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03/11/87 the People of the State of v. George J. Ambro

March 11, 1987





505 N.E.2d 381, 153 Ill. App. 3d 1, 106 Ill. Dec. 75 1987.IL.286

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. Barry Puklin, Judge, presiding.


Justice Nash delivered the opinion of the court. Hopf, J., concurs. Presiding Justice Lindberg, Concurring in part and Dissenting in part.


After a jury trial, defendant, George Ambro, was convicted of murdering (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1) his wife, Ruth Ambro, and sentenced to a term of 20 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends (1) the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the offense of voluntary manslaughter based on provocation, (2) defendant was not proved guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, and (3) the trial court erred in refusing to permit a psychiatrist to testify regarding defendant's mental state.

Defendant and Ruth Ambro were married on May 25, 1974, and, at the time of the killing on March 28, 1985, the couple had two children, Jocelyn and Bethany, ages six and two years old. In 1978, the couple began experiencing marital difficulties and Ruth attempted suicide. In June 1984, the couple separated until Ruth returned to their Elgin residence two weeks later. During late 1984 and early 1985, the couple's marital problems worsened. Defendant testified that the couple did not have marital relations until after December 1984, and Ruth would stay out at night until 4:30 a.m. without explanation. He stated he became suspicious of her activities when he observed that Ruth was wearing different types of underwear and discovered she had purchased birth control pills.

In January 1985, the couple joined a marital counseling group, and on March 20, 1985, Ruth informed the group that she no longer loved defendant and was going to divorce him. Defendant stated that he attempted suicide shortly thereafter. On March 26, 1985, Ruth met with an attorney and scheduled a meeting for March 29, 1985, to sign a petition for dissolution of the marriage.

Defendant testified that he returned home from work on the evening of March 28, 1985, at approximately 5:30 p.m. and Ruth immediately began bickering. Shortly thereafter, David Gordon, a police officer with the Kane County sheriff's police department and a friend of the couple, arrived at the residence. Defendant stated he knew Gordon was assigned to the civil process division and asked Gordon several times whether he had come to serve defendant with divorce papers. Ruth had told defendant she had seen an attorney several days before and wondered why the divorce papers had not yet arrived.

After Gordon left, the couple had dinner and argued about Ruth's treatment of the children. Defendant accused Ruth of mistreating Bethany by hitting her and not feeding her properly and asked Ruth if she was taking her frustration toward defendant out on the child. Defendant stated that when Ruth picked up Bethany's high chair and threw it back about three feet, he became very upset and confused.

Defendant testified further that he then put the dinner dishes in the kitchen and the couple did not speak with each other until 7:30 p.m., when defendant called his mother to say goodnight to Jocelyn, their oldest daughter, who was visiting the grandmother. When defendant found out the child could not come to the phone because she was taking a bath and hung up, Ruth accused him of not allowing her to talk to Jocelyn.

After Bethany was put to bed, the couple continued their argument. Defendant stated he was cleaning the kitchen counter and was holding two knives in his hand when his wife, who was on the living room sofa, told him that he had no right to complain about her handling of the children because he "had no right to the children." She then called defendant an alcoholic and told him that he did not love the children and that she was going to take them away from him. Defendant testified he could not describe his feelings at that point and had never had such feelings before. He went to the living room, kneeled beside Ruth and asked her what he could do to restore their relationship. Ruth said, "I have another man and when we make love I feel like it was." She then said, "I know you want to kill me. Pull that knife and make it easy for me." Defendant then stabbed Ruth with a knife, testifying that he had no conscious knowledge of doing so or an intent to stab her. He immediately called the police, but Ruth never regained consciousness and died soon after being brought to the hospital. At trial, medical testimony established that the wife died from a single stab wound through the heart.

Defendant presented witnesses who testified to his reputation in the community for peacefulness and relating to the couple's marital problems. He attempted to present testimony by Dr. Lyle Rossiter, a psychiatrist who had examined defendant after his arrest, on defendant's mental state at the time he killed his wife, but the court granted the State's motion to exclude the testimony.

Defendant tendered a jury instruction defining the offense of manslaughter based on provocation, but the trial court sustained an objection by the State and refused to submit it to the jury, which was instructed only on the charge of murder. After deliberations, the jury convicted ...

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