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People v. Harrod

OPINION FILED JANUARY 13, 1986.

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

v.

SAM HARROD III, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Jerry S. Rhodes, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Sam Harrod III was convicted of the offense of perjury (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 32-2) after a trial by jury in the circuit court of Sangamon County. On appeal, he contends that he was denied a fair trial and that the State failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Harrod was indicted for making a false statement under oath while he was being questioned before the Inquiry Board of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) in connection with the execution of the alleged will of Sidney Winkler and Harrod's subsequent filing of the document for probate in McLean County circuit court. Specifically, the indictment charged that Harrod knowingly made the following false statement:

"* * * that Daniel Harrod met Sidney Winkler and himself in the hallway of the Harrod Law Office on the morning of January 11, 1982, at which time he informed Daniel Harrod that Sidney Winkler just signed his Will and Sidney Winkler stated `Yes, that's right,' * * *."

The events which gave rise to the ARDC inquiry were related at trial and are pertinent to the issues presented. As brief a summary as possible follows.

At the heart of the criminal complaint against Harrod are the suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of a will filed for probate by Harrod and purportedly executed by Sidney Winkler. Ronald Schertz, a practicing attorney in Peoria, was a cousin to Sidney. He represented Sidney and his siblings, Christine and Elmer. When Christine died in 1979, Schertz worked with Sidney in connection with the administration of her estate. Sidney protested the size of Schertz' bill and engaged Harrod to represent him in a fee dispute. Ultimately, Sidney paid the bill in full. Sidney also hired Harrod to assist him in certain matters concerning his brother Elmer, who was living in Missouri and whose estate Sidney believed was being mishandled by the conservators there.

Sidney was described by Schertz as an elderly man who lived a somewhat eccentric lifestyle and who believed the United States Government was Communistic. When Sidney died on March 19, 1982, Schertz went to his home to protect the valuables and to look for a will. He found a will made by Sidney in 1967 on which the names of the testator, the beneficiary, the executor, and Sidney's signature had been obliterated. He approached Harrod on March 23, 1982, and asked if Sidney had a will. Harrod responded affirmatively but then became evasive and indicated he would have to check. Despite Schertz' numerous attempts to contact Harrod and learn if he possessed a will executed by Sidney, Schertz was never able to get any information from Harrod or his office.

On April 23, 1982, Schertz' law firm filed a petition for letters of administration for Sidney's estate and advised Harrod of this action by letter. Schertz learned subsequently that a will was filed in McLean County on May 7, 1982. In the purported will, Sidney named Eureka College as its chief beneficiary, with Maple Lawn Homes receiving 10% of the estate. The will was attested by defendant and his brother, Dan Harrod. Suspicious of the validity of the scrawled signature on the filed will, Schertz called the attorney who represented Elmer's conservator in Missouri, and recommended Wayne Hanold, a Peoria lawyer, to contest the will. Hanold was retained by the conservator on a contingent fee basis.

Harrod and the Woodford County Bank were named co-executors in the Winkler will. Harrod sought the services of Loren Thomson, a Bloomington attorney, when he learned that the will's authenticity was going to be challenged. Thomson testified that he agreed to represent the Woodford County Bank and met with Harrod in late June 1982 to discuss the will contest. Harrod told him that he believed there would be a conflict of interest if he, a co-executor, also represented the estate. Thomson attempted to learn the details of the execution of Sidney Winkler's will.

Harrod told Thomson that Sidney, who had regularly come to his law offices unannounced, had made an appointment for January 9, 1982, a Saturday. Harrod said that Sidney discussed the provisions of his will and, because no secretaries were in the office to type the will, he told Sidney he would have to return on Monday to sign it. On January 11, early in the morning, Sidney returned to the office where, again, he was alone with the defendant. Harrod told Thomson that Sidney was "in some sort of physical distress * * * holding his hands or arm and * * * had complained about falling * * *." Harrod said that Sidney signed his will on the corner of the desk, and that at some point Dan Harrod had come into the office. Thomson assumed at the time that Dan had attested the will in the office on that day.

In a later conversation, Harrod told Thomson that Dan was in the office area as Sidney was leaving on the morning he came in to sign his will. Harrod said that he told Dan that Sidney has just signed his will, and that Sidney assented. Thomson made several attempts to discuss the attestation of the will with Dan, but was unsuccessful. Dan refused to testify in support of the will and did not cooperate in any way in the prove-up. Consequently, Thomson was unable to go forward with evidence to establish the will's validity, and he therefore withdrew it from probate. Thomson learned, months later, that Dan had attested the will in front of the Woodford County Sheriff's office.

In September 1982, attorney Hanold filed a complaint with the ARDC concerning Harrod's role in the execution of Sidney's will. In December, Harrod voluntarily appeared before an inquiry board. He testified that, although the attestation clause indicated otherwise, the three signatures on Sidney's will were not executed contemporaneously on January 9, 1982. He stated that he and Sidney signed the will on January 11, and Dan signed it at a later date, out of Sidney's presence. Harrod described the January 11 meeting in detail. The meeting occurred on a very cold, icy day, in the early morning. Harrod stated that Sidney had fallen on the ice, was on crutches, and was assisted by him as he left. In the hallway, at approximately 7:10 or 7:15 a.m., Harrod encountered his brother, Dan. Harrod told the board:

"I think I said something to my brother like `Mr. Winkler just signed his will, but he doesn't feel good and has to go,' something like that, and he said something on the order of, `Yes, that's right, but I have to go,' or something like that, and then I assisted him out to his car and he drove away."

Harrod's relation of the hallway encounter formed the gravamen of the indictment for the instant perjury offense.

Dan Harrod was also examined by the inquiry board. The panel concluded that his testimony was "inconsistent" with defendant's account. At trial, Dan testified that he never met his brother and Sidney Winkler in the hallway by their law office, that he was never told by Sidney that he had signed a will, and that the only time he had ever met Sidney was on an unrelated occasion at the request of his father over a year before. He could not remember exactly when he signed the will but knew that at some time in the winter or early spring, the defendant met Dan on the porch of the sheriff's office in Woodford County. At Sam's request, he signed the will which the defendant explained had been misplaced in a briefcase. During cross-examination Dan equivocated, stating that he had "no specific recollection" of being in the law office on January 11, 1982. This ...


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