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People v. Williams

March 19, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Nickels

Defendants Remon Williams, Michael Coleman, and Sherrell Towns were all indicted in the circuit court of Madison County on five counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1994)), arising from the November 17, 1993, shooting deaths of five individuals. Williams and Coleman were tried jointly and a jury found both guilty on all counts. Williams waived his right to be sentenced by the jury and the trial judge determined he was eligible for the death penalty based on the aggravating factor that he was convicted of murdering two or more individuals. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3) (West 1994). After considering factors in aggravation and mitigation, the trial Judge determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. Accordingly, Williams was sentenced to death. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(h) (West 1994).

Co-defendant Coleman was sentenced to natural life imprisonment. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1994). Co-defendant Towns was tried separately and was found guilty on five counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1994)). Towns was sentenced to death, and his convictions and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal by this court in People v. Towns, 174 Ill. 2d 453 (1996). The instant appeal involves only Remon Williams' convictions and sentence. Williams' sentence has been stayed pending this appeal. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a).


Evidence presented at trial revealed the following. On November 17, 1993, Kim Fulton and her three children lived with Jeff Mosby in a trailer located at 204 Hare Street in Eagle Park. Kim left home that night about 8:30 p.m. to run some errands. At that time, Mosby was at home barbecuing and watching the three children. Sometime later in the evening, Mosby and the children were watching television when three men entered the trailer. Christopher Fulton, Kim's eight-year-old son, identified one of the men as "Little Mike," whom Christopher knew previously from the neighborhood and whom Christopher believed lived in the trailer next door. The men made Christopher lie on the floor with his face down. Little Mike and one of the other men then went into the back room of the trailer and Christopher heard Little Mike ask Mosby where their mail was. The men returned to the front room of the trailer and Little Mike yelled at Mosby and then shot him in the chest.

Kim returned home at about 10:30 p.m. with a friend, Demetria McIntire. Upon arriving at her trailer, Kim noticed a green minivan parked in the driveway of the neighboring trailer. Kim then saw three persons jump into the green minivan, and it pulled away in a hurry. When Kim and McIntire entered the trailer, they saw Mosby lying on the floor. Kim's children said "they killed Jeff." Kim asked Christopher what happened and in response Christopher kept repeating "the boy next door." McIntire called 911 and Kim went outside and yelled for David Thompson next door. The door to Thompson's trailer was cracked open but no one responded to Kim's calls.

At trial, Christopher identified Coleman as being "Little Mike," the man who shot Mosby. On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited that during the police investigation into the murders Christopher was shown a photographic array of five men, which included Williams' picture. Christopher selected three men out the array who he believed resembled the three men who entered his trailer that night. However, Christopher did not identify Williams as one of the intruders. Kim was unable to identify any of the three persons she saw get into the green minivan. McIntire did not see either the people or a minivan outside the neighbor's trailer; however, she was not wearing her glasses at the time and she does not see well at night without them.

State Police Officer Michael Terrell received a call at 10:28 p.m. the night of the murders. He responded to 204 Hare Street in Eagle Park. Terrell arrived at the same time as an ambulance, and the ambulance personnel attempted to resuscitate Mosby. After speaking with Kim regarding what had occurred, Terrell went next door to 206 Hare Street. Terrell found the front door of the trailer partially open. Terrell entered the trailer and immediately saw three men lying on the floor. The men had their hands bound with duct tape and tape had also been placed over their mouths. Terrell observed that all three men had massive head wounds and were laying in pools of blood. When Terrell noticed one of the men move, he returned next door to bring paramedics to the scene. Terrell returned to the trailer with paramedics, who attempted to resuscitate the man without success. At that time, Terrell discovered the body of another man to the right of the door.

The four men discovered in the trailer at 206 Hare Street were Marion Jennings, Bedford Jennings, Cedric Gardner, and David Thompson. Bedford Jennings, Gardner, and Thompson all had their hands and ankles bound with duct tape. It was stipulated at trial that all four men had died of gunshot wounds. Gardner, Thompson, and Bedford Jennings all died of a single gunshot would to the head. Marion Jennings suffered separate gunshot wounds to the chest and head, with the head wound being the fatal wound. In addition, it was stipulated that Mosby died of a single gunshot to the forearm which passed into his chest causing the fatal wound.

There were no other witnesses to any of the shootings, but several prosecution witnesses gave testimony regarding events they observed on November 17 which may have been connected to the crimes. At about 9:45 p.m., Yuenna Sander was speaking with her brother, Bedford Jennings, on the telephone when she heard a gunshot. Bedford's phone was then hung up. Sander immediately called Bedford back but his answering machine answered the call. Sander did nothing more that night because she believed that Bedford and his roommates were just playing with guns, as they often did. Sander also testified that she had been present at the trailer at 206 Hare Street several times and was aware that drugs were being sold at the residence.

