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08/16/88 the People of the State of v. James Edens

August 16, 1988





529 N.E.2d 617, 174 Ill. App. 3d 1033, 124 Ill. Dec. 636 1988.IL.1257

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. John J. Mannion, Judge, presiding.


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


James Edens, Ramon (Ricco) Montague, and Deborah Weathersby were charged with murder, home invasion and attempt (murder) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 9-1, 12-11, 8-4) in connection with an incident which occurred on March 21, 1984, at the residence of Harry Schennault in the City of Chicago. Edens was granted a severance from his codefendants, convicted of all counts by a jury, and sentenced to 65 years for murder, with concurrent sentences of 30 years for attempt (murder) and home invasion.

This appeal concerns only defendant James Edens, who raises the following issues: (1) whether he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to call Deborah Weathersby as a witness; (3) whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to publish to the jury prior statements of Weathersby, the State's chief witness; and (4) whether the trial court erred in imposing an extended-term sentence on the murder conviction and the maximum sentence on the other counts.

The State's first witness was Ray Simpson, who testified that his mother, Phyllis Alvarez, the sister of Yvonne Schennault, was employed as a housemaid for the Schennaults. He last spoke with his mother on March 19, 1984, about her moving out of the Schennault house "[because] of the dope and dealing and all the other law-breakers going by." On March 21, while at work, he received a call notifying him that his mother had been shot.

The State's second witness, Joseph Airhart, testified that he was a Chicago police officer, and that on March 21, 1984, he was working alone in a marked squad car when he received a call regarding a home invasion in progress. He proceeded to 80th and Yates and observed an elderly gentleman dressed only in his underwear, whom he later learned was Harry Schennault, running down the street. Schennault, bleeding from his right cheek and his left leg, told Airhart that he had been shot. The officer proceeded to the Schennault residence, where he saw a woman who appeared to be dead lying on the floor bleeding.

Lilly Lovett testified that she worked as a clerk for Harry Schennault and that she knew Phyllis Alvarez, Harry's sister-in-law. On March 21, 1984, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, Lovett went to Harry's house, where she found Mrs. Alvarez downstairs and Harry upstairs in the bedroom going over some paperwork while on the telephone. Lovett went up to Harry's bedroom and sat in a chair against the wall while she was going through some papers. At about 3:30 Deborah Weathersby rang the bell, and Mrs. Alvarez called up to Harry, who told her to let Deborah in. Lovett looked down from upstairs and recognized Weathersby. The next thing she heard was Mrs. Alvarez scream, "oh, no" and two shots. After Lovett told Harry that it was a robbery, she heard him tell his friend on the telephone to call the police. Lovett ran through a bathroom and into the hallway, where she encountered a man with a gun. She begged him not to shoot, and he chased her upstairs to Phyllis' bedroom, where she unsuccessfully tried to lock the door. She then broke the window and jumped out, during which time she heard more shots. She stayed on the roof until the police came with a ladder.

A few days later Lovett was taken to the police station to view a lineup, where she identified Ricco Montague as the man she saw with the gun, both in the hallway with Alvarez and upstairs chasing her into the bedroom. She had never seen Montague before that date. On cross-examination, Lovett stated that she saw only two people in the house, Weathersby and Montague; she did not see James Edens in the Schennault house.

Deborah Weathersby, who was charged as a codefendant, testified for the prosecution. She stated that Ricco Montague was her boyfriend in March of 1984 and that she was a very good friend of Mr. Schennault, whom she had worked for in the past. Several weeks prior to March 21, 1984, Deborah had conversations with Montague about getting into Schennault's house in order to rob him of the drugs and money she knew were there. Weathersby testified that on March 21, 1984, she met Montague at a store at 81st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue; Montague had arrived there in a car driven by Edens. She had called Schennault's house and told him she was coming over. The plan, which the three discussed on the way to the house, was that she and Ricco would go in first, and Edens would come in later. She testified that she saw three weapons in the car; Edens and Montague each had a gun, and there was a rifle in a briefcase. When they arrived at the Schennault home Alvarez let Weathersby and Montague in; Edens was still in the car. Montague grabbed Alvarez; they struggled and he shot her.

According to Weathersby, Edens came into the house, and he and Montague went upstairs toward Schennault's bedroom. She heard shots, Lovett's pleas, a lot of running, and more gunshots. She then heard Edens say that Schennault had called the police and that they had to leave. They ran out to Edens' car and went to pick up Edens' wife at her place of employment.

The four of them returned to Edens' house, where they ate dinner and watched the news, during which time Weathersby left to make a phone call. She got money together and went to Detroit for a few days, but she later returned to Chicago and turned herself in to the police. She accompanied the police to the defendant's apartment and identified the car and defendant when he drove up.

