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People v. Steffens





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas J. Maloney, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied March 19, 1985.

Following a jury trial, defendant, William Steffens, was convicted of murder and given a 30-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that (1) the trial court erred (a) when it allowed the State to introduce a portion of defendant's post-arrest statement to the police but refused to allow him to introduce the rest of the statement, and (b) by allowing the State to present opinion testimony without a foundation or qualification of the witness; (2) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the prosecution's closing argument was erroneous, inflammatory, and highly prejudicial; and (4) his sentence was excessive.

It appears from the record that the victim — Edward Osika — and defendant had a verbal altercation regarding the speed of defendant's car on Mason Avenue outside the victim's parents' home, and after their initial encounter, defendant drove away and the victim entered his parents' home with his wife and children.

Later, Thomas Osika — the victim's brother — shouted that defendant's car had returned, and several members of the Osika family ran from the house to the street. Thomas and Edward approached defendant's car, and although the accounts of the intervening events varied, it is uncontroverted that as defendant attempted to leave, his car made contact with Edward, who was caught underneath it, and dragged for over a block before the car stopped. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Thomas Osika testified that after he saw defendant's car parked alongside and slightly ahead of his brother's truck, he ran out of the house and into the street, followed by Edward. He saw someone standing on the running board looking into Edward's truck and, when he yelled, the man jumped off the running board and got into defendant's car. Thomas was then standing in the street in front of and close to Edward's truck. After the passenger reentered defendant's car, Thomas saw Edward in the street. "He was slipping" at that time and was about four feet from the curb and about 20 feet to the right of Thomas. The car sped off "a couple of seconds" after the passenger reentered. Thomas chased the car for almost 1 1/2 blocks, yelling that his brother was underneath. His sister Sandy was following him, and when the car stopped the passenger jumped out and ran away. When Thomas told defendant that his brother was still underneath the car, defendant replied, "Well, good. I will be back for you later." He then left the scene after taking something from the car. On cross-examination, Thomas said that the street in front of his parents' house was a one-way street running south and there was a space of about 50 feet between his brother's truck and the next vehicle in front of it. Both the driver and the passenger were looking at Thomas when the passenger jumped into the car, and the car sped off a couple of seconds after he entered. Thomas also stated that Edward fell a couple of seconds before the driver of the car "hit the gas." When Edward was struck by the car, he was about 20 feet from him (Thomas). Although Edward was protected from southbound traffic by his own truck, defendant's car swerved in toward him when it accelerated forward.

Sandy Osika — the victim's sister — corroborated Thomas's testimony as to the first exchange between defendant and Edward, and she also testified that later, when they were all in their home, she heard Thomas yell, "Hey, they are back." Her father and brothers, with her following, ran out to the street. She saw defendant's car stopped with about half of the car in front of Edward's truck, and saw the brown car start to pull away while Edward was standing in the street. The car struck and ran over him and then continued, with Edward caught underneath. She chased the car down the street, preceded by her brother Thomas. The car passed a stop sign at Gunnison without slowing, and when it did stop the passenger ran away. When Thomas yellowed to the driver, "You killed my brother," the driver reached his finger over the top of the car and said, "Okay, I am coming back for you later." He then ran from the scene. She denied telling detectives at the hospital that she did not actually hear what defendant said to Thomas. She stated that she saw the car strike Edward, and she denied telling the detectives that after she saw Edward walk around the front of his vehicle, the very next thing she saw was the car speeding down the street with Edward underneath it.

