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People v. Denson

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 31, 1985.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DAVID DENSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. John L. Hughes, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE SCHNAKE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, David Denson, was convicted at a jury trial of the murders of Angela Gardner and George Coleman. The trial court initially sentenced defendant to two concurrent 40-year terms of imprisonment. On the petition of the State, however, our supreme court subsequently entered an order in the exercise of its supervisory jurisdiction requiring the trial court to impose a sentence of natural life imprisonment pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) of the Unified Code of Corrections. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c).) The trial court imposed that sentence, and defendant appeals, contending (1) that the convictions of murder should be reduced to voluntary manslaughter because he believed, albeit unreasonably, that the killings were justified; (2) that the jury should not have been instructed regarding the use of force in self-defense by one who is the initial aggressor; (3) that the order of our supreme court requiring the trial court to impose a sentence of natural life imprisonment violated supreme court rules and defendant's constitutional right against double jeopardy; and (4) that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c), which requires a sentence of natural life imprisonment where a defendant is convicted of murdering more than one victim, is unconstitutional under the eighth amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. U.S. Const., amend. VIII.

The evidence at trial showed that defendant shot Angela Gardner and George Coleman at about 8 p.m. on November 1, 1983, at the corner of Ninth and Lenox streets in Waukegan. Both victims died from the gunshot wounds. The State presented the testimony of three occurrence witnesses: Bernard Jedkins, Samuel Jenkins, and Ronald Allen. It also called several police officers to whom defendant had made statements about the incident.

Jedkins was 17 years old at the time of trial. He had been adjudicated delinquent for committing a theft and was on probation. He testified that on November 1, 1983, he was in front of George Coleman's house with George, Angela Gardner, Ronald Allen, Sam Jenkins, and Sam's girl friend, Angie Moore. Defendant drove up in a blue Ford, and Sam went up to his car and talked with him. When Sam returned, Jedkins and he walked Sam's girl friend home. Angela Gardner, Ronald Allen, and George Coleman went into Coleman's house.

After Jedkins and Sam had walked Moore home, they went to defendant's house. They arrived there at about 7:30 p.m. and stayed for about a half hour. Jedkins testified that while they were at defendant's house, he told defendant that he had heard "some boys were supposed to be messing with" defendant. Defendant replied that he already knew that. Defendant said that he and Angela Gardner had broken up, and that they had an argument or a fight. According to Jedkins, he, defendant, and Jenkins "talked about that she [Angela Gardner] had gotten the boys to beat him up, something like that." Defendant said that he was going to whip her for doing that, and because she had falsely accused him of raping her. While they were at defendant's house, Ricky Allen came over and asked for Jenkins. Jenkins left with Allen. When Jenkins returned, he told Jedkins that he had gone to the store to buy Ricky some cigarettes.

Jedkins testified that when he, defendant, and Jenkins left defendant's house, they walked to Jim Griffin's house. On the way there defendant told the others that he was going to shoot Angela Gardner in the head, and that he was going to shoot the person that was with her. From Griffin's house they then walked back to defendant's car, defendant telling the others that Jim Griffin was moving to another residence that night, and that he was going to help. Defendant and the others got into his car. Defendant was in the driver's seat, Jenkins sat in the front passenger seat, and Jedkins was in the back. At this point George Coleman approached the car and asked Sam a question. Jedkins did not know what Coleman asked him.

Jedkins testified that defendant subsequently started the car and began to drive down the street. They saw Angela Gardner and George Coleman come out of Ronald Allen's house. Defendant said, "I'm going to beat this bitch's ass," and he started to turn into Allen's driveway. Jenkins grabbed the steering wheel and directed the car forward past the driveway. Jenkins told defendant, "Don't do it, man."

Defendant then drove a couple of blocks away. During the drive he asked Jedkins and Jenkins if they were going to help fight the guy that was going to jump him. They replied that they would have nothing to do with it. Defendant stated he was going to kick Angela's ass. When defendant stopped the car, Jenkins "told him no." Jedkins then said, "Go ahead, let him do what he wants to. Just stay up here and we won't have nothing to do with it."

Defendant exited the car and started jogging down Lenox Street toward the intersection with Ninth. Jedkins and Jenkins jogged after him. Jenkins grabbed defendant and told him, "Don't do it." Defendant pushed away from him and said, "Fuck you." Jedkins then grabbed defendant by the arm and said, "Just forget it," but defendant pulled away from him too. Jedkins testified that he saw Angela Gardner and George Coleman near the intersection. No one else was with them. When defendant was about 10 or 15 feet away from them, he pulled out a gun. Defendant ran closer to them and then shot Angela Gardner. Angela screamed, "Oh, my God, David," and fell to the ground. George Coleman ran away, and defendant chased him. Jedkins then heard two more shots. According to Jedkins, neither Gardner nor Coleman had been carrying weapons in their hands.

