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People v. Griffin





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, the Hon. John J. Hoban, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Lee Otis Griffin, and his co-defendant, Jimmy Lee Smith, were found guilty on three counts of murder and one count of armed violence following a jury trial in the circuit court of St. Clair County. The defendant was sentenced to three concurrent terms of 40 years on the murder convictions and one concurrent term of 30 years on the armed-violence conviction. Smith was sentenced to three concurrent life terms and one concurrent term of 60 years. On their joint appeal, a divided panel of the appellate court affirmed their convictions. (124 Ill. App.3d 119.) In a separate opinion filed the same day (124 Ill. App.3d 169), another panel of the appellate court, in a divided decision, granted the defendant a new trial by reversing the trial court's denial of both a post-trial motion under section 72 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 110, par. 72; now Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-1401) and a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 122-1). The State petitioned to appeal from this reversal, and we granted its petition under our Rule 315 (94 Ill.2d R. 315).

On February 5, 1981, Charles Sims, Christi Smith and Ronald Walker were fatally shot and Charles Kellick was severely wounded in an East St. Louis apartment. Kellick, the survivor, testified that on February 5, 1981, he and two friends, Charles Sims and Velma Robinson, drove in his truck to an apartment occupied by Christi Smith and Ronald Walker. Sims first entered the building alone and returned to the truck saying that he heard Christi Smith crying. Sims again entered the building, this time accompanied by Kellick. Kellick stated that he and Sims entered the unlocked apartment and discovered Christi Smith in the bathroom with the defendant. As Sims stepped into the bathroom, the defendant shot him. Kellick turned and ran, and on his way out he brushed past two other men. (He did not identify these two men, but from the record they are presumed to have been Jimmy Lee Smith, the co-defendant here and Will Hudson, a third man who was never apprehended.) Before he reached the front door, he was shot in the back of the head. He did not know who shot him. While he lay on the floor, Jimmy Smith shot him in the face. Kellick feigned death until the men left, at which time he hid in a compartment under the stairway. A police officer testified that when he questioned Kellick at the hospital Kellick said that he did not know who had done the shootings. Kellick testified that he did not remember this incident. Three days later he identified Griffin in a video lineup. Five days later he identified Smith's photo. He said that he had seen Griffin on two prior occasions and Smith on one occasion. Kellick said that he learned later that Christi Smith's apartment was considered to be a "dope house." Kellick testified that there was a pending criminal charge of truck theft against him and that the case was set to be heard subsequent to his testimony at the defendant's trial. He stated that he was aware of no agreement with the State as to the pending case regarding his cooperation with the prosecution and that he had not discussed the matter of an agreement with his attorney.

Velma Robinson testified that at 5 p.m. on February 5, 1981, she accompanied Kellick and Sims to the apartment building. Upon arriving, Robinson observed a red and white Cadillac pull behind their truck. Immediately after Kellick and Sims entered the building, she saw two men leave the Cadillac and follow Kellick and Sims into the building. She identified the defendant as one of the two men. "A few seconds" after the two men entered the building, she heard a shot. Minutes later, the same two men left the building. They reentered the Cadillac, pulled in front of Kellick's truck, waited five minutes, and then drove away. Five minutes later, Robinson observed Ron Walker enter the building. He was followed into the building by the two men from the Cadillac. Minutes later, she heard another shot. At this time Robinson drove off in Kellick's truck and reported the incidents to the police.

Ron Walker suffered five gun shot wounds but managed to make his way to a nearby grocery store. Just before he died he told several witnesses of the shooting. (His statements were admitted as a dying declaration over defense objection.) Lionel Settles, an East St. Louis police officer, was working that evening as a security guard at the grocery store. He testified that Ron Walker ran into the store bleeding heavily from bullet wounds. According to Settles, Walker said that when he entered his apartment, he found two dead persons, a man and a woman, on the floor. The woman was his girlfriend, Christi Smith. Settles said that Walker stated a man named "Lee" had shot him, and he identified Lee as the owner of a furniture store in East St. Louis. A man called "Rush City Jimmy" had shot his girlfriend, Walker said.

Darrell Rice, an Illinois State Trooper who was shopping in the store that evening, was conversing with Settles at the time Walker entered the store. According to Rice, Walker stated that Lee's friend had shot him, and that "Rush City Jimmy" had shot his girlfriend.

David Winchester, an assistant manager of the store, was also a witness to a portion of Walker's statement. He said that he heard Walker talk about "a guy that ran a furniture store." Winchester didn't hear Walker say who had shot him, but he heard him say that "Rush City Jimmy" had shot his girlfriend.

