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01/15/88 the People of the State of v. Ralph Pruitt

January 15, 1988





520 N.E.2d 867, 165 Ill. App. 3d 947, 117 Ill. Dec. 516 1988.IL.25

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. John W. Crilly, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE MURRAY delivered the opinion of the court. LORENZ, P.J., and PINCHAM, J., concur.


Following a jury trial, defendant Ralph Pruitt was found guilty of armed robbery and unlawful restraint and was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for the armed robbery conviction and five years for unlawful restraint, the sentences to run concurrently. On appeal, defendant contends that: (1) he was not proved guilty of armed robbery and unlawful restraint beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the trial court improperly admitted evidence of his prior convictions; (3) comments made by the State in its closing argument were so prejudicial as to deny him a fair trial; and (4) the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him on both convictions.

We find it unnecessary to consider all the issues raised by defendant in light of our determination that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence defendant's prior convictions and in allowing the State to emphasize those convictions in its closing argument.

On December 30, 1983, according to complainant Astrid Compton, she left her home at approximately 9 p.m. to visit her fiance; prior to leaving, she had telephoned him to say that she would be stopping first to visit two close family friends whom she referred to as her "aunts." After alighting from a bus, she began to walk to the aunts' home located at 4856 South Prairie in Chicago. While walking down Prairie, she was approached by defendant, who asked her if he could escort her to where she was going. She refused his offer and hurried to her aunts' apartment building. Astrid did not mention this occurrence to her aunts and, after visiting with them for approximately one hour, she left the apartment, which was located on the second floor of the building, and found defendant in the vestibule area on the first floor. She walked past defendant and proceeded down Prairie toward the bus stop. While walking along Prairie, defendant grabbed her around her neck, held a knife to her throat, and pulled her down a gangway to the back of a house. Defendant told her he had just gotten out of the penitentiary and he wanted to take her to a hotel. He then demanded that she give him all her money. After giving him $12 or $13 and a pack of cigarettes, defendant put his knife away, held Astrid by her arm, and repeated that he was going to take her to a hotel. Astrid did not want to go to a hotel with defendant so she suggested that they return to her aunts' home.

Defendant then pulled Astrid by the arm down an alley and to a liquor store located nearby. The store resembled a currency exchange, i.e., a clerk stood behind a partition, took defendant's order for one quart of beer and a pack of cigarettes, and retrieved the items and gave them to defendant. Defendant then handed the bagged items to Astrid and paid the clerk with the money he had taken from Astrid. During this period of time defendant continued to hold Astrid with one hand.

Defendant and Astrid then went back to her aunts' apartment; only 20 minutes had elapsed between the time Astrid first left the apartment and her return. Astrid's Aunt Mary "buzzed" her in and opened the apartment door. Astrid introduced defendant as "a friend" because she did not know his name and they were invited into the den of the apartment so they could drink the beer at the bar located therein.

Astrid, after remaining in the den for awhile, left under the pretext of seeing her other aunt, who was in a bedroom in the rear of the apartment. When she got to the aunt's room, she removed her rings because she did not want defendant to steal them and then went to the kitchen and called the police; she dialed 911, gave her name and address, and stated that a man had put a knife to her throat, taken her money, and taken her to her aunts' home and she was afraid.

While Astrid was away from the den, defendant and her aunt discussed the weather and drank beer. After approximately 20 minutes had elapsed, defendant stated he "had to go." Mary got up to let defendant out and called to Astrid to notify her that defendant was leaving. At this point, Astrid came back toward the den and she, defendant and Mary met at the front door at the same time. When Mary opened the door, defendant walked past her. Simultaneously, two plainclothes police officers were standing at the door with their guns drawn. Astrid explained she was the one who telephoned the police and gave the officers the same information she had reported to the police over the telephone. Defendant was then placed under arrest and searched. The police recovered a knife, nine one-dollar bills, and a pack of cigarettes from defendant. Astrid accompanied the officers to the police station, where she discovered some dried blood on her throat, presumably from a nick caused by defendant's knife.

Defendant's version of the events contradicted Astrid's. Defendant stated that he met Astrid while in the vicinity of 47th and Prairie Streets, where he had gone "to party." After talking to Astrid, they exchanged names. He suggested that he was out to have a good time and asked Astrid to consider partying with him. Defendant had escorted Astrid for two blocks down Prairie when Astrid entered an apartment building. He followed her into the vestibule area, but Astrid did not ask him to wait for her while she was inside the building. After Astrid went up to the second floor, defendant remained in the vestibule and, when Astrid did not return, he left the building and went to a liquor store two blocks away. Approximately 15 minutes later, defendant went back to the apartment building and walked into the vestibule area. Ten minutes later, Astrid came downstairs and entered the vestibule area. Defendant and she began talking and they left the building together. Subsequently, defendant suggested that they buy some beer and they went to a liquor store. At the store, defendant purchased one quart of beer and a pack of cigarettes from $17 or $18 which he had with him. Then, at Astrid's suggestion, they returned to her aunts' home to drink the beer.

Upon arriving at her aunts' apartment building, Astrid rang the bell and her Aunt Mary let them in. Defendant sat with Mary at a bar in the den while Astrid was in the rear of the apartment. He and Mary had been talking and drinking beer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes when Astrid's other aunt entered the den and stated that she did not like male company in the apartment at such a late hour. Defendant apologized and said he was going to leave. Mary then walked defendant to the front door and, when she opened it, defendant saw two men standing there with their guns drawn. One man asked defendant what he was doing there. Thereafter, Astrid appeared ...

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