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January 8, 1996



The Honorable Justice Wolfson delivered the opinion of the court: Buckley and Braden, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson

The Honorable Justice WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:

A defendant in a criminal case has the fundamental right to present his defense to the trier of fact. In this case, the trial judge excluded the defendant's alibi defense because of a minor infraction of the discovery rules. We find the sanction of exclusion was too harsh. For that reason we reverse the defendant's murder and armed robbery convictions and remand the case for a new trial.


The State presented 10 witnesses during its case in chief. This is a summary of their testimony:

On October 8, 1989, at about 7 p.m., Tracy Abrams, Lee Fredericks, Cherrelle Spencer, William Colbert, and Shelby Odom were on the front porch of Abrams' home at 4416 South Prairie in Chicago. Two men, one wearing a camouflage jacket and one wearing a Bears jacket, approached the porch and said they were police officers. Both men had guns. Defendant later was identified as the man wearing the camouflage jacket.

As the men approached, Cherrelle was walking down the stairs. The man in the Bears jacket grabbed Cherrelle as she walked down the stairs, stuck a gun in her stomach, called her "Bitch," and told her that she was not going anywhere.

The men told everyone to remove their jackets and shoes. All except Fredericks removed their jackets and shoes and put them in a pile at the bottom of the stairs. Fredericks attempted to run into the building. The man in the Bears jacket shot him. Defendant told the others on the porch to get down and if they moved they would get the same thing. Defendant then picked up the jackets and their money. He said if anyone followed the two men, they would shoot Cherrelle. Defendant told the people on the porch to say a gang sign, and if they did not say it, they would kill Cherrelle.

The men took Cherrelle at gunpoint down the street to the corner. Defendant's partner held the gun on Cherrelle. While walking down the street, Cherrelle's friend, Vernita Bland, passed by. The man holding the gun on Cherrelle told her to hug him. She did. Cherrelle then walked away from the two men.

Officer Troy Williams and his partner arrived at the scene. When he entered the hallway he saw a young black male lying on the floor in a puddle of blood. The victim of the gunshot wound was identified as Lee Fredericks. Although Fredericks was alive at that time, he died later that evening. The medical examiner testified that Fredericks died of a gunshot wound inflicted at a close range.

The victims gave descriptions of the offenders to the police. Abrams informed the police that one of the offenders had the nickname "Shawn." He had heard defendant called "Shawn" around the neighborhood of 42nd and Prairie. Colbert knew the defendant from when he lived near 44th and Prairie in 1983 and 1984. He told the police that defendant wore thick glasses. Abrams told the police that defendant had a .357 gun and defendant's partner had a nine millimeter gun.

Officer Williams told Detective Oliver, a gang specialist, that one of the offenders had a possible nickname of "Shawn." Detective Oliver looked up the nickname of Shawn in his files and came up with defendant's name. He passed this information to Officer Armata. Officer Armata obtained a picture of the defendant. Officer Armata showed defendant's picture to Abrams along with five other photographs. Abrams picked out defendant's picture and identified defendant as one of the men involved in the robberies and murder. After defendant was in custody, Officer Armata recovered defendant's camouflage jacket from defendant's mother.

On October 15, 1989, Tracy Abrams, Cherrelle Spencer, and William Colbert viewed lineups at separate times. They each identified the defendant as one of the men who committed the robberies and the murder. A picture of the lineup was not presented at trial because the police camera was not working at the time of defendant's lineup.

For the defense, Mario Cruz and Victor Hubbard testified that defendant was a peaceful person. Hubbard stated that defendant was a law abiding citizen and that he was honest. Hubbard maintained that defendant was not known as Shawn.

Daisy Arroyo, defense counsel's secretary, testified that she was present at an interview with Cherrelle Spencer in which Spencer stated that defendant was arrested 15 minutes after the armed robberies and the murder. Spencer also told her that she was able to identify defendant in a lineup 20 minutes after the crime. Defendant was wearing a camouflage jacket in the lineup.

Defendant's sister, Cheryl Coates, testified that defendant had been accepted by the postal service for a job beginning October 10, 1989. Coates said that she heard Abrams say he had never heard of defendant being called by the nickname of Shawn, and that Abrams said Cherrelle Spencer was not present during the armed robberies and the murder.

Defendant testified. He said he did not commit the armed robberies and murder. Defendant voluntarily surrendered himself to the police. Defendant had an acceptance letter for a job with the postal service. He was a member of the army reserves. Defendant identified his camouflage jacket. He said he only wore it when he was in the army reserve. The jacket had defendant's name on it. He testified that he had difficulty seeing at night even with his glasses; however, his vision did not prohibit him from serving in the army reserve.

The jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder and guilty of four counts of armed robbery. Defendant was sentenced to 50 years for murder and a concurrent sentence of 10 years for the armed robberies in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The Alibi Defense.

The record reflects several attempts by the defendant to notify the State ...

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