The day after the shooting the police had found a broken pocket knife with a hook blade near the scene of the shooting. Jedkins testified that the knife was his, and that he had lent it to Jenkins a day or two before the incident. Jedkins did not see Jenkins pull the knife out at the time of the shooting incident. Jenkins threw it down the street after the police arrived at the scene.

On cross-examination Jedkins stated that he gave a statement to a police officer the night of the shooting. He did not tell the officer that defendant had said he was going to shoot Angela. Jedkins testified that he "just didn't want to bring that out then." The first time Jedkins told anybody that was in the middle of January 1984, when he told defendant's private investigator. Jedkins acknowledged that he did not tell the officer about his knife. The first time he told anyone about the knife was when the prosecutor asked him about it in late January 1984.

Samuel Jenkins was also 17 years old at the time of trial. He had been adjudicated delinquent for committing a burglary and was on probation. His testimony was substantially the same as that given by Jedkins. Jenkins said that when Ricky Allen came over to defendant's house prior to the shooting, he and Jenkins did not talk about defendant and Angela Gardner.

Ronald Allen was 14 years old at the time of trial. He had been adjudicated delinquent for committing an armed robbery, and he was on probation. He testified that at about 7 p.m. Angela Gardner, George Coleman, and he went to his house. They went down to the basement and watched television along with Ricky Allen. After about five minutes George Coleman left to do something for one of his friends. Later on Angela Gardner told Ronald and Ricky Allen that defendant had tried to rape her the week before. She asked Ricky to go to defendant's house to talk to him about this matter. Ricky left and returned about five minutes later. Sometime later George Coleman came by, knocked on the window, and told Ronald to tell Angela Gardner to come out. She and Ronald went outside and joined George Coleman. The three then began walking toward the intersection of Lenox and Ninth. Ronald testified that his mother called him back. When Ronald returned home, he heard gunshots.

Officer Miscichowski, a detective with the Waukegan police department, testified that at about 10 p.m. on the night of the shooting, defendant telephoned the police station. Defendant stated that the shooting was no cold-blooded murder, and that he would like to give his side of the story. Miscichowski and two other officers went out to defendant's grandmother's house where defendant was and picked him up. On the way to the police station, defendant showed the officers where he had hidden the gun. When they arrived at the station, Miscichowski introduced defendant to Detective Pratt and told him that Pratt would take his statement.

Detective Pratt testified that after he advised defendant of his Miranda rights, defendant told him that at about 4:30 p.m. on the day in question he had helped somebody move. He arrived home around 7:30 p.m., where he met with Sam Jenkins. They went for a walk and then returned to defendant's home. They then went for a ride down to the Utica Project where they stayed for only a few minutes. They left Utica Project in defendant's car and drove down Lenox. Sam Jenkins wanted to see a girl at the corner of Eighth and Lenox. Defendant parked his car there. They exited the car and began walking toward the intersection of Ninth and Lenox. Defendant saw a group of subjects approaching him. Jenkins told him that these subjects were the ones that had been looking for him to beat him up. Jenkins and Jedkins, who was also with defendant at that point, turned around and said they did not want to get involved. Defendant continued to walk toward Ninth. He saw Angela Gardner, George Coleman, and Coleman's brother approaching him, and he saw a group of subjects behind them. As he approached them, someone from the group threw an object at him which struck him on the lip. Defendant told Pratt that Coleman stated, "What is this I hear about you and my woman?" Coleman said some other things defendant could not remember. Defendant pulled his gun out and shot Coleman. He then panicked and shot Gardner. Pratt asked defendant why he shot Coleman and Gardner, and defendant said that he did not know. He then said that he was afraid that they were going to beat him up as they had been telling people they were going to do. Pratt asked defendant if he felt that Gardner or Coleman had a gun, and defendant replied that he did not think so. Finally, Officer Pratt testified that when he interviewed defendant he saw a mark on defendant's lower lip. Pratt said, "Looked like somebody had busted his lip or something." After his interview with Detective Pratt, defendant was taken into custody.

Detective Ralph Henriquez testified that he interviewed defendant the following day at about 10:30 a.m. After he advised defendant of his Miranda rights, Henriquez asked him whether there had been a group of people with Gardner and Coleman at the time of the incident. Defendant replied that as he approached them, Gardner and Coleman were alone, but that there was a group of people about a half a block behind them. Henriquez asked defendant why he pulled the gun out, and why he had been carrying it. Defendant said that he pulled the gun out because he was very angry at Angie and was not thinking right. He said he had been carrying it "in case anybody tried to hurt him, he would be ready." Finally Henriquez testified that he asked defendant where he had received the mark on his lip. Defendant replied that he was not sure whether he received it before or after the shooting incident, but that somebody had thrown something at him.

The defense presented testimony from defendant himself, Ricky Allen, and Mark Rodriguez. Defendant testified that he had known Angela Gardner for about nine months before the shooting incident. In June of 1983 they began dating. They had sexual relations once at ...


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