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08/21/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. LEON ELLIOT

August 21, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LEON ELLIOT, SR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE MATTHEW J. MORAN, JUDGE PRESIDING.

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

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson

JUSTICE WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:

Leon Elliot, Sr., went to trial before a jury on a charge of residential burglary. He testified. In rebuttal, the State offered and the trial court allowed, over objection, evidence of three prior felony convictions to impeach the defendant's believability. The prior convictions were for burglary, residential burglary, and violation of bail bond.

The defendant contends admission of the prior convictions deprived him of a fair trial.

We hold the trial court was in error when it admitted the prior convictions without stopping to weigh the probative value of the convictions against their potential for unfair prejudice. However, because the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming, and because the other issue raised by the defendant is without merit, we affirm his conviction and sentence.

EVIDENCE AT TRIAL

Davean Brooks, who lived at 9210 South Blackstone in Chicago with her two daughters and three sons, awoke at about 5 a.m. on the morning of July 9, 1993, to find a strange man in her house. As she lay in her bed she heard a noise and saw someone walk past the bedroom door. She got up and walked to her bedroom doorway. From there she saw a man she did not know, standing in her kitchen. The man had bushy long hair and was wearing a blue shirt and dark blue (possibly black) pants.

Mrs. Brooks yelled, "Who the hell are you?" The man turned toward Mrs. Brooks, pulled a kitchen chair out to block her path, and then ran out the back door, holding her purse. According to Mrs. Brooks, the purse contained $400 in cash and a $324 cashier's check.

Clarence Brooks, Mrs. Brooks' 38-year-old son, heard his mother's shouts and came into the kitchen. Mrs. Brooks told Clarence that a man had been in the house and had stolen her purse. She described the man to Clarence, who then ran out of the house in search of the man.

After Clarence left, Mrs. Brooks called the police. Within a short time, Clarence brought a man (later identified as defendant) back to the house. Mrs. Brooks confirmed that this was the man she had seen in her home. She searched his pockets and found $400 in his left front pants pocket. Clarence punched the man and then dragged him back to the alley to retrieve the purse.

As Clarence took defendant to find the purse, Mrs. Brooks followed at a distance. On Harper Street, Mrs. Brooks saw a police car responding to her telephone call. The police car stopped and Mrs. Brooks explained to the officers what had occurred. While Mrs. Brooks was speaking to the officers, Clarence and defendant returnedonce more, this time with Mrs. Brooks' purse. Mrs. Brooks recovered both her purse and the cashier's check inside. Defendant was handcuffed and taken into custody.

Clarence Brooks testified. About 5 a.m. on the morning of July 9, 1993, he awoke to the sound of his mother's shouts. He ran into the kitchen and learned that a man had been in the home and had stolen his mother's purse. After obtaining a description of the man, Clarence immediately ran out of the house, barefooted, to look for the man.

The streets were deserted. Two blocks from his home, however, Clarence saw a man who fit the description given to him by his mother. This man was exiting the alleyway from Stony Island. Clarence grabbed this man (later identified as defendant) and took him back to the house, where his mother confirmed that he was the man she had seen in her home.

Once Clarence's mother identified defendant as the man they were looking for, Clarence began to punch defendant. His mother searched defendant and found money in his pants pocket. Clarence continued to beat defendant and demanded that defendant show him where he put his mother's purse. Defendant directed Clarence to the alleyway between Harper and Stony Island. Mrs. Brooks' purse was recovered from under a porch.

After recovering the purse, Clarence led defendant back toward his house on Blackstone. On Harper Street Clarence saw police officers speaking with his mother. Defendant was turned over to them.

Officer Stockstill testified that on July 9, 1993, at about 5 a.m., she and her partner responded to a call regarding a burglary. Driving to the area of 9210 South Blackstone, Officer Stockstill noticed Mrs. Brooks on Harper street and stopped. While speaking with Mrs. Brooks, Clarence Brooks, with defendant in tow, walked toward them. Defendant was wearing a blue shirt and dark blue pants, his face was slightly swollen, blood was trickling from his nose, and he was missing a shoe.

Mrs. Brooks informed the officers that defendant was the man who had broken into her home and stole her purse. The officers took defendant into custody and placed him under arrest. Because defendant complained that he was having difficulty breathing, he was taken to South Chicago Hospital.

In his defense, Elliot presented three witnesses: Barry Tabas, general manager for Metra Express messenger service, testified that Elliot had been employed by Metra Express as a bike messenger from December 14, 1992, until July 8, 1993. Nacy Antoine, an investigator for the Cook County Public Defender's Office, testifiedthat he interviewed Mrs. Brooks on October 6, 1993, and she told him that the man who broke into her home had long hair and had been wearing a blue shirt, blue pants and a cap. Finally, Officer Stockstill was questioned regarding the fact that the officer's case report did not indicate that any money or property had been recovered from defendant.

Lastly, Leon Elliot testified in his own defense. On the evening of July 8, 1993, he went to visit a friend who lived at 96th and Yates. He left the friend's home the next morning at 4 a.m. and walked to 95th to catch the "el." He just missed the train, so he went to catch the State Street bus. He just missed that, too, so he took the 95th Street bus to Stony Island. There he got off, intending to catch the Stony Island bus. Because the bus wasn't there, he went to make a phone call. No one answered his call. Then Elliot went into the alleyway to urinate.

Elliot saw a man enter the other end of the alleyway. This man grabbed him and accused him of taking a purse. The man called out "I got him" and then two other men arrived on the scene. The three men beat him up. They searched his pockets and took his watch, his eyeglasses and $8 from his wallet. They dragged him to a house where a woman said that he "looked like the guy."

While at the house, Elliot was told to take off his shoes. He complied. He was then dragged back to the alley, where the three men took turns beating him while the others searched for something. Later, the men dragged him a couple of blocks. A police car drove up to them and then he was taken to the hospital by the police.

Elliot denied going into the Brooks residence or taking Mrs. Brooks' purse. He admitted that he had been wearing a blue shirt that morning, but claimed that he had been wearing black jeans, not dark blue pants.

In rebuttal, the State impeached defendant with three prior felony convictions: a 1983 burglary conviction, a 1989 residential burglary conviction, and a 1990 conviction for violation of bail bond.

The jury found Elliot guilty of residential burglary. He was later sentenced to ...


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