APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE RONALD HIMEL, JUDGE PRESIDING.
Presiding Justice Wolfson delivered the opinion of the court. McNAMARA and Cerda, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson
PRESIDING JUSTICE WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:
Shawn Edwards was celebrating with friends on New Year's Eve. He brought a loaded gun. At one point during the evening he fired the gun. A bullet from the gun struck one of his friends. The friend died a short time later.
When Edwards was tried for first degree murder he claimed he did not know the gun was loaded at the time he fired it. In a bench trial, the judge found Edwards guilty of first degree murder. Edwards was sentenced on March 23, 1994, to 20 years imprisonment. The conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, where the only issue was whether the trial judge's conduct deprived Edwards of a fair trial. People v. Edwards, Slip op., No. 1-94-1209, unpublished order filed June 10, 1996.
While the direct appeal was pending, Edwards filed a pro se Post-Conviction Petition, alleging a number of constitutional errors, as well as a claim of innocence based on a witness's recantation, On December 11, 1995, and again on May 13, 1996, the trial court granted the petition for post conviction relief, finding that the witness's recantation of his trial testimony constituted new evidence of the defendant's innocence. A new trial was ordered.
The State appeals, claiming the trial court's decision to grant a new trial was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We agree. We reverse the trial court's grant of post-conviction relief.
This appeal requires a review of the evidence presented at trial and a comparison with the evidence presented in support of the Post-Conviction Petition.
In a bench trial held on January 10-11, 1994, Edwards was prosecuted for the January 1, 1993, shooting death of Clinton Parker (known as Ricky). The evidence showed Edwards had been drinking that New Year's Eve and was extremely intoxicated. He had a gun and had been firing it throughout the night in celebration of the New Year.
The event for which Edwards was prosecuted occurred at about 2 a.m., in front of 944 North Lavergne in Chicago. Edwards' friend, Malcolm Steele, drove Renee Banks to her home. Edwards and Steele walked Renee to her door, while three other friends remained in the car.
Ricky was one of the friends in the car. He became impatient waiting for Steele and Edwards. He got out of the car and began taunting his friends to "hurry up." There was some good-natured banter back and forth, with Steele telling Ricky to be patient. At this point, Edwards pulled out his gun.
What happened next goes to the center of this dispute. At trial, Edwards admitted that he shot Ricky. His lawyer, however, argued that the shooting was involuntary manslaughter because Edwards, thinking the gun was unloaded, had acted recklessly when he pointed the gun in the direction of Ricky and pulled the trigger. Counsel said in opening statement:
"And I think the evidence will bear that out, Judge, and you will hear from Malcolm Steele that when he got to the house and Shawn pulled out the gun he hit his arm and as he was hitting his arm the gun clicked . . . So Malcolm was actually walking in the line of fire when he heard two more clicks.
And Judge, I think Shawn will testify he thought the gun was unloaded."
The State produced two eyewitnesses, Malcolm Steele and Bernard Meeks. Meeks testified that he had been sitting in the car when the shooting occurred. Ricky, he said, had gotten out of the car and was yelling at Steele to hurry up. Edwards pulled out a gun and aimed it at Ricky. Meeks ducked down in the car, not knowing what was going to happen next.
A short time passed, Meeks said, then he looked up and saw that Edwards had put the gun down by his side. Then, because Ricky was still in the street yelling at Steele and Edwards, Edwards raised the gun again. This time a shot was fired and struck Ricky.
On cross-examination, Meeks was asked where Steele was standing when the shot was fired. Meeks said:
"Only reason why I know where Shawn was standing was because I remember the colors of their coat and I think Malcolm he was in front of Shawn but he wasn't like at the bottom of the steps. He was probably like three or four steps down or something like that."
Later, Meeks admitted that he was not sure where Steele was standing in relation to Edwards when the gun went of f.
Meeks also testified that they all thought Ricky was joking about being shot. When they realized that Ricky had been hit, everyone, including Edwards, ran to his aid. They helped him into the car and immediately drove him to the hospital.
Steele's testimony about the occurrence was very similar. He said that as soon as Edwards pulled the gun out of his pocket he grabbed Edwards' wrist and told him to put the gun away. Steele said that he heard the gun "click" when he grabbed Edwards' wrist. This, he said, made him think the gun was empty.
"Q (prosecutor): After it clicked, what happened next? Did you still have hold of his wrist?
A. (Steele): Yes. I told him like put it up. He said okay. Then I proceeded to walk down the stairs as if we was fixing to go.
Q. Did you let go of his wrist?
Q. As you proceeded down the stairs, did anything happen next?
A. As I proceeded down the stairs, I was like directly in front of him, he was like behind me and I was in line with Ricky. As I was walking down the stairs --
Q. Where was Clinton [Ricky] at this time?
A. He was across the street, he was directly pretty much in front of me.
Q. Was he saying anything to Shawn at that time?
A. He was dancing around in ...