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People v. Crow





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County, the Hon. Carl H. Becker, Judge, presiding. JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied December 2, 1985.

In a one-count information filed in the circuit court of Randolph County, defendant, Linda L. Crow, was charged with the murder of her husband, Robert Crow. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1).) Following a jury trial defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to a term of 35 years in the penitentiary. The appellate court affirmed in a Rule 23 order (87 Ill.2d R. 23; 121 Ill. App.3d 1164), and we allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (94 Ill.2d R. 315(a)).

Defendant contends that the circuit court erred in refusing to give the second paragraph of an instruction in the form of Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI), Criminal, No. 3.02 (2d ed. 1981), and that the appellate court erred in holding that the circuit court's ruling did not result in prejudicial error. IPI Criminal 2d No. 3.02 states:

"Circumstantial evidence is the proof of facts or circumstances which give rise to a reasonable inference of other facts which tend to show the guilt or innocence of [the] [a] defendant. Circumstantial evidence should be considered by you together with all the other evidence in the case in arriving at your verdict.

You should not find the defendant guilty unless the facts or circumstances proved exclude every reasonable theory of innocence."

Citing People v. Edmondson (1982), 106 Ill. App.3d 716, 722, the appellate court held that "failure to give the second paragraph of this instruction [3.02] does not require reversal unless it appears that justice was denied or that the verdict resulted from such error." It concluded that "it does not appear that justice was denied or that the verdict would have differed had the entire instruction been given."

The People contend that the evidence was not entirely circumstantial and that in refusing to give the second paragraph of instruction 3.02, the circuit court did not err. The People contend, too, that for purposes of instructing juries on the standard of proof in criminal cases this court should abolish the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence and "should abolish the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence cases for purposes of appellate review." The People argue that defendant's guilt was proved beyond all reasonable doubt and to the exclusion of any reasonable hypothesis of innocence, and that the failure to give the second paragraph of IPI Criminal 2d No. 3.02 was harmless beyond doubt. Because of the nature of the contentions of the parties, a review of the testimony is essential.

The decedent, Robert Crow, defendant's husband, was employed as a police officer with the Sparta police department. He worked the night shift and on December 21, 1981, came home from work shortly after 8 a.m. Soon thereafter, he went to bed. Later that morning, defendant and her three children left the house and drove to a local coffee shop. Defendant and the children returned home at approximately 1:00 p.m., at which time defendant discovered her husband's body under the bed in their upstairs bedroom.

Dr. Steven Neurnberger, a pathologist, testified that the decedent died of a gunshot wound to the back. The bullet severed the spinal cord and perforated the aorta, causing him to bleed very rapidly and resulting in his death. Once the injury was suffered, the deceased had no further use of his legs. The witness testified that the body's lying face up under the bed with the legs crossed was consistent with his having turned himself over without the use of his legs after the fatal shot was fired and before death occurred. The decedent had also suffered a nonfatal wound to the shoulder. On the basis of an analysis of the stomach contents, the witness placed the time of death at approximately two to two and a half hours after the decedent's ingestion of what might have been a doughnut.

Penny Childs, a dispatcher for the Sparta police department, testified that her entries in the police log showed that on the morning of his death the decedent went to the Circle K Doughnut Shop in Sparta at 7:01 and left there at 7:24. The witness testified that she was a friend of Anita Strattman, with whom the decedent had been involved. After the witness got off duty at about 8 a.m. that morning, she went to the Circle K Doughnut Shop, stayed there for a short time, then proceeded to the city hall, where she paid her water bill, chatted with the city clerk, Ron Cavalier, and Tom Ashley, a policeman, and then returned to the doughnut shop. She testified that as she was sitting down defendant came into the doughnut shop and sat down with her. The witness felt that this was unusual because "she had quit talking to me altogether and hadn't spoke to me within the last two months before that happened."

Joyce Lueth, another dispatcher with the Sparta police department, testified that the log showed that Tom Ashley had gone to city hall at 9:07 a.m. and was out of radio contact until 9:26 a.m. Ashley testified that when he left city hall, Penny Childs and Ron Cavalier were talking.

Donna Taul, a waitress at the Circle K Doughnut Shop, testified that on the morning of December 21 the decedent had come into the shop alone at approximately 7 a.m. or a little later. He drank a cup of coffee and ate a doughnut. She stated that defendant had come into the shop "after 9" and she was "pretty sure" but had some difficulty recalling whether Penny Childs was in the doughnut shop sitting at a table when defendant entered.

