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December 1, 1994


Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court: Defendant, Carl Earl Lawson, was indicted for the first degree murder of eight-year-old Terrance K. Jones by the grand jury of St. Clair County. Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty and convicted of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)). He subsequently waived jury sentencing and was sentenced to death based on several statutory aggravating factors (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(7)). Defendant's death sentence was stayed (134 Ill. 2d R. 609(a)), pending direct review by this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d R. 603). After careful review, we reverse and remand for retrial based on a finding of reversible trial error.


On July 28, 1989, between 7 and 8 a.m., the body of eight-year-old Terrance Jones (known as T.J.) was found lying face down approximately 15 or 16 feet inside a small, abandoned church located at 1825 Kansas Street in East St. Louis, Illinois. T.J.'s body was found, following a neighborhood search, after he was discovered missing from his nearby home, sometime after 11 p.m. on July 27, 1989.

The child had been stabbed several times in the back, chest, and arm, and his throat had been cut. He was clothed in a T-shirt with his underpants pulled down around the knee area and on only one leg. Forensic tests revealed no physical evidence of sexual assault, and no presence of seminal fluids. Although an autopsy was performed on the body, it was impossible for medical examiners to determine the time of the child's death.

The interior of the small church was dusty, dirty and in a state of complete deterioration. Trash, old furniture and drywall substance from the collapsing ceiling and walls were present throughout. The exterior yard was littered with broken bottles and glass and overgrown with weeds. Although there were two entrances to the church, front and back, the back yard area was so choked with weeds that entrance by that route was difficult. The front yard was also overgrown, but there was a pathway leading into the church. In order to see the child's body, one had to walk beyond the threshold of the church's front doorway.

Prior to death, T.J. resided with Pam Burts, his mother, Lisa McDonald, his 14-year-old sister, and his 10-year-old brother in a home partitioned into several apartments, which belonged to defendant's extended family. Defendant, Alberta Lawson, his mother, and various other relatives lived in the home. In total, about 11 or 12 people lived in the Lawson home, which was, located at 1817 Kansas Street, approximately 40 yards, or two houses west, of the abandoned church.

In the early part of the summer of 1989, Burts and defendant became romantically involved, but subsequently ended their relationship about two or three months prior to the murder. Testimony varied concerning whether defendant was not upset, upset, or very upset over the relationship's demise. Sometime after the relationship ended, defendant was observed standing on the roof of the Lawson home, in the company of his sister, Ella Gossett. Defendant had other girlfriends, however, after the relationship with Burts ended. Defendant also assisted Pam Burts as she searched for T.J., sometime after she returned from work at around 4 or 5 a.m. on July 28. He was heard to say then that T.J. was not his "damn" child.

During the morning hours following the discovery of T.J.'s body and before the arrival of the police at around noon, many people in the surrounding neighborhood entered the church and observed the body. Defendant was among those who entered the church before police arrived. According to several witnesses, defendant walked around the body and also removed Pam Burts from the church after she collapsed upon viewing the child's body. Defendant was also witnessed trying to prevent Burts from entering the church and viewing the body.

Milton Wilson, an individual unknown to people in the neighborhood, was also in the church following the discovery of the body. Wilson acted "crazy," as if he were on drugs, pointing out various drug paraphernalia located around the body, and speculating out loud that the killer was possibly then present in the church. Wilson was also pointing out various parts of his own body where he had been stabbed previously. Wilson's arms appeared to have been freshly scratched, and there was blood on them. Wilson showed a witness at the scene some crack cocaine. Wilson also pulled a covering blanket off the body after Burts entered the church.

When police arrived at around noon, they observed a crowd of people around the church and several adult males exiting. After securing the area, police recovered various items, some of which were located in the immediate proximity of the body (matchbook covers, cellophane cigarette wrappers, a piece of a page from a pornographic magazine, a small tube of metal, commonly known as a "straight-shooter" or a "crack" pipe), and on top of a nearby space heater (spoon, saucer, steel wool material, rag, cigarette butt). Police also recovered an empty bottle of Stag beer, which was described by them as not being dirty, from a corner area of the church, about 10 feet from the body.

