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People v. Ealy





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas J. Maloney, Judge, presiding.


Following a jury trial, defendant James Ealy was found guilty of four counts of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9-1) and sentenced to natural life imprisonment in the Illinois Department of Corrections, the sentence to be served consecutively with a previously imposed 23-year sentence on a conviction for rape. On appeal, defendant argues that: (1) based on the ground that his arrest was illegal, the trial court erred in denying his motions to suppress his confession and evidence obtained as a result of two searches of his residence; (2) the State's failure to produce photographs and a microanalyst's notes during discovery violated his right to due process; and (3) the prosecutor's improper remarks during closing rebuttal argument constituted reversible error. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand.

The record reveals that at the hearing on defendant's motions to suppress, the following testimony was presented. On August 16, 1982, at approximately 12:55 p.m., Chicago Police Officer Dennis Vavrin discovered the bodies of Christine, Mary Ann, Cora and Jontae Parker in their seventh floor apartment located in the Rockwell Gardens housing project at 2515 West Jackson, in Chicago. Christine, the 33-year-old mother of 15-year-old Mary Ann and 13-year-old Cora, was found in a bedroom of the apartment. Mary Ann and her 3-year-old son, Jontae, were discovered in the bathroom. Cora was found in a closet, next to the bathroom. All of the victims bore ligature marks around their necks, with the exception of Mary Ann who was discovered with a green cloth wrapped around her neck. A later examination of the premises by police evidence technicians revealed no fingerprints suitable for comparison. Dr. Robert Stein, the Cook County medical examiner who had been called to the scene, pronounced the victims dead and their bodies were removed from the apartment.

Shortly thereafter the police conducted a canvas of the building residents. Police officers went to defendant's mother's apartment located on the fourth floor and questioned her. Defendant, who was 17 years old, was present at that time but was not questioned. Later that afternoon, the police returned to Mrs. Ealy's apartment and spoke with defendant, who told them that he had dated Mary Ann Parker until earlier that year, he knew the other Parkers and that he did not know anyone who might have killed them. At approximately 11 p.m., several police officers reappeared at the apartment asking to see defendant and, finding he was not at home, told Mrs. Ealy to have him call them if he had any more information regarding the Parker homicides.

The next day, August 17, autopsies were performed on the victims by Dr. Stein. In attendance was Detective Thomas Blomstrand of the Chicago police department. Dr. Stein's examination disclosed that each victim had died as a result of ligature strangulation. His examination of Mary Ann revealed that the green cloth around her neck was a leg portion of a pair of green surgical pants. After removing the cloth from Mary Ann's neck, Dr. Stein also discovered a piece of tan material knotted on the right side and tied tightly around her neck. His examination of Jontae further revealed that he had been raped.

Thereafter, Detective Blomstrand reported to Area 4 police headquarters and communicated Dr. Stein's findings to other detectives present at a 5 p.m. roll call. Detectives Terrence Thedford and Patrick Harrington were among those in attendance. They were assigned to interview two of five individuals, one of whom was defendant, who were known to frequently watch television in the victims' apartment. Thedford and Harrington arrived at defendant's residence, without a warrant, allegedly at 9 p.m. They identified themselves to Mrs. Ealy, stated they were working on the Parker homicides and asked to speak with defendant. Mrs. Ealy invited them in and sent her younger son to get defendant, who was outside on the playground area of the building. When defendant arrived, the detectives asked him if he would come to the police station with them. Both detectives testified that they did not tell defendant that he had to go with them, and defendant never indicated that he did not want to go with them. On direct examination of defendant, defense counsel orally made an offer of proof that defendant would testify that "he felt they [the detectives] would force him to go if he didn't cooperate" and "that one of the officers was standing by the door, blocking the door from his exit."

They then left the apartment — one detective in front of and one in back of defendant. Defendant was not handcuffed and the officers "did not pull their guns on him." He was transported to the police station in a squad car which was equipped with a wire screen between the front and rear seats and which lacked handles to the windows and doors in the rear.

