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People v. Morgan





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Robert L. Massey, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied June 2, 1986.

The defendant, Samuel Morgan, was charged by indictment in the circuit court of Cook County with the murders of William Motley and Kenneth Merkson (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2)) and the rape (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 11-1) and aggravated kidnaping (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 10-2(a)(3), (a)(5)) of Phyllis Gregson. A jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. The prosecutor requested a hearing to consider whether the death penalty should be imposed. The defendant waived a jury, and the trial judge, after hearing evidence in aggravation and mitigation, sentenced Samuel Morgan to death on the murder charges (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(d), (h)) and to concurrent extended prison terms of 60 and 30 years for rape and aggravated kidnaping (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-2(a)). The death sentence was stayed (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)), pending direct appeal to this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b); 87 Ill.2d R. 603). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm defendant's conviction and the sentence of death. We vacate the extended terms of imprisonment imposed for the charges of rape and aggravated kidnaping. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 615 (87 Ill.2d R. 615), we reduce the sentence for rape to 30 years and the sentence for aggravated kidnaping to 15 years.

The evidence shows that at 2 p.m. on January 27, 1982, the defendant, Samuel Morgan, along with William Motley and Kenneth Merkson, arrived at Eliga Prater's third-floor apartment at 1627 West Lawrence in Chicago. The four men talked and used cocaine and marijuana for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Then Merkson indicated he needed to return to his home to change clothes. Prater exchanged car keys with the defendant, and he, Merkson and Motley left the apartment, leaving the defendant behind.

Phyllis Gregson, who knew both Prater and the defendant, arrived at Prater's apartment at approximately 8:30 that evening. She found the defendant there alone. He invited Gregson to come in, and the two shared two "joints" of marijuana and watched television.

At 9 p.m., two men, whom Gregson did not know, came to the apartment. The two talked with the defendant until around midnight on January 28, 1982. When they left, the defendant and Gregson were again alone in Prater's apartment. At this point, the defendant made sexual advances toward Gregson, which she refused.

Prater, Merkson, and Motley returned to the apartment at approximately 1 a.m. They, along with Gregson and the defendant, proceeded to use more cocaine and marijuana.

At approximately 3 a.m., Prater and Gregson were on the couch in the front room of the apartment, Motley was also in the front room, and the defendant and Merkson were in the bedroom. Prater and Gregson were talking quietly when the defendant called them into the bedroom and demanded to know what was being said. After Prater answered him, the defendant directed Merkson to hand him a shotgun that was in the bedroom closet. Defendant aimed the shotgun at Prater and Gregson and demanded to know the truth about what they were talking about.

At this point, Gregson told the defendant she wanted to go home. The defendant grabbed Gregson and punched her in the face with his fist and hit her in the chest with the butt of the shotgun, knocking her to the floor. Merkson helped Gregson up and took her into the kitchen. After a few minutes, Gregson went into the front room of the apartment, where she eventually fell asleep on the couch.

In the meantime, Prater and Motley stayed in the bedroom and talked to the defendant. After Merkson returned from the kitchen, the four men used more cocaine until about 5 a.m.

Evidence also revealed that later, at approximately 11 to 11:30 a.m, Motley was sitting on a love seat in the front room of the apartment, talking on the telephone. He was holding a small black book and had a .357 magnum revolver tucked under his leg. Gregson was sitting in the rocking chair in the front room of the apartment. The defendant, with the shotgun in his possession, was sitting in the front room, some six to seven feet from Motley. Prater and Merkson were both in the kitchen.

At this point, the defendant asked Gregson to remove her blouse and dance for him. Gregson refused. She testified that Motley said something and the defendant fired the shotgun at him, hitting him in the left side of his chest. Motley's body flew off the love seat and onto the floor. The defendant grabbed the revolver and put it in the waistband of his pants.

