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06/09/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. WALTER WRIGHT

June 9, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WALTER WRIGHT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. THE HONORABLE DANIEL J. KELLEY, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The Honorable Justice Gordon delivered the opinion of the court: McNULTY and T. O'brien, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the opinion of the court:

BACKGROUND

On July 9, 1992, a jury found the defendant-appellant Walter Wright guilty of first degree murder and armed robbery arising from the March 31, 1990 shooting of the victim, Robert Burnett. Thecourt sentenced the defendant to natural life without parole for the first degree murder conviction and a concurrent term of thirty years imprisonment for the armed robbery. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's conviction and sentence are affirmed.

TRIAL

The defendant's trial commenced on July 7, 1992. Chicago Police Officer James Banks testified that at 5:15 a.m. on March 31, 1990 he was assigned to investigate a man down at 7540 S. Essex. When he arrived at that address, Banks observed the victim laying on his back near the center of the roadway with his front pants pockets turned out. Banks further observed that the victim was dead and that the rear of his head bore a gunshot wound from a medium-sized firearm, possibly .38 or .32 caliber.

Detective Jack Lahey of the Chicago Police testified that he met with Officer Banks at the crime scene around 6:00 a.m. on March 31st at which time he removed the victim's driver's license which showed his home address as 111 W. Huron in Chicago. Detective Lahey then telephoned Jimette Holmes, the desk clerk of the Wacker Hotel, located at 111 W. Huron, who told him that the victim operated an American United Cab, number 2612. After confirming that the victim was a lessee of that particular taxi, Lahey caused its license plate number to be entered on a national law enforcement computer system as a wanted vehicle.

Deputy Sheriff Dennis Sesna of the Buffalo County Nebraska Sheriff's Office testified that at 11:50 p.m. on March 31, 1990, approximately nineteen hours after the victim's body had been discovered in Chicago, he observed an auto parked on the shoulder of Interstate 80 in Buffalo County Nebraska. That auto was American United Cab 2612, the victim's taxi. Deputy Sesna pulled behind the taxi and requested that his dispatcher check its license plate number. The defendant then exited the taxi and told Sesna that he had pulled over to rest; Sesna instructed the defendant to return to the taxi. A short time later, the dispatcher advised Deputy Sesna that the victim's taxi was wanted in connection with a homicide investigation in Illinois. Sesna then summoned assistance and arrested the defendant.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Richard Larson of the Buffalo County Nebraska Sheriff's Office testified that on March 31, 1990 he was an investigator with that agency and assisted Deputy Sesna subsequent to the defendant's arrest. Chief Deputy Larson recovered a Taurus .38 caliber 6-shot revolver from inside a suitcase laid on the back seat of the victim's taxi. That revolver was loaded with five live rounds but the round directly beneath its hammer had been fired. Subsequent investigation showed that the defendant had purchased that revolver in California in 1980. Chief Deputy Larson further testified that a gunshot residue test had been performed on the defendant's hands but the results were inconclusive. Larson also stated that he took from the defendant a leather jacket which he was then wearing.

Investigator Robert Shelbourn of the Nebraska State Patrol recovered samples of what he believed to be dried blood from the driver's seat and the inside of the driver's side front door of the victim's taxi. Based on the position of the stains he observed, Shelbourn opined that if the samples he recovered were in fact human blood, the person who shed it would have been sitting in the driver's seat of the taxi. Investigator Shelbourn also testified that human blood which had not pooled would dry in fifteen to thirty minutes.

Detective William Marley of the Chicago Police Department also testified at trial wherein he related the following statement which the defendant made to him and his partner, Detective Michael Bosco, at the Area Two Detective Division Headquarters in Chicago on April 7, 1990 and later reiterated in the presence of Assistant State's Attorney Laura Morask. This statement had been the subject of an in limine motion to suppress which, as shall be discussed later, was denied by the court.

Detective Marley testified that in answer to the defendant's question he told him that the murder which he was investigating occurred around 5:00 a.m. on March 31, 1990. The defendant then stated that he could not have been responsible for the murder because "by that time he was hitchhiking on the highway." He said that he checked out of a motel at Roosevelt and Michigan in Chicago at about 2:30 a.m. on March 31st, walked to the Dan Ryan expressway, and then began hitchhiking toward Wisconsin. A truck driver picked him up and drove him "for quite a long while towards Wisconsin" and eventually "let him off in a rural area."

