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11/03/88 the People of the State of v. Paul Edward Crayton

November 3, 1988

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

PAUL EDWARD CRAYTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Before a dying declaration is admitted into evidence, courts must make an initial determination as to its admissibility and must be convinced, upon weighing all the facts and circumstances surrounding the declaration, that beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements necessary for a dying declaration are present. Courts must also be convinced that the declarant was sufficiently possessed of his mental faculties as to be able to have accurately perceived, recollected, and communicated the circumstances surrounding his death. (Davis, 93 Ill. App. 3d at 231, 416 N.E.2d at 1208.) The standard for judicial review of the admission of dying declarations is whether the record supports the trial court's factual determination. People v. Van Broughton (1976), 35 Ill. App. 3d 619, 624, 342 N.E.2d 100, 103.

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT

530 N.E.2d 651, 175 Ill. App. 3d 932, 125 Ill. Dec. 493 1988.IL.1599

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Stuart H. Shiffman, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE SPITZ delivered the opinion of the court. GREEN, P.J., and McCULLOUGH, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SPITZ

Defendant Paul Edward Crayton was charged by information in the circuit court of Sangamon County with first-degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)). The information alleged that the defendant, without lawful justification and with intent to kill, burned Nyana Johnson by setting her on fire, thereby causing her death. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of the charged offense and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. Defendant was thereafter sentenced to 30 years' incarceration in the Illinois Department of Corrections and three years' mandatory supervised release, with credit for 136 days spent in custody awaiting trial and sentencing. Defendant now appeals, arguing the trial court erred in allowing the State to introduce: (1) the testimony of a rebuttal witness regarding defendant's prior criminal conduct toward the decedent; (2) evidence and argument that its chief witness was credible because the witness had given authorities prior consistent statements; (3) hospital photographs and autopsy slides of the decedent; and (4) statements made by the decedent inculpating the defendant, as a dying declaration and a spontaneous declaration. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The record before us reveals that on July 25, 1987, 25-year-old Nyada Johnson suffered massive burns to her body during a gasoline fire which occurred at the Springfield residence of her 43-year-old boyfriend defendant Paul Edward Crayton. On July 28, 1987, the defendant was arrested pursuant to a warrant charging him with attempt (murder) based on probable cause that he had poured gasoline on Johnson while she was sleeping and then set her on fire. Johnson died 19 days later, and on August 21, 1987, defendant was charged by information in the circuit court of Sangamon County with first-degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)). The information alleged that on July 25, 1987, the defendant, without lawful justification and with intent to kill, burned Nyana Johnson by setting her on fire, thereby causing her death.

A jury trial commenced on October 27, 1987. A hearing was held at the onset of the trial on the defendant's motions in limine to preclude the State from introducing into evidence the decedent's statements and photos and autopsy slides of the decedent. Following an offer of proof on the decedent's statements, both motions were denied. The defendant also moved to declare prosecution witness Vernon Gragg incompetent and preclude the State from calling him as a witness. The court conducted a competency hearing during which Gragg testified on direct examination to his date of birth, age, and present address and he acknowledged that two years earlier he had been under the care of psychiatrists in Jacksonville and Springfield, Illinois, mental facilities. Gragg further testified that he was blind in his left eye and had bad vision in his right eye. Gragg stated that he could read. Finally, Gragg stated that he did not know what an "oath" was but he understood that when in court he was to tell the truth. The court denied defendant's motion, finding Gragg's alleged defective memory, limited opportunity or capacity of perception, and impaired ability to convey and communicate what he had seen did not necessarily disqualify him as a witness but, instead, were matters of credibility for the jury to decide.

Opening statements were then given. During the State's opening statement the prosecutor referred to several statements Gragg gave to the police shortly after the incident.

The State's first witness was Dennis Aherin. Aherin testified that he lived next door to the defendant and had known him two to three years. According to Aherin, he was at home on the evening of July 25, 1987, and the defendant came to his door and asked him to call the fire department because defendant's house was on fire. Aherin entered his house and placed a call to 911. Aherin then went back outside and the defendant informed Aherin that his "$4,000 stereo" was inside the house and was "burning up." Aherin indicated that he saw Johnson lying on the grass beside his house and asked the defendant if she was burned. The defendant stated: "Yeah." That was the first time the defendant had mentioned to Aherin that Johnson had been injured. Aherin then overheard the defendant inform a fireman that "the woman had poured gasoline in his house and was trying to burn it down." The defendant also told the fireman that he was standing outside of his house working on his car at the time the fire started. In speaking with the defendant, Aherin noticed that the defendant was unusually calm and that his hair and mustache were singed.