Defendant, after testifying to the first exchange of words with Edward on Mason Avenue on the day in question, stated that he dropped off a young woman who was in the car and then returned to Mason Avenue with the other passenger, Alan Kellerman. When he turned down Mason on this occasion, he was traveling 25 to 30 miles per hour, and he saw Edward standing next to his truck with an object in his hands. He lost sight of Edward when he walked to the passenger side of the truck, but then saw Thomas Osika with a brick in his hand. He was traveling about 30 miles per hour as he approached Edward's truck, when a brick struck his car and he turned to see who had thrown it. At the same time, he "punched the accelerator." When he turned his head back while still traveling at about 30 miles per hour, he saw Edward for a split second in front of the car and saw an object from Edward's hand fly through the air. As he proceeded down the street, the car did not pick up speed. He shifted to low gear but attained a speed of only 10 to 15 miles per hour, and the motor eventually died. He had no idea that he was dragging Edward down the street, although he did see three people chasing him as he drove. When he stopped the car, Thomas told him that he killed his brother, and after he replied that he had not killed anybody, Thomas told him that his brother was underneath the car, and he saw a leg protruding from under the car. He then took some items from the car and ran from the scene, telling Thomas to stay away from him. There were no dents on his car prior to this incident, and a dent on the passenger-side quarter panel of the car had not been there before the incident.

On cross-examination, defendant said that when he turned into Mason the second time, he saw Edward about one-half block away standing in the street, and he kept going at a speed of 25 to 30 miles per hour. Edward left his vision, and he then saw Thomas standing on the sidewalk, holding a brick. He was still traveling about 25 to 30 miles per hour when his car was hit by a brick, and he turned to the right to see who threw the brick. When he looked back, he saw Edward about 1 1/2 to 2 feet in front of his car. He did not swerve or try to miss Edward because he was going too fast. He did not feel anything when he struck Edward, nor did he feel the car dragging him down the street. He did not remember whether he told two detectives that he stopped or slowed his car the second time he drove down Mason, but he admitted lying to the police about his age and name. After the incident, he changed his clothes and took the vehicle sticker off the car because he was scared.

Officer Rabbit testified that during a conversation at the hospital with Sandy, he believed she told him that Thomas went to talk to the passenger of the car while Edward walked around the front of the car, giving it a wide berth. He believed that he also understood her to say that the next thing she remembered or saw was the car speeding down the street with Edward trapped underneath it, and that she saw defendant say something to Thomas after defendant left his car but she did not hear what was said. During this conversation with Sandy at the hospital emergency room, a nurse gave her a tranquilizer.

Thomas, called as a witness by defendant, testified defendant's car did swerve a couple of feet toward Edward. Thomas was then recalled by the State in rebuttal, and he denied that anyone had or threw a brick or pipe that day. He also stated defendant's car stopped after a block and a half, and he again stated that defendant said, "I will be back for you later." Sandy, on recall, also said that no one had or threw anything that day and that she did see defendant's car start up and strike Edward and did hear defendant say to Thomas, "Okay, I will be back for you later."


• 1 Defendant first contends that the trial court committed reversible error when it refused admission of the remainder of defendant's post-arrest statement to the police after the State had introduced a portion thereof for the purpose of impeachment. The State maintains that since no offer of proof was made by defendant, the alleged error was not properly preserved for appeal. (Szymkowski v. Szymkowski (1982), 104 Ill. App.3d 630, 432 N.E.2d 1209.) The plain-error doctrine may be involved, however, where the question of guilt is close and the error in question may have substantially affected the outcome of the case (People v. Sanders (1983), 99 Ill.2d 262, 457 N.E.2d 1241), and here, since the defendant's credibility is crucial because the question of guilt rests entirely on his intent at the time of the incident and because the trial court was generally made aware of the evidence expected to be offered (see People v. Martin (1981), 101 Ill. App.3d 480, 428 N.E.2d 591), we will consider defendant's contention.

Defendant testified that he drove past the Osika house the second time at a speed of about 30 miles an hour and that he did not stop or slow down before making contact with Edward, but Officer Rabbit — in rebuttal — testified that defendant told him at the time of his arrest that he did slow or stop his car as he passed the Osika house for the second time. Defendant then sought to introduce the rest of defendant's statement to Officer Rabbit, all of which had been recorded in his ...

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