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December 6, 1996


Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. No. 94CF835. Honorable Jerry L. Patton, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication December 6, 1996. As Corrected February 24, 1997.

Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable John T. McCullough, J. - Concur, Honorable Rita B. Garman, J. - Concur. Justice Cook delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cook

JUSTICE COOK delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant Contrell Williams and codefendant Tyrone Humphrey were charged with the September 5, 1994, first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1994)) of Sheri Ellis, a clerk at a Huck's convenience store. The two trials were severed. Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty, and in January 1995, defendant was sentenced to natural life in prison without parole. Defendant appeals his conviction and his sentence. We affirm.

The codefendant, Tyrone Humphrey, lived with Tosha Krause at 835 East Whitmer, in Decatur. Tosha testified that defendant and Humphrey borrowed her 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass during the evening hours of September 5. Her car had a loud muffler at the time. The two were gone about 45 minutes before returning the car. Richard Jackson, who lived near the Huck's store, testified that on September 5, about 11:30 p.m., he heard "a loud noise like a car drive, a couple doors slam." He looked out his window and saw a car parked on the curb directly in front of his house. After watching for 10 or 15 minutes, Jackson saw two people running from the direction of Huck's, carrying a lightweight bag. They drove off quickly and did not turn the car's lights on until it reached the corner. The car had a loud muffler. Jackson testified that a photograph of the Krause 1979 Cutlass closely resembled the car he saw September 5.

Decatur police officer Roger Ryan testified he recovered four empty .380 Winchester shell casings at the Huck's scene, as well as a spent bullet and a bullet fragment. In the back storeroom Ryan observed that the metal case which housed the surveillance video cassette recorder (VCR) was broken, and the VCR had been removed. There were VHS tapes for each day of the week, but the tape labelled "Monday" was missing. (September 5, 1994, was a Monday.)

Larry Joe Krause testified that on September She was living with his sister Tosha at 835 East Whitmer. After defendant and Humphrey borrowed the 1979 Cutlass, they returned between midnight and 1 a.m. on September 6, while Krause was watching television. Defendant was carrying what appeared to be a VCR in his hands. Defendant told Krause the two had robbed Huck's and taken a VCR. The next morning defendant asked Krause if he knew anybody who wanted to buy a VCR. Krause and defendant were watching the television news at 10 p.m., September 6, when the story about the Huck's robbery aired. Krause looked at defendant and said, "'it wasn't you all, was it?'" The defendant answered, "'Yeah.'"

Antonio Gray testified that he was incarcerated in the Macon County jail while defendant was incarcerated there, and defendant had spoken to him on three different occasions regarding the murder. Defendant told Gray that he and his cousin Humphrey had robbed the Huck's store. Defendant took $30 from the clerk, then shot her. Defendant then went to the storeroom and removed the VCR. As he left the store, defendant shot the clerk two more times. Gray asked why defendant shot the clerk, since he was wearing a mask and she could not see his face. Defendant responded that he could not stop because it felt so good to him. Defendant told Gray what he did with the VCR--he "crunched it up real good and threw it on a roof or something."

Officer Ryan testified that he recovered a VHS tape and pieces of a VCR from the roof of a house at 843 East Whitmer on September 7. The VHS tape bore the label "Monday." Another witness testified that the serial number on the recovered VCR matched the serial number of the VCR that had been installed in the Huck's store in 1993. Ryan recovered two latent prints from the VCR pieces seized on the roof. Those prints matched the defendant's prints. Another print matched a fingerprint of Humphrey.

There was more to the testimony of Gray and Krause. Gray testified defendant told him that defendant and Humphrey on one occasion got into a car with "two white guys driving." Humphrey pulled a gun and robbed the men, then took them someplace and proceeded to shoot them. Defendant told Gray the gun was well hidden. Krause testified that sometime after June 29, 1994, defendant told him "two white guys picked them up and took them; took them for a ride, and they took them out of the car and killed them and took the car and left." On another occasion defendant told Krause that "we" had robbed Ali's Market. The State introduced evidence that two white men, Shane Storm and Cary Matthew Whitacre, were killed near Lake Decatur on August 10, 1994, and that five .380 Winchester shell casings were recovered from the area immediately around the two bodies. Massound Aliabadi testified that he owned Ali's Market in Decatur, and that on July 29, 1994, three black males robbed his store. Aliabadi was shot several times during the robbery. Five .380 Winchester shell casings and two spent bullets were recovered from the scene. Krail Lattig, an expert witness on firearms and ammunition, testified that he compared the shell casings from the Huck's, Storm-Whitacre, and Ali's Market crime scenes and determined that a single gun fired all of the cartridges. He also compared the spent bullets recovered from each of the crime scenes, and determined that a single gun fired each of the bullets. The gun was never recovered.

The trial court admonished the jury that the evidence of other crimes was being admitted only "on the issue of the defendant's preparation, plan, identity of a weapon, and identity of the defendant." Defendant and Humphrey were later convicted of the murders of Whitacre and Storm. See People v. Humphrey, No. 4-95-0447 (July 23, 1996) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23) (affirming conviction); People v. Williams, No. 4-95-0695 (September 12, 1996) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23) (affirming conviction). Defendant was convicted in the Ali's Market incident in May 1995.

Defendant testified that he visited his aunt on September 5, arriving about 9:45 p.m. and leaving about 2 or 3 a.m. He denied going to the Huck's store, denied killing Sheri Ellis, and testified he had no knowledge of the robbery or homicide. Defendant testified that a black male at Longview Apartments, a person he did not know, sold him a VCR for $15 on September 6. Defendant did not know how to hook up the VCR, so he threw it in the backyard at his girlfriend's house. Defendant testified he had no knowledge of the Storm-Whitacre homicides or the Ali's Market robbery. He testified Gray's testimony regarding his alleged ...

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