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July 18, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Daniel Kelley, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication August 25, 1994.

Buckley, Campbell, Manning

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley

JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant Gerald Williams was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife Alice Williams. Following a bench trial, defendant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Defendant appeals his conviction and sentence. We affirm.

The State's first witness was Alice Kyle, decedent's and defendant's daughter. Kyle stated that decedent had been suffering from multiple sclerosis which had confined her to a wheelchair and had rendered her unable to feed herself. On December 23, 1989, Kyle, her husband and two children went to her parents' home to a Christmas party organized by defendant in order that decedent could see people for the holiday. Kyle described decedent's spirits as good "in light of her condition" and defendant as being quieter than usual.

Kyle further testified that she had never seen defendant being physically abusive to decedent but had witnessed him verbally abuse her. However, despite Kyle's suggestion that defendant place decedent in a full-time care facility, he insisted upon caring for her in their home. On cross-examination, Kyle opined that defendant was suffering from "battle fatigue."

After Kyle's testimony, the State entered the transcript of defendant's call to 911 on December 24, 1989, at approximately 6 p.m. During the call, defendant reported "I just shot my wife at 5440 South Nordica. Send me some help, please. * * *. Ya, I am a retired police officer myself and she is nothing but trouble and she is sick and everything else."

The State's next witness was Officer Womack, who responded to the police radio dispatch concerning the above 911 call. She arrived at defendant's home and entered the house. She saw decedent in the wheelchair and a gun in a holster on a chair to her left. Womack testified that she went into the rear bedroom, found defendant talking on the telephone, asked him to hang up and after he had done so, asked him what had transpired. Prior to the question and defendant's answer, Womack did not give him the Miranda warnings. At this point in Womack's testimony, defense counsel objected to questions concerning the statements defendant made in response to the initial inquiry. The circuit court overruled the objection, stating that at the time of Womack's initial inquiry into what had happened, defendant was not in a "custodial situation."

After the above ruling, Womack testified that defendant stated that he was decedent's husband, that she had been suffering a debilitating disease for the past 10 years and that he had shot her because she was having spasms and screaming in pain for most of the day. Defendant additionally commented that he had told his wife that he would "end her suffering" and thereafter, shot her.

The parties then stipulated that if Dr. Robert Stein was called to testify, he would state that the cause of decedent's death was a gunshot wound to the head. The State rested its case in chief. Defendant then moved for a directed verdict, which the circuit court denied. He also renewed his objection to the portion of Womack's testimony regarding his statements prior to being mirandized. The circuit court reiterated its previous reasoning and overruled the objection.

Defendant's first witness was Detective Thomas Ptak, who was assigned to decedent's shooting death. He spoke with defendant on December 24, 1989, at about 7:15 p.m. after reading him the Miranda warnings. When questioned by Ptak, defendant denied ever characterizing the shooting as a "mercy killing," and stated "I love my wife. I have taken care of her since my retirement by bathing her, feeding her, and totally taking care of her for the last five, six years." During trial, Ptak summarized defendant's conversation with him as follows:

"He stated that he was in another room in the house and his wife was in the kitchen area. She began screaming for help. He went to her aid. He kept asking her, what can I do for you? What do you want? She kept screaming. Her screams turned to shrieks and continued. As he asked to help her, she kept screaming ...

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