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03/27/87 the People of the State of v. Ollie Bennett

March 27, 1987








507 N.E.2d 95, 154 Ill. App. 3d 469, 107 Ill. Dec. 431 1987.IL.379

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas A. Hett, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE LORENZ delivered the opinion of the court. MURRAY, J., concurs. PRESIDING JUSTICE SULLIVAN, Dissenting.


He appeals, contending that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of armed robbery because the description given by the complainant did not match his appearance and because there were no fingerprints obtained from the physical evidence which linked him to the crime. He also contends that he was denied his right to trial by a fair and impartial jury where the trial court, during the polling of the jurors, failed to examine a juror whose statement indicated possible Dissent from the verdict and that he was denied a fair trial by the improper and prejudicial statements made by the prosecution during both stages of its closing argument.

The following facts were adduced at trial. At approximately 10 a.m. on November 16, 1983, the complainant, Carletta Blade, had just returned home from shopping at a grocery store. As she approached the third-floor landing where her apartment was located, she encountered defendant, who was pointing a .32 -- caliber handgun at her from three steps above. Defendant then demanded money, and in response complainant stated that she had none. A conversation between the two then took place. During that time, they stood face-to-face about 36 inches apart. About five minutes elapsed when defendant grabbed the complainant's purse, pushed her, and ran down the stairs.

After defendant had run away, the complainant went into her apartment and informed her husband and son of the armed robbery. They then got into her car and attempted to chase defendant. She subsequently spotted defendant as he was running down an alley near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and 120th Place, but she then lost sight of him. Immediately thereafter, complainant encountered a police officer. She described her assailant to the officer as a medium-complected black man, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, who weighed 170 to 180 pounds and who had natural or curly hair and a thick mustache. She further stated that he was wearing blue jeans, a navy blue pea coat, and a dark skull cap. At the time Blade was robbed, defendant was not carrying a cane or crutches.

Approximately an hour and a half after the offense in question, the police received an anonymous telephone call from a woman who lived at 21 East 120th Place. The caller stated that earlier that morning she had observed a black man wearing a navy blue coat hide two bags in the bushes in the back of her yard. Subsequently, the same person returned wearing a gray coat and retrieved one of the bags. He then walked westbound on 120th Place.

Police officer Thomas McCann, responding to that tip, proceeded to 120th Place. There, he observed defendant and defendant's wife walking westbound on 120th Place. Defendant, who was wearing a gray coat, was stopped and arrested. It was later established that defendant and his wife lived at 12036 South Harvard, which is five blocks west of the location of the robbery. Officer McCann also stated that defendant's vehicle was found at 12147 South Indiana, which is less than one block west of the scene of the crime.

After defendant was arrested, defendant's wife told Officer McCann that defendant had dropped the paper bag which he had retrieved from the aforesaid location. Police officers conducted a search of that area and discovered a paper bag lying on the curb at 12015 South State Street. In that bag was a .32-caliber black snub-nosed handgun. A subsequent gun registration check indicated that the gun had been reported missing by Arnold Zalon 11 months before the armed robbery in question.

Zalon testified that the gun had been stolen from the bathroom of his place of business and that, at that time, defendant's sanitation service was employed by him to clean his bathrooms. Zalon stated that at times two other employees besides defendant cleaned his bathrooms.

In addition to the aforesaid gun, Officer McCann testified he found the complainant's purse in a plastic grocery bag, hidden in the backyard bushes at 21 East 120th Place. Neither the purse nor the gun was dusted for fingerprints. Officer McCann further testified that at the time defendant was arrested, he did not appear to have any difficulty walking.

About three hours after the armed robbery, the complainant arrived at the police station. She first identified her purse and then viewed a lineup of four men which included defendant. All were black men who had mustaches; defendant was the tallest of the four. Detective Flood testified that the complainant positively identified defendant in the lineups he conducted as the man who had robbed her. Flood further testified that the complainant stated that she had observed the defendant once before in the neighborhood.

Defendant, testifying in his own behalf, stated that on the morning of the offense in question, he was on his way to work when he realized that he had car trouble. Because of that trouble, he immediately returned home and went back to bed. At 10:15 a.m. he and his wife walked to a liquor store at 120th and Michigan Avenue in order to pick up defendant's automobile from an acquaintance who was supposed to have fixed it. When they could not find that individual, they purchased a bottle of wine and proceeded to walk home. On the way to their home, they were suddenly surrounded by police. He was then arrested.

Defendant asserted that at the time he was arrested, his right knee was badly swollen because he suffered from gout and high blood pressure and he was using a walking stick because of that condition. Defendant further testified that he began complaining to the police about his gout condition as soon as they took his stick away. It was established that defendant received out-patient treatment for his gout condition at Cermak Hospital about two weeks after the crime. Defendant further admitted that he had been convicted of two Federal firearm violations in 1978 and 1982. On cross-examination, defendant further conceded that during the 17 months that he had been appearing in court on the present matter, he had never appeared in a wheelchair, as he did at trial.

Following the close of evidence and closing arguments, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The jury was then polled. The court told the jury that the clerk would call each juror's name and ask them to answer the question: "Was this and is this now your verdict?" The question was put to the jury as a group and each juror gave his or her response. Neither the court nor the clerk repeated the question for each subsequent juror after the previous juror gave his response. The following colloquy then occurred between the court and the fifth juror polled:

": Smith.

: Smith, Not sure.

: Pardon?

: I'm not sure.

: Is this

: This is my verdict.

: It is your verdict."

The trial Judge made no further inquiries of juror Smith. All of the other jurors answered yes to the court's question. At the end of the polling, defense counsel asked the court to declare a mistrial based upon the fifth juror's statement that she was "not sure." However, the court denied that request.

Defendant contends initially that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence demonstrated that the complainant's initial description of the robbery differed from his appearance at the lineup, because he was too ill to have committed the armed robbery in question, and because his fingerprints were not found on the stolen purse or gun. While we reverse this cause and remand the matter for a new trial for other reasons, we examine the evidence under the authority of People v. Taylor (1979), 76 Ill. 2d 289, 391 N.E.2d 366.

It is well established that precise accuracy in the description of the offender by an identifying witness is not a necessity. (See People v. Rosa (1981), 93 Ill. App. 3d 1010, 418 N.E.2d 124.) The complainant's description of her assailant was: a 35- to 40-year-old medium-complected black man, with a curly, natural hairdo, and a thick mustache. Those particular physical characteristics matched the characteristics of defendant. Complainant further told the officers that the assailant was 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet in height. Defendant is actually 6 feet 2 inches tall. Defendant has called attention to this height discrepancy in order to support his argument. However, the testimony at trial indicated that defendant was standing three or four steps above the complainant when he was pointing a gun at her. It is evident that under such conditions the victim's failure to give a precise measurement of defendant's height is very understandable.

Defendant also calls attention to the disparity between the complainant's estimated weight of her assailant of 170 to 180 pounds and his weight of 250 pounds. However, the record on appeal establishes that defendant's actual weight was 220 pounds at the time he was arrested. It was also established that defendant was wearing a navy pea coat when he pointed the gun at the victim. That type of garment could have ...

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