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05/21/87 the People of the State of v. Ee Owens

May 21, 1987





508 N.E.2d 1088, 155 Ill. App. 3d 990, 108 Ill. Dec. 511 1987.IL.657

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. Rodney A. Scott, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. McCULLOUGH and LUND, JJ., concur.


Following a jury trial, the defendant, Versie Lee Owens, was convicted of murder. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a).) She appeals, asserting (1) the evidence presented at her trial was, as a matter of law, insufficient to sustain a murder conviction and (2) the testimony of Officer Gary Knight concerning the analysis of blood spatters found at the scene of the killing was improperly admitted, due to lack of a foundation establishing acceptance of that investigative technique in the scientific community and the State's failure to qualify Knight as an expert on blood-spatter analysis. Owens requests we reverse her conviction and remand this cause for a new trial or, alternatively, that we reduce her conviction to voluntary manslaughter pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 615(b) (87 Ill. 2d R. 615(b)).

Owens promptly turned herself in to the police following the fatal shooting of the decedent, Donald "Count" Morton. She admits she killed Morton. The principal issue at trial was whether Morton's actions on the night Owens fatally shot him engendered in Owens either a reasonable or an unreasonable belief that the use of deadly force against Morton was necessary in order to prevent him from inflicting death or great bodily harm on her.

On January 23, 1986, Owens was at Morton's apartment from approximately 1 or 1:10 a.m. until she fatally shot Morton shortly after 6 a.m. Sheldon Clark, a resident of the apartment building in which Morton resided, testified he heard arguing coming from Morton's apartment between approximately 2 and 6 a.m. on that morning, and it was apparent from the words spoken that Morton would not permit Owens to leave. Clark stated that prior to 2 a.m. on the same date, Clark had played cards in Morton's apartment, and Morton expressed displeasure over Owens' coming to the apartment as late as she did. He told Owens she was not going to leave unless she killed him. Although Owens begged Morton to let her out of the apartment door, Morton stood in front of the door and told Owens she was not going anywhere. At one point, Morton asked Clark to get him his knives, which Clark refused to do, and Owens made a move for her purse.

Morton was angry when Clark left his apartment. Clark had seen Morton in the same emotional state about 1 to 1 1/2 months prior to the date in question, when Morton had likewise kept Owens from leaving the apartment. Eventually, however, "they got the act together" and Morton allowed Owens to leave. On that earlier occasion, Elmer Schultz, the building's resident landlord, was called to Morton's apartment, and Morton threatened Schultz, followed him to his apartment, and stole Schultz' wallet. A couple of weeks prior to Morton's death, he had also threatened Clark and hit Clark over the head with two beer bottles while Clark's back was turned to him. This incident was apparently precipitated by Clark's going to Morton's apartment to recover something which Morton had stolen from Clark's apartment.

After returning to his apartment on the morning of January 23, Clark heard Morton say to Owens, "I will kill you," and also heard him say he was going to kill Owens, "[i]f you go in your purse." Clark did not see a knife or any other weapon in Morton's hand before he left Morton's apartment on the morning of Morton's death.

Lieutenant Gerald Hunk of the Decatur police department stated that soon after Owens turned herself in, he observed a "slight reddening area" on the inside of her upper lip. However, there was no swelling or fresh or dried blood present, and Hunk did not notice that Owens was injured in any other way.

Sergeant John Mickler, also of the Decatur police department, discovered three pieces of broken brown glass on the floor of the kitchen area of Morton's apartment. He also observed a kitchen knife on a bed in a bedroom of the apartment. He did not see any blood in the bedroom. Decatur police Detective George Lebo testified he saw blood in the area beneath Morton's head and also observed some tissue or blood on a milk carton which was in close proximity to Morton's body.

Dr. Grant C. Johnson, a pathologist, stated no powder burns were found on Morton's head, and in order for powder burns not to be caused by a gun such as used by Owens to kill Morton, the gun must be held 29 to 31 inches from the victim's head. The bullet entered Morton's head from an upward 45-degree angle, but this does not in itself explain the position of the individuals at the time the fatal shot was fired.

On cross-examination, Johnson stated that, with absolute certainty, he could say the gun was fired at least 10 inches away from Morton's head and "with all probability" was fired 30 inches from his head. On redirect examination, Johnson stated the relationship of the gun muzzle to Morton's head, "could imply a number of different positions of the decedent as well as the gun including sitting." It is necessary to bear in mind "the head is highly mobile. It can go from side to side, and it can go way back."

Gary Knight stated he has been employed with the Illinois State Police for 17 1/2 years and has been a crime scene technician for approximately 7 years. It is the responsibility of a crime scene technician to "process crime scenes for the physical evidence, do all the photography, the sketching, fingerprinting, collection of the evidence, the proper packaging and receipting of that evidence, the crime scene sketching, [and] relaying the evidence to the crime lab for analysis." In his occupation, Knight has done crime scene investigations for various police departments, including the Decatur police department.

After describing the appearance of the room where Morton's body was discovered and the evidence which he gathered there, Knight stated he attempted a reconstruction of the scene of Morton's death. He further testified that crime scene reconstruction is a common practice for crime scene technicians. ...

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