Charles and Mildred Downen, who are next-door neighbors of the Crows, both testified that the Crows' driveway was easily visible from their trailer. They testified that after the Richard Simmons Show had begun on television on the day in question they saw defendant's children clearing ice from the windows of her car. The Richard Simmons Show had begun at 9 a.m. and ended at 9:30 a.m. Charles Downen described the morning as cold and icy and indicated that he had watched "the first part" of the television program before the Crows' car left. Mildred Downen testified that when the car left it was "closer towards the end of the Richard Simmons Show than the beginning of it."

Charles Kelly, owner of an ambulance service in Sparta, dispatched to the Crows' residence shortly after 1 p.m. that day, testified that defendant had told him she had left the house at "approximately 9, 9:30." He stated that when he arrived at the house and went upstairs to the bedroom he found the decedent lying underneath the bed frame with the box spring lying on his chest.

Anita Strattman, a radio dispatcher with the Sparta police department, testified that she had been involved with the decedent. She stated that she and Robert Crow had been planning to leave Sparta after his divorce from defendant.

David Dotson, an employee of the Sparta police department and a neighbor of the Crows, testified that he had seen defendant fire handguns at the police firing range and described her as a "[r]easonably good [shot]." At about 1 p.m. on the day the decedent died, the witness, while on duty, was called to the Crows' residence and found defendant at the doorway crying and saying "Bob's been crushed upstairs." Because the entrance to the bedroom was partially blocked by the bed, the witness had entered the room through an adjoining bedroom of one of defendant's daughters. Upon leaving that bedroom he noticed a handgun partially covered by a T-shirt. When he entered the decedent's room, it was in disarray with dresser drawers pulled open but not out. He further testified that based upon his experience as a police officer the bedroom did not look like it had been burglarized because the clothes that were on the floor were folded and appeared to have been "just taken out and laid down on the floor." He stated that there had been an ice storm the previous night but at 1:45 p.m. police were unable to find any footprints in the grass, and the ice on the outside of the doors leading into the basement had not been broken or disturbed.

Tom Ashley testified that, in a burglary, dresser drawers are usually pulled completely out and emptied of their contents. He also testified that the ice on the doors to the basement had not been broken and that no footprints had been found in the ice-covered grass in the area. The back door of the house was locked, and a door leading from the master bedroom to a balcony outside was also locked from the inside. To reach the balcony from the outside, a ladder would have been required. Ashley testified that defendant had told him that she had left for the doughnut shop that morning a little before 9 a.m.

Wayne Young, an officer with the Sparta police department, testified that when he arrived at the house there was a broken window in the door which led from the dining room on the first floor into the basement and that the basement was dark. The light switch for the basement light was not readily discernible to a stranger because it was "up underneath, almost right on the ceiling." No windows on the exterior of the house had been broken and the windows on the first floor were locked. The witness testified that defendant stated in the first of two statements to the police that when she returned home at approximately 1 p.m. that day she had had to unlock the front door. However, in a second statement, she stated that when she returned home the front door was unlocked. Young also testified that many items of clothing were found on the floor of the master bedroom, most of which were "stacked up. It was not in disarray." He stated that everything on the decedent's dresser "appeared to be very neat. Nothing was moved out of place." Stereos, guns, and jewelry were left undisturbed. In his opinion a burglary had been "staged." He testified that there had been freezing rain that day and that the basement doors did not appear to have been opened, stating, "The ice was still formed around the corner of the doors." The witness was a friend of the decedent and was familiar with the residence. He stated that there were usually two brown pillows on the couch in the living room on the first floor but that day only one was there; the other was found on the bed of the decedent's stepson on the second floor. Another pillow, in a white case with gunshot residue on it, was found on the floor at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom. A gun case was found at the head of the bed in the master bedroom. A hammer was found in the tool box near the stairway to the basement. The hammer was lying at such an angle that it was holding open the lid of the tool box. The other tools and items on the shelves in the basement were neatly arranged. The witness testified that if one traveled at a rate of 10 miles per hour, it took four minutes to drive from the Crows' residence to the doughnut shop.

Frank Cooper, a crime-scene technician with the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement, testified that the thin film of ice on the basement doors appeared not to have been broken and that there were cobwebs at the hinges on the inside of the basement doors. The basement doors were not locked. From the observations of the witness concerning the ice on the doors and the cobwebs within, he was of the opinion that no one had entered through those doors that day. A clock found under one of the decedent's legs showed a time of approximately 9:15. The witness had operated the clock for about 10 seconds and determined that it worked. He further testified that glass dust was found on the head of the hammer. He stated that nothing on the first level of the house appeared to have been disturbed.

Andrew Wist, a forensic scientist for the Bureau of Scientific Services, testified that he found fibers on the revolver consistent with those of the pillow whose white pillow case bore gunshot residue, and concluded that some of the fibers found on the revolver could have come from that particular pillow. He testified further that in ...

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