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People v. Wright





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Philip J. Carey, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Hazel Wright, was found guilty in the circuit court of Cook County on two counts of murder and one count of armed violence (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a), 33A-2), and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. She appealed to the appellate court, arguing that she had been denied the effective assistance of counsel, and, while that appeal was pending, she filed a petition for relief in the circuit court under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 122-1 et seq.) also alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court, in granting the defendant's petition, vacated its judgments of guilty on the murder counts, entered judgment of not guilty on the armed-violence count and entered a judgment for involuntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-3). The defendant was resentenced to five years' imprisonment. The State appealed that judgment to the appellate court, and that court consolidated the State's appeal with the defendant's earlier appeal and, in a Rule 23 order (87 Ill.2d R. 23), affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting the defendant's petition (126 Ill. App.3d 1155). We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal under our Rule 315 (94 Ill.2d 315 (a)).

The evidence showed that the defendant, who was 50 years old, killed her daughter, Marilyn Wright, on January 4, 1981. A prosecution witness, Ganella Archie, said that she was in the home of the defendant on that day and that the defendant was arguing with Marilyn's friend, James Beverly. The defendant was drinking from a glass jar and appeared to the witness to be tired and "high" from the liquor. A short time later the victim was in the kitchen washing dishes when the defendant, who earlier had gone upstairs to lie down, called down the stairs to ask who was making noise in the kitchen. Marilyn walked to the bottom of the stairs and asked her mother why she was holding a gun. A shot was fired and Marilyn fell backward, fatally wounded.

Wright was leaning over her daughter's body when Chicago police officers called to investigate the shooting entered the defendant's home. The defendant told Officer Robert Purcell that she shot her daughter because "[Marilyn] shouldn't have said those things to me." The defendant later told Officer John Solicki at the police station that she had been arguing throughout the day with her daughter about "rent money and other domestic matters."

The defense theory at trial was that the shooting was accidental and that the defendant therefore lacked the required intent for murder. The defendant claimed that on that day she had argued with James Beverly and had told him to leave her house when she heard him swear at Marilyn. A short time later, Wright was upstairs when she was awakened from an alcohol-induced sleep by noise coming from her kitchen. Because she did not remember that her daughter was in the house, she testified, she walked to the top of the stairs with her gun, which she normally carried with her, to investigate who was downstairs. She recalled that when her daughter asked why she had a gun, she replied that it was her gun and she would fire it when it pleased her. The gun discharged, striking Marilyn. The defendant said that she thought the gun was pointed toward a wall and that she did not intend to fire the weapon or, in any event, shoot her daughter. She had not been angry with her daughter and she said that the argument about rent money had occurred two weeks earlier.

The defendant said that on the day of the shooting she had taken medication prescribed for a nervous condition, medication prescribed for high blood pressure, cold tablets, cough syrup, tranquilizers, and sleeping tablets. She testified also that she had been drinking gin throughout the day.

At the evidentiary hearing on the defendant's petition for post-conviction relief, the attorney who had represented the defendant at trial testified that he had not considered the defendant's mental state at the time of the shooting to have been so severely impaired as to support a defense of voluntary intoxication. He testified that, although he was aware of the defendant's history of alcohol abuse, he "did not raise [the defense of] no intent based on her alcoholic background because [he did not] think that's a defense. My understanding of the defense of drunkenness *** is that you have to be drunk to the extent that you have no recall of the facts." On cross-examination, counsel stated that a complete loss of memory may not be necessary for the defense, but the accused "would have to just about have no recall." He decided that, because the defendant was able to recall the incident in substantial detail, he would be unable to establish that the defendant's intoxication made it impossible for her to form the intent necessary for murder. He had, however, questioned Ganella Archie about the defendant's condition at the time of the shooting and inquired whether Wright appeared to be intoxicated. (Archie answered in the affirmative.) He also acknowledged that he was aware the defendant was hospitalized after the shooting and that she was diagnosed as suffering the effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Lavergne Camble, another daughter of the defendant, testified at the evidentiary hearing that her mother drank excessively. She testified that normally the defendant was a responsible person but that she became belligerent and combative when drinking. Lavergne said that her mother's abusive drinking habits were aggravated when her husband was fatally shot in 1968 and her grandson killed in 1972. The witness recalled an incident in 1974 when relatives who were gambling in the defendant's home began loudly arguing and ignoring the defendant's request to stop the argument. The defendant, who had been drinking, walked into the room and fired a gun toward the ceiling to stop the argument. Lavergne recounted an incident in 1979 when her mother learned her son had been arrested. The defendant "picked up a fifth of Smirnoff [vodka] off the table and she just turned the bottle up and drank almost all of it." Finally the witness said that she had seen her mother a couple of days before Marilyn was shot and the defendant was very intoxicated and unable to walk without staggering.

The parties stipulated that the testimony of James Camble, Lavergne's husband, would have been similar to that of his wife.

Dr. Edward Senay, who specializes in the effects of drug addiction, testified at the hearing that a person who combines the use of drugs and alcohol would likely suffer the effects of synergism. He described this condition as the simultaneous action of different agencies which, when taken together, have a greater total effect than the sum of their individual effects. Dr. Senay said that the medication which the defendant testified that she had taken on the day of the shooting would have exaggerated the effects of the alcohol she drank and consequently caused a more severe impairment of judgment. The witness, who had never examined the defendant but had reviewed her medical records, was given a hypothetical situation based on the evidence of drugs and alcohol assumed to have been ingested by the hypothetical person and based on the account in evidence of the shooting, and was asked whether he could form an opinion of the person's mental condition at the time of the shooting. His opinion was that the person was intoxicated to such a degree that judgment was impaired and that the impairment was probably heightened due to the effects of synergism. The doctor also stated that a person could be severely intoxicated and still have substantial recall.

Following argument, the court granted the defendant's petition and, as stated, vacated the judgments of guilty on the two murder counts, vacated its judgment of guilty on the armed-violence count and substituted a judgment of not guilty, and entered a judgment of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant was resentenced to five years' imprisonment. The period the defendant had been confined qualified her for release under the new sentence, and Wright was released on the same day the new sentence was imposed.

The State first argues that the circuit court should have dismissed the defendant's petition because the petition was grounded on the same allegation of error that the defendant raised in her direct appeal to the appellate court. The State cites People v. Walker (1972), 6 Ill. App.3d 909, to support its position that the ...

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