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People v. Wilson





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Angelo F. Pistilli, Judge, presiding.


Melvin Wilson and Clifford Horne were charged by indictment with the murders of Ralph Dixon and Crystal Knight. Co-defendant Horne entered a negotiated plea wherein he received concurrent 25-year sentences of imprisonment for murder and rape in exchange for his testimony against the defendant, Wilson. Following a jury trial, Wilson was found guilty of both murders. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

At Wilson's trial, co-defendant Horne testified that on the evening of August 19, 1983, he and the defendant, Wilson, formulated a plan to rob a drug trafficker by the name of James Reynolds. According to Horne, he and Wilson planned to contact Reynolds through Ralph Dixon, who was also a drug dealer. Pursuant to the plan, Horne telephoned Dixon and requested four ounces of cocaine. Dixon informed him that he could have the cocaine for him within 15 to 20 minutes after he got there. Horne and Wilson subsequently arrived at Dixon's apartment at approximately 11 p.m. After receiving Horne's assurance that Wilson was not a police officer, Dixon stated that he had four ounces of cocaine available there. Horne replied that he and Wilson would go out to the car and get the money.

Horne continued by stating that he and Wilson went to the car and returned to the apartment bearing guns and a pair of handcuffs. They then exhibited their guns to Dixon and handcuffed him. With Dixon in tow, they found Dixon's girlfriend, Crystal Knight, in the rear bedroom, taped her mouth and eyes, and tied her hands and feet. Horne then returned to the kitchen area with Dixon and began asking him about Reynold's whereabouts. Dixon told him that Reynolds was out of town. Horne then began searching the apartment for more cocaine.

Horne next testified that he saw Wilson carrying a portable television out of the bedroom. Horne then went to the bedroom himself and stated that he raped Crystal Knight. Thereafter, he returned to the kitchen and Wilson went back to the bedroom. According to Horne, Wilson subsequently emerged from the bedroom with a knife and a bloody towel and stated that he killed Crystal Knight. Finally, Horne testified that he saw Wilson stab Dixon three or four times.

On cross-examination Horne testified that while he was being interrogated in this matter the police told him that Wilson was blaming the murders on him. Horne then left the interrogation room and later called Rose Marie Williams, Wilson's fiancee, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to see if the police were telling him the truth. She supposedly said, "You know better than that."

The State offered further evidence that approximately 55 suitable latent prints were recovered from Dixon's apartment. Of those 55 prints, 20 were matched to Horne, two were matched to Wilson, and at least two were matched to James Reynolds. Dixon's and Knight's prints were also identified, and others were unidentified. The two prints matched to the defendant were lifted from a portable television that was found sitting on the living room floor and was shown to have been moved from the bedroom. Other State's evidence showed that the bodies were discovered on August 21, 1983, that both died from exsanguination, and that the victims were likely killed by the same person. Wilson was arrested in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on July 23, 1984. At that time he was living with his fiancee, Rose Marie Williams. Initially, Wilson gave the police an alias name, but later acknowledged that he was Melvin Wilson. While in jail, Wilson made a telephone call to Horne.

Finally, the State offered the evidence of Daniel Stohr, Horne's attorney. Attorney Stohr testified that Horne told him that he was present when the crimes were committed, that he did not commit the murders, and that Melvin Wilson committed the murders. This conversation was had before the State negotiated a plea with Horne for his testimony in this matter.

Wilson, testifying on his own behalf, denied any participation in the offenses charged. He further stated that he had been in Dixon's apartment on one occasion in early August 1983, and although he did not remember touching the television then, he said that "I did move it one time or another." The defendant denied being anything more than an acquaintance of Horne and offered explanations for leaving Illinois and using an alias name.

The defendant argues that he was denied a fair trial when the trial court prevented the defense from attempting to prove that someone other than the defendant committed the murders. The evidence at trial established that James Reynolds' fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime. Evidence also established that James Reynolds was arrested the day after the bodies were discovered while using the victim's Corvette. Nevertheless, the defendant was not allowed to admit evidence that Reynolds had been involved in a violent argument with the victims just hours before their murders.

In its offer of proof regarding the argument, the defense presented the testimony of James Reynolds, Karen Bulger, and Pat Bulger. James Reynolds testified that he was at the victim's apartment on Thursday, August 18, the day before the murders, making a drug delivery. He stated that he arrived at the apartment complex in a black van with Florida plates. His bullterrier was with him. He continued by saying that he went into Dixon's apartment, delivered four ounces of cocaine worth $8,000, and left in Dixon's Corvette. He denied having an argument with the victims.

Karen and Pat Bulger were neighbors of the victims. Karen Bulger stated that on the day of the murders, Friday, August 19, she was out on her balcony and observed a black van with Florida plates pull into the parking lot. She then observed a man get out and walk what she described as a huge, muscular dog. She went back into the house and came out onto the balcony because of the yelling and screaming she heard. Mrs. Bulger described the scene as follows:

"[The victim, Dixon, and James Reynolds] were threatening each other, and they were — there was a lot of swearing which I won't say the words, F, SOB, words, lots of things I wouldn't repeat, and that's the sort of thing, then each one of them several times threatened to kill the other one.

They were — they were so mad that at that time I thought that someone was going to pull a gun on the other one. I thought that much was an angry conversation. I was scared something was going to come of it. [James Reynolds] was going to charge at him. He was ...

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