On cross-examination, Weathersby admitted that she had been buying and selling drugs for five years, ever since she was 18 years old, and had worked as a prostitute for Schennault. She admitted that she was told that if she testified at Edens' trial the State would recommend a sentence of six years. She also testified that the first time she spoke with the police she told them that Edens, whom she knew as Bob, had gone into the house first, and that she lied because she was afraid of Montague. Eventually she gave the assistant State's Attorney a written statement which she said was the truth as was her testimony at the trial.

Edens was arrested when Weathersby led the police to his apartment. During questioning he told Detective McGuire that on March 21, 1984, he received a call from Montague, who asked Edens to pick him up at 22nd Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway. When he did so, Weathersby was with Montague, and the three of them drove to Oak Brook to pick up Edens' wife at work at 4:30. They all returned to Edens' apartment, where they watched television. McGuire further testified that Edens told him that there was "something about the murders on the TV," and Edens figured that Deborah and Ricco might have done it. They made several phone calls, and at about 9 o'clock, when Edens' brother Marcus came over, they drove Ricco and Deborah back to the city.

Assistant State's Attorney Joseph J. McNerney testified that he went to the police station after being notified that two suspects were in custody regarding a homicide, home invasion, robbery and investigation on the south side. He reviewed police reports and listened to a tape recording of the interview with Deborah Weathersby before he interviewed her; he then took a court-reported statement of her version of the facts.

McNerney then interviewed Edens. He advised Edens of his rights, and Edens asked what the evidence was against him. When McNerney told him he was implicated as one of the three offenders in this case, Edens responded that all he did was to pick up Montague and Weathersby after the robbery and that he had not shot anyone. McNerney told Edens that he had been implicated in the robbery by Weathersby. Edens then indicated to McNerney that he had participated in the robbery, but that he did not have a gun, and that Ricco and not he had done the shooting. Edens said he was just doing it for drugs and money. At that point, according to McNerney, Edens told him he wanted to wait until his brother came in order to tell the whole story. McNerney told Edens he could not wait to talk to his brother and left to write up defendant's statement with which he returned 40 minutes to an hour later. When he read the statement to him, Edens denied telling McNerney anything about the facts of the case and refused to sign the statement. McNerney stated that Edens refused to sign the statement because he realized that he was going to be charged with murder.

After the State rested, defense counsel requested leave to call Deborah Weathersby as his own witness. The court denied the request, ruling that the defendant had had ample opportunity to cross-examine her when she testified. When defense counsel requested permission to play Weathersby's tape-recorded statement for the court in order to show that it was impeaching, the court denied the request, stating that defense counsel had the tape in his possession when Weathersby was on the stand and had failed to use it for impeachment at that time.

Edens' testimony in court was substantially the same as the answers he had given to Detective McGuire during his initial interrogation: that he picked up Montague and Weathersby late in the afternoon and that he had never been at the Schennault house and was not there with Ricco and Deb at the time of the robbery and murder. Edens testified that he had never seen People's exhibit No. 26, which was a handwritten statement prepared by Assistant State's Attorney McNerney. He further claimed that a statement of his in typewritten form and a one-page typed statement by Weathersby were not presented in court and that he was not read his Miranda rights by the detectives.

Following the defendant's testimony, the court, on objection by the State, refused to allow the reading of Weathersby's court-reported statement, ruling that it was a prior consistent statement. The court also ruled that the tape of Weathersby's statement to the police was not admissible.

The jury found Edens guilty of all charges. At the sentencing hearing, the State argued for an extended term while the defendant argued for the minimum term of 20 years. The court found that the offense was accompanied by "exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty" and that the defendant was a willing participation, thereby making him eligible for an extended-term sentence. The court also considered the defendant's premeditation and deliberation and the total absence of remorse on the defendant's part. He was sentenced to 65 years for murder and concurrent sentences of 30 years each for home invasion and attempt (murder). I

The defendant first argues that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the only testimony linking him to the crimes came from Deborah Weathersby, who claimed he was an accomplice, and an oral admission testified to by Assistant State's Attorney McNerney which defendant claims he never made.

Defendant argues that Weathersby must be disbelieved because she is a drug user and seller and an accomplice testifying in return for a substantial reduction in charge and sentence. In addition, he contends that the testimony of an impartial eyewitness, Lilly Lovett, did not substantiate the testimony of Weathersby.

As to his first point, defendant cites People v. Strother (1972), 53 Ill. 2d 95, 290 N.E.2d 201, for the proposition that "the testimony of a narcotics addict is subject to suspicion due to the fact that habitual users of narcotics become notorious liars." (53 Ill. 2d at 99.) As the State points out, however, there is no evidence that Weathersby was a drug addict, but merely testimony that she had used drugs.

As to defendant's second contention that Weathersby was an accomplice who testified in exchange for a reduced sentence, there is no question based on the record but that she was one of the two primary participants in the planning and carrying out of the home invasion, that her boyfriend Ricco Montague murdered Phyllis Alvarez, and that she ...

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