The defendant stepped into the kitchen and told Prater and Merkson to come into the front room and clean up Motley's body. Merkson removed some money, marijuana, and the small black book from the body. He gave the black book to the defendant. The defendant told Prater to try and fit Motley's body into the dresser drawers from the bedroom. Eventually, the body was bent, tied up in a laundry bag, and wrapped inside a mattress. The defendant told Gregson to clean the blood up off the floor, which she did.

At about 12:45 p.m., the defendant told Prater to go out and buy something to drink, put gas in Prater's car, and park the car at the back of the apartment. Prater left the apartment to run the errands.

When Prater reentered the apartment, Gregson was in the kitchen doing dishes, the defendant was sitting on an end table in the dining room with the shotgun on his lap and the revolver in the waistband of his pants. Merkson was standing around making jokes. Prater gave the defendant a bottle of liquor he had purchased and the men took a few drinks from it.

Merkson continued to make jokes, until the defendant told him to stop and to take Motley's body out of the apartment. Merkson made another remark, and the defendant chased him into the front room of the apartment. There, the defendant hit Merkson in the head several times with the butt end of the revolver. The defendant again told Merkson and Prater to remove Motley's body. Merkson made another remark to the defendant. The defendant then ordered Merkson to get down on his knees.

Eliga Prater testified that he then saw the defendant point the revolver at Merkson's head from a distance of four or five feet. Prater turned and faced the wall. He heard a shot and turned back to see Merkson's body lying on the floor and the defendant standing beside it. Gregson and Prater both testified that they saw the revolver in the defendant's hand as he stood near Merkson's body.

The defendant ordered Gregson to clean up the blood from the floor around Merkson's body and ordered Prater to get the body out of the apartment. Prater began to tie up Merkson's body and the defendant moved to a point behind him. Prater heard a gunshot and felt the bullet go past his head. He immediately broke and ran through the kitchen, out the back door, and out of the apartment.

At this point, the defendant ordered Gregson to go into the bathroom. She did as she was told, locking the door behind her. After 5 or 10 minutes, the defendant ordered Gregson to come out. When she did, the defendant still had possession of the revolver, but she did not see the shotgun. The defendant then took Gregson by the arm and the two left the apartment through the front door at approximately 1:30 p.m.

Prater's downstairs neighbor, Frank Blume, testified that between 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. on January 28, 1982, he heard several loud shattering sounds coming from Prater's apartment. After the last one, Blume noticed that a hole had appeared in the ceiling of his apartment. Blume next heard the sounds of one or more people running down the back stairs from the third-floor apartment. After a few minutes, Blume called the police.

The police arrived at approximately 1:30 p.m. Upon entering Prater's apartment they discovered the bodies of Motley and Merkson. The police recovered from the apartment a loaded shotgun, a fingerprint from a dresser drawer later identified as the defendant's, and a bullet from the floor directly below Merkson's body. The police also recovered a bullet from the apartment directly below Prater's.

Phyllis Gregson testified that after leaving the apartment, the defendant had driven to a motel. The defendant held Gregson by the arm and took her out of the car and into the lobby. The defendant still had the revolver under his coat. Other testimony revealed that the defendant registered in the name of Joseph Thurston, a name he had previously used. The defendant and Gregson proceeded to room 307.

Upon entering the room, Gregson went into the bathroom. When she came out, she did not see the revolver in the defendant's possession and testified that she did not know where it was. After spending approximately 20 minutes in the room, the defendant began to undress Gregson. She told the defendant that she did not want to have sex with him, but the defendant finished removing her clothes, pushed her onto the bed, and had sexual intercourse with her. Upon dressing, the defendant removed the revolver from under a chair cushion and again placed it in the waistband of his pants. The defendant and Gregson spent a total of approximately two hours in the motel room.

