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08/15/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. JOVAHN WILLIS

August 15, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOVAHN WILLIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable John Brady, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice DiVITO delivered the opinion of the court: Scariano, P.j., and Hartman, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Divito

JUSTICE DiVITO delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial, defendant Jovahn Willis was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. In this appeal, defendant contends that his sixth amendment right to a public trial was violated by the exclusion from the courtroom of members of his family during jury selection. Because we agree, we reverse his conviction and remand for a new trial.

At trial, Antoine Green testified that on August 6, 1992, at approximately 6:50 p.m., he was standing with Rashad Yabar in the mouth of an alley on 64th Street waiting for two girls when a gold, four-door car slowly proceeded down 64th Street and stopped as it approached the alley, approximately 30 to 50 feet from them. Jesse Mason drove the car; Michael Sonya sat in the front passenger seat; James Willis, defendant's brother, sat in the rear on the driver's side; and defendant sat in the rear on the passenger side. Green had known defendant for the past seven to eight years. Although the car's windows were tinted, defendant's window was rolled halfway down.

After the car stopped, Mason laughed while defendant stuck his head and a black revolver out of his window and began firing at Green and Yabar, who ran through the alley. Green hid behind a utility pole; Yabar grasped a fence, slumped to the ground, and yelled that he had been shot.

Green also testified that on September 2, 1992, defendant's girlfriend, Tanya Clark, accompanied him to the defense attorney's office where he signed a written statement maintaining that defendant was not the shooter. Prior to the visit, Green engaged in a three-way telephone conversation with Clark and defendant during which Green was told that Clark would take him to the attorney's office. Green recanted his statement to the defense attorney during his grand jury testimony. Green testified that he did not tell the defense attorney the truth because he was afraid of James Willis and "the boys." James Willis and Sonya gave Green money and told him that if defendant goes down, he is going to go down too.

Officer Rodney McDowell, Jr., testified that on August 6, 1992, after responding to a call at 640 East 64th Street, he interviewed Green. Green told him that a car had driven by and defendant fired gunshots out of the rear window. Green identified defendant as the shooter, Mason as the driver, and James Willis and Sonya as the other passengers.

A stipulation was entered into evidence that Nancy Jones, an expert in forensic pathology from the Cook County medical examiner's office, performed the autopsy and determined that a gunshot was the cause of Yabar's death.

I

Prior to the commencement of voir dire proceedings, the circuit court excluded members of defendant's family from the courtroom. In so doing, the court made the following statement:

"In matters of jury selection where we have large numbers of juries, potential jurors who need to be seated in the public viewing area, rather than take a chance of any kind of contamination -- I'm not saying that your client's family would do that, I'm just saying that to guard against that, I think it's not unreasonable to expect that they not be present during the selection for that reason alone. That's the only reason."

Defendant contends that the exclusion of his family from jury selection proceedings violated his constitutional right to a public trial.

The sixth amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to a speedy and public trial. The entitlement to a public trial extends to voir dire proceedings. ( People v. Taylor (1993), 244 Ill. App. 3d 460, 464, 612 N.E.2d 543, 183 Ill. Dec. 891, appeal denied (1993), 152 Ill. 2d 577, 622 N.E.2d 1224; Press-Enterprise Co. v. California (1984), 464 U.S. 501, 78 L. Ed. 2d 629, 104 S. Ct. 819.) ...


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