According to Detective Marley, the defendant told him that he walked a long way after the truck driver dropped him off and that he eventually "found a taxicab parked along the side of the road with its lights out and with keys in the ignition." The defendant then took that taxi and began driving west toward his ultimate destination of California. The defendant stated that he parked on the shoulder of the road so he could sleep but that a policeman told him that he could not park on the interstate and directed him to leave. The defendant did so but several police officers stopped him a short time later and placed him under arrest.

Marley continued that the defendant admitted that the Taurusrevolver recovered by Chief Deputy Larson belonged to him. Marley then told the defendant that the gunshot residue test which Larson said had been performed would reveal whether he had discharged a firearm. The defendant responded that he had fired the Taurus revolver shortly before the Nebraska police arrested him. He stated that he had exited the taxi to urinate and, upon hearing what he believed to be "some sort of a wild animal," he fired one shot into the air.

Dr. Yuksel Konacki, an Assistant Cook County Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy of the victim's body on April 1, 1990. Dr. Konacki opined that the victim died from a single gunshot wound to the head but he did not recover the bullet or any fragment thereof. The area around the entry wound was discolored, indicating that when "the gun was fired, the muzzle [was] in contact with the skin."

Christine Braun, a forensic serologist with the Chicago Police Department Crime Laboratory, testified that she tested a blood standard drawn from the decedent and identified his blood as type O. She then tested the samples which Investigator Shelbourn recovered from the victim's taxi which proved to be dried human blood, consistent with type O. Braun also tested the leather jacket which Chief Deputy Larson took from the defendant and, although no stains were visible, a sensitive chemical test revealed the presence of blood on the left sleeve. However, that test could not reveal the type of that blood.

On July 9, 1992, the jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder and armed robbery. The State sought the death penalty. In the first phase of the subsequent proceedings, the jury found the defendant eligible for the death penalty. In the second phase, the jury heard testimony from an expert witness for the defendant, Dr. Henry Conroe, a psychiatrist, who opined that in March of 1990 the defendant suffered from a paranoid disorder which may have influenced his behavior on March 31, 1990. The defendant's mother, Alma Robinson, also testified on the defendant's behalf, indicating that the defendant had behaved strangely since November of 1989. The parties stipulated that the defendant had no disciplinary history at Cook County jail. The jury subsequently declined to impose the death penalty.

At the July 30, 1992 sentencing hearing, the parties rested on the evidence adduced at the second phase of the death penalty hearing but presented additional argument. The court stated that it was "in receipt of the pre-sentence report prepared by the Adult Probation Department." The court then sentenced the defendant to natural life imprisonment under ยง 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the UnifiedCode of Corrections based on its finding that the defendant murdered the victim in the course of an armed robbery.

MOTION TO SUPPRESS

Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine to suppress the statements he made to Detectives Marley and Bosco and to Assistant State's Attorney Morask on April 7, 1990. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the defendant played two audio tapes of conversations which he had with Nebraska authorities on April 1st and April 2nd 1990, both of which showed that he declined to talk to the authorities and that he requested an attorney.

Detective Marley testified for the State that on April 6, 1990, pursuant to the defendant's signed extradition waiver, he and Detective Bosco picked the defendant up in Nebraska and returned him to Chicago the following day, April 7th. When the detectives and the defendant arrived in Chicago Marley or Bosco telephoned the Cook County State's Attorney's Felony Review Unit and requested that an assistant state's attorney be sent to assist them. The defendant was placed within an interview room and given cigarettes and candy while they waited for the state's attorney to arrive. It was during that interval that the defendant made his statement to Detectives Marley and Bosco. The following testimony was elicited from Marley at the motion to suppress hearing to describe the conversation between himself, Detective Bosco, and the defendant immediately preceding the defendant's statement:

"[DETECTIVE MARLEY:] ... we explained to [the defendant] what we were doing calling the State's Attorney and the State's Attorney had approved the charge against him. We explained our procedures to him.

[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] And then what happened?

[DETECTIVE MARLEY:] He asked me and Detective Bosco what the date of the murder we ...


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