Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Francis
J. Mahon, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant appeals from his conviction for murder.
The defendant was charged with the attempted murder of Andres Garcia and the murder of Guatemoc Aguilar. On the charge of attempted murder defendant was acquitted, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison for 34 years.
The charges against defendant arose from a night of gang violence on the near southwest side of Chicago. At about 11:30 p.m. on February 3, 1984, the murder victim, Guatemoc Aguilar, and his companion, Flavio Sanchez, were walking on 18th Street toward Sanchez' home when they noticed a white Grand Prix drive past them. According to Sanchez, the defendant was driving this car, and another man, whom Sanchez recognized as Nelson Torres, was a passenger. There were also several other passengers in the car, but Sanchez could not identify them. As the car went by, defendant and Torres flashed gang symbols at Sanchez and the murder victim. The victim and Sanchez were members of the Ambrose street gang, and the defendant and his companion were members of a rival gang the Latin Counts. The signals flashed by the defendant meant "Latin Counts Love, Ambrose Killers." According to Sanchez, he and the defendant were well acquainted with one another since they had engaged in numerous fights over the years, and defendant had shot at Sanchez on several occasions.
After having seen the defendant drive past them, the murder victim and Sanchez went to Sanchez' apartment. The two men stayed at Sanchez' until midnight. Then they waited for a bus on 18th Street outside of Sanchez' apartment building. Once again, the defendant and his companions drove down the street in a white Grand Prix and flashed the ominous gang symbols. The victim and Sanchez walked back toward Sanchez' apartment where they were joined by two of their gang comrades. According to Sanchez, the defendant cruised past the group one more time.
As the murder victim and his friends stood in front of Sanchez' apartment building, two police officers and a reporter who was researching gang problems approached the group. Just as the officers and reporter arrived, Sanchez observed defendant at the edge of an alley across the street. Defendant, wearing a black leather jacket, was accompanied by another man, and Sanchez said that the defendant looked as if he held a long pipe in his right hand. Defendant raised a rifle and shot in Sanchez' direction. The bullet flew past Sanchez, and he dove to the ground. A second shot struck the murder victim in the face, and he died from this wound.
Sanchez was distraught by the murder of his friend. Shortly after the shooting he told the police that he did not see who killed Aguilar. Sanchez explained later that he did not tell the police that the defendant was the killer because he had developed his own plan for vengeance against the Latin Counts. About 12 hours after the shooting, however, Sanchez went to the police and told them that the defendant had killed Guatemoc Aguilar.
Another witness observed the shooting of Guatemoc Aguilar. Jessie Aguilar, the victim's cousin, was looking out of the window from his second-floor apartment at the time of the murder. He could see the victim standing with a group of friends on the street below. Jessie also saw the defendant, whom he knew as "Me Me," standing with an object that looked like a long pipe pointed at the murder victim. Jessie turned from the window momentarily, and he heard two gunshots. He turned back to look out the window, and he saw the victim lying on the ground. He also saw defendant put the gun down and escape through the alley.
Like Sanchez, Jessie did not immediately implicate the defendant in the murder. In fact, he told the police and a reporter that he did not see who had killed his cousin, Guatemoc. Later, however, he identified defendant's picture from among five mug shots. Jessie explained at trial that he and Sanchez were planning to avenge Guatemoc's death themselves, so they decided not to tell the police about defendant's part in the murder.
Andres Garcia, a cousin of both the murder victim and Jessie Aguilar, was with Jessie in the apartment on the night of the murder. Garcia heard Jessie shout that the defendant, Manuel Rios, or "Me Me," was in the alley with a gun. After Garcia heard the gunfire he ran to see what had happened to his cousin. When the murder victim was taken to the hospital, Garcia returned to Jessie's apartment. About one-half hour later, Garcia went out for cigarettes. He saw a white Grand Prix driving toward him. Then he noticed that the defendant, wearing a black leather jacket, was in the car. Defendant shot at Garcia and sped away. The next day, Garcia identified defendant as the person who had shot at him.
Maria Sanchez, Flavio's sister, was at home on the night of the killing. Her mother reported to her that a white Grand Prix had been cruising the area. Then Maria observed someone in a white car shoot at Andres Garcia.
At his trial, defendant testified about the events of the evening of February 3, 1983, and he offered evidence to rebut the prosecution's case. At about 11 p.m., defendant was stopped by two police officers and the reporter who was researching gang activity. When the officers stopped defendant, he was in an orange Mustang or Nova, not a white Grand Prix. The defendant testified that he was attending a party at the time of the shooting. He presented four alibi witnesses to corroborate his testimony. Three of the alibi witnesses said that they recalled that defendant was at the party at 12:15, the time of the shooting, because that was when the police interrupted the gathering with a complaint about noise. The State discredited the testimony of the alibi witnesses with a police dispatch record which showed that an officer had made a call to the party at 1 a.m.
At the close of all the evidence, defendant was convicted of the murder of Guatemoc Aguilar, and he now appeals.
Defendant's first objection is that the State did not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This argument is unpersuasive.
A jury's determination that a defendant has been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt will not be set aside lightly. When the evidence in a case is irreconcilably conflicting, as it was here, it is the peculiar prerogative of the jury to ascertain the truth. A reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the trier's of fact on issues involving the weight of the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses. An appellate court will not reverse a criminal conviction unless the evidence is so unsatisfactory or improbable as to raise a reasonable doubt about defendant's guilt. People v. Manion (1977), 67 Ill.2d 564, 578, 367 N.E.2d 1313.
• 1 The evidence in the present case is not so improbable as to require a reversal of defendant's conviction. Two eyewitnesses identified the defendant as the person who had shot the murder victim. It is true that these witnesses made prior inconsistent statements. Witness Sanchez told police that he did not know who had shot the victim, but Sanchez explained at trial that he did not immediately implicate defendant because he wanted to punish the killer himself. Witness Aguilar told the police that he could not identify the murderer, and he told a reporter the same thing. At trial, Aguilar said that he and Sanchez had devised their own plan for revenge just minutes after the shooting, and as a consequence, they decided not to share their information with the police. The fact that these witnesses delayed in implicating the defendant affects the weight accorded their ...