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06/27/89 the People of the State of v. J.L. Houston

June 27, 1989





541 N.E.2d 1191, 185 Ill. App. 3d 828, 133 Ill. Dec. 753 1989.IL.1004

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas J. Maloney, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court. BILANDIC, P.J., and HARTMAN, J., concur.


Defendant J.L. Houston was convicted by a jury for the murder of Ronald Bell and was sentenced to 35 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections. He now appeals his conviction and presents the following issues for review: (1) whether he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) whether the trial court properly allowed the jury to view his weight-lifting belt, which was found in his car immediately after the murder; (3) whether the arresting officer's testimony regarding his search for defendant was proper; (4) whether the State's closing arguments were proper; and (5) whether the prosecution at all times acted properly during his trial.

Ronald Bell was shot 15 times at close range at about 7:20 p.m. on June 18, 1983, near the intersection of 88th Street and Harvard Avenue in Chicago. The car identified by witnesses as being used in the crime was a 1973 brown Buick Electra, which was later found to be registered to defendant.

Larry Baker testified that he resides at 451 West 87th Street, less than two blocks from the scene of the murder, and across the street from the Concorde Gas Station where Bell was employed. He and his wife were returning home in their car from grocery shopping at about 6 p.m. on the evening of the murder, when Baker noticed a brown car parked directly in front of his house. As he pulled up to his residence, Baker drove past the brown car and parked directly in front of it. As he drove past the car, and while adjacent to it, he glanced inside and saw three men he had never seen before; two men were sitting in the front seat, and one was in the back seat. After Baker parked his car, he got out and reached into the back seat to remove his grocery bags, and as he did so, he looked through the back window of his car and into the brown car parked behind his. He again saw all three men, including the driver, who this time was keeping his head down, and defendant, who was in the back seat resting his head on either the back of the seat, or a stick of some kind. Defendant looked away when Baker looked at him. After Baker picked up his groceries, he passed between the two cars on his way into his home. When Baker reached the fence gate in front of his house, and once more looked into the car, all three men were looking across the street in the direction of the Concorde Gas Station; consequently, Baker could see only the backs of their heads. Baker then went into his house to obtain his gun, but by the time he returned outside, the brown car had pulled away and parked farther down the block on 87th Street.

A little after 7 p.m., Bell's fellow employee, Charles Anderson, was driving to his girlfriend's house at 89th and Eggleston. On 88th Street between Harvard and Eggleston, Anderson saw Bell walking, so he pulled his car over to the side of the road in order to speak with him. As they were talking, Anderson noticed a brown car which had stopped. Two men, who were dressed in work clothes and wore gloves, exited the car and walked east on 88th to Harvard; a third man remained in the car in the driver's seat. After talking with Anderson, Bell continued walking in the direction of his home -- east on 88th Street toward the intersection at Harvard Avenue.

A few minutes later, at about 7:10 p.m., Verdist Poindexter was in the kitchen of his house located at the corner of 88th and Harvard. When he heard gunshots, Poindexter threw himself on the floor, crawled to a corner window facing 88th Street, looked out and saw a man run up to Bell and shoot him several times. A second man, who was down the street, yelled out, "Come on, let's go." The two men then got into a brown Buick, which proceeded west on 88th Street and continued past the viaduct there.

About an hour after he first saw the brown Buick, Baker was sitting in his dining room, when he again saw the same car return and park in front of his house. The same three men he had seen earlier got out of the car, two of whom exited from the passenger side and ran east on 87th Street. He then saw the defendant get out of the car on the driver's side, lock the car, and activate the vehicle's burglar alarm before he followed the other two men.

The police arrived within minutes of the murder. When Officers Charles Williams and Marshall Massey reached the intersection of 88th and Parnell, they found Bell's body in the street. There they spoke with Poindexter, who provided a description of the car referred to by Baker and Anderson in their testimony. Officer Marshall then toured the area and discovered the brown Buick parked in front of Baker's house. When Officer Massey accompanied Poindexter to the car, the young man identified it as the one used in the murder.

At Officer Massey's request, evidence technicians investigated the auto and ran a registration check of its license plate. As already noted, the Buick proved to be registered to the defendant, and from it, the evidence technicians recovered three automatic weapons, two of which had empty ammunition clips inside, while the third gun was loaded. It was later determined that the bullets which slew Bell were fired from the empty weapons found in the car. Also recovered from the car was a brown leather weight-lifter's belt containing the inscription "Off. Ekuha El," which Sergeant Brannigan later testified was defendant's street name. The evidence technicians also recovered 10 fingerprints from the inside of the vehicle, including one of the defendant's prints from the rear view mirror. The weapons were also dusted for fingerprints, but none were found on any of them. The evidence technicians also determined that the car's driving column had not been tampered with. Police records also show that at approximately 11 p.m. of the day of the crime, a Mr. Houston reported that the Buick had been stolen.

Immediately after learning that the car was registered to defendant, Detective Joseph Danzl proceeded to his residence. Danzl did not locate defendant at this time, but took defendant's brother Elton Houston into custody; another codefendant, Robert M. Brown, was apprehended later. Subsequently, a stop order was placed on defendant and a nationwide warrant was issued for his arrest.

For two years after the murder, the Chicago police department attempted to locate defendant. On May 10, 1985, he was arrested in a raid in East Cleveland, Ohio, and brought back to Chicago on May 17, 1985. When he was told that he would be put in a lineup, defendant requested permission to remove the ...

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