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People v. Balfour





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Richard L. Samuels, Judge, presiding.


Following a bench trial, defendant, Lavin Balfour, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in the Department of Corrections. On appeal defendant argues (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain a finding of guilty of murder; (2) the trial court improperly denied a request for a behavioral-clinic examination made by defendant at his sentencing hearing; (3) defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel; and (4) defendant was denied due process of law when the police "misplaced" photographs taken at the police station which showed defendant reenacting his encounter with the victim. We affirm.

On June 4, 1981, around 3:30 p.m., the victim, Robert Rodgers, defendant and some other men were in the alley behind 15203 Wood Street in Harvey. Defendant and Rodgers became involved in an argument. The two men moved down the alley, where a fight erupted. When Rodgers fell to the ground, defendant kicked and stomped him repeatedly. Rodgers was taken to a hospital for treatment, but he died that evening as a result of the injuries inflicted by defendant.

Defendant first argues that the evidence does not support his murder conviction. We disagree.

At trial, Herbert Cooper testified that he is married to the victim's mother-in-law. He stated that at the time of the incident, he and his friend, Rudolph Terrell, were repairing cars by the alley behind where Terrell lived, 15203 Wood Street. Approximately five to six people were present. Defendant, whom Cooper had known for more than 20 years, drove into the alley. Defendant approached Cooper and asked him who owned the house. Cooper told him that Terrell owned the house, and defendant went and spoke to Terrell.

Rudolph Terrell testified that while he was working on a car, defendant came over and asked whether he needed a roof. Defendant stated that he could have it for "a deal." Terrell said that he was not interested. Rodgers came up and said to defendant, "[W]hat you doing around here selling hot stuff." Rodgers further told defendant that he did not want the police "worrying us * * * about stuff stolen, didn't need that stuff in the neighborhood" and that defendant should take his stuff and leave. According to Terrell, defendant and Rodgers then moved off, and he went back to work on the car.

Cooper and Terrell gave similar accounts of the events that followed. They heard shouts, jumped up and looked down the alley. Cooper testified that he saw defendant swing at Rodgers, and that Rodgers fell and did not move. Terrell stated that he saw defendant hit Rodgers in the head with a piece of asphalt. Rodgers fell and remained still. Both witnesses testified that defendant then started off, but turned and came back and started kicking and stomping Rodgers in the head and chest. As these witnesses ran to Rodgers' aid, defendant ran past them and the other people in the alley to his car and drove away. Cooper and Terrell both testified that they never saw anything in Rodgers' hands, never saw Rodgers strike defendant, and never heard Rodgers threaten defendant. Both witnesses also testified that they did not see Rodgers drinking that afternoon.

Another State witness, Carl Douglas, testified that when he drove into the alley, he saw Rodgers being beaten. Defendant had a piece of asphalt in his hand. Defendant delivered blows to Rodgers' head, and then kicked and stomped him after he went down.

Robert Stein, the chief medical examiner of the Cook County medical examiner's office, gave testimony regarding the autopsy that he performed on Rodgers. According to Stein, Rodgers' head injuries could have been caused by a rock, a brick or asphalt. He did not observe any broken bones. The pancreas was lacerated, and there were numerous huge lacerations of the liver. The cause of death was traumatic laceration of the liver in association with trauma. The parties stipulated that if Dr. Michael I. Schaffer of the medical examiner's office were called to testify, he would state that the victim's blood amount of alcohol was 131 milligrams percent.

The State's final witness, Officer William Watson, testified that he responded to a radio transmission around 3:40 p.m. on June 4, 1981. He found a man lying just off the alley between Page and Wood Streets, behind 15220 Page. The man's face was bruised and had several small cuts. The officer stated that he did not see anything in the man's hands. He described the victim as being 32 years old, approximately 6 feet 1 inch tall, and weighing 170 pounds. The officer further testified that he arrested defendant approximately two to three hours after the incident. He described defendant as 31 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighing 190 pounds. Defendant did not struggle when he was arrested. The officer recalled that defendant was subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment of a hand injury.

Defendant called Barbara Emery as a witness. Emery testified that she lived in a second-floor apartment at 15220 Page Street. At the time of the occurrence, her attention was drawn to the alley when she heard defendant and Rodgers yelling at each other in angry tones. When she looked out her window, she saw Rodgers chasing defendant down the alley towards her building. Rodgers had one hand behind his back. According to Emery, Rodgers slid on some rocks. She did not see anything in his hands at this time. When Rodgers fell, defendant started to run away. Defendant then turned and came back. He kicked and stomped Rodgers and jumped up and down on top of him before running away. Emery called the paramedics and the police and then came down to ground level. She did not approach Rodgers, but she was able to see little rocks, similar to the ones in the pavement of the alley, in Rodgers' hand.

During cross-examination, Emery stated that she had known defendant for approximately two years. She met him through a friend of hers who was defendant's girlfriend. Emery admitted that she never talked to anyone about the fight until the week before she testified.

Defendant testified that on June 4, 1981, he went to 15203 Wood Street to see the owner of the property. He parked in the alley between Wood and Page. There, he saw Herbie Cooper, whom he knew, and approximately 10 other people, including the victim, standing around drinking whiskey. After Cooper informed defendant that Terrell owned the property, defendant spoke to Terrell about putting some roofing material on his house. Terrell stated that he did not own the house but that he would get defendant the owner's name and address. While they were talking, Rodgers came over and told Terrell that he did not have to explain anything to defendant. Defendant told Rodgers that he did not know him, but Rodgers insisted that he did. Defendant smelled whiskey on Rodgers' breath and believed him to be intoxicated. Rodgers told defendant that he did not want "his kind" in the neighborhood. Defendant, who is black, explained that he looked hispanic at the time due to his long hair. All of the other men in the alley were black. At this point, defendant stated, he became afraid because he thought that Rodgers might do something to him, and the other men were Rodgers' friends. Defendant described Rodgers' mood as violent and hostile.

Defendant further testified that Rodgers told him to step out to the alley to settle things. Fearing that something was "going to go down," defendant told Terrell that he was leaving and would speak with him later. Rodgers, however, was standing by defendant's car and started approaching defendant with his right hand in his back right pocket. Three or four of the other men came near. Feeling threatened, defendant backed away from his car. Rodgers then stated that he was "going to get" defendant. Defendant made no reply to this statement.

Thereafter, defendant stated, he backed into a parked car, and he told Rodgers that he did not want to fight. Rodgers then hit him in the face with his fist. Defendant did not fight back because Rodgers had his hand in his pocket and defendant feared that he had a weapon. When no one came to defendant's aid, defendant turned and started walking quickly away from Rodgers, but Rodgers continued to threaten him. When defendant reached the parking area behind 15220 Page Street, he turned and saw Rodgers pick up a small piece of asphalt, so he did likewise. Defendant testified that Rodgers then lunged at him, and he tried to hit Rodgers. Both men missed. Defendant ...

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