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06/24/88 the People of the State of v. Ron T. Berryman

June 24, 1988





526 N.E.2d 180, 171 Ill. App. 3d 548, 122 Ill. Dec. 40 1988.IL.997

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. William B. Starnes, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court. CALVO and KARNS, JJ., concur.


Defendant, Ron Berryman, was indicted for murder under section 9-1(a)(1) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)). The specific charge against him was that on May 25, 1986, defendant, "without lawful justification and with intent to kill" stabbed Richard Baker with a long, pointed, metal object, thereby causing Baker's death. Although defendant was only 15 years old at the time this offense was committed, he was prosecuted as an adult in accordance with section 2-7(6)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 37, par. 702-7(6)(a)). Following a two-day jury trial in the circuit court of St. Clair County, defendant was convicted of the murder charge and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 25 years. Defendant's post-trial motion was denied. He now appeals.

Several issues are presented for our review. First, defendant contends that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence did not establish that he possessed the requisite mental state. Second, he asserts that his conviction cannot stand because of certain errors committed by the trial court in instructing the jury. In the alternative, defendant argues that even if his conviction is upheld, the cause must nevertheless be remanded for resentencing because the trial Judge erroneously believed that defendant had to be sentenced as an adult and failed to realize that a Disposition could be made under the Juvenile Court Act. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

The events which culminated in the stabbing death of Richard Baker commenced on May 24, 1986. On that day, students from the King Junior High School in Centreville, Illinois, took a field trip to the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis County, Missouri. Hundreds of children, their friends, and family members participated. A convoy of 23 buses, plus some private vehicles, provided the transportation.

Among the students who went on the field trip were defendant and his victim, Richard Baker. While the group was at Six Flags, arguing took place between members of the Disciples and members of the Vice Lords, two rival youth gangs from the King school. Defendant belonged to the Vice Lords. Baker was associated with the Disciples.

The group returned to the grounds of the King school shortly after 11:30 p.m. on the night of May 24. As riders disembarked from the buses, a large crowd formed. According to Centreville police officers, who had been sent to the area to provide traffic control, as many as 1,500 children, parents, and bystanders were present. Testimony was adduced suggesting that among them were some older boys, apparently gang members, who had not gone on the field trip, but who were simply waiting for their compatriots to arrive home.

Exactly what transpired next is disputed. One of the few points upon which there is agreement is that a gang fight soon broke out near a corner of the school between the Disciples and the Vice Lords. Estimates vary as to how many people became involved in the melee. One eyewitness placed the number at between 20 and 30. A second witness said 30. A third said 40. A fourth supposed the number to be about 50. Defendant himself thought that approximately 100 people participated.

According to Lamont Reed, a 14-year-old student at King and member of the Disciples, a Vice Lord "slammed" Richard Baker during the fight, that is, the Vice Lord picked Baker up and threw him down on the ground. As Baker started to get up, defendant stabbed him with a shiny chrome rod. Baker was unarmed. In fact, Reed testified that he saw no one other than defendant carrying a weapon. The combatants used only fists.

Reed was an eyewitness for the prosecution. Another prosecution witness was Marvin Conley, who was also a 14-year-old student at King. Conley testified that he and Baker were friends and had ridden the same bus back from Six Flags. According to Conley, Baker observed the gang fight after it had begun. Baker ran toward the school building, and Conley followed behind him. Conley stated that Baker simply intended to go around the school so that he could make his way home, but he also indicated that Baker ran toward the area where the fight was taking place. At that point a group of Vice Lords jumped in between Conley and Baker. Someone struck Baker, and as he fought to get out of the crowd, he was stabbed by the defendant with an instrument which resembled a screwdriver. Like Reed, Conley reported that the people involved in the fight were using only their fists. He did not see anyone use knives or bottles or sticks or other weapons.

Timothy Davis, a third prosecution witness, gave a somewhat different version of what took place. According to Davis, he first saw Baker standing up against a pole holding a teddy bear. He then observed Baker dropping the teddy bear and running away from the pole to join the fight. As Baker entered the fray, he began struggling with defendant. According to a signed statement which Davis had previously given to the police, defendant grabbed Baker, "struggled Baker halfway down, punching Baker." Defendant then pulled out a silver or chrome piece of metal "and was punching him with it, and it looked like the last blow [defendant] stabbed him."

