The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'brien delivered the opinion of the court:
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Honorable James D. Egan, judge Presiding.
Following a joint bench trial, defendant, Terrell Shields, was convicted of attempted first degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, armed violence and three counts of aggravated battery. Defendant, Deron Baggett, was convicted of attempted first degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, armed violence and two counts of aggravated battery. Defendant Shields was sentenced to a 21-year prison term for attempted first degree murder, to be served