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March 17, 1995


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Vincent Bentivenga, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication April 13, 1995.

The Honorable Justice Rakowski delivered the opinion of the court: McNAMARA, P.j., and Egan, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rakowski

JUSTICE RAKOWSKI delivered the opinion of the court:

Marvin Reeves (defendant) and co-defendant Ronald Kitchen were charged with first degree murder and aggravated arson. Defendant's case was severed from that of Kitchen, and following a jury trial, he was convicted of these offenses. Defendant was then sentenced to five concurrent terms of natural life imprisonment without parole. The issues on appeal are: (1) whether defendant was proved guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) whether the State violated defendant's sixth amendment right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him by introducing out-of-court statements of the non-testifying co-defendant implicating defendant in themurders. Although defendant raises other issues, i.e., improper arguments, improper victim impact testimony, three Batson issues, and ineffective assistance of counsel, we find the first two issues to be dispositive.

Victor Guajardo, Sr., testified that he lived at 6024 South Campbell next door to the Sepulvedas. On July 27, 1988, at around 3 a.m. Guajardo Sr's wife woke him up and said that the Sepulvedas' house was on fire. Guajardo ran to the front of the house and began knocking. He tried to open the front door which was locked, and he went to the back of the house and began knocking, but he received no response and was unable to unlock the door. At that point the fire department arrived.

On July 27, 1988, James Winbush of the Chicago Fire Department responded to a call of a fire at 6028 South Campbell. Once inside, Winbush and the other fireman extinguished the fire. Winbush noted that the fire originated in several unconnected spots which indicated the possibility of a homicide. The bodies of two women and three children were found. The victims were identified as Debbie Sepulveda, her three-year-old son and two year old daughter, and Rose Rodriguez and her three-year-old son. Dr. Robert J. Stein, Chief Medical Examiner for Cook County, conducted autopsies of the five victims. He determined that the cause of Rose Rodriquez' death was manual strangulation due to hemorrhage areas in the internal neck muscles as well as a number of external abrasions and contusions to her neck. Further examination revealed a laceration on her scalp due to trauma from a blunt instrument as well as black and blue eyes from being hit with a fist. The cause of death of the other four victims was asphyxia due to suffocation. There was no soot found in the trachea or carbon monoxide in the blood of any of the victims which indicated that they died prior to the fire.

Detective Craig Cegielski of the Chicago Police Department arrived at the scene of the crime around 5 a.m. When he went to the basement he found manila envelopes 1" x 1-1/2" on the workbench and in a box. The detective testified that the envelopes of this type were commonly used to package cocaine and marijuana. The envelopes were not inventoried, but Cegielski subsequently learned that Sepulveda and Rodriquez had been involved in drug trafficking.

Detective Dan Mclnerney of the bomb and arson unit arrived at the crime scene around 4 a.m. As a result of his investigation of the area, he determined that the fires had been independently set by available materials and hand-ignited with an open flame. The detective concluded that the fires were smoldering and burning slowly forapproximately three hours before they were extinguished. Under these circumstances, lighter fluid (later found in the trunk of defendant's car) would either burn off or be washed away during the extinguishing of the fire.

On August 26, 1988, Detective Thomas Ptak searched defendant's car, a 1977 Buick Regal, and found a plastic container with a small amount of charcoal lighter fluid and an empty gasoline can.

Victor Guajardo, Jr., testified that on the evening of July 26, 1988, he saw an older model yellow two-door vehicle parked outside his parents' home. On August 30, 1988, two police officers showed Guajardo, Jr., photographs of defendant's vehicle, which he identified as the one he had observed on the evening of July 26, 1988. At the trial, Guajardo, Jr. viewed the same photographs and again identified the vehicle as the one he had seen in front of his house the night before the fire.

Defendant and Kitchen were in custody on the basis of information provided by Willie Williams. Williams testified that he knew Kitchen through Williams' friend Gerard and through Kitchen's cousin, Eric Wilson, who was married to William's sister. According to Williams' testimony, defendant, Gerard and Williams used to steal cars together. Defendant lived near Williams' home and was dating Williams' cousin. From 1986 through 1988 Williams, Kitchen and defendant sold cocaine for Jimmy Peoples, the supplier in charge of the distribution of cocaine for the south side of Chicago. Williams would drive defendant and Kitchen to their deliveries and was paid $600 to $800 per week for his services. Williams would use his own or Kitchen's car.

Williams further testified that sometime in November 1986 he went with defendant and Kitchen to make a cocaine delivery. At defendant's direction, the three drove to a restaurant on 72nd and Western where they met a woman later identified as Rose Rodriquez and gave her cocaine. In January 1987, Williams drove defendant and Kitchen to a tavern at 18th Street and May where they met a woman identified as Sepulveda and gave her cocaine. Throughout 1987 defendant and Kitchen had Williams drive them to deliver cocaine to both women five or six more times. Williams also drove defendants to deliver cocaine to other customers including a person named Diana Rivera. In November or December 1987 and early 1988 Williams and the defendant returned to Sepulveda's house six or seven times to deliver cocaine.

On one occasion in May 1988, Williams drove defendant and Kitchen to Sepulveda's house to deliver cocaine, and they told her that, she had to pick up her payments. Outside, defendant repeatedthe statement that "She better pick up her payment or she know what is going to happen."

Williams testified that he pleaded guilty to a pending burglary case in June 1988 and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. During that time he kept in contact with defendant and Kitchen. On August 1, 1988, Williams called Kitchen and spoke with him. On August 5, 1988, Williams called Detective John Smith of the Chicago Police Department and told him that a couple of his friends had killed two girls (the victims). On August 6, 1988, Williams called defendant and asked "what was going on." Defendant did not reply and Williams told defendant that Kitchen reported what he and defendant had done. Defendant replied "I don't see why Ronnie (Kitchen) be telling you that over the phone because if I get caught, I'd get him too, *** (I'd) kill Ronnie too." Defendant then commented that talking on the telephone was how "Jeff Forte got caught," and that he would tell Williams about "Debbie" and "Mary" (the victims) when he saw him in person. In the same conversation ...

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