During the investigation, a police crime scene analyst observed several shoeprints in a substance which appeared to be dried blood. Subsequent forensic tests revealed the substance to be human blood consistent in type with the victim's. The bloody shoeprints were on two pieces of wooden paneling located immediately to one side of the body. The shoeprints bore the word "Pro-Wing," a brand of gym shoe indisputably worn by many individuals in the immediately surrounding neighborhood. Based on the fact that the blood was dried, the police analyst concluded that the shoeprints must have been made at the time of the murder. Police recorded the temperature at the scene, however, as being 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the direction of the crime scene analyst, police looked for persons in the crowd wearing Pro-Wing gym shoes. Police saw no one in the crowd other than defendant wearing the Pro-Wing shoe and requested that he give them his shoes for purposes of elimination, which he did. According to police, defendant's shoes were relatively clean on visual inspection. Police also inspected the church's exterior and the back stairs of the nearby Lawson home, but observed no bloody shoeprints.

Police questioned Milton Wilson at the scene. Wilson approached police officers in their cars. When questioned, Wilson produced false identification and said that Barbara Lawson, defendant's sister, had brought him to the area that morning to visit the Lawson family. Police checked Wilson's clothing and gym shoes, which appeared to be blood-free and of a different brand than the Pro-Wing gym shoe. Wilson told police that he suffered from a skin disease which caused him to scratch his arms. At some point during the continuing police investigation, Wilson submitted to fingerprinting, but police did not obtain a palm or fingertip print from him.

As part of the ongoing police investigation, defendant later voluntarily gave police a statement. Following a grand jury investigation and receipt by police of results from forensic testing, defendant was indicted for T.J.'s murder.


Disposition of this matter requires review of the following evidence adduced at trial. At the time of the murder, the Lawson two-story home was divided into several apartments. Old, unlighted, wooden stairs were located on the outside, towards the side rear of the home. The stairs were not readily visible from directly in front of the Lawson home. The stairs led from a first-floor area near the door to defendant's bedroom to a door on the second floor which entered a kitchen. Pam Burts' and T.J.'s bedrooms were located on the second floor of the home.

At around 5 p.m., on the evening of July 27, 1989, Pam Burts left the Lawson residence to go to her new job at the Sportsman bar in downtown East St. Louis. Neighbors saw defendant walk Burts to a waiting taxicab and saw them kiss one another goodbye.

Sometime after Burts arrived at the bar, defendant entered and observed Burts as she was being trained by her male supervisor. According to defendant's statement to police and their subsequent investigation, defendant left the bar after a few minutes, stopped briefly at a taxicab stand and then returned to the Lawson home. Defendant was witnessed at the cab stand wearing a pair of black biker shorts.

At some time before 11:30 p.m., T.J. bathed and came down to the first floor of the Lawson home to ask Alberta Lawson for a popsicle. After Lawson went into the kitchen and found that some previously prepared popsicles were not yet frozen, T.J. left the kitchen. Lawson presumed that he returned to his second-floor bedroom.

At sometime after 11 p.m., Lisa McDonald, T.J.'s sister, noticed that he was missing, and she and other children playing in and around the Lawson home began looking for him throughout the house. When the children could not find T.J. in the house, they told Alberta, who began searching with them throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

The State's evidence of defendant's whereabouts and activities on the evening of July 27 differed from defendant's evidence. The State advanced the theory that defendant was absent from the Lawson home around the time that T.J. must have left and that defendant washed his clothes and gym shoes sometime after T.J. was discovered missing. In proof of this theory, the State relied on a prior inconsistent statement given to police by John Lawson, defendant's brother.

John Lawson initially testified under direct examination that he saw defendant walking down Kansas Street towards their home prior to the time that T.J. was discovered missing, which according to Lawson was 11 p.m. After T.J. was discovered missing, Lawson next saw defendant lying on his bed at around midnight. At the point in time that he learned T.J. was missing, Lawson could not actually see defendant in his back bedroom, but defendant could have been there, based on what others had said. John maintained that it was his mother, not defendant, who washed clothes late that evening.

John Lawson's prior inconsistent statement, however, was that defendant had returned home prior to the time that T.J. was discovered missing. Defendant, at the time, appeared to mumble and was acting strange. After he arrived home, defendant changed his clothes and put them with his shoes in the washing machine.

