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People v. Miscichowski





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Jack Hoogasian, Judge, presiding.


On February 22, 1985, after a jury trial in the circuit court of Lake County, defendant, Paul J. Miscichowski, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 30 months' probation. On appeal defendant argues: (1) that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) that the trial court erred in denying his motion in arrest of judgment; (3) that he was improperly convicted on an accountability theory; and (4) that his verdict of guilty is legally inconsistent with his co-defendant's verdict of not guilty.

Defendant was arrested on July 5, 1984, and charged with reckless conduct. On July 15, 1984, defendant was further charged with involuntary manslaughter. On July 19, 1984, defendant was indicted by the April term of the Lake County grand jury for involuntary manslaughter (count I) and reckless conduct (count II). Defendant's case was consolidated with that against Dale Salata on October 9, 1984, and by agreement of the parties, was set for trial with a separate jury to be impaneled for each defendant. On November 1, 1984, the August term of the Lake County grand jury returned two additional indictments against defendant charging aggravated assault (count III) and unlawful use of weapons (count IV). Trial commenced on November 6, 1984.

At trial the evidence showed that on the night of July 4, 1984, decedent, Anna Kriston, and two of her friends, Gundun Klomp and Eleanore Miniard, drove to an area known as the Commonwealth Edison Beach in Waukegan. When they arrived they pulled into a parking lot area which is contained within two fences, one to the north, and one to the south. On the north is a 30- to 40-foot-high hill on property belonging to Johns-Manville. Access to the hill may be gained by walking around the north fence near Lake Michigan because the fence does not extend to the water's edge. To the south is a Commonwealth Edison power plant. There is a turnstile to a fisherman's pier located on the south fence and the only artificial light in the area is located at the turnstile. Lake Michigan and the beach area are directly to the east.

Anna and her friends arrived at the beach area at approximately 11 p.m. and drove east through the parking lot. When they reached the middle of the lot, Anna, who was driving, slumped over into the front passenger seat where Klomp was sitting. It was later determined that Anna had been struck in the left side of her head by a .22-caliber bullet. The bullet fragmented into three pieces lodging in her brain and causing her death at 9:33 a.m. on July 5, 1984.

Eric Sinderman and two of his friends, Peter Karlovics and Richard Conley, arrived at the beach in a pickup truck at approximately 11:15 p.m. Upon arriving they observed an ambulance and two police cars, and turned around to leave. At this time they observed two individuals west of the turnstile of the south fence. All three men identified defendant and co-defendant Salata as the individuals they saw near the south fence. Sinderman testified that defendant was carrying a bow and arrow and Salata was carrying a rifle. Conley testified that defendant was the man carrying the rifle. Karlovics originally testified that defendant was carrying the bow but changed his testimony and said the defendant was carrying the rifle. Karlovics then changed his testimony a second time and stated that it was defendant carrying the bow and Salata carrying the rifle.

Salata asked for a ride to the end of the road at the top of the hill and Sinderman agreed. Salata and defendant then got into the back of the truck and Sinderman drove them to the entrance of the Amstutz Highway which was at the top of the hill, and told them he could take them no farther. Salata, however, insisted that they take them farther. Sinderman proceeded on the Amstutz Highway, but then pulled over onto the shoulder in the middle of the entrance ramp. He told the defendant to get out, but Salata replied, "No. Bullshit. Keep going, remember I've got the gun."

Sinderman then proceeded south on the Amstutz Highway. While on the Amstutz, Sinderman heard a faint shot, looked in the rear view mirror, and saw the glare of powder coming from the barrel of the rifle which Salata was holding at that time. Sinderman also recalled defendant sticking his hand through the window while they were on the Amstutz and handing a bullet to his friend Richard saying, "See, these are real bullets." Sinderman exited the Amstutz Highway at the Grand Avenue exit and dropped defendants off at Grand Avenue and Sheridan Road. Police later obtained a spent .22-caliber cartridge and a live .22-caliber round from the bed of the truck.

The evidence also showed that James Sutherland drove to the Commonwealth Edison beach on the night of July 4, 1984. While Sutherland testified on direct examination that he arrived at about 9:30 p.m., his testimony on cross-examination showed that he probably arrived no later than 8:30 p.m. Sutherland testified that when he arrived at the beach he drove east in the parking lot and heard what he thought was a rock strike the side or undercarriage of his van. The following evening, at approximately 8 p.m., Sutherland noticed what appeared to be a bullet hole in the left side of his van. Sutherland drove his van to the Waukegan police department where a .22-caliber bullet was recovered from the van.

Sergeant Leo Graham of the Waukegan police department arrived at the beach area at 5:30 a.m. on July 5, 1984, and observed a four-door gray sedan parked along the south fence near the turnstile. The gray vehicle was later identified as belonging to Salata's grandmother. Near the rear tire on the driver's side of the gray sedan, Graham found an empty .22-caliber cartridge shell and a live .22-caliber round. Also, on July 5, 1984, Detective Bruce Repp of the Waukegan police department recovered a .22-caliber rifle and a compound bow from Salata's residence.

Robert Wilson, a firearm's identification expert and forensic scientist at the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab testified that the .22-caliber shell casings found near the Salata automobile and in the bed of the Sinderman truck could have been fired only from the .22-caliber rifle found at the Salata residence. Further, the bullet recovered from the Sutherland van and the bullet fragment recovered from the decedent had the same class characteristics, six lands and grooves inclined to the right. Wilson admitted, however, that such class characteristics reflect the manner in which most .22-caliber weapons are made and that there could be over one million weapons in the world that could have fired the two recovered rounds. Wilson also testified that the composition of the fragment recovered from the decedent appeared to be lead with a lubaloy-type finish. The live .22-caliber round found next to the Salata vehicle at the beach was a .22-caliber, lubaloy, hollow-point, CCI-brand bullet.


• 1 Defendant's first argument is that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He argues that the State's case failed to exclude every reasonable theory of innocence and failed to prove where he was when the victim was shot or the manner in which the fatal bullet was fired (i.e., whether it was done in a reckless, deliberate or accidental manner).

The State does not dispute that its case against defendant rests on circumstantial evidence. When the evidence finding the defendant guilty is entirely circumstantial, the facts proved must be consistent with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. (People v. Evans (1981), 87 Ill.2d 77, 83.) However, where the circumstantial evidence relied upon to support the defense that another committed the crime is unsatisfactory, based on mere surmise or possibility without evidence to support ...

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