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April 8, 1994



Released for Publication June 7, 1994. Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied October 6, 1994.

Cousins, Jr., Gordon, McNULTY

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cousins

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

A jury convicted Michael Wages (Defendant) of two counts of first degree murder after which the trial court sentenced him to mandatory natural life imprisonment. Defendant appeals.

The issues presented for review are (1) whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant shot and killed the two victims, (2) whether the the State committed reversible error during closing argument by commenting on facts that were allegedly not in evidence and by making allegedly improper inferences from the record, and (3) whether defendant's mandatory natural life imprisonment sentence violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.


Russell Woods (Mr. Woods) testified that on August 26, 1990, he had gone to a party in a row house on 38th Street. (All addresses hereinafter relate to the Ida B. Wells housing project buildings and row houses.) While there, he realized that his beeper was missing. He looked for his beeper but to no avail. He then left the party with his brother and Dion Bill. Outside, Dion Bill (Mr. Bill) got into an argument with a person named Rashid. Rashid pulled out a gun and put it against Mr. Bill's head. This altercation ended without incident.

As they walked away, Mr. Woods heard shooting coming from the party's vicinity. He ran into the 730 building. The shooting stopped. His sister's boyfriend told him to come outside. Mr. Woods obliged and they went outside to the playground between the 730 and 706 buildings where they talked.

Derrick Reliford, Ricky Johnson, and Michael Bush came into the playground. Mr. Woods saw defendant, whom he had known since grammar school, enter the playground from the 730 building. Defendant was wearing dark shorts. Defendant spoke with Derrick Reliford, Ricky Johnson, and Michael Bush (Mr. Bush). Mr. Woods could not hear any of their conversation but thought that they were talking about belongings which had been taken from defendant. Previously, defendant told Mr. Woods that Derrick Reliford and Ricky Johnson had stuck him up.

Mr. Woods heard gunshots and saw defendant shoot Derrick Reliford and then Ricky Johnson. At first, defendant shot each once. Then defendant fired two more shots at Derrick Reliford and two more shots at Ricky Johnson. Defendant kept pulling the trigger of his gun, but the gun only made a clicking sound. Derrick Reliford and Ricky Johnson (victim or victims) fell to the ground.

When the shooting started, Mr. Woods saw Mr. Bush fall to the ground and yell, "This is Mike, man. I didn't do nothing to you." Next, he saw Mr. Bush pass out and when Mr. Bush regained consciousness, he ran to the 3833 building.

After the shooting ceased, Mr. Woods testified that defendant ran away. Defendant was the only person who had a gun in the playground. Defendant's gun was black.

Michael Bush testified that he was seventeen years old at the time of the shooting and that on August 26, 1990, around midnight, he was with the victims between the 730 and 3833 buildings in the playground. There had been a lot of shooting earlier in this area. One victim was standing between the slides, Mr. Bush was at a yellow bench, and the other victim was on an orange bench.

Mr. Bush heard gunshots which sounded very close. He darted toward the gate. After the first three shots, he dove to the ground. He then put his hands over his head and yelled, "This is Mike. This is Mike." He saw some people standing next to the building gate. He noticed that one victim was on the ground. He then blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he saw the two bodies on the ground and ran. Before he blacked out, he saw someone wearing a red shirt and dark pants run past him. Mr. Bush did not see anyone in the playground that night with a gun. He did not see either victim with a gun. He did not remember seeing Mr. Woods or Bobbi Curtis at the playground that night.

Mr. Bush ran from the playground toward the 3833 building, where he saw Angela Howard and her two friends. He told them that the victims had been shot in the playground. He then ran home and stayed there until the police arrived.

Later that morning, Mr. Bush went to the police station and viewed a lineup, and recognized Charles Thompson whom he had known from the neighborhood. He had seen him earlier that night before the shooting. Mr. Bush told the police that Charles Thompson was not the shooter because Thompson was wearing a white jacket and pants and the shooter wore red.

Angela Howard (Ms. Howard) testified that on August 26, 1990, she was in the playground behind the 730 building of a housing project, with Willie Currie. She saw the victims and a girl named Shawn. Ms. Howard and Willie Currie left the playground and went in separate directions. Ms. Howard went to the 3833 building. She began talking with Angie Ware and Veronica Lanier at the gate to the building. The three women went to Ms. Howard's grandmother's house at 610 East 38th Street. They were outside when Ms. Howard heard gunshots emanating from a close range.

Later, they went to the 727 high-rise building and stood in the playground. While there, she heard more gunshots coming from between the 730 and 706 buildings in the 730 playground. Ms. Howard saw the victims and Mr. Bush in the playground. She saw a short, dark person standing in front of them who she could not identify.

At first, Ms. Howard heard three gunshots. Then she heard three more shots after which Mr. Bush came from behind her and said that "Derrick [Reliford] and Ricky [Johnson] just got shot." Mr. Bush was in a frightened and nervous state. Ms. Howard went into the playground and saw the two victims lying on the ground.

Bobbi Curtis (Ms. Curtis) testified that on August 25, 1990, she was with her friend Lorraine Dudley (Ms. Dudley). She knew defendant from seeing him around the neighborhood. At around 12:30 a.m. on August 26, 1990, she was in the 730 building and saw defendant. She and Ms. Dudley went to the playground. There, Ms. Curtis saw the two victims and Mr. Bush. Ms. Dudley talked with one of the victims and the two women started walking to a store. She looked back and saw defendant walking towards the victims and Mr. Bush carrying a black gun. As she walked away, she heard gunshots that were in close proximity to her. She saw the victims lying on the ground and defendant running toward the 730 building carrying a gun.

Officer Michael Jamison (Officer Jamison) of the Chicago police department interviewed Ms. Dudley, Ms. Curtis, and Mr. Bush about the double murders. Mr. Bush stopped Officer Jamison and said that he wanted to talk to him. Mr. Bush told him that he saw a guy named "Black Mike" shoot two guys in the playground. He pointed out the building and floor where defendant lived. Officer Jamison went to this apartment and, after determining that it belonged to defendant, left his card. On August 28, 1990, defendant came to the police station with his mother. Defendant was charged with the murders of the victims.

Detective Ward also spoke with Antoine Whitehorn (Mr. Whitehorn) who went to the police station. At that time he was a suspect. Detective Ward was able to determine that there had been two separate shooting incidents on the night of August 25, 1990. He asked Mr. Whitehorn if he knew "Little Black Mike." Whitehorn told Detective Ward that defendant was known as "Little Black Mike." Mr. Whitehorn then gave Detective Ward "Little Black Mike's" name and address. Detective Ward went to that address, determined that it was defendant's house, and also left his business card.

Detective Ward learned on August 28, 1990, that defendant was at the police station. He asked Mr. Bush to come to the station but he refused out of fear for his life. Detective Ward heard that a Ronnie Weston also witnessed the shooting, however he also refused to talk to the police.

An assistant Cook County medical examiner performed autopsies on the victims, and determined that both died from multiple gunshot wounds. One victim had been shot at close range. Each victim had been shot three times.

Shirley Reliford (Ms. Reliford), a victim's sister, testified for the defense. She had been at the 727 building at the time of the shooting. Ms. Reliford explained that she was visiting a friend in a third-floor apartment when she heard gunshots outside in the playground. She went to the window. She did not see the shooting. Ms. Reliford testified that she saw Charles Thompson (Mr. Thompson) with a jacket wrapped under his arm which she thought was a gun, but was not sure. She never saw a gun in Mr. Thompson's hands.

Ms. Reliford spoke with the police at the scene of the shooting. She told them that she had been on the third floor looking out of the window. As a result of the shooting, she was emotional and nervous. Because of her hysteria, she thought Mr. Thompson was the shooter. Ms. Reliford testified that she had not told the truth when she told the police that she saw Mr. Thompson and two others in the playground. Ms. Reliford also testified that she did not see Mr. Woods or defendant on the night of the shooting.

Jeweline Smith (Ms. Smith) also testified for the defense. Defendant was her son's close friend. On the night in question, she heard gunfire which emanated from a party at the row houses, while she was playing cards with friends on the fourteenth floor of her building. She went to her apartment on the eighth floor to see if her daughter was home. She saw boys running in her direction, shooting, with other boys chasing them. There was a shoot-out in the back of the building. The police came and drove around the neighborhood. At that time, no-one had been shot.

Later that evening, Ms. Smith was on her porch when she saw four men sitting in the 730 playground. She did not see these four men arrive in the playground. Someone came from the 730 building, dressed in black, and two of the other men left the playground. She testified that the man dressed in black was not defendant because he was taller than defendant. Ms. Smith said that she knew one of the victims but had not recognized him from her eighth-floor porch.

Ms. Smith was unable to identify the hairdos or descriptions of the males she saw in the the playground. Nor did she know who any of the four individuals were. She said they were not heavy-set and were of medium build. She observed the shooter speak to one of the victims. They shook hands and the man in black turned to leave. The man in black took a few steps, spun around, pulled out a gun, and started shooting. Ms. Smith did not know what type of gun this man used or its size. She was also unable to identify the gun's color. When the man in ...

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