Based on Walker's statement, police began a search for the defendant. That evening an officer on patrol observed him leaving a liquor store. He said that the defendant stepped back into the store and emerged a few minutes later wearing a different hat. The defendant and a woman companion entered a station wagon and made a U-turn. As the patrol car moved to block the U-turn, Griffin drove around the police car into a vacant lot. The officer left his car and walked toward the defendant, at which time he turned off the motor. Officer Hendricks testified that he believed that the defendant had attempted to evade him. Griffin was placed under arrest and taken to the police station. Jimmy Lee Smith was arrested several days later. The defendant's white and red Cadillac was found abandoned in a wooded area of East St. Louis.

At the grand jury hearing, detective sergeant L.C. Moore, of the East St. Louis police department, who was in charge of the investigation of the murders, was a witness. He testified that at the police station following his arrest the defendant "grabbed" a phone and was overheard saying "get rid of the car; he's on to it, report it stolen." The witness also testified that when arrested the defendant told an officer "he didn't do it," and when Moore served a warrant on the defendant in jail he stated that "it wasn't his idea to kill anyone." Moore also stated to the grand jury that Jimmy Lee Smith "doesn't believe in going back to jail"; that he was the type who would "leave no witnesses."

The defendant testified at trial that he operated a family-owned furniture store in East St. Louis and that he was the owner of a red and white Cadillac. He testified that he and Jimmy Lee Smith were at a tavern playing cards from 5 to 7 p.m. when the shootings took place. He said that although his Cadillac was in operating order, he did not use it that afternoon or evening. He said that morning he went six blocks by bus to borrow his sister-in-law's Ford Maverick and used it that day. He admitted having called his wife from the police station and having told her to report his Cadillac stolen. He testified that he had told her that only after she told him that their car was not at the furniture store. Griffin's co-defendant, Jimmy Smith, did not testify at their joint trial.

After conviction the defendant, on March 18, 1982, filed a petition under section 72 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 110, par. 72) alleging that Charles Kellick perjured himself when he testified that the defendant had shot Sims. In support of the petition the defendant submitted an affidavit of Scott Kellick, the son of Charles Kellick. In it Scott Kellick stated that his father told him that he "could not really identify" the defendant; that he testified only to what the police wanted him to say. Scott Kellick had executed the affidavit while he was incarcerated in Menard Correctional Center, where the defendant and Smith also were serving their sentences. At a hearing on the petition on May 7, 1982, both Charles and Scott Kellick testified, and so did the State's Attorney who had talked to Charles Kellick's attorney regarding the case pending against Kellick at the time he testified. Scott Kellick said at the hearing that he had furnished the affidavit regarding his father because he expected to obtain an early release from prison. The State's Attorney testified that he had communicated a general understanding to Charles Kellick's attorney that Kellick's pending case would be heard subsequent to Kellick's testimony at the defendant's trial and that the State would "observe" his "cooperation," which would be taken into consideration at his trial. The State's Attorney did not speak to Kellick on this subject but to his attorney. (The State was represented by assistant State's Attorneys in the proceedings involving the defendant and not by State's Attorney Baricevic.) The State's Attorney testified that his conversations with Kellick's attorney were "all preceded with the warning that none of our conversations were negotiations that we would stand by if transmitted to his client." The trial court, stating that the defendant had not met his burden of proof, denied the section 72 motion.

The defendant next filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 122-1), alleging that there was a conflict of interest which resulted in ineffective assistance of counsel because of the joint representation of the defendant and Smith by the same trial counsel. In the affidavit to his petition the defendant said that he had told his trial counsel that he did not commit the crimes; that he only witnessed the shootings and that, in fact, he had tried to prevent Smith from shooting Christi Smith. According to the defendant, his trial counsel advised him that such testimony would prove him guilty of the killings under the principle of accountability. This advice caused the defendant to invent the alibi that he testified to at trial, viz., that Smith and he had been in the tavern. Ralph Derango, an attorney who had represented the defendant when he was arrested, and who filed the section 72 petition in his behalf, testified at the hearing on the post-conviction petition that the defendant told him that Smith committed the murders and that he had tried to stop him. Derango said that he related this to Detective L.C. Moore in an attempt to have his client in the posture of cooperating with the police and being used as a State's witness. The police apparently refused the proposal. Derango was later relieved as the defendant's attorney by the defendant's family. The attorney who already was representing Smith was engaged to represent the defendant as well. The circuit court denied the post-conviction petition also.

The appellate court panel that heard the defendant's and Smith's appeal considered, inter alia, the question raised by the defendant whether there was a conflict of interest at trial for the attorney due to the joint representation of the defendant and Smith. The defendant had argued that his trial counsel was incompetent for not portraying the defendant as a "non-participating bystander" in light of L.C. Moore's grand jury testimony, which was made available to the attorney. The court rejected the contention, stating "there is nothing in the record to indicate that defendant Griffin presented his attorney with any facts other than those supportive of the alibi defense. In the absence of contrary evidence, it must be presumed that the defense ...

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