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08/04/87 the People of the State of v. Alfonso Bennett

August 4, 1987

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

ALFONSO BENNETT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, SECOND DIVISION

511 N.E.2d 1340, 159 Ill. App. 3d 172, 111 Ill. Dec. 45 1987.IL.1119

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

APPELLATE Judges:

PRESIDING JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court. HARTMAN and BILANDIC, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SCARIANO

Defendant-appellant Alfonso Bennett (Bennett) was arrested on November 17, 1983, and charged with murder in connection with the November 25, 1980, shooting death of Lenora Mitchell (Lenora). At the time of the shooting, Bennett and Lenora were dating, although previously they had lived together. Pursuant to a court order, Bennett was examined by two psychiatrists prior to trial, both of whom concluded that he was fit to stand trial. A jury subsequently found Bennett guilty of the charged offense, and the court sentenced him to a 40-year term of imprisonment.

On appeal, Bennett contends that: (1) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) he was denied a fair trial because the State allegedly emphasized inadmissible hearsay evidence; (3) he was denied a fair trial for the additional reason that the State in closing argument allegedly encouraged the jury to fabricate a motive; (4) he was denied his due process right not to be tried while mentally incompetent; and (5) the imposition of a 40-year term of imprisonment constituted an abuse of discretion. We affirm.

The record discloses that Samuel Crossley, an usher at Monumental Faith Evangelical Church located at 73rd Street and Chappel Avenue in Chicago, testified that he saw Bennett and Lenora together at evening services on the day of the shooting. Crossley recalled that they disrupted the service by repeatedly exiting and entering the church. He went to the couple's pew to see what the problem was and learned that Bennett wanted to leave, whereupon Bennett proceeded to go to his car without Lenora. Crossley agreed to escort Lenora to the car in order for her to retrieve her purse, but when Lenora attempted to open the car door, Bennett "took off" without permitting Lenora to reclaim the purse.

After the service, Crossley and his wife drove Lenora to her home at 102nd and State Streets. He testified that as Lenora walked up to her house he heard two gunshots, saw two bright flashes, and observed Lenora fall backwards. Crossley could not see who fired the shots. He immediately left the scene and "flagged down" a police car.

However, nothing could be done to save Lenora. Dr. Tae An, a pathologist with the Cook County medical examiner's office, testified that he performed an autopsy on Lenora the day after the shooting and determined that she died as a result of bullet wounds to the head and chest which lacerated her brain, liver, and aorta. In examining the body, Dr. An retrieved a bullet that had lodged inside Lenora's skull and forwarded it to the Chicago police department crime laboratory.

Chicago police detective David Dioguardi testified that he was assigned to investigate Lenora's death. He stated that he tried to discover Bennett's whereabouts immediately after the incident, but was unable to do so until Bennett voluntarily appeared at the police station the day after the shooting, inexplicably bringing with him Lenora's purse, and asked the police why they wanted to talk to him. After the detective explained the reason for seeking him, Bennett told Dioguardi that on the day of the shooting he picked Lenora up at work, that they attended church, but that he wanted to leave the service because he did not like the sermon. Bennett admitted to Dioguardi that he argued with Lenora at the church concerning the quality of the sermon and that he wanted to leave. The witness recalled that Bennett claimed that after leaving the church he went to the Godfather cocktail lounge at 77th and Halsted Streets before returning home at 2 or 2:30 a.m.

After this initial conversation, Bennett was detained by the police until Dioguardi and his partner again interrogated him several hours later regarding certain inconsistencies in his earlier statements. In response to these questions, Bennett told them that his twin brother "Ronnie," whom he characterized as a "violent and evil person," was probably responsible for Lenora's death. Dioguardi further related that Bennett stated that Ronnie probably hid the murder weapon under his bed at home. Shortly after receiving this information, Dioguardi executed a valid search warrant of what he believed, based on his supplemental police reports, to be Bennett's residence located at 49 E. 103rd Place.

Though the search did not uncover any weapons, Dioguardi recalled that a woman who identified herself as Bennett's mother was at the house during the search and that he talked to her about whether Bennett had a twin brother named Ronnie. The court sustained the defense's objection to the State's inquiry into what Bennett's mother may have told Dioguardi about the twin brother. He was permitted to testify, however, to a subsequent conversation he had with Bennett, in which he informed him that he had learned that Bennett did not have a twin brother, but that on occasion Bennett would refer to himself as Ronnie or assert that Ronnie had done something for which Bennett was blamed. Dioguardi emphasized, in his testimony, that Bennett's middle name was Ronnie. The detective related that upon being confronted with this evidence, Bennett admitted that he did not have a twin brother and that he himself was Ronnie. Bennett was not arrested at this time; instead, he was released from detention.