Candice Branch, a sixth-grade student who lived on Hare Street, was returning home from a school program some time between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. While walking past Thompson's trailer, Branch saw three boys outside in the yard. A van was also parked outside the trailer. Branch heard one of the three boys say "let's go do this" or "let's smoke them." Branch ran home after hearing this. Although Branch could not identify anyone in the court room, she did pick Towns from a photo array as resembling one of the boys she saw that night.

Darren Wise, an Eagle Park resident, was walking to a tavern some time between 9 and 10 p.m. As he was walking, a turquoise-green Chrysler van traveled past him in the direction of Hare Street. Wise was unable to see anyone inside the van. Wise returned home briefly to retrieve something he had forgotten. After leaving his home again, Wise heard a gunshot, but he continued on to the tavern. Approximately 15 minutes later, Wise saw several ambulances drive by the tavern. On cross-examination by defense counsel, Wise admitted that at the time of the murders he was addicted to crack cocaine and had used drugs the day he saw the van.

Johnnie Mosley, co-defendant Towns' cousin, testified that Towns and Williams visited him some time in the evening on November 17 in a minivan. During a conversation between the three men, Towns asked Mosley if he wanted to go with him to "take care of some business." Mosley testified that he declined Towns' invitation because he was on parole and did not "want to get involved in that anymore." On cross-examination, Mosley admitted that he was not sure what time or even what day it was that Towns and Williams visited him and that he was probably "high" at the time.

Chontelle Clark testified that she was driving around between 9 and 10 p.m. when she saw Williams, Towns, Coleman, and another boy in a dark-colored car at a stop light. Clark testified that she did not recognize the fourth person in the car. On cross-examination, Clark denied ever dating Towns. Also, defense counsel impeached Clark with the contents of a police report which stated that Clark had told police that Towns, Michael Coleman, and Eric Coleman were the only occupants of the car that evening.

Defendant Williams also offered the testimony of Theodore Beatty, a sheriff's deputy who interviewed Clark shortly after the murders. Beatty testified that Clark had stated to him that she was Towns' girlfriend. Clark had also stated that it was between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. that she saw Towns, Michael Coleman, and Eric Coleman in a dark-colored car. Clark never mentioned seeing Williams with the others in the car that night.

Yulanda Allen testified that she was Towns' girlfriend. Between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Allen stopped by Towns' home. Allen noticed that both Towns' green minivan and grey Grand Am were parked outside. Allen entered the house and found Williams, Coleman, and Towns inside. Allen made plans to meet Towns later that evening and then she departed. Later, as Allen was dropping a friend off at home, Towns pulled up alone in a dark-colored automobile which was a Cadillac or a Park Avenue.

Several witnesses testified regarding the physical evidence found at the scene. At Thompson's trailer at 206 Hare Street, crime scene technicians found four spent shell casings stamped "Winchester nine millimeter." Two spent projectiles were discovered in the trailer and two spent projectiles were recovered underneath the trailer. In addition, a projectile fragment was recovered from Gardner's body. A bullet hole was also discovered in the door of the trailer, but the projectile which caused the hole was never recovered. At Mosby's trailer at 204 Hare Street, one spent 9-millimeter shell casing was discovered laying on the floor. A forensic scientist tested the projectiles and the shell casings and determined that all the shots were fired from the same gun, most likely a 9-millimeter handgun manufactured by Glock.

More than 100 fingerprints suitable for comparison were recovered from the crime scene. Of these, fingerprints matching Towns' fingerprints were discovered on the duct tape used to bind some of the victims. In addition, Towns' fingerprints were found on some papers in Mosby's trailer. Neither Williams' nor Coleman's fingerprints matched any fingerprints left at the scene. Although shoeprints were recovered at the scene, none of the prints matched the shoes that were seized from Williams.

An employee of Croft Motors testified that his company rented a green minivan to Elmer Jennings on November 6, 1993. Elmer Jennings testified that he rented a green minivan from Croft Motors for Roosevelt Towns, Sherrell Towns' uncle. Elmer saw Sherrell driving the minivan on one occasion. In addition, he saw Sherrell washing the minivan one or two days after the murders.

