Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Dwight
McKay, Judge, presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Following convictions in a bench trial of murder, aggravated kidnaping, concealment of a homicidal death and unlawful restraint, defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of 30 years for murder and 3 years for concealment of a homicidal death, but defendant was not sentenced on the convictions for aggravated kidnaping and unlawful restraint. On appeal, defendant contends that: (1) the cause of death was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) his conduct constituted, at most, voluntary manslaughter; and (3) his 30-year sentence for murder was excessive.
The victim's stepfather testified that the 15-year-old victim was about 5 feet 4 inches, weighed 120 pounds and was in good health.
The victim's mother testified that although defendant asked her on April 24, 1983, whether her daughter could go with him to a teen club meeting and that he left after being told that her daughter could not go, she subsequently learned that there was no teen club meeting that evening. Her daughter went over to Lisa McCurdy's house shortly thereafter to show her some new clothes.
Lisa McCurdy testified that she was a close friend of the victim and lived across the street from her. On April 24, 1983, the victim came to her home with some clothes to show her. She left about 8:15 p.m. to leave her clothes and purse at home but returned a few minutes later and told Lisa that she was going with defendant to meet someone named Jim who had escaped from a juvenile home.
Officer McQuaid, a special agent for the Department of Law Enforcement, testified that on May 5, 1983, he observed the body of a white female being removed from the Cal-Sag Channel. On November 9, 1983, at about 4:30 p.m., he was with defendant and Detective Adamski at the police station when defendant stated that he would take them to 138th and Division to show them where he placed the victim's body on April 24, 1983. Defendant showed them where Gregory Tarala had stopped his car and the wooded area about 30 feet from the road to which defendant and Tarala carried the victim's body. Defendant told him that from that point he carried the victim's body for another 100 yards to the shoreline of the Cal-Sag River where he covered her with leaves and branches and then he showed them where he later placed the body into the river. Officer McQuaid drew circles on a map to show the locations pointed out by defendant and the place where the body was eventually recovered. He stated also that the area where Gregory Tarala stopped the car is the Little Calumet River and that river flows into the channel. The victim's body was nude when it was discovered, and they did not find any clothes in the area.
Dr. Lee Beamer, who performed the post-mortem examination on the victim, testified that her "death was caused due to drowning, or asphyxia," which he said is a general term which simply means the absence of oxygen. Drowning is a form of asphyxia, which could also result from choking on a piece of meat or having an arm compressed against a person's neck. Based on his examination, he could not determine whether the victim's death was caused by choking or by drowning because both were consistent with his observations. On cross-examination, he stated that the victim had no abrasions or lacerations and, while he did not find any human hair or flesh embedded in her fingers, he believed that he did not take any fingernail scrapings. On his report he indicated that drowning was the cause of death. He found no internal or external injuries to her neck and while he listed drowning as the cause of death, he indicated that the manner of death was undetermined. He stated that drowning is a nonspecific diagnosis, a diagnosis of exclusion, and the drowning could be homicidal, suicidal or accidental. He listed the relevant types of asphyxia as: ligature strangulation; manual strangulation, or strangulation with the hands; chest compression, in which the individual is unable to draw air into the lungs; and compression of the neck, perhaps by an arm. He found no marks of a material wound around the neck causing a constriction which would be evidence of ligature strangulation nor did he find any indentation or fingernail marks which would be characteristic of manual strangulation and compression of the neck. He found nothing that allowed him to rule out either drowning or compression of the neck.
