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February 14, 1994


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 92CF1142. Honorable Harold L. Jensen, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected February 16, 1994. As Corrected March 7, 1994.

Honorable James A. Knecht, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Frederick S. Green, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Knecht

JUSTICE KNECT delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Thomas Earl Houston, appeals from his conviction of murder, alleging he was improperly found guilty of the murder of Shelvin Johnson under an accountability theory (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a), 5-2) and he was improperly convicted of five counts of murder with respect to the same victim. We affirm his conviction of first degree murder based on the intentional killing of Johnson, and vacate the four cumulative convictions.


Shelvin Johnson and Martinez Gill were partners in a cocaine-selling operation. In April 1992, they had a falling out. On May 10, 1992, Johnson and Jimmie "Junior" Ross went to Gill's mobile home. Houston spotted Ross outside the mobile home and asked what he was doing there. Ross responded that he hoped to buy drugs. After Houston left, Johnson and Ross broke into Gill's mobile home and stole a television set, a camera, drugs, and some cash.

At approximately midnight, Houston and Willie "Prince" McClain went to the mobile home of Willie Dorsey, Johnson's uncle. Houston and McClain were looking for Johnson. Dorsey informed them Johnson was at the Green Apartments.

At approximately 2 a.m. on May 11, 1992, McClain met up with Sara Ellen Beatty Lambert. Lambert asked McClain whether he could get her some cocaine; McClain stated she would have to wait because he had to "find somebody." McClain instructed Lambert to drive him around Champaign in her car, which she did. McClain later explained Gill's trailer had been broken into and McClain was searching for the culprit. Lambert picked up Gill and Houston. The group stopped at the Green Apartments approximately three times. On one occasion, McClain left the car and the sound of breaking glass could be heard. Upon returning to Lambert's car, McClain explained he had smashed the windows of Johnson's car.

At approximately 3:30 or 3:45 a.m., one of the passengers instructed Lambert to follow a tan Chevette. There were three passengers in the car, later identified as Johnson, Ross and Eunice Gwendolyn Penerman. As Lambert's car approached it, the Chevette came to a stop and a woman, later identified as Juvions "Michelle" Meeks Cooley Gillespie, approached the Chevette and began speaking with one of the passengers.

Lambert stopped her car next to the Chevette. She heard McClain say "give me the gun. Let me do it." Lambert believed McClain directed this request to Houston, but later acknowledged she was not certain. McClain, Gill and Houston all exited Lambert's car and approached the Chevette. Lambert saw both McClain and Gill fire the gun. Lambert heard Houston yell "something about somebody was running toward the field or toward the alley." She additionally testified "when the shooting was going on, I could hear talking and it seemed like they were worried about who was getting away, whether they thought they had not got somebody."

According to Lambert, after shots had been fired, Gill, McClain and Houston got back into her car. McClain fired a final shot into the Chevette. The men instructed Lambert to drive away. As she drove they requested her to increase her speed and disregard stop signs. Lambert drove to the apartment of McClain's girlfriend. At the apartment, McClain gave Houston the murder weapon and instructed him to hide it. Houston took the gun and disappeared around the corner of the building. After instructing Lambert not to tell anyone what had happened, McClain permitted her to go home.

Johnson and Penerman died as a result of the bullet wounds. Ross and Gillespie were treated and recovered. Several days after the shootings, Lambert turned herself into the police and reported McClain, Gill and Houston had been involved in the shootings. The State agreed not to seek charges against Lambert with respect to her involvement in the incident and provided her with financial assistance for the purpose of relocation.

Houston was indicted by a grand jury of five counts of first degree murder of Johnson (counts XXIII through XXVII), five counts of first degree murder of Penerman, and one count of ...

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