Tony Whitehead testified twice for the prosecution. The first time he testified, Whitehead was asked about a statement he had heard Williams make during a birthday party in a St. Louis hotel. Whitehead was unresponsive and stated that he needed "some air or something." After an examination outside the presence of the jury, the court declared Whitehead a hostile witness. The State then impeached Whitehead with a prior statement he had made to police in which he indicated he had heard Williams admit taking part in the murders.

On cross-examination, Whitehead admitted that at the time he made the statement he was in jail for violating probation. The day after giving the statement to police, Whitehead was released from jail. Whitehead stated that his statement consisted of things he heard about the crime on the street, not from anything he had heard Williams say. Whitehead admitted that at the birthday party he was drunk and everyone eventually got thrown out of the hotel because the party got too loud.

The next day of trial, Whitehead testified again. Whitehead stated that he contacted the prosecutor the previous night and informed him that he had not testified truthfully the first day because there were a couple of Gangster Disciples in the court room. Whitehead testified that he, Williams, and Coleman all belonged to the Gangster Disciples. Whitehead testified that he did overhear Williams talking at the birthday party. Whitehead heard Williams say that "he didn't know that Sherrell didn't know how to do a murder." In addition, Williams stated that after Towns shot "those people," Williams picked up a shell casing. Whitehead also heard Williams claim to shoot three people.

Defendant Williams offered the testimony of Larry Delk. Delk testified that he attended the birthday party with Williams. The room where the birthday party was held was very crowded and noisy and a person had to shout in order to talk to someone. Delk did not recall seeing Whitehead at the party, and if he was there, Delk knew that Williams did not speak with Whitehead. Delk did not hear Williams ever talk about the murders. Delk also testified that the day of the murders he was with Williams riding around in Towns' Grand Am getting drunk and high. Williams dropped Delk off at home around dark.

Neither Williams nor Coleman testified. Williams presented evidence of an alibi. Williams' girlfriend and her family members testified that Williams came to their house between 4 and 6 p.m. the day of the murders. Williams was high and drunk and went into a bedroom and slept. At some point in the evening, Towns showed up at their house and exchanged his green minivan for the Grand Am that Williams had been driving. Williams did not leave with Towns and Williams remained at their home all night.


On appeal, Williams' principal contention of error arises from the circuit court's refusal to sever his trial from that of codefendant Coleman. Prior to trial, the circuit court granted the State's motion to consolidate Williams' case with Coleman's case. See 725 ILCS 5/114-7 (West 1994). Thereafter, Williams filed a written motion to be tried separately from Coleman. See 725 ILCS 5/114-8 (West 1994). Defense counsel argued, inter alia, that Williams would be prejudiced by the introduction of admissions by a non-testifying co-defendant which implicated Williams. The circuit court denied the motion. Williams renewed his motion for severance several times prior to trial; however, the circuit court denied each request.

On the eve of trial, Williams waived his right to be sentenced by the jury and then made an oral motion for severance. Defense counsel argued that death-qualifying potential jurors for Coleman's sentencing would prejudice Williams. The court granted Williams' motion for severance. At that point, the State withdrew its request for the death penalty for Coleman. The court then reversed its ruling on defendant's severance motion.

Defense counsel also filed a motion in limine seeking to bar, inter alia, the introduction of out-of-court statements by any codefendant which "refers to or gives rise to any inference that inculpates as such would violate the Bruton rule." Williams' counsel cited specific examples of statements made by co-defendant Coleman that would imply the complicity of Williams and argued that use of such statements would violate Williams' right to confront witnesses. The circuit court denied Williams' motion. Immediately before trial began, the circuit court clarified its ruling on the motion in limine. The court stated that it would allow the introduction of Coleman's out-of-court statements, but admonished the State that the "statements to be cleansed of all references to the non-declaring defendant."

Williams argues that the trial court erred in denying these motions and, therefore, he was denied a fair trial because the testimony of several witnesses improperly connected him to Coleman's admissions. See People v. Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d 400 (1988). Williams further contends that the admission of Coleman's statements at the joint trial with Williams violated his constitutional right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him. See U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 20 L. Ed. 2d 476, 88 S. Ct. 1620 (1968).

Williams first protests the testimony of Alfred Lumpkins regarding a conversation Lumpkins had with Coleman in January 1994 while both men were incarcerated at the Madison County jail. During examination of Lumpkins by the State, there was the following colloquy:

"Q. Would you tell us what said regarding his charge?

A. That him and two other guys was-went to a trailer in Eagle Park and in a green mini-van to buy drugs and once they got inside went inside to set up a deal on a drug deal. Once he got inside he took Cecil Gardner-control of Cecil Gardner and waved the other guys to come on in and ordered the other guys to search the trailers and tie ...

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