James Reilly, the assistant State's Attorney who interviewed defendant in a room at the Markham courthouse on November 9, 1983, testified that defendant freely discussed the incident and subsequently gave a court-reported statement which he summarized as follows:
"He went to the victim's (Laura) house at approximately 8:00 p.m. on April 24, 1983, to see whether she could go out with him. He met her at approximately 8:30 p.m. behind her girlfriend's house. After they walked through the alley and cut through several yards, Laura asked him whether he "had anything" that she could "get high off." He gave her either a red pill or a "robin's egg." He had a can of beer that evening but he was sober at the time. After Laura took the pill, they began to argue and fight because Laura complained about the lousy taste of the pill. He hit her in the arm, the butt and the chest and she hit him on the arms, the stomach and the crotch. After she grabbed him in the crotch and he also grabbed her in the crotch, she hit him in the face. He was angry and grabbed her and held her with a choke hold around her neck. While he choked her, she gasped for air and fought back by grabbing his arms and pulling his hair. She continued to struggle as they walked down the street and after he stopped choking her she "fell limp." He bent over, put her on the ground and slapped her in the face to revive her. He then lifted her shirt to feel her breast and unsnapped her pants to feel her pubic hair. They were on Central Park Avenue a half-block north of 119th Street at the time and he then saw his brother-in-law, Gregory Tarala, driving south on Central Park. He flagged Gregory down, told him "Gregory, I think I did something wrong here," and showed him where Laura was. Gregory slapped her in the face slightly to try to revive her and they then carried her to Gregory's car. They drove to a forest preserve at 139th and Division near the Little Calumet River where Gregory helped him carry Laura about 30 feet into the forest preserve. Gregory walked back to his car and defendant carried Laura about 100 yards further where he covered her with branches and leaves. Gregory went home after dropping him off at the Frosty Mug on 116th and Pulaski. Defendant called his brother to tell him he was going home and, when he arrived, his mother, sister and brother-in-law were sitting at the table. He was told to call the victim's mother and, when he did so, he told her that he did not know where Laura was. Later that evening, he also spoke to Laura's stepfather at his house and told him that he did not know where Laura was. Gregory left the house at one point but he returned at 1:00 a.m. and he and Gregory then went back to make Laura's death look like an accident. He undressed her, bunched up her clothes and threw them into the river. After he put Laura in the river, he went back to wait for Gregory to pick him up. On the drive home, they discussed not saying anything about the incident. It was Gregory's idea to put Laura in the water."
Reilly also testified that defendant demonstrated the choke hold he used on the victim as he dragged her down Central Park Avenue, and Reilly demonstrated that hold for the trial court.
It was stipulated that William Giese observed a body near the Ashland Avenue bridge on the Cal-Sag Channel at approximately 3:45 p.m. on May 5, 1983. He contacted the police and the body was subsequently removed from the Cal-Sag Channel at a point just west of the Division Street bridge.
It was also stipulated that a toxicologist for the Cook County medical examiner's office performed a chemical test on the victim's blood which was negative for, among other chemicals, opiates, barbiturates, and amphetamines.
Donna Stanley, defendant's mother, testified that her daughter Kathy and her husband, Gregory Tarala, moved into her home around May 1, 1983, and stayed until October 1983 in order to save money to buy a house. Mrs. Stanley had been separated from defendant's father for 13 years and had disciplinary problems with defendant. When Gregory married into the family, he acted like an older brother to the children and although Mrs. Stanley was the disciplinarian when she was home, she gave Gregory permission to function as such in her absence.
Defendant, who was 16 at the time of the incident, testified that he knew the victim from high school and that they were good friends. He did not kill her nor did he help anyone kill her. On April 24, 1983, he and the victim were on their way to "get high" at a place used by local teenagers called "the pit" when Gregory Tarala drove by between 8:30 and 9 p.m. At that time, they were between 117th and 118th on Central Park, a residential area. After Laura drove off with Gregory, defendant went alone to the pit and later to Taco Bell. He called his brother to tell him that he was going home and then stopped at a friend's house for a few minutes, arriving home at approximately 9:45 p.m. He went to bed after taking a shower but his mother awakened at 1 a.m. to tell him that Gregory was coming over because the victim's stepfather had asked him where Laura was. He then went with Gregory to the forest preserve at 138th and Division where they walked down a little path until they reached the water where Gregory showed him a female body. Gregory told him that he and Laura had gone to get some marijuana but stopped to do a little drinking and when he tried to make a pass at her, she "would not go for it" and ran away. Gregory said he caught her and put his hand over her mouth because she was screaming and when she didn't stop, he stuck her head in the water. Gregory then pulled a gun from his pocket, pointed it at defendant and told him that he would end up like Laura if he said anything. Gregory also threatened harm to defendant's family and ...