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10/27/87 the People of the State of v. Maurice Mitchell

October 27, 1987





516 N.E.2d 500, 163 Ill. App. 3d 58, 114 Ill. Dec. 345 1987.IL.1594

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Kenneth L. Gillis, Judge, presiding.


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


Maurice Mitchell was charged by information with the murder of his wife Debra Mitchell, and with armed violence. Following a jury trial, Maurice was convicted of murder and he received a 40-year sentence, from which he appeals. We affirm.

During voir dire, Maurice made two motions for a mistrial based on the following grounds: (1) that the People systematically excluded blacks from the jury; and (2) that the trial Judge denied a defense request "that the jurors be asked whether they belong to any organizations dealing with social services for women and children."

After the jury was selected, the People agreed not to "bring out any conversations that go towards the incidents that may have occurred between the defendant and the victim either before the death of Deborah [ sic ] Mitchell or immediately thereafter; but we will reserve the right to use this in rebuttal, all of the conversations." Additionally, the trial court allowed the defense's motion in limine to bar the People from introducing evidence of an altercation on May 11, 1983, between Maurice and Debra, although the defense was permitted to bring out the details of the incident in order to "show bias."

Andrew Coats, Debra's father, testified that although on December 3, 1983, Debra was married to Maurice, she lived separately from her husband, at Coats' apartment, and had done so since an incident occurred between Debra and Maurice on May 11, 1983. On December 3, 1983, at 1:30 a.m., Coats was watching television in his bedroom when Debra and Maurice entered the apartment. Coats returned to his bedroom with Debra, who was crying. Meanwhile, Maurice was sitting in the kitchen. At this time, Maurice said to Debra, "This is going to be your last night." Coats told the couple that he did not want to hear any arguments between them because he had a headache, and that they should go to bed. When Debra left her father's bedroom on the way to her bedroom, she passed through the kitchen. Coats testified that Maurice said to Debra, "I'm not kidding you. This is going to be your last night." Debra and Maurice then went to her bedroom.

While they were in the bedroom, Coats heard no voices, but he did hear the sound of bedsprings. Moments later, Maurice came to Coats' bedroom and said: "You better go see your daughter, I think she done cut herself." As Coats watched Maurice leave the apartment, his daughter, who was bleeding profusely, stumbled into the kitchen and fell to the floor. The trial continued as follows:

"MR. FRANKS [Assistant State's Attorney]: Have you ever seen the defendant with a knife?

A. Yes, I seen him with a knife.

MR. LEMONS [Assistant Public Defender]: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q. Well, have you ever seen the defendant with a pouch on his belt?

A. Yes, I did.

MR. LEMONS: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained."

During cross-examination, Coats testified that he did not see Maurice with a knife on the night of the killing, and he denied that he took a knife from Debra immediately prior to her death. He also denied that two days after Debra's funeral he told Kathy Mitchell, Maurice's sister, that he had taken a knife from Debra. Finally, he denied telling his friend Josh a few days later at a gas station that he did not know what had happened to his daughter because he was on medication. During redirect examination, the following occurred:

"Q. Now, this gas station that was mentioned at Roosevelt and Keeler, did you ever see or hear what the defendant's connection was to that gas station? Did he ever do anything around that gas station?

A. They hit a couple guys, what I heard.

MR. LEMONS: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained. The jury will disregard that."

Officer Patricia Warner of the Chicago police department testified that she investigated the scene of the crime on December 3, 1983. She noticed that Debra had a long gash on her neck and a wound on the back of her right hand, but no weapon was found.

Shirley Ivy, Maurice's girlfriend for two years, was the next witness. A defense objection was sustained when the prosecution asked if Ivy had ever observed Maurice carrying a weapon. On December 3, 1983, at 3 a.m., Maurice came to Ivy's house and asked her to take him to the bus station. While he was waiting for Ivy to get ready to leave, Maurice pulled a black folding knife out of his pants and wiped it on them.

Ivy then drove Maurice to the bus station, where he bought a ticket to Detroit. She testified that during the drive to the station, Maurice again displayed the knife, and told her that he had been in a fight with Debra's brother and two other people, one of whom had a gun. Therefore, he took the gun and shot all three of them, after which Debra came at him with a knife and cut herself. At the station, Maurice told Ivy that he cut Debra and killed her during a fight. During cross-examination, Ivy testified that she called the police about the case on December 5, 1983, and on December 7, 1983.

Prior to the testimony of Debra's mother, Susie Coats, the trial court reiterated that the motion barring evidence of prior altercations between Maurice and Debra remained in effect. During Susie Coats' testimony the following exchange occurred:

"Q. When was the last time you saw your daughter alive?

A. It was Thanksgiving of '83.

Q. And what was her condition at that time?

A. Well she seemed very nervous and tense, and she had --

MR. RHODES: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained. The jury will ...

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