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July 5, 1996


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 94 MC1 238230, 94 MC1 238229, 94 MC1 238204, 94 MC1 238309, 94 MC1 238258, 94 MC1 238233. The Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Hourihane delivered the opinion of the court: Gordon and Cousins, J.j., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hourihane

JUSTICE HOURIHANE delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a bench trial, defendants, Mayfay, Cassandra, Maxine, Diana, and Denise Melton (sisters) and Gregory Turner were convicted of multiple counts of endangering the health of a child and contributing to the dependency and neglect of a child. Maxine Melton was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. All other defendants were sentenced to probation and a term of imprisonment.

On appeal, defendants argue that their convictions for endangering the health of a child must be reversed since defendants were charged, tried and convicted under a prior version of the endangerment statute not in effect at the time of the events alleged in the complaint; that the State had not proved their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that the admission of certain hearsay statements denied them their right to a fair trial; and that their convictions under both the endangerment and neglect statutes violate the one-act-one-crime doctrine. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and vacated in part.


From November 1993 to February 1, 1994, five sisters, Cassandra, Denise, Diana, Maxine and Mayfay Melton, their mother (Josephine Melton), a brother (Johnnie Melton), and Gregory Turner, Sr. resided in the first floor apartment at 219 North Keystone, Chicago, along with 19 children, ranging in age from 17 months to 14 years.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on February 1, 1994, Chicago Police Officers Sarpalius, Warner, Labiak and Kasupski, acting on information that drugs were being sold from this address, arrived at the apartment and spoke to Maxine Melton at the door. She advised the officers that no drugs were being sold, but that they "can look."

Upon entering the apartment and observing living conditions which the trial court would later describe as "barely fit for animals", Officer Sarpalius called for a supervisor. Subsequently, additional units were called to assist in the transport of the 19 children to a facility of the Department of Children and Family Services. An evidence technician was also called.

At approximately 11:30 p.m., Josephine Melton arrived. She told police that she lived there, and that she did not know where the other residents were, but could find them. At approximately 1:00 a.m. she returned with three of her daughters, Cassandra, Mayfay and Denise, but they were refused entry by the police. The removal of the children from the apartment was completed by 2:00 a.m.

Appellants, along with Johnnie Melton, were subsequently charged with multiple counts of child endangerment and contributing to the dependency and neglect of a child. At a bench trial, police officers testified for the State to the foregoing facts and as to the condition of the apartment and the children on the night of February 1, 1994. Specifically, upon entering the apartment that evening, two small children were observed sitting on the floor next to a radiator. The window next to the radiator was broken and when Officer Sarpalius asked Maxine Melton why she didn't move the child, she replied, "It's not my child."

In the living room, the police observed four or five children, clothed only in dirty underwear and diapers, huddled on a bare, filthy mattress, covered with a dirty blanket. Other children were sleeping on a blanket on the floor, also covered by a single dirty blanket. One of the children was naked. Maxine Melton stated that she did not know how many children were in the apartment, although five of them were hers, nor did she know where the other children's mothers were.

More children were found in the dining room, sleeping on another bare, filthy mattress. These children were also clothed in only dirty underwear and diapers. Cockroaches were crawling on the dirty blanket that covered them. There was only one dirty and stained pillow in the areas where the children were sleeping. There was a hole in the wall of the dining room with an electrical cord running through it, which was attached to a television. The cord was a foot or two from the mattresses.

One of two bedrooms was occupied by Gregory Turner, who was found lying in bed watching TV. Turner told police that Gregory, Jr. was his son. The other bedroom belonged to Johnnie Melton. Both bedrooms had mattresses with sheets and blankets cleaner than what police observed in the living room and dining room.

The bathroom was filthy. The light fixture did not work. The cold water faucet in the sink could not be shut off. There were no towels, soap, shampoo, toothpaste or other toiletries, other than a single roll of toilet paper and a jar of unidentified cream.

The kitchen floor was covered with garbage, including grease and bones. Subsequent to the arrival of the police, Lavelle Melton, the 14-year old, with help from Maxine Melton, tried to clear some of the garbage off the kitchen floor with a snow shovel. The sink was full of dirty, crusty dishes and empty milk containers. All of the food in the refrigerator, which was infested with cockroaches, was stale and rotten. The kitchen stove was covered with grease, inside and outside. The pantry contained some canned goods, but cockroaches crawled in and out of open boxes of rice and cereal, as well as up and down the shelves and walls.

There were piles of dirty, damp and crusty clothes all over the apartment and the police had difficulty finding clean clothes that fit the children. Maxine Melton dressed her own children, but could not tell police where clothes could be found for the others. Shoes and socks could not be found for most of the children, nor could clean diapers. Officer Gutierrez had to shake cockroaches off the clothes during her search. Some of the children were dressed in adult windbreakers which the police found in the apartment.

There were no smoke detectors. The paint on the walls was peeling. There were no school supplies or books. The children had terrible body odor.

Also testifying for the State was Debra Wright, the prior tenant. She resided in the Melton apartment from June 1992 until February 1993. She testified that at the time she vacated the apartment, to take the larger one upstairs, it was in nice condition. She had repainted the living room and dining room, there were no holes in the walls, and the landlady was quick to respond if there were problems. She also stated that she had cockroaches in her apartment, and that she was eventually evicted after a building inspector viewed the premises. She further testified that at least once a month she saw people carrying groceries into the Melton apartment.

The parties stipulated that all five sisters, as well as two other members of the household, received public aid and food stamps, and that the combined monthly and annual income for the household from these sources were $5,496 and $65,952, respectively. The poverty level for this size household was $71,340.

The parties further stipulated that Lavelle Melton, the 14-year old, was not enrolled for the 1993-94 school year, and that for the period November 15, 1993 through January 1994, Dominick Melton, Claudell Melton, and Johnny Melton (three of Maxine's children) had been absent from school 25, 17 and 13 days ...

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