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People v. Thomas

May 08, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 94-CF-324 Honorable Lloyd A. Cueto, Judge, presiding.

Goldenhersh, J. Chapman and Maag, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh

After a jury trial, defendant, Terron Thomas, was found guilty of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1992)) and aggravated discharge of a firearm (720 ILCS 5/24-1.2(a)(2) (West 1992)). Defendant was sentenced to 50 years in the Department of Corrections for first-degree murder and 15 years in the Department of Corrections for aggravated discharge of a firearm, with the sentences to run concurrently. On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred in allowing into evidence numerous hearsay statements, (2) the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a mistrial on the basis that two of the jurors read or heard of a newspaper article that reported that one of the victims, Kimberly Stewart, was a Judge's niece and that defendant's coconspirator had already been convicted of the murder of the other victim, Mitchell Lofton, (3) the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a new trial, based on the fact that one of the jurors failed to disclose that she knew defendant's mother, an announced witness at trial, and (4) the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to dismiss because the delay of one year between defendant's indictment and arraignment violated defendant's sixth amendment right to a speedy trial (U.S. Const., amend. VI). We affirm.


On November 9, 1993, the victims, Mitchell Lofton and his girlfriend, Kimberly Stewart, were each shot several times by two gunmen, identified by Kimberly as Julius Phillips, also known as "Hobo", and defendant. Mitchell died at the scene, but Kimberly recovered from her wounds after spending two months in a hospital. On April 21, 1994, defendant was charged with the above-mentioned offenses, and an arrest warrant was issued. On May 27, 1994, defendant was indicted on the same two offenses. The warrant was served on defendant on June 6, 1995. Defendant was apparently incarcerated in Missouri beginning in March 1994 and was extradited to Illinois on June 6, 1995, when the arrest warrant was signed. Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that defendant was denied his right to a speedy trial because the East St. Louis Police Department knew or should have known defendant's address or whereabouts and the delay between his charging on April 21, 1994, and subsequent arrest and arraignment on June 8, 1995, was due solely to the negligence of the State of Illinois. After an evidentiary hearing on this motion, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The trial commenced on February 5, 1996.

At defendant's trial, Kimberly testified that she and Mitchell dated since 1991. By November 1993, the two were living together in St. Louis and had a son. Kimberly knew both Hobo and defendant and saw them on a regular basis. Hobo's brother, Andre Phillips, was the boyfriend of Kimberly's sister, Monica Stewart. Andre was also the best friend of the victim, Mitchell. Hobo's other brother, Craig, dated Kimberly's other sister, Janine. Hobo's sister, Rekinda, dated defendant. Thus, all the parties in this case were somehow connected to the Phillips family. All of these people socialized together, usually at the home of Monica Stewart. Kimberly estimated that she saw defendant every other day for the previous three years; however, Kimberly knew defendant only as "Terry." She did not know where he lived.

Mitchell was a known drug dealer, and the crimes in question apparently arose over drug money. At approximately 6 p.m. on the date in question, Kimberly and Mitchell were driving in Kimberly's car heading east on Interstate 70 from St. Louis to East St. Louis to pick up Kimberly's son. They saw defendant and Hobo in a small white four-door car coming onto the Kingshighway exit. Hobo motioned for them to pull over to the side of the road. Mitchell then got out of the car and talked with defendant and Hobo. When Mitchell returned to Kimberly's car, he told her that Hobo and Terry were going to follow them to East St. Louis. Mitchell then drove Kimberly's car to Michael Hodges' house. Hodges was Mitchell's brother. Mitchell spoke with defendant, Hobo, and Hodges. Mitchell also visited his aunt, who lived next door to Hodges.

Sonetta Bland, Hodges' girlfriend, testified at trial that she was present when Mitchell stopped by Hodges' home. She saw two cars at that time, the car Kimberly and Mitchell occupied and a white car with Missouri plates. The white car was behind the car Mitchell and Kimberly occupied and was occupied by two males. Bland testified that Mitchell drove away in the white car with its two other occupants and that Kimberly followed in her car.

