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People v. Jurczak





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. Joseph M. McCarthy, Judge, presiding.


Following a jury trial, defendant, John Jurczak, was found guilty of murder but mentally ill (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a), 6-2(c)) and was sentenced to a 20-year term of imprisonment. Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to present as evidence a tape recording of the victim's telephone call to the 911 emergency number and the victim's bloody clothing; (2) whether the trial court's refusal to allow defense counsel to ask certain questions regarding the insanity defense and personal physical disability of the jurors or their families on voir dire was error; and (3) whether alleged improprieties in the prosecutor's cross-examination of a defense witness and the defendant deprived defendant of a fair trial.

Although defendant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict, some recitation of the evidence is necessary for an understanding of the defendant's claims of error. The victim, Catherine Jurczak, was stabbed to death on May 4, 1983, shortly after calling the 911 operator for help and while the telephone line was still connected. Police officers arrived on the scene minutes later and, after finding defendant at the scene, took defendant to the police station. After signing a waiver of his Miranda rights, defendant answered questions and signed a statement which admitted that he had stabbed his wife.

Several months prior to trial, defendant filed a motion in limine requesting that the prosecution be precluded from introducing the tape recording of the victim's telephone call to the 911 Quad-Com Emergency Communication Center during their case in chief, arguing that any probative value of the tape recording would be outweighed by its prejudicial emotional impact on the jury. Following a hearing, the court denied the motion finding that the State had the right to use the tape recording in order to prove its case.

During a lengthy voir dire, defense counsel questioned prospective jurors concerning their attitudes toward the insanity defense, asking questions such as whether they felt any qualms or personal feelings about the issue of insanity in criminal proceedings and if there was anything about returning a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity that caused them any concern. The prosecution objected to defense counsel's further questioning the first panel of jurors as to whether they were concerned about the consequences of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity. The prosecution also objected to the following question asked by defense counsel:

"Have * * * you had, in your personal lives or in your [sic] lives of your families or close friends, any situation where someone has been disabled because of an injury for any extended period of time, and I mean let's say more than two weeks?"

Both objections were sustained.

The State was allowed to question prospective jurors as to whether they agreed that just because a person kills another person, outside of war, that doesn't necessarily mean that person is insane. Both defense counsel and the prosecution were allowed to question prospective jurors extensively regarding their feelings toward, and past experiences with, alcoholism.

Immediately prior to the presentation of the prosecution's case in chief, defendant objected to the introduction of the victim's bloody clothing into evidence, arguing that the clothing had no probative value and would be unavoidably prejudicial. The objection was denied, but the clothing was not allowed to go to the jury room.

At trial, the State presented the testimony of six Carpentersville police officers. Kenneth Zons and Marcia Davis testified that they were the first to arrive at defendant's home on May 4, 1983. Officer Zons knocked at the back door, and, after a short period of time, defendant answered and said that "it is too late, she is already dead." Zons then took defendant to a chair. Davis found the victim lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood with three visible chest wounds and cuts on her hands and fingers. Davis also saw a knife laying on top of the sink. Zons advised defendant of his Miranda rights and asked if he understood, and defendant answered "no."

Defendant was later taken to the police station where he was again advised of his rights, stated he understood his rights, signed a waiver-of-rights form, and, when asked why he stabbed his wife, stated that he wanted her to leave the problems of the world. He then answered questions in the presence of Officers Jerry Ford and Robert Wiggins. The questions and his answers were typed and signed by defendant. The statement was read to the jury. Briefly summarized, defendant stated that he had been drinking for a long time, that he had been worrying, that he had been arguing with his wife, that "something just snapped up here (pointed to his head)," and that he stabbed her in the kitchen with a butcher knife so she wouldn't suffer from old age. He also stated that she had just called the police, but he didn't remember if she was on the telephone when he stabbed her.

Earl Stiegemeyer of the police department identified the butcher knife found in the kitchen of defendant's home and identified the victim's bloodstained clothes which were removed from her body prior to an autopsy. He and Officer Davis identified photographs taken of the victim and of the home. The knife and some of the photographs were allowed to go the jury room during deliberations. Dr. Patrick Garry, who performed the autopsy, testified that there were five stab wounds in the victim's chest area, one in the crook of her left elbow, and multiple wounds involving the fingers of both hands, which he stated were typical of defensive wounds. The fatal stab wound penetrated the heart and a portion of the left lung causing a massive loss of blood.

Charles Johnson, the director of Quad-Com, which answers emergency calls and dispatches the police and fire departments, testified that all telephone calls into the center are recorded on tape. A police-dispatch card was introduced which showed that the first dispatch to defendant's address went out at 1:31 a.m. and the first officer arrived on the scene at 1:33 a.m. The tape of the victim's telephone call to Quad-Com was then played for the jury. Immediately following this the prosecutor stated, "[a]ny members of the jury wish to hear that again? We can play it again." Defense counsel objected, and the trial judge stated that once was sufficient. Defense counsel then made a motion for a mistrial, renewing defendant's previous objections to the playing of the tape, as well as objecting to the prosecutor's remark following the playing of the tape and the fact that the tape was played beyond a previously agreed to cutoff point. The motion was denied. The tape was not played again and did not go to the jury room.

The State also presented the testimony of defendant's daughter and son-in-law, Deborah and Terry Carroll, and his daughter's former fiance, Edward LaMange, who all stated that defendant had been drinking heavily since he injured his leg in November of 1982. They also testified that he was increasingly depressed about not being able to return to work, was worried about money, and was not eating. Terry stated that defendant was depressed about the loss of workers' compensation benefits and was worried about the possibility of his wife losing her job. Deborah and Terry testified that he was worried about his wife's health. Terry and LaMange stated that defendant had discussed suicide, and Deborah and LaMange stated that defendant complained of pain in his leg. Deborah testified regarding an incident she observed a few months prior to the victim's death where, during an argument, ...

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