Upon leaving the room, the defendant and Gregson encountered an employee of the motel, Tommie Lee Cowans, who testified that he noticed that the defendant had a large silver plated revolver pointed at Gregson's head. Upon seeing Cowans, the defendant pointed the gun at him. Cowans immediately turned and ran toward the motel lobby. The defendant chased him for a short distance, then returned, again took Gregson by the arm, and led her out to his car. Cowans testified that he observed the defendant pushing Gregson into the car head first.

Gregson testified that after driving on various side streets, defendant stopped the car and told her to get out. He threatened Gregson, warning her not to tell anyone of the incident or he would come and find her. The defendant then drove off at a rapid rate of speed.

The next day, January 29, 1982, Chicago police officers, while investigating an unrelated disturbance, arrested the defendant. The officers called to the defendant to stop. The defendant did not stop but continued walking. The officers then identified themselves as police. The defendant dropped a plastic bag to the ground and continued walking. The police pursued him on foot. When they were within approximately 15 to 20 feet of him, the defendant turned toward the officers and pulled a revolver from his coat pocket. When he saw the officers' guns he dropped the revolver. The officers took the defendant into custody and recovered the revolver, the plastic bag, and its contents.

Later that same day, Eliga Prater contacted the police and informed them that the defendant was responsible for the deaths of Motley and Merkson. Gregson was contacted by the police, and she confirmed Prater's statement.

At trial, expert testimony showed that the revolver, recovered from the defendant upon his arrest, had fired the bullets recovered at the apartment house. The plastic bag that the defendant dropped prior to his arrest was found to contain a black notebook. Prater and Gregson identified the book as being the one Merkson had given to the defendant after removing it from Motley's body.

A jury that had been qualified pursuant to Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968), 391 U.S. 510, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, 88 S.Ct. 1770, returned a verdict of guilty on all charges. The State requested a hearing to determine if the defendant should receive a death sentence (Ill. Rev Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(d)), and the defendant waived his right to a jury at the penalty hearing. The court found that the defendant was eligible for capital punishment based on his conviction of the murder of two persons. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(3).

The court then heard evidence in aggravation and mitigation. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(h).) The court specifically found that a statutory aggravating factor existed and that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death sentence. The court therefore sentenced the defendant to death for the murders of William Motley and Kenneth Merkson. The court also imposed concurrent extended prison terms (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-2(a)) of 60 years for the rape of Phyllis Gregson and 30 years for her aggravated kidnaping.

The death sentence was stayed under the provisions of Supreme Court Rule 609 (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)), pending the final order of this court. The case is before us on defendant's right to direct appeal. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b); 87 Ill.2d R. 603.

The defendant first argues that his convictions should be reversed and a new trial ordered because he was denied his right to a fair trial by the prosecution's improper questioning during voir dire and various improper arguments.

During jury selection, the prosecution asked the following question:

"MR. LINN [prosecutor]: * * * You understand that we are responsible for calling the witnesses that can help you render that decision, and the witnesses that we will be calling are the people who were involved in the case we will call who were there. If it turns out that you have some disagreement with the lifestyles of these people, would you nonetheless be able to believe them if you found in your own mind that they were telling you the truth?"

After defense counsel objected, the prosecutor was asked to rephrase his question. Several additional attempts were made to ask the same question, with defense counsel's objection sustained after each one. The prosecution ended the series of questions by asking whether the juror understood that the circumstances decided who would be the witnesses to a particular crime. This question was not objected to. Defendant now maintains that this series of questions necessitates a new trial.

Supreme Court Rule 234 provides that during voir dire "[q]uestions shall not directly or indirectly concern matters of law or instructions." (87 Ill.2d R. 234.) This court has noted that "an attorney on voir dire examination of jurors has a right to make such reasonable inquiry as will permit him intelligently to exercise his right of peremptory challenge * * *." (St. Clair Housing Authority v. Quirin (1942), 379 Ill. 52, 57.) The extent of the proper exercise of his right lies within the judicial discretion of the trial court. 379 Ill. 52, 57.) Defendant correctly notes that one Illinois court has held that in the ...

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