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March 11, 1994



Cousins, Jr., Murray, Gordon

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cousins

JUSTICE COUSINS, JR. delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial, defendant, Ronnie Fields (Fields), was convicted of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2 (West 1992)) and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. On appeal, Fields argues that: (1) the trial court erred by allowing the jury to receive an exhibit which was' not admitted into evidence; (2) the prosecution made numerous improper remarks in closing argument, thereby depriving him of a fair trial; and (3) the prosecution failed to prove him guilty of armed robbery beyond a reasonable doubt.

We reverse and remand.


At approximately 7 p.m. on December 17, 1990, Verlean Brown was walking east on 67th Street. She carried her purse and a bag containing two pillows which she had just purchased. Her purse contained her identification, an uncashed check, a coin purse and 11 dollars.

When she reached the corner of 67th and Michigan, a man approached her from the right and snatched the bag of pillows from her hand. She testified that she started to resist him until she looked down and observed that he was holding a knife. When the man told her to drop her purse, she did so and then stepped back from him. The man stooped down, picked up her purse, and ran back the way he came. Ms. Brown testified that the area was lighted by street lights and she looked directly into the robber's face.

As the man ran away, Ms. Brown ran to the telephone booth located at 67th and State and dialed 911. She told the police that the assailant was wearing a beige coat, a beige sweater cap, and dark pants. She then waited on the corner until the police arrived.

Upon entering the police car, she repeated her description of the assailant, adding that he was about 5'6" and dark complected. The police and Ms. Brown then drove to the location where a suspect had been captured. As they approached the scene, Ms. Brown observed two officers escorting a man to a police car, and she identified that man as the robber. She recognized the man by his face and his clothing. Ms. Brown testified that she was about 25 feet away from the man when she recognized him and the area was lit up by police cars and street lights.

Next, she was taken to the police station where she identified her coin purse, money and pillows. The police also showed her a screwdriver which they had recovered from the robber. At trial, Ms. Brown identified Fields as the man who robbed her.

Officer Mark Yelverton testified that on December 17, 1990, around 7 p.m., he and his partner monitored a flash message which indicated that a robbery had just occurred. In response, they drove to the area of 67th and State, where they encountered Ms. Brown. Ms. Brown gave them a brief description of the offender and got into the police vehicle. Yelverton's partner sent a flash message containing the description of the offender over the police radio, and they began touring the area. As they drove east on 67th Street, the officers received a second flash message from tactical officers who were in pursuit of a possible suspect. The officers then proceeded to the Quam-Nickels Factory, about 3 blocks east of the location where they picked up Ms. Brown.

Yelverton testified that the area was lighted by street lights, headlights and the flashing lights of the police vehicles. As they entered the factory parking lot, Yelverton observed two officers escorting a man down the railroad embankment toward the police vehicles in front of them. When the figures were about 20-30 feet away, Ms. Brown began pounding on the rear partition of the police vehicle and saying, "that's the guy, that's the guy." When Yelverton asked her if she was certain, she responded affirmatively, "that's the guy who robbed me." Yelverton testified that Fields was the man who was escorted down the embankment and identified by Ms. Brown.

After Ms. Brown identified Fields at the scene, the two police vehicles - one with the tactical officers and Fields, and the other with Yelverton, his partner and Ms. Brown - proceeded to the police station for processing. When they arrived, Ms. Brown signed a complaint and identified her pillows, coin purse, and money. The police also showed her a screwdriver which they considered a possible weapon. On cross-examination, Yelverton acknowledged that in the police report which he prepared after Fields was apprehended, he stated that Ms. Brown had described the offender as wearing a dark brown hat, tan jacket, and dark brown pants.

Officer Eddy Garrett testified that on December 17, 1990, at approximately 7 p.m., he received a flash message over the radio indicating that a robbery took place in the area of 67th and Michigan. The offender was described as a black male wearing a brown hat, beige or brown jacket and dark pants, possibly carrying two pillows. As Garrett and his partner searched the area of the incident, they came upon a suspect who matched the description at approximately the 300 block east on 67th Street behind the Quam-Nickels Factory. They approached him, exited their car and called out, "police." The suspect dropped the bag of pillows and began to run up a railroad embankment and onto the train tracks where he grabbed a rung from the ladder of a moving train. The officers ran up theembankment after him and pulled him from the moving train. After the officers and the offender tumbled down the hill, the officers picked the subject up and escorted him down the embankment toward the squad cars; Garrett held one of his arms, and his partner held the other. As they approached the waiting squad cars, Yelverton who was in the vehicle with the victim, called out, "we have a positive identification." Garrett testified that Fields was the suspect who was captured and identified by Ms. Brown.

At the scene, the officers conducted a pat down frisk during which they recovered a screwdriver from one of Field's pockets. Fields was placed under arrest and taken to the station. At the station the officers conducted a search of Field's person and recovered a coin purse and 11 dollars.

Following the testimony of Garrett, the State rested. At this point, defense counsel objected to the screwdriver being admitted into evidence. The trial court sustained the objection, noting that the State had not connected the screwdriver with the crime.

Next, Fields took the stand. He testified that prior to his arrest on the evening of December 17, 1990, he had been visiting a cousin who lived at 64th and Normal. They had worked on the taillight of his cousin's car and then had a few drinks. While they were sitting on the trunk of the car drinking, Fields put his cousins's screwdriver in his back pocket and then forgot that it was there.

Around 6:45 p.m., Fields left his cousin's house and began walking to catch the bus. He walked south three blocks to 67th Street and then turned east on 67th Street. When he reached the factory parking lot, he saw a man coming down from the railroad tracks carrying a white bag. The man set the bag down by a dumpster and walked back up the embankment. Fields, who thought ...

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