Officer Dennis Cullom testified that approximately 10 months later, on September 18, 1981, he and his partner searched, pursuant to a valid warrant, the same house Dioguardi had previously searched at 49 E. 103rd Place. He stated that while he and his partner were in the house, they met a young woman who identified herself as Debra Bennett. On cross-examination Cullom testified that he had also seen Bennett on the porch of the home on a number of occasions between 1975 and 1978.

Cullom recalled that, as a result of the search, he recovered a .38 caliber revolver and a "sawed-off" shotgun from the attic of the 49 E. 103rd Place residence. The officers forwarded both weapons to the Chicago police department crime laboratory, where they were examined by specialists. There were no fingerprints found on the weapons. However, Vincent Lomoro, a Chicago police officer assigned to the crime lab, testified that he compared a bullet fired from the .38 caliber revolver found at 49 E. 103rd Place and the bullet surgically removed from Lenora's skull. It was his opinion that the bullet taken from the victim's head was fired from the .38 caliber revolver which had been found at 49 E. 103rd Place. Over the defense's objection, based on the failure of the State to connect the weapon to Bennett, the gun was admitted into evidence.

The only defense witness was Detective Joseph Bonodonna, a Chicago police officer employed in the gun registration department, who testified that the gun which was admitted into evidence was registered to the "Interstate Services Corporation." He related that the corporation had informed his office that the weapon was stolen on January 11, 1978, but that it was subsequently recovered on January 14, 1978, and that he had received no other report from the corporation concerning the whereabouts of the gun.

The defendant first contends that the evidence presented against him was insufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In support of this contention, Bennett argues that: (1) the evidence linking him to the alleged murder weapon was tenuous, because the State first failed to prove that Bennett lived at or had access to the 49 E. 103rd Place residence where the gun was found, and secondly it did not, with any certainty, connect the weapon to the shooting; (2) Bennett's alleged statements to Dioguardi should not have been given substantial weight since they were not a confession, but rather they were merely admissions which damage only his credibility; and (3) Crossley's testimony indicated that the argument in church was only a minor disagreement concerning the quality of the sermon, and did not give Bennett a motive to murder Lenora.

Initially, we note that a jury verdict will not be reversed unless the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, is so unsatisfactory, improbable, or inconclusive that no rational trier of fact could have found defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (People v. Steffens (1985), 131 Ill. App. 3d 141, 147, 475 N.E.2d 606; People v. Hunter (1984), 124 Ill. App. 3d 516, 525, 464 N.E.2d 659.) With this standard in mind, we first consider Bennett's contention that the State failed to link him to the .38 caliber revolver found at 49 E. 103rd Place.

The State relied on the testimony of Officers Dioguardi and Cullom to connect Bennett to the house where the gun was found: Dioguardi testified that he executed a search warrant at the 49 E. 103rd Place residence shortly after his initial interview with Bennett, and while conducting the search, he talked with Bennett's mother there. Dioguardi claimed that he knew this to be Bennett's home because this was the address he had written in his supplemental police reports. Furthermore, Cullom testified that when he later searched the house in September 1981, he met a woman who identified herself as Debra Bennett. Cullom also asserted that he saw the defendant on the front porch of the house on numerous occasions between 1975 and 1978. Though there was only circumstantial evidence offered by the State to show that Bennett lived at 49 E. 103rd Place, in light of the above testimony we believe that the jury reasonably concluded that the residence was a place which Bennett at least frequented. Certainly the jury's belief that Bennett either lived at or had access to the dwelling at 49 E. 103rd Place was not so unsatisfactory, improbable, or inconclusive as to bring into question the reasonableness of the verdict.

Let us turn now to whether the State proved that the .38 caliber revolver recovered from the 49 E. 103rd Place residence was the murder weapon. As noted earlier, the only witness for the defense was Officer Bonodonna, who testified that the gun was registered to the Interstate Services Corporation. Bennett maintains that the evidence that almost three years prior to the shooting, the corporation reported the gun missing, that it was subsequently recovered three days later, and that the owner never reported it missing again belies any link between the gun and the offense. Bonodonna's testimony, however, must be weighed against that of Officer Lomoro, a ballistics expert, whose opinion it was that the gun found at 49 E. 103rd Place was the same weapon used to kill Lenora. We believe it was manifestly reasonable for the jury to conclude that somehow Bennett had obtained the weapon and used it to deadly effect, despite the fact that the corporation had not again reported the gun missing or stolen.

Therefore, we believe that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Bennett had access to the house in which the gun was recovered, and also that the gun recovered therein was the murder weapon. Bennett's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is especially manifest when, in addition to the evidence of Bennett's association with the murder weapon, we consider the testimony of Dioguardi, who, as noted earlier, related that Bennett first told him that his evil ...


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