Upon arriving at the Area 4 station at approximately 9:40 p.m., the detectives placed defendant in a second-floor interview room, but did not give him Miranda warnings at that time. The room was windowless and contained a table and three chairs. The officers left defendant in the room for 20 minutes, then returned and interrogated him for 30 minutes, asking him to account for his whereabouts during the early morning hours of August 16. Determining that some discrepancies existed between defendant's account of his activities and the one previously given by his mother, the detectives left the room to discuss the inconsistencies. While out of the room, they became aware of the presence of Mrs. Ealy and told her about the inconsistencies between defendant's and her account of defendant's whereabouts on August 16. Contrary to Mrs. Ealy's testimony, they then asked Mrs. Ealy if she would speak to defendant about his story and she agreed. Contrary to defendant's testimony, they further testified that they asked defendant if he would speak with his mother and that he refused to do so.

Shortly thereafter, Thedford and Harrington were informed by another detective that defendant recently had been arrested for a rape which occurred in the same building where defendant and the Parker family lived. After reviewing the case report of that rape, Thedford and Harrington returned to the interview room at approximately 11 p.m. and gave defendant Miranda warnings. Defendant said he understood his rights and the officers interrogated him for another 30 minutes. During that time, defendant was asked and agreed to sign a consent to search his bedroom. The detectives did not seek to obtain a search warrant. The officers also testified, contrary to Mrs. Ealy's testimony, that she had agreed to sign a consent to search form.

The next shift of detectives, Ralph Vucko and Victor Switski, were informed by Thedford and Harrington of the status of the investigation. Detective Vucko testified he prepared a consent to search form for Mrs. Ealy's signature. At approximately 1:30 p.m. on August 18, after finding that Mrs. Ealy had left the station, Vucko and Harrington took the form into the interview room. Vucko stated he asked defendant to sign the consent form after reading its contents to him and advising him that he was waiving "his right to the police having to have a search warrant to look in [his] house." Defendant, however, testified that although he signed the form, its contents were not read to him and he did not read it.

At approximately 1:45 a.m., Detectives Vucko and Switski arrived at defendant's residence. They testified they showed Mrs. Ealy the consent to search form signed by defendant, she permitted them to enter the apartment, and she showed them to defendant's bedroom. Mrs. Ealy, however, testified that the detectives asked her to sign a consent form, she asked them if it was a search warrant, they said no, and she said she would not sign it. She stated that they then pushed her aside, entered the apartment and went into defendant's bedroom. The detectives subsequently found a "bundle" underneath defendant's bed. It contained numerous items, including two lengths of khaki-type material, one of which was knotted at each end and the other with one knot in it. Other items found in the bundle were a bone-colored knife handle, a green pair of surgical pants, some bed sheets with red stains, a child's sweater, and a red sock. Vucko took the khaki material and some shoelaces he had found in defendant's dresser.

The detectives then left the apartment and went to Detective Blomstrand's home. They showed him the khaki material taken from the bundle and he told them it looked like the same material he had observed around Mary Ann Parker's neck at the autopsies he attended. Vucko and Switski then returned to the Parkers' apartment. Vucko discovered a khaki-colored trench coat in a closet and noticed that although the coat had belt loops, the belt was missing. He also found a knife blade in the closet which appeared to him to match the handle he had seen in the bundle in defendant's bedroom. Vucko took both items and he and Switski returned to the police station, arriving at approximately 4 a.m. on August 18. At that time, Switski testified that he went to the interview room occupied by defendant and locked the door.

At approximately 5 a.m., Vucko and Switski entered the interview room. Detective Thedford also entered, "took defendant's underwear and gym shoes" away from him and then left. Defendant was again given his Miranda rights, he indicated he was willing to further discuss the Parker homicides, and the officers confronted him with the items they had recovered from his bedroom and the Parker crime scene. Thereafter, defendant told the officers that on August 15, at about 11:30 p.m., he was near the Parkers' apartment and saw a large black man running from the apartment carrying a large bundle which he dropped. After picking up the bundle, defendant went into the Parkers' apartment and found the victims' bodies. He said he then left the apartment, taking the bundle with him to his mother's apartment, placed the bundle under his mother's bed and went to sleep. Defendant, however, later denied giving this account to Detectives Vucko and Switski. Defendant also denied that he signed a second consent to search form at the end of this interrogation session, even though he later acknowledged his signature on the form which was admitted into evidence.

At approximately 6 a.m., Detectives Vucko and Switski went to defendant's residence bearing the second consent form. They testified that they showed Mrs. Ealy the consent form and told her that they were there to pick up the rest of the items which were left in the bundle. Contrary to Mrs. Ealy's testimony, Vucko and Switski stated that she permitted them to enter the apartment and to take the items. Mrs. Ealy testified that the detectives shoved her, entered her apartment and went into defendant's bedroom. ...

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