Another prosecution witness was Philip Johnson, a 17-year-old member of the Vice Lords. Although Johnson did not attend King Junior High School, he had gone on the field trip to Six Flags. Johnson related that on returning to the school after the trip, a gang fight started when Timothy Davis struck Johnny Hodges. Baker, who had been holding some stuffed animals, dropped the animals and ran over to aid Hodges. By this time, "everybody was fighting," and as Baker ran along, defendant stabbed him with an 8- to 10-inch-long chrome object in the left side of the neck. Johnson indicated that defendant and Baker had not actually been fighting, but that Baker was simply running past defendant when defendant stabbed him. According to Johnson, "I guess Ron thought he was coming at him . . .."

Cedric Stewart, a 13-year-old student from Clark Junior High, was also called by the prosecution. Stewart, a Vice Lord, was another participant in the field trip to Six Flags. He reported that while there, he was given a spike-like metal object about a foot long by another student named Aron Ellis. Defendant then asked Stewart for the spike, which he gave to him. According to Stewart, defendant returned the spike to him after the fight and told him that he had stabbed Baker. Stewart, in turn, gave the spike to a girl known to him as Lulu.

Lulu was Latricia Shumpert, a 17-year-old student from Norman Senior High School. Shumpert testified that she also had gone on the field trip to Six Flags. She recalled that she was with defendant and some others when Baker approached the group along with some of his friends including "some Girl Disciples," known as "D-Queens." According to Shumpert, Baker came up and asked "why they was trying to disrespect the D-Queens and all of this stuff." A few words then passed between them. Shumpert said that defendant did not threaten Baker but conceded that he did say something to the effect of, "Wait till we get back to school." Shumpert corroborated that after returning home from Six Flags, she was given the metal rod which had been used by defendant to stab Baker, although she stated that at the time she did not know what it was or that it had been used in the stabbing. She discarded the metal rod later that evening, and it was never recovered.

After being stabbed, Baker was taken by private car to the hospital, where he died. An autopsy was performed on Baker's body by Dr. Raj Nanduri, a pathologist, at Officer's Funeral Home in East St. Louis. Dr. Nanduri's examination revealed that Baker sustained a four- to six-inch-deep stab wound in the left side of his neck. The wound travelled from the left to the right "towards the mid-line and in a downward course." It pierced the soft tissues of both sides of the neck, as well as the laryngotrachea and the carotid artery. Dr. Nanduri explained that the carotid artery is a major artery which serves to supply blood to the brain. He testified that the wound resulted in extensive blood loss and that this blood loss was the immediate cause of Baker's death.

Following Baker's death, defendant was arrested and charged with murder. After being taken into custody and advised of his constitutional rights, defendant gave a statement to the police. In that statement, dated May 27, 1986, defendant indicated that on the previous Friday, Baker and two other boys had pulled a gun on him in the bathroom at school. The confrontation ended when someone reported that a security guard was coming. Nothing further happened at that time.

Defendant confirmed that an argument had broken out at Six Flags between members of the Vice Lords and members of the Disciples. He reported that on returning home after the field trip a number of Disciples, none of whom he knew, were waiting. As he got off the bus he began looking for his brother, but could not find him. He then walked over to a patio leading to the adjacent Kennedy Elementary School, where "[there] was a lot of Vice Lords and Disciples there." Defendant stated that Johnny Hodges hit Tim Davis and then "they all started fighting." He said that he was "real close" to fighting with "some Mexican," when Baker came over to where he was standing. Defendant stated that he was then hit with a Six Flags bat. At that point, he swung "an aluminum piece about a foot long, like a dart pointed at the end, and hit Baker. [He] pulled it out and ran over to the side of the building." He then fled from the school grounds, where he met one of his brothers and others, including Cedric Stewart, who asked that the metal rod be returned to him. He returned the rod to Stewart, after which he was driven to his brother Lewis's house, where he spent the night.

Three witnesses were presented for the defense. Brian Holmes, 15, and Ron Pruitt, 17, each confirmed that an argument had taken place at Six Flags between the Disciples and the Vice Lords. In addition, Pruitt told the jury that on his return from the amusement park, "grown people" he thought might be Disciples were waiting on school grounds. ...

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