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March 30, 1995



Presiding Justice Hoffman delivered the opinion of the court: S. O'brien, J., concurs. Theis, J., dissents.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

A jury found defendant, Ralph Nunley, guilty of the murder and armed robbery of Paul Ray, Jr. On appeal, defendant contends he was deprived of a fair trial by the admission of other crimes evidence which was irrelevant to his case and overly prejudicial and inflammatory.

On July 11, 1989, defendant was arrested for the alleged aggravated battery of his mother, Ruth Admundson. While in police custody, defendant confessed to stabbing Admundson and killing her dog on July 11, 1989, and also to the March 6, 1988, murder and armed robbery of Ray in Ray's home in Justice, Illinois. Resulting from the attack on Ray, defendant was charged with the first-degree murder and armed robbery at issue in this appeal.

Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress his confession claiming that it was the product of his intoxication and physical coercion by police. After a hearing at which comprehensive evidence was adduced, the court denied defendant's motion.

During pretrial proceedings, defendant made numerous motions in limine to bar any reference in the State's case in chief and opening statement to the killing of his mother's dog. Defendant also requested that there be no mention of his mother's stabbing. Alternatively, he requested that the court permit an examination of prospective jury members concerning their feelings about pets. While expressing concern over the inflammatory nature of this evidence, and the fact that some jurors may consider the killing of a dog more depraved than that of an individual, the trial judge declined to exclude the evidence, and permitted the State to refer to both the aggravated battery and the killing of the dog it in its opening statement. However, the judge permitted defendant to inquire of venirepersons regarding whether they had pets and their feelings towards them.

After jury selection commenced, defendant renewed his motion to exclude evidence of the killing of the dog. Defendant pointed out that several members of the initial venire, though dismissed, had expressed strong sentiments towards animals. The court rejected defendant's argument, finding that the evidence was necessary to illuminate defendant's state of mind precipitating his confession. The court stated that without the evidence, it would be difficult to explain why defendant would spontaneously confess to killing Ray while incarcerated for a separate crime. Thus, the court denied the motion, but precluded the State from referring to the dog killing in its opening statement.

The evidence at trial may be summarized as follows. Medical testimony established that Ray died of several gunshot wounds to the head fired from close range, and that his system contained traces of metabolized cocaine. Nancy Jones, a forensic pathologist, testified that Ray had bruises around the upper and lower lids of both eyes. Defendant's former co-worker, William Holm, testified that he had supplied defendant with the gun for the offense. Holm indicated that defendant had approached him several months before the murder and inquired where he could buy a gun to "rip off some coke dealer in Justice."

Ray's girlfriend, Janice Meritt, testified that around the time of the murder, Ray had been selling and using cocaine. Meritt testified that on the morning of March 6, 1988, Ray received a telephone call, talked for several minutes, and then drove her to work. When Meritt returned home from work later that day, she found Ray's body on their living room sofa, and notified police. An evidence technician and a forensic scientist established that various personal items were found at the scene and examined for fingerprints, but none was conclusively linked to defendant.

Officer Thomas J. Clark testified regarding the events of July 11, 1989. That afternoon, he and his partner received a call about a woman stabbed at a residence later shown to be defendant's. Upon arriving at the scene, Clark saw a medium-sized dog lying motionless on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. Unsure of the situation, Clark and his partner drew their weapons. They were then approached by two men on the scene who informed them of what occurred. Clark testified that defendant subsequently came out of a gangway adjoining the residence with large amounts of blood on his legs, hands and torso. After placing defendant in a squad car, Clark noticed a paramedic attending to Ruth Admundson in a nearby ambulance. Clark testified that on the way to the station, defendant calmly told them that he had attacked Admundson because "she had Satan in her and he had to get Satan out and the best way to do that was to cut her head off." Defendant further related that when the family dog intervened, he had stabbed it too, because it was also possessed by Satan.

Clark testified that when they arrived at the station, they handcuffed defendant and placed him in a cell because defendant's family had informed police that defendant was under the influence of narcotics. Once inside the cell, defendant began yelling. The State presented the testimony of three officers and a nurse concerning defendant's violent and aggressive behavior during the afternoon and early evening of July 11, 1989. The testimony established that while in his cell, defendant had blood on himself and was combative and excitable, "bouncing himself against his cell" and threatening to kill police officers. Police subsequently took defendant to the hospital for a brief period of observation. Although he was calm on the way, when he arrived at the hospital and was placed in restraints, defendant resumed threatening and screaming at police and hospital personnel. Defendant removed his restraints and kicked a hospital security guard in the face, sustaining an injury near the bridge of his nose in the ensuing scuffle.

Shortly thereafter, a nurse examined defendant and found that his appearance and vital signs were normal. Defendant was treated for his facial injury and then released to the police station that evening. He was calm during this trip and appeared relaxed when returned to his cell. During its cross-examination of an attending nurse, the defense elicited testimony that defendant shouted that he had "killed his mother and his dog."

Officer Michael Fleming testified that he investigated the aggravated battery of Ruth Amundson. On July 12, 1989, after receiving Miranda rights, defendant admitted to Fleming and assistant State's attorney Robert Podlasek that he had stabbed his mother and that he intended to kill her because she was possessed by Satan. Defendant also admitted stabbing and killing his mother's dog when it came to her aid. When defendant then said that he felt much better because he'd confessed to the truth, Fleming inquired whether he'd committed any other crimes. Defendant replied that he ...

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