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People v. Muhammad





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Robert J. Collins, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied May 28, 1985.

The defendant, Salahuddin A. Muhammad, was charged by indictment with nine criminal counts, including two counts of murder, three counts of armed violence, three counts of aggravated battery, and one count of attempted murder. Prior to trial, the State dropped one count of armed violence based upon great bodily harm (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, pars. 33A-2, 9-1(a)(2)), and proceeded on all other counts. A jury found the defendant guilty on all counts, and the court vacated all but the murder and attempted murder convictions. The defendant was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of George Gayles and 30 years for the attempted murder of Ava Williams, the sentences to run concurrently.

On appeal, the defendant raises the following points of error: (1) that the defendant was denied his right to a fair and impartial jury and the right of peremptory challenge by the court's refusal to question prospective jurors about their opinions concerning the use of deadly force for self-defense; (2) that the defendant was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) that the trial court erred when it denied the defendant's request to have the complainant, Ava Williams, fingerprinted to check for a possible criminal record; (4) that the court erred in failing to sua sponte instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; and (5) that the court abused its discretion in sentencing the defendant to concurrent terms of 30 years for attempted murder and murder. We affirm the convictions and the sentences.

The defendant was working at a newspaper stand on the corner of 75th and Exchange streets in the city of Chicago, in the early morning of July 19, 1981. Also present was a Mr. Malek and Yusef Ali. The defendant carried a .357 Magnum revolver that he used while employed as a part-time security guard and because he believed that the newsstand was in a high-crime area. In his words, "At that location we handle a lot of money, and that is a bad location."

At about 4:30 a.m., the complainant, Ava Williams, came to the corner where the newsstand was located. She stood on the corner at a bus stop and against the newspaper stand. What happened next is disputed. The defendant testified that he left the stand, walked over to Williams, and asked if he could help her. They had a "few words," she said something to Malek, and she left. Williams testified that she was standing on the corner because she was looking for her boyfriend, George Gayles, who had left their apartment about an hour earlier to buy liquor. Williams testified that the defendant called her a prostitute, which she denied, and that the defendant "called me a bitch and told me that I better be off the corner when he gets back."

Whatever the contents of their conversation, Williams left and found Gayles, who had just bought a bottle of beer at a liquor store across the street. Williams told Gayles what happened, and they both returned to the defendant's stand. Police Officer Jerry Johnson, who knew Gayles and saw him at the liquor store minutes before the shooting, testified that, in his opinion, Gayles was "cold sober." The coroner's report, however, showed that Gayles had "an alcohol level of 208 mg.% in his blood."

While Gayles' condition is disputed, it is not disputed that Gayles demanded an apology from the defendant, who tried to ignore him. The defendant may have grabbed the front of Gayles' shirt, although that is unclear, but it is clear that Gayles hit the defendant's head with the bottle that he was carrying.

What happened next is disputed and is the heart of the case. The defendant testified that after he was hit, he felt dizzy and weak and that his head was bleeding. According to the defendant, Malek grabbed Gayles and they struggled to the ground, with Williams then jumping on top of Malek. The defendant told Malek to release Gayles, which he did, but Gayles, in the words of the defendant, "came at me, lurged [sic] at me with his hands up." In response, the defendant drew his revolver and fired four shots in rapid succession, two at Gayles and two at Williams because the defendant allegedly saw her make a "fast move" out of the corner of his eye. The defendant did not explain specifically what this movement was or whether he perceived it as threatening, but that is the implication of his testimony.

Williams, on the other hand, testified that after the defendant was struck in the head with the bottle, he drew his gun and fired three shots, one at Gayles and two at her. According to Williams, the defendant shot Gayles, shot her in the neck, knocking her down, and then walked over to her and shot her again as she was lying on the sidewalk.

Officer Johnson, who was off-duty and in the liquor store when the shooting occurred, testified that he heard two shots in succession. He went outside, saw the prone bodies, went back inside the store and called 911, relayed the information, went back outside, and saw the defendant walk over to the victims and fire another shot into each of them. Johnson walked toward the stand and stopped in the middle of the intersection, which has a railroad crossing. He crouched behind the railroad crossing signal, identified himself, and told the defendant to drop the gun. He repeated the message. Finally, Johnson came up behind the defendant, placed his revolver in the defendant's back, and arrested him. The incident was over: George Gayles was dead, and Ava Williams is now a quadriplegic.

The defendant was taken into custody and questioned by Assistant State's Attorney Henry Lazzaro at about 9:30 a.m. He informed the defendant of his rights, and he later signed a written statement. At trial, Lazzaro testified that the defendant admitted to him that "he shot them to make sure that they were dead and the reason he shot them was to make an example for the other pimps and prostitutes in the neighborhood * * *." This admission was later put in writing and signed by the defendant.

At trial, the defendant admitted that he shot the victims, but that he was acting in self-defense. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 30 years for murder and 30 years for attempted murder, the sentences to run concurrently. The defendant filed this timely appeal.


In the pre-voir dire conference, which was not transcribed, the defendant offered two questions for the court's consideration. They were:

"1. Would the fact that the complainant Ava Williams is paralyzed prevent you from requiring the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. ...

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