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11/16/88 the People of the State of v. Lawrence Price

November 16, 1988





531 N.E.2d 901, 176 Ill. App. 3d 831, 126 Ill. Dec. 274 1988.IL.1659

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Will E. Gierach, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court. WHITE, P.J., and RIZZI, J., concur.


Defendant, Lawrence Price, was charged by information with six counts of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9-1) and three counts of aggravated arson (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 20-1.1). After a jury trial, defendant was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to natural life imprisonment for the murder convictions and 30 years' imprisonment for aggravated arson. Defendant appeals and raises the following contentions: (1) the trial court's refusal to give a tendered involuntary manslaughter instruction denied defendant a fair trial; (2) the aggravated arson conviction cannot stand, since the aggravated arson statute under which defendant was convicted is unconstitutional; (3) the giving of an opinion by a State's expert as to an ultimate issue in the case constituted reversible error; and (4) photographs sent to the jury had no probative value and unduly prejudiced defendant.

For the reasons stated below, we affirm the murder conviction and sentence and vacate the conviction and sentence for aggravated arson.

At trial a number of witnesses testified on behalf of the State. Their testimony indicated the following. On August 9, 1984, defendant lived at 16142 Plymouth Court in Markham, Illinois, along with his wife, Cora Price, and Cora's children, Joseph, Jori, Stacy, Marlene, and Darlene. Also living in the home was defendant's son, Lawrence Price, Jr. Two of defendant's grandchildren, Sequanna and Leiman Davis, were visiting from Detroit. Cora's mother, Juanita Young, was also present, in addition to a cousin, Eric. On that date, defendant arrived home from work around 3 p.m. Later that afternoon or evening, defendant began arguing with some of the family members.

Defendant argued with Stacy about her failure to help clean the kitchen. Stacy testified that defendant told her that she read the "goddamned Bible" too much and should not go to her church anymore. Defendant also told Stacy that the best thing her natural father ever did for her was to die. Stacy replied that the best thing defendant's mother ever did was to die. According to Lawrence Price, Jr., who heard the conversation between Stacy and defendant, defendant then slapped Stacy. Stacy left the house crying and went next door to a neighbor's house.

Defendant also accused Lawrence, Jr., of lying about vacuuming one of the rooms of the house. Defendant then scolded Lawrence, Jr., for whipping three-year-old Sequanna for wetting the bed. Defendant stated that Lawrence, Jr., should not whip the other children. Lawrence, Jr., replied that Sequanna's mother authorized Lawrence, Jr., to whip the child if she wet her pants. Defendant hit Lawrence, Jr., with his hand, and Lawrence, Jr., left the house and sat on the porch. Defendant came out to the porch some time later and told Lawrence, Jr., that he did not have to come back, and that if he did not abide by defendant's rules, he could live somewhere else. Lawrence, Jr., stated that the next-door neighbors told defendant to let Lawrence, Jr., back into the house. Lawrence, Jr., stated that defendant replied that before he would let Lawrence, Jr., back into the house, he would "burn it down first."

Cora came home from work about 12:45 a.m. Cora and defendant began arguing about the events that occurred between defendant and the children earlier in the evening. Defendant stated and repeated several times that Cora and the children were not going to sleep in the house that night, and defendant demanded that Cora and the children leave. Around 1 a.m., Cora called the police. Officers William Barron and Richard Dearman arrived, talked to defendant, and told the children to go to bed. The police told defendant that if they had to return that night, they would jail him.

After the police left, defendant again demanded that the family leave the house. Stacy testified that defendant went into her bedroom and shook her mattress and overturned the dressers. Later, Stacy joined Cora, Marlene, Darlene, and Sequanna, and Leiman in Cora's bed and watched television. Defendant entered Cora's room and again stated that no one would sleep in the house that night. Defendant shook the mattress and pulled the television cord from the electrical outlet in the wall.

Cora and Lawrence, Jr., then saw defendant pack some things in a garment bag and leave the house. The children in Cora's bed fell asleep. Cora went down to the living room and lay on the couch. About 20 to 30 minutes later, Cora heard defendant ask the next-door neighbor for a gas can, "the big gas can." Cora testified that after defendant left again, she stated to the neighbor that she did not believe that defendant would burn down the house and the neighbor agreed.

A short time later, Cora heard the back door of the house slam and she then went into the kitchen. She saw defendant pouring gasoline onto the floor from a can. Cora asked defendant what he was doing. Cora stated that defendant replied, "I am going to burn all you mother fuckers up." Cora headed toward the front door of the house and saw defendant was then in the flower room. As she ran out the front door, Cora yelled to the children to flee. Once Cora was outside, she saw smoke and fire coming from the house. Cora continued to yell to the children after she was outside. She also ...

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