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People v. Buggs





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Lawrence I. Genesen, Judge, presiding.


In a 10-count indictment filed in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Carrus Buggs, was charged with six counts of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1) through (a)(3)), one count of attempted murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 8-4), one count of aggravated battery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 12-4(a)), and two counts of aggravated arson (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, pars. 20-1.1(a)(1), (a)(2)). The defendant was tried in a bench trial and found guilty of all charges.

Buggs waived his right to have a jury in the sentencing phase of the proceedings. Thereafter, the trial judge sentenced him to death. The trial judge also sentenced Buggs to 60 years' incarceration in the Illinois Department of Corrections based on the attempted-murder and aggravated-battery convictions. Sentence was stayed (87 Ill.2d R. 609(a)) pending direct review by this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b); 87 Ill.2d R. 603).

The offenses with which the defendant was charged occurred at approximately 3 a.m. on October 15, 1980, at the defendant's home. The defendant and his wife, Loretta, were arguing in their second-floor bedroom concerning his wife's alleged infidelity. The defendant concluded the fight by taking a gasoline can and splashing gasoline on Loretta, down the hallway, and down the stairs. Buggs then reached into his pocket and took out a book of matches, lit a match, and threw it on the stairs, causing a fire.

Edna, the defendant's eldest daughter, watched the aforementioned incident take place. Upon seeing the flames, she rushed to save her youngest brother, Darryl. She entered his bedroom, pushed him and his bed toward the window, and proceeded to lift up the window and push the screen out. When she turned back to grab Darryl, he was no longer on the bed, so she jumped out of the window. Shortly thereafter, firemen arrived and removed Loretta's and Darryl's bodies from the burning house. Edna sustained second- and third-degree burns on her arms and legs, while three of her brothers and one of their friends, who had all been asleep in the house, escaped without serious injury. Loretta's death was attributed to the burns which covered 50% of her body. Darryl's death was caused by smoke inhalation and burns over 20% of his body.

The defendant admits committing the acts for which he was convicted. He does, however, raise one issue concerning the guilt phase of the trial, and various issues pertaining to the sentencing phase of the trial.

More specifically, the first issue presented for our review is whether the admission of prior "bad acts" by the defendant constituted reversible error.

Initially, the State argues that this issue is waived due to the defendant's failure to object at trial to the introduction of these prior violent acts. Because there was no post-trial hearing, the first time the defendant raised this objection was in this appeal. Normally, objections to the admission of such evidence are waived if not made at trial, unless the error prevents a fair trial. (See People v. Bartall (1983), 98 Ill.2d 294.) Assuming, arguendo, that the introduction of evidence of the defendant's prior violent acts was improper, we believe such an error could have prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Because this potentiality exists, we shall address this issue.

The defendant maintains that the introduction of his prior violent acts had no probative value and denied him a fair evaluation of his evidence of insanity. However, the State contends that the introduction of the defendant's prior violent acts was probative as to the circumstances under which Dr. Conroe, the defense psychiatrist, developed his diagnosis and as to the issue of defendant's insanity. We believe the evidence in question was properly admitted.

Dr. Conroe examined the defendant approximately three years after the incident. In forming his diagnosis, Dr. Conroe interviewed the defendant twice, for a total of 3 3/4 hours. He also interviewed the defendant's brother, father, and stepmother for a combined total of 1 1/2 hours. Dr. Conroe diagnosed the defendant's behavior at the time of the offense as an "Isolated Explosive Disorder." He stated that one of the diagnostic criteria was a single discrete episode in which the defendant's failure to resist an impulse led to a single externally directed act that had a catastrophic impact on others. On cross-examination, Dr. Conroe was presented with the fact that Buggs had previously stabbed a woman with a knife. Dr. Conroe responded that he was aware of that incident and that it did not change his diagnosis. Dr. Conroe was then presented with the fact that at one time Buggs had drawn a revolver and fired a shot in between his son's legs. This incident occurred during an argument with Buggs' wife six months prior to the offense complained of in this case. Dr. Conroe stated that he was not aware of that incident when he made his diagnosis. He then went on to admit that such an episode also had the potential of a violent externally directed act which could have a catastrophic impact on others.

Almost every aspect in a defendant's life is relevant when the defense of insanity is raised. (People v. Vanda (1982), 111 Ill. App.3d 551, 560.) The admission of prior violent acts by the defendant is therefore not necessarily precluded. (See People v. Burress (1971), 1 Ill. App.3d 17.) However, relevancy remains a prerequisite for the admission of any evidence. (See People v. Free (1983), 94 Ill.2d 378, 413.) It is also well established that wide latitude will be allowed in cross-examination of an expert witness. (People v. Crawford Distributing Co. (1978), 65 Ill. App.3d 790, 799.) Therefore, when such a witness expresses an opinion as to a defendant's sanity, the scope of the inquiry into the basis for that opinion is broad. People v. Moor (1934), 355 Ill. 393, 397-98.

With these principles of law in mind, we must look to the testimony of Dr. Conroe. In this case the expert witness, Dr. Conroe, diagnosed the defendant as having suffered from an isolated explosive disorder on the date of the fire. Such a disorder concerns a "single discrete episode." Therefore, the brief questioning on cross-examination concerning previous episodes of violence by the defendant tended to negate the witness' diagnostic conclusion. There can be no question that such evidence was relevant and, thus, properly admitted.

The next issue raised by the defendant is whether the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to a jury for the death penalty hearing.

Once again, the State initially argues that the defendant's failure to object to this alleged error during the death penalty hearing has waived this issue for review on appeal. (As noted earlier, there was no post-trial hearing in this case, and therefore the first time this issue was raised was in this appeal.) However, there is an exception to the waiver rule where there has been plain error which has affected substantial rights. (People v. Foster (1979), 76 Ill.2d 365, 380.) In this case, the alleged error concerns the defendant's constitutional right to a jury for his death ...

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