15 to 20 remained at Illini Towers on Thanksgiving Day. All entrances to the building were locked. Persons without a key were required to "buzz" the front desk and then show an Illini Towers' identification card or be escorted by a resident of the building. Frighetto also stated that a few University of Illinois employees worked in second and third floor offices in Illini Towers. A few were working on Thanksgiving Day. Frighetto also acknowledged that entry to the building could be obtained by waiting outside the stairwell doors until someone exited there and then catching the door before it closed and automatically locked. Frighetto also corroborated Betterman's testimony as to the occurrences on November 24, 1983.

Officer William Blackmon of the Urbana police department testified that he responded to a radio dispatch on November 24, 1983, that indicated a theft had just occurred at Illini Towers and that the suspect was traveling east (toward Urbana) on a bicycle. He drove to the area and spotted a bicyclist fitting the suspect's description, carrying a canvas bag and a portable stereo. He then observed Betterman chasing the suspect. Blackmon asked Betterman to get into his squad car, and they soon apprehended the defendant. Blackmon identified the defendant from a photograph shown to him at trial.

Detective Gary Wright of the Champaign police department testified that he took custody of the defendant at the scene of his apprehension by the Urbana police. At the time, defendant had a large portable stereo in his possession. He also had a canvas bag which contained some cassette tapes, a light bulb, a poster, two screwdrivers, two bottles of cologne, a telephone, and two packages of frozen meat. Wright testified that the meat was frozen solid at the time defendant was apprehended. Wright later returned to Illini Towers and discovered a television in an outside dumpster. Wright testified that defendant stated, "I don't know why I do these things" in response to Wright's request for his name. Wright identified a photograph at trial as a picture of the defendant.

Gayle Goldsmith testified that she lived in room 1305 at Illini Towers. During Thanksgiving vacation she and her roommate, Elise Buckely, left their room locked. When she returned she noticed that the door to their room had been forced open and that her television, portable stereo, and several cassettes were missing. She later identified these items, at the police station, as the television that Wright had found in the dumpster and as the stereo and cassettes found in the defendant's possession. Goldsmith stated that she had given no one permission to enter her room. Elise Buckely corroborated and reiterated Goldsmith's testimony.

Over defense counsel's objection, David Willoughby testified that he lived in the Illini Manor apartment building, next door to Illini Towers. He stated that he left his apartment on Tuesday, November 22, 1983, and returned on Monday, November 28, 1983. Upon his return he noticed that his television and stereo had been placed on his kitchen counter. Other of his possessions were scattered around his apartment. He identified the State's exhibits Nos. 5 through 9, 12, and 13 as being, respectively, his telephone, his two bottles of cologne, his light bulb, his poster, and his two packages of frozen meat. All of these ...

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