Under cross-examination, John agreed that he did not have firsthand knowledge of defendant's clothes washing, or of what defendant was wearing, but made the prior inconsistent statement to police based on what other persons had told him.

The State also relied on the testimony of Christopher Gossett, defendant's nephew, to prove defendant's whereabouts and activities. Gossett testified that he arrived at the Lawson home at about 10:45, close to 11 p.m. He claimed to have witnessed T.J. taking a bath upstairs at about 10:50 p.m. and learned that T.J. was missing at about 11 p.m. At the time, Gossett did not know where defendant was and had not seen him that evening. After T.J. was discovered missing, Gossett saw defendant walking down Kansas Street. Gossett testified that he saw defendant washing a pair of pants, a shirt, biker shorts and Pro-Wing gym shoes sometime after midnight while everyone was searching for T.J.

Under cross-examination, Gossett was impeached with his grand jury testimony that he did not see defendant washing any biker shorts. Gossett also contradicted his direct examination testimony as well as his grand jury testimony by insisting that defendant was at the Lawson home when Gossett arrived. Gossett's cross-examination testimony that defendant was wearing cut-off white pants that evening was further impeached with his grand jury testimony that defendant was wearing faded blue jeans. Gossett's prior inconsistent statement to Detective Muckensturm that Gossett had arrived at the Lawson home at 11:45 p.m. was also introduced as impeachment.

The State called Carlos Potts, a friend and neighbor of the Lawson family, who resided directly across the street from their home. Carlos testified that he could not remember when he went to the Lawson home, but thought that it was about 9 p.m. At the time, he was not aware that T.J. was missing. According to Carlos, defendant came home and was about to start washing his clothes, so Carlos asked him if he would wash Carlos' shoes. Carlos thought that defendant washed pants or shorts. According to Carlos, defendant was acting unusual, as though he was afraid of something. Under cross-examination, Carlos admitted that he did not see any blood on defendant.

The State also attempted to establish that defendant was with T.J. on the evening of July 27. The State relied on a prior inconsistent statement by Markaleade Griffin, who resided near the intersection of 18th and Division Streets, an area one block away from 18th and Kansas Streets. On direct examination, Griffin testified that at about 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. on July 28, she saw, from the front upstairs window of her home, a man and a boy, who was wearing an undershirt and shorts, standing at the corner of 18th and Kansas Streets. Griffin denied previously identifying defendant as the man with the boy.

The State allowed Detective Sandra Muckensturm to read into evidence Griffin's prior inconsistent statement that she had observed defendant with the boy on the corner of 18th and Kansas Streets. Griffin's prior statement was also that, sometime after that evening, she was told by Stephanie Jones and Frances Tinon, other persons in the neighborhood, that they had observed defendant with T.J. According to Griffin's prior statement, she then realized that the boy she had observed with defendant was T.J.

Under cross-examination, Detective Muckensturm admitted that she had also taken a statement from Stephanie Jones in which Jones stated that she had observed T.J., defendant and Milton Wilson together in the alley behind the Lawson residence. Muckensturm admitted that, based on Jones' statement, she had concluded that Jones was a "liar." With reference to what Jones had supposedly told Griffin, Muckensturm admitted that there was a possibility that that statement was also a lie. The State did not call either Jones or Frances Tinon as witnesses.

The State also relied on prior inconsistent statements of Katiesha Walker, Griffin's 15-year-old daughter, to further establish that defendant was with T.J. On direct examination, Walker did not recall telling police that she had observed a man and a child that evening. The State consequently introduced Walker's responses before the grand jury.

Walker initially testified before the grand jury that she did not see defendant and T.J. walking out of the alley north of 1817 Kansas Street and did not tell police that she did. In response to the question, "Did you ever see defendant and T.J. together that evening?" Walker replied, "Up there by the stoplights." When asked where that was, Walker responded, "On Missouri." When asked what time this occurred, Walker responded that it was about 12:01 a.m. When asked what T.J. was wearing, Walker responded, "A T-shirt and drawers." When asked what defendant was wearing, Walker responded, "Some blue jeans and a jacket." Walker responded similarly to further questioning, apparently also not understanding as simple an inquiry as whom she was with when she saw the two persons.