Kimberly testified that when Mitchell returned to the car, he told her that he was going to his mother's house, that Hobo and defendant wanted him to ride with them, and that Kimberly should follow. Kimberly followed the car in which defendant was an occupant until it stopped in Jones Park in East St. Louis. Hobo was driving, defendant was seated in the passenger side, and Mitchell was in the back seat of the car. Kimberly saw all three exit and go to the rear of the vehicle. Kimberly thought Mitchell was going to re-enter her vehicle, so she slid to the passenger side of her car. She then heard either defendant or Hobo say, "Give it up." She saw Hobo and defendant pull out handguns and heard four gunshots. She saw flashes come from the guns held by both Hobo and defendant. Kimberly estimated she was a half a car length away when the shooting occurred. Kimberly testified that after Mitchell was shot, defendant came to the driver's side of her car and started shooting at her. She crouched down on the passenger side of the car and tried to cover herself, but defendant kept shooting. She was shot 12 times. She heard Hobo say, "Come on, come on Man, she's dead." She heard four more shots, and then Hobo and defendant left in the white car.

After her attackers left, Kimberly started her own car and tried to drive away. She did not see Mitchell. She lost control of the car and ran into a hole. A man she did not know came to the car and said he would get her help. She was bleeding profusely and thought she was going to die. Two women came up to the car, retrieved her purse, and took it to her grandmother's house. Kimberly testified that she told the emergency medical workers who came to the scene that Hobo and Rekinda's boyfriend shot her. An ambulance then took her to the hospital, where she remained for two months. She had bullet wounds from her breasts down to her thighs. The police interviewed her at the hospital. In April 1994, she went to the East St. Louis police station and talked to Detective Delbert Marion. She was shown approximately 125 photographs and picked out defendant as one of her assailants.

Monica Stewart testified that she knew defendant and saw him on almost a daily basis. Monica testified that she gave the police Hobo's real name and address on the day of the murder. She did not give the police defendant's name until April 7, 1994, when she mistakenly thought defendant was one of four men following her. Monica also testified that Kimberly had tubes in her mouth for the first week she was in the hospital. Within a week, the tubing was removed, and Kimberly told Monica that Hobo and defendant did it. On cross-examination, she testified that she did not tell Officer Lenzie Stewart, the officer originally investigating the crime, that her sister had now named defendant as a suspect, because Officer Stewart was out of town. She did, however, tell Sergeant Anderson of the East St. Louis Police Department.

Dr. Harry Parks, a pathologist, found 11 bullet wounds in Mitchell's body. He recovered three bullets from inside the body. Dr. Parks testified that the cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the head.

Patricia Johnson, a crime-scene technician, testified that when she arrived on the scene, she found Mitchell lying in a vacant lot approximately 200 feet from Kimberly's car. The car's driver's side window was shot out, and there was blood on the inside. Numerous casings and bullets were recovered at the scene. At the morgue, Johnson retrieved approximately $3,200 in cash, which was stuck deep into the right pocket of Mitchell's jacket.

On April 13, 1994, Officer Aubrey Keller of the East St. Louis Police Department interviewed Kimberly about the November 9, 1993, shooting. Detective Delbert Marion was also present at the time. When the interview started, defendant was not a suspect. Kimberly was shown approximately 125 color photographs and was asked if any of these men were involved in the shooting. According to both Keller and Marion, Kimberly picked out defendant's photograph and said she was absolutely certain he was the shooter. Six days prior to the photo identification, Monica Stewart reported that she thought defendant had been following her. Monica later pointed out defendant's home in East St. Louis. During the cross-examination of Detective Marion, he testified that his written report contained information reported to him by Kimberly that defendant shot into the car window on the passenger side and that Hobo shot at her through the driver's side.

Because the case remained unsolved, the Violent Crimes Task Force was contacted to assist the East St. Louis Police Department in the investigation. Specifically, Craig Koehler, an agent with the Illinois State Police, Internal Investigations, was brought in to assist in the investigation. He interviewed Kimberly and retraced the route she traveled with Mitchell on the day of the shooting. Koehler testified that initial police reports listed the name "Hobo" as a suspect, while the name "Terry" as a potential suspect did not arise until a week after the shooting. According to Koehler, Kimberly told him she was always certain defendant was one of the two men involved, ...

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