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04/10/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. ROMANCE DENNIS

April 10, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ROMANCE DENNIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

Released for Publication May 26, 1995.

The Honorable Justice Wolfson delivered the opinion of the court: Campbell, P.j. and Braden, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson

JUSTICE WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:

Romance Dennis (Dennis), was tried as an accomplice to an armed robbery that took place in an alleyway between Chicago Avenue and Springfield Road in Chicago at about 1:30 p.m. on July 15, 1991. He did not deny the robbery happened. He denied that he took part in the robbery.

The evidence required the jury to resolve an issue of accountability. The jury was confused. Twice it asked the trial judge for guidance. The answer it received was incomplete and misleading. Because of that answer, we reverse the defendant's convictions and remand the cause for a new trial.

EVIDENCE

Mario and Greg Perez, the victims of the armed robbery, were self-employed roofers. Their testimony was virtually uncontested by the defendant.

(1) Mario's testimony:

Mario and Greg went to the vicinity of Chicago Avenue and Springfield Road on July 15, 1991, in search of a hardware store where they could purchase paint for a job. They drove to this area in Mario's yellow pick-up truck and, while looking for a hardware store, got stuck in an alleyway when a garbage truck that was in front of them stopped and blocked their exit.

Mario stopped his vehicle, turned off the engine, and opened his door while waiting for the garbage truck to move. Through his rear view mirror, he noticed a silver-colored Chevy Citation car enter the alley and pull up behind his truck. Mario identified Dennis as the driver of this car. A person exited the car from the passenger side and Dennis then backed the car into a "T" in the alley. Mario didn't notice anything else until Greg told him that a man was holding a gun to his chest, demanding money.

When he saw the man holding a gun at Greg he "panicked," grabbed the $4 his brother was holding in his hand, jumped out the driver's side door of the truck, and then slammed the door closed. Mario pulled out a pocket knife to "distract" the gunman. When he got the gunman's attention, Greg jumped through the driver's side window. The gunman then took an AM/FM radio/CD player from the floor of the truck and began backing away from the truck. Greg grabbed a barbecue-type fork from the truck and ran after the gunman.

The gunman got back into the silver-colored car, which had turned around without Mario noticing. The car then took off at a high rate of speed. Mario noted the license plate number on the car and, shortly thereafter, reported the incident and license number to a police officer who had been sitting in a police car on Chicago Avenue.

(2) Greg's testimony:

While he sat in his brother's truck waiting for the garbage truck to move, Greg didn't notice the Chevy Citation enter the alleyway. Greg, who had been sitting in the passenger side of the truck, got his first indication that something was wrong when a man with a gun came up to his door and demanded money. He only saw Dennis when he chased the gunman with the barbecue fork after the gunman took the radio/CD-player from the truck. The gunman ran to a silver-colored Citation that was parked in a "T" of the alleyway. Greg identified Dennis as the driver of this car, which took off after the gunman entered it.

(3) Other testimony:

The only other State witness was Officer Patricia Warner. Around 1:30 p.m. on July 15, 1991, she and her partner had been driving in a marked police car on Chicago Avenue when they were flagged down by two individuals later identified as the Perez brothers. Officer Warner said the Perez brothers indicated that they had just been robbed and gave a description of the robbers, as well as the license plate number of the car the robbers used.

Using the license number, Officer Warner learned that Romance Dennis was the owner of the vehicle. After obtaining a photograph of Dennis, Officer Warner presented a photo line-up to the Perez brothers and they identified Dennis as the driver of the car. Officer Warner confirmed, however, that the Perez brothers indicated that Dennis' only participation in the crime had been as driver of the vehicle.

On cross-examination, Officer Warner testified that the area where the robbery took place was a well-known "dope spot" and that the house at 3913 West Chicago Avenue was used for drug trafficking. After Dennis was arrested, he agreed to cooperate. While Dennis was still in custody, he was allowed to leave the police station and drive his own car to the home of Ernest Jones. After picking up Jones, Dennis drove to his own home and went inside. At that time ...


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