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People v. Williams





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, the Hon. William South, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Patrick Williams, was charged by information in the circuit court of Jackson County with the offenses of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), 9-1(a)(2)) and theft (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 16-1). Prior to trial on the murder charge, defendant pleaded guilty to the offense of theft. Thereafter, following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 25 years' imprisonment for murder and 5 years' imprisonment for theft. A co-defendant, Edward Leroy Buchannan, entered into a negotiated plea agreement, wherein he pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.

Defendant appealed his conviction, contending that the trial court, in refusing to admit audio tape-recorded statements into evidence, violated his constitutional right to due process. A majority of the appellate court, under Supreme Court Rule 23 (87 Ill.2d R. 23), affirmed the defendant's conviction (129 Ill. App.3d 1168). We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 315).

The single issue before this court is whether the trial court committed reversible error when it denied the defendant the opportunity to play the two audio tape-recorded statements before the jury.

Evidence adduced at trial reveals the following information. A police officer employed by the city of Carbondale testified that on September 10, 1982, he was dispatched to an apartment complex to check on the welfare of Benjamin Dockins. A concerned individual from Dockins' place of employment had called the police department when he failed to report for work. The owner of the apartment complex admitted the police officer into Dockins' apartment, where he immediately observed the body of Benjamin Dockins lying on the couch in the living room. Because the victim was nude, with the exception of a towel wrap covering the groin area, the officer observed lividity in the victim's back and feet and concluded that he was dead. The officer phoned his supervisor for assistance.

After determining that the victim's car was missing, the Carbondale police had the vehicle entered into the computer at the National Crime Institute as a stolen vehicle. The testimony of a police officer from Crete, Illinois, indicates that he observed this automobile early in the evening of September 10, 1982. A chase ensued which ended in a three-car collision. The driver, Buchannan, was apprehended at the scene of the accident. The defendant fled the scene but was arrested by other Crete police officers shortly thereafter.

Two Carbondale police officers, Sergeant Tim Moss and Sergeant Don Strohm, drove to Crete when they were notified of these events. They arrived early in the morning of September 11, 1982. After viewing items of personal property recovered by the Crete police officers, the Carbondale officers interviewed the defendant and Buchannan in the Crete police department. Defendant was interviewed a second time by the same officers on September 14, 1982, during a car ride from the Will County jail to the Jackson County jail. Both interviews were tape-recorded. Officers Moss and Strohm each testified at trial regarding these statements.

The testimony of both officers details the events of September 9 through 11, as related to them by the defendant. Their testimony reveals that on the evening of September 9, 1982, the defendant met his friend, Buchannan, at a bar in Carbondale. Buchannan suggested that they go to the apartment of the victim "to get high." Buchannan had been there the prior evening after meeting the victim at the same Carbondale bar. Defendant and Buchannan went to the victim's apartment, where they were admitted by the victim. All three consumed liquor, smoked marijuana and inhaled a substance referred to as "locker-room."

During the initial interview, defendant indicated that, at one point in the evening, the victim went into the bathroom to shower. During that time, the defendant stated that he stole a gold necklace which belonged to the victim. Following the shower, the victim and Buchannan began arguing. This argument culminated with Buchannan inflicting a "karate chop" on the victim's neck and upper back area, at which point he collapsed, unconscious, onto the floor. Defendant denied during this interview that he ever struck the victim.

In the September 14 interview, the defendant revealed that the victim had been making repeated homosexual advances toward him which he consistently rebuffed. When the victim persisted, the defendant hit him once on the arm and once in the chest area. Defendant indicated that these blows were inflicted with more of an open-hand kind of hit than a closed fist. During this period, Buchannan grabbed the victim from behind and began choking him. The victim collapsed and was placed on the living room couch. In this interview defendant admitted removing the gold necklace from the victim's neck after he was placed on the couch.

The defendant and Buchannan collected different items from the victim's apartment which they placed in the victim's car. Defendant began walking home when Buchannan picked him up in the victim's car. After retrieving some clothing at his residence, the defendant and Buchannan drove to the home of the defendant's father in Chicago Heights, Illinois. There they met with a friend of the family who accompanied them to a jewelry store where they sold several items of jewelry they had stolen from the victim's apartment. Defendant and Buchannan were in that area when they became involved in the accident which eventually led to their arrest.

A pathologist testified that three sets of injuries contributed to the death of the victim. There were compression injuries to the larynx as evidence of strangulation, five rib fractures, one of which punctured the lung, causing partial collapse of that organ, and, finally, laceration of the spleen with hemorrhaging into the abdomen. The pathologist also stated that the nature of the rib fractures and the lacerated spleen indicated multiple blunt trauma such as would be inflicted by a hand or fist striking the body with great force. In addition, because of the depth of some of the soft-tissue injuries, the pathologist observed that they were typical of injuries caused by kicking or stomping.

Defendant called Officer Strohm as a witness at the beginning of his case to lay a foundation for playing the tape-recorded statements before the jurors. The State objected to the defendant's request. The trial judge did not allow the defendant to introduce this evidence, finding that the playing of the tapes would be cumulative and possibly confusing to the jurors, who had already heard the testimony of the police officers regarding the taped interviews. The court also concluded that there was no evidence to show that the recording was properly preserved and would not allow the defense to call the Carbondale police evidence custodian, nor would it grant ...

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