The State also introduced a prior inconsistent statement of Walker's made to Detective Muckensturm. In this statement, Walker said that sometime after 11 p.m., she saw defendant and T.J. walk out of the alley behind their home and head to the stoplights at 18th and Missouri Streets.

Under cross-examination, Walker testified that she had not known defendant or T.J. on July 27. Walker admitted that she had observed a man and a boy standing on the corner of 18th and Missouri Streets (about two blocks away from her home based on otherevidence), and agreed that she could not have identified the two persons from where she had stood in the front of her home. Walker also admitted that a "lot" of people had talked to her about the crime after it happened, and that other people could tell her what two persons could have been on the corner or assist her in remembering who those two were.

The State also introduced testimony that defendant was seen in the vicinity of the church that night sometime after T.J. became missing. Eva Mae Potts, Carlos' mother, testified that at about 11:30 p.m. on July 27, she saw defendant, with a shirt over his shoulders, coming from a vacant lot located between the abandoned church and the home of Alonzo Hawkins, another neighbor. Hawkins, who was in Potts' company at the time, drinking alcohol with her, asked defendant what he was doing. Defendant responded that he was bringing Hawkins' dog home. According to Potts, she and Hawkins did not see any dog. Defendant then walked in the direction of his own home.

Eva Mae Potts' testimony was impeached with her deposition testimony that she had observed defendant coming from the direction of the vacant lot and Hawkins' home at about 1:15 or 1:20 a.m., that he was wearing a shirt, and that she had entered her home and then Hawkins had asked defendant what he was doing. Under further cross-examination, Potts claimed that the deposition testimony was wrong and that the time and shirt discrepancies arose because she saw defendant for a second time that evening at 1:15 a.m. and that, unlike the first time when she saw him shirtless, he was then wearing a shirt. Potts admitted that she and Hawkins had gone to the liquor store more than once that evening to get beer for Hawkins, but stated that she had only consumed one bottle of alcoholic beverage.

Alonzo Hawkins, also called by the State, confirmed Potts' testimony that defendant was in the vicinity of the church that night. Hawkins testified, however, that he saw defendant at around 1:20 a.m., walking from the back of the vacant lot with Hawkins' dog, which frequently wandered down to the Lawsons' home. When Hawkins asked defendant where he was coming from, defendant responded that he had been knocking at Hawkins' door and was bringing Hawkins' dog home. Defendant then continued towards his own home, and the dog was with him. During some part of the encounter, Potts was inside her home. Hawkins was able to approximate the time because he remembered that Potts' husband stated that the time was 1:22 a.m. and implied that she should stay home. Hawkins also knew that the encounter did not occur at 11 p.m. because he had been at work at that time.

The State also called Reginald Smith, an individual who lived with Alonzo Hawkins, who testified that during the early morning hours of July 28, he did not hear anyone knocking on the door of their house. Under cross-examination, Smith admitted, however, that if someone was knocking at the door, he could not have heard them due to the fact that he was taping. Smith also testified that defendant came to the house sometime after Hawkins returned from work, but he was not sure of the time, merely guessing that it was around 1 p.m. At that time, Smith spoke with defendant and did not see any blood on him.

The State introduced defendant's statement to police attempting to show how it either conflicted with other evidence or confirmed evidence which the State advanced as incriminating. Defendant's statement, read into evidence, was consistent overall with other testimony and the police investigation, except with respect to several matters.

Defendant told police that, at the time of the murder, he and Burts were still dating. Defendant's statement also indicated that the last time he saw T.J. alive was shortly after Burts left for work, but before defendant left the house to ultimately go to the Sportsman bar. Defendant also interpreted his visit to the Sportsman bar slightly differently than Pam Burts. Defendant stated that he decided to go by the bar around 10:21 p.m., went by and saw that she was busy, smiled, then left to avoid making her feel uncomfortable. He also stated that he slept all night after returning from the bar and washing his clothes, except when he walked Hawkins' dog home. He did not wash his biker shorts until the next day. Also, according to his statement, defendant did not know that T.J. was missing until 5 a.m. on the morning of July 28. Defendant ...

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