The State's next witness was Springfield police officer Richard Wayne Daley. Daley testified that on July 25, 1987, at approximately 6:40 p.m. he was dispatched to the defendant's residence. After he arrived, Daley spoke with the defendant and was told that the defendant "and Nyana Johnson had been arguing all day." The defendant further indicated to Daley that Johnson had been living with him for approximately one year and the two were arguing "over him having another, girl friend, and [Johnson] had come outside and said if she couldn't have him, nobody would have him, and she picked up [defendant's] gas can and went back inside [defendant's] house. The defendant told Daley that he was outside his house, working on his car at that time. Daley estimated that the defendant was located approximately 10 feet from the front door of his house. The defendant further told Daley that he thought Johnson was "bluffing" but then heard her pouring gas inside the house and lighting a lighter. The defendant did not tell Daley that anyone had been injured in the fire. Daley noticed that the defendant's facial hair and the hair on his head seemed to be "either graying or singed." Further, the defendant appeared "very calm."

The next witness to testify for the State was Steve Melton, a battalion chief with the Springfield fire department. Melton testified that on July 25, 1987, his fire brigade was summoned to the defendant's residence. When he arrived he spoke with the defendant and noticed he was "very calm, just as if nothing was going on." In Melton's opinion "he was too calm." The defendant informed Melton that there had been a fire in the back hallway but did not inform him that anyone had been injured. Melton subsequently observed Johnson "being led around the back of the house into the driveway area." Melton testified that "some young fellow, black fellow was with her, had her by the arm," and she was naked and burned. Melton then asked the defendant what was going on, explaining:

"Because he hadn't mentioned the fact that there was anybody in the house burned, injured. He just indicated that he had a fire, and to me, I wanted to know why he didn't tell me that. You know, we could have done something quicker."

The defendant then stated to Melton that he and Johnson were fighting and she "took gas and poured it all over the hall and herself and lit her lighter." The defendant further stated to him that at the time the fire started, he was outside working on his car and he could see Johnson through the window of the front door. The defendant also told Melton that Johnson had been running through the house naked, taunting him, and was naked when she set herself on fire. Melton testified that he inspected the residence and found that the major fire damage was located in the rear hallway, extending partially into the kitchen. He further found a red cigarette lighter located approximately six inches inside the bedroom door off the hallway. He also found a two-gallon red gas can lying along the kitchen wall and adjoining the hallway. Additionally, Melton stood where the defendant claimed to have been when the fire started but was not able to see down the hallway from the front door.

Over defense counsel's objection, the State called Kim Conn, a registered nurse at Memorial Medical Center's Regional Burn Center in Springfield. Conn testified that she was called into work early on the evening of July 25, 1987. When she arrived at work at approximately 8:30 p.m., Johnson was receiving treatment in the Burn Center's "temp room." Conn stated that residents were doing an initial assessment, "going through the IV's . . . and tubbing her." Conn indicated that it was routine procedure for the medical personnel to take photographs of the burns as part of the assessment "when the burn victim was burned as badly as [Johnson]." Seventeen color photographs depicting an overall view of Johnson's burns and closer views of particular areas of her body were used in explanation of Conn's testimony and were admitted into evidence. Conn testified that Johnson sustained burns "essentially everywhere" except her feet, perineum, buttocks, and some of her face. The third-degree burns to Johnson's body were evident on her abdomen, back, chest, right upper thigh, left flank, left upper arm, and the back of her left hand. She sustained second-degree burns to her left forearm, left leg, back of her right leg, and a portion of her right palm.

Conn next testified that she began to participate in the treatment of Johnson at approximately 8:30 p.m. and spent the whole evening attending Johnson. When Conn first saw Johnson, she was combative, verbally abusive, and resisted treatment. The medical personnel believed she had been drinking and thus did not treat her with sedatives or anesthetics. Johnson was ultimately taken to her room at midnight. By 2 a.m. Johnson was still "very wild, combative," and had to be restrained. Conn testified that she was still attending Johnson at 2 a.m. and that Johnson:

"[Had] been going on and on talking and a lot of other things. I was charting it in the room, and I hadn't paid, you know, a lot of attention to real details, but she kept repeating that she was going to get him, and she finally sat up in bed and was gripping the side rail, and she just kept saying, 'I'm going to get him, I'm going to get him' and she was getting more upset, and I went to her right at the bed and asked her, 'Who' and she said, 'Paul' and I asked her, 'Why' and she said, 'Because he did this to me' and I did not pursue this matter any more. She was getting very wild, and I felt that it was my responsibility to try to calm her down for her own safety."

Conn further testified that not long after Johnson made this statement she was intubated and was never again able to communicate verbally.

The State's next witness was Natwar Mody, a pathologist at Memorial Medical Center. Mody testified that on August 13, 1987, he performed an autopsy on Johnson. Slides made of Johnson's body prior to the autopsy process were used in connection with Mody's testimony and were admitted into evidence. Mody explained each slide, discussing the extent of the burns and what body parts had been burned. Mody noted that the difference between the degree of burn on Johnson's back and that on her buttocks, including a line of demarcation, indicated that she may have been protected by some clothing. Mody explained that roughly 60% to 65% of Johnson's body sustained deep thermal injury. In addition to her external injuries, Johnson suffered "very diffuse and very profound" inhalation injury to the lungs. Mody testified that this lung injury, referred to as Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, ultimately caused Johnson's death on August 11, 1987. He explained that other contributory causes of her death were "the extensive burns, the septis of the burns that followed, the septicemia and the lung infection that followed."

Springfield police detective David L. Duke and Springfield fire department investigator Paul Howard Nevitt testified on behalf of the State. Duke and Nevitt testified that they were assigned to participate in the investigation of the fire at the defendant's residence. The investigators testified that on July 27, 1987, they took a written statement from Vernon Gragg, who had witnessed the events surrounding the fire.

The investigators further testified that they spoke with the defendant regarding the incident. According to Duke, the defendant told them that Johnson had arrived at his house on the day of the fire with a bottle of whiskey and was wearing blue jeans and a striped top. Vernon Gragg had arrived sometime earlier. Johnson was upset and was arguing with the defendant about another woman. They continued to argue "off and on all day." The defendant informed them that Johnson was in the house with Gragg and he was outside working on his vehicle in the driveway until approximately seven minutes before the fire started. The defendant told the investigators that while outside working on his car he saw Johnson go from the living room of the house into the kitchen area and pick up a can of gasoline that was behind a door. The defendant next told them that Johnson had changed into a dress. Five minutes before the fire, however, Johnson pulled off the dress and threw it down on the floor. The defendant informed the investigators that Johnson then walked to the "bedroom hallway area" and started pouring gasoline on the hallway floor. She allegedly had an unlit cigarette in her hand at the time. He further informed the investigators that he then heard a "whoosh" and suddenly Johnson was on fire. He told them that Johnson was completely naked at the time. He told the investigators that he helped Gragg put out the fire. The defendant noted that prior to the fire Gragg had been in the kitchen and did not see what happened. The defendant denied tying Johnson's feet together that day but told the investigators that he had "tied her up in the past." Further, the defendant denied striking Johnson with a baseball bat that day but informed them that "he had hit her or attempted to hit her in the past."

Duke testified that they searched the defendant's residence and recovered a rope, two baseball bats, a pair of blue jeans, and a striped shirt. Nevitt testified that they were unable to find a burn pattern and there was no indication that gasoline had been poured on the floor. Nevitt further stated that samples taken revealed that gasoline had been poured on the couch.

The State's next witness was Eric Young, a forensic scientist with the State Police Forensic Laboratory. Young testified that he analyzed the blue jeans and striped shirt that were found at the defendant's residence. He explained that no flammable or combustible liquids were found to be present on the blue jeans and his findings were inconclusive as to the shirt due to the material of which it was made. Young indicated that the jeans were most badly burned at the waist, the top of the pockets and near the bottom of the legs. He stated that the right side of the shirt and the left ...


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