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11/18/94 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. JONAH LAWRENCE

November 18, 1994

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JONAH LAWRENCE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE MICHAEL BOLON, JUDGE PRESIDING.

Released for Publication January 13, 1995. As Corrected January 24, 1995.

Murray, Gordon, McNULTY

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murray

PRESIDING JUSTICE MURRAY delivered the opinion of the court:

After a bench trial, defendant Jonah Lawrence (Lawrence) was convicted for the murder of Rosa Hopkins and for the concealment of her homicidal death. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1),(2); 9-3.1(a).) He was given a sentence of 25 years' imprisonment in the Illinois Department of Corrections for the murder conviction and a concurrent sentence of 5 years' imprisonment for the concealment conviction. Lawrence now appeals, raising three issues: (1) whether he was denied a public trial because the court inadvertently turned off the public address system during the prosecutor's rebuttal argument, (2) whether he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes charged, and (3) whether the trial court committed reversible error by admitting only a portion of a written statement rather than its entirety. For reasons we shall discuss, we affirm the judgment entered against Lawrence.

The facts of this case, gleaned from the trial testimony of several individuals, are as follows. Lawrence was a member of the Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club, a social club which has been in existence since the 1960's and has a clubhouse located at 718 East 63rd Street in Chicago. On January 14, 1992, Lawrence's friend, Vincent Tolbert (Tolbert), who was also a member of the Dirty Dozen, accompanied Jack Lawrence (Jack), Lawrence's brother, to Cook County Jail, where Lawrence was jailed on an unrelated charge. Tolbert and Jack secured Lawrence's release at approximately 11:30 p.m. that evening by posting bond. After his release from jail Lawrence went to the Dirty Dozen clubhouse, where other club members were present, including Rosa Hopkins (Hopkins), the victim.

Claude Howard (Howard), another member of the Dirty Dozen, testified at trial that he arrived at the clubhouse between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. on January 14, 1992, and remained there until about 3:00 a.m., when he left the clubhouse accompanied by Lawrence, Hopkins, and Darlene Donner. Howard testified that he dropped Lawrence and Hopkins off in front of Lawrence's home and then drove Donner to her home. This was verified by Donner. Donner also testified that she received a phone call from Hopkins the morning of January 15, 1992, but never heard from or saw Hopkins again after that.

James Hicks (Hicks), another member of the Dirty Dozen, testified that on January 14, 1992, he went to the clubhouse and saw Lawrence sitting with Hopkins. On the following evening Hicks again saw Lawrence at the clubhouse and he asked Lawrence if he "got Hopkins last night." Lawrence answered, indicating that he had had sexual contact with Hopkins. However, the following night, when Hicks talked with Lawrence again, Lawrence denied that he and Hopkins had been together.

Hicks further testified that he saw Tolbert enter the clubhouse on the evening of January 15, 1992, and saw Lawrence approach Tolbert. Soon thereafter Lawrence and Tolbert left the clubhouse together. Tolbert verified this testimony.

Tolbert testified that the evening of January 15, 1992, he went to the clubhouse where he saw Lawrence. Lawrence asked if he could speak with him and they went outside to conduct their conversation. Lawrence then asked Tolbert to go with him to his garage to work on Lawrence's motorcycle. Tolbert agreed and got into Lawrence's van. From there they went to a nearby gas station where Lawrence gave Tolbert a dollar to get some gas in a gas container. Tolbert obtained the gas and then got back into the van. Lawrence and Tolbert were seen at the gas station by another witness.

Lawrence and Tolbert then drove to Lawrence's garage, but did not enter. Instead, Tolbert testified that Lawrence told him that he had "hung a nigger" and needed his help. Tolbert replied that he did not want to be involved, but did not get out of the van.

According to Tolbert, Lawrence then drove to an alleyway at 68th and Normal, and parked. Lawrence got out and went around to the double doors on the side of the van and opened them. When he did so, the torso of a body fell out. Lawrence dragged the body out of the van by the arms and, as he did, the sheet covering the body fell away. Tolbert recognized the body as that of Rosa Hopkins, who Tolbert had known for more than a year.

After removing the body from the van, Lawrence retrieved the gas can and poured gasoline on Hopkins' body. Lawrence asked Tolbert to light a match, but when he refused, Lawrence struck the match himself and tossed it onto the gasoline-soaked body of Hopkins, setting it on fire. Lawrence returned to the van and drove away, saying to Tolbert, "The bitch owed me $750." Tolbert and Lawrence then went to the J & J lounge, located across the street from the clubhouse.

Officer Gibson, a Chicago police officer, testified that about 10:00 p.m. on January 15, 1992, he responded to a radio dispatch. He traveled to 6812 S. Normal, where he found the smouldering body of a ...


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