APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FIRST DIVISION
503 N.E.2d 778, 151 Ill. App. 3d 558, 104 Ill. Dec. 916 1987.IL.2005
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Romie Palmer, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court. CAMPBELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., concur.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE BUCKLEY
After a jury trial, the defendant, Joseph Beringer, was convicted of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)) and conspiracy (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 8-2(a)) in the shooting death of Joanne Barkauskas. This case is a companion case to People v. Barkauskas (1986), 147 Ill. App. 3d 360, 497 N.E.2d 1183, where the victim's husband was convicted of murder, armed violence, solicitation, and conspiracy. The defendant in that case was sentenced to natural life in prison without parole.
The facts of the Beringer case are essentially the same as Barkauskas. Edward Barkauskas, the victim's husband, approached James Galason with a proposition to kill his wife in exchange for part of the insurance proceeds. Barkauskas asked Galason to shoot his wife below the neck so there could be an open casket funeral. Galason, the defendant, and his brother, who was a codefendant, planned the murder, which was committed on July 16, 1981.
The State called for a death sentence hearing. At this hearing, the Judge exercised mercy and sentenced the defendant to natural life in prison without parole for his role as the shooter in a cold-blooded contract murder.
On appeal, the defendant raises a multitude of errors ranging from erroneous rulings on the admissibility of evidence to gross misconduct by the prosecutors. For the following reasons, we reverse the verdict of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial. I
Defendant argues that the State's cross-examination for Harvey Webb, the only eyewitness to the murder, denied him a fair trial. Webb witnessed the murder while he was walking to his job as a car wash attendant. He knew the victim by sight, having seen her walk down the street on several occasions. Otherwise, Webb had no connection with the events of the crime.
Webb testified that he was able to identify the car that was used at the scene of the crime. He further testified that later at the police station, he picked James Galason out of a lineup as the shooter. Webb was able to identify Galason by his characteristically long blonde hair that was blowing in the wind from the fatal shotgun blast.
The two State's Attorneys who cross-examined Webb asked unsubstantiated questions for the purpose of attacking him personally. Generally, the questions insinuated that Webb solicited money for his testimony, that he used drugs before he spoke to the State's Attorney, and that he conspired with defense counsel to change his testimony because he blamed the police for the fact that he lost his job at the car wash. In particular, Webb was cross-examined as follows:
"Q. Didn't you call me and tell me you were locked up on a disorderly?
Q. And you wanted me to get you out of jail?
Q. Didn't you tell me that?
Q. And that you would come in this court if I paid you money, didn't you tell me that?
Q. And you would say anything --
MR. STAMOS: If I may make an objection, inserting himself in this case as a witness. It is improper for him to be asking these forms of questions, get on the stand and testify.
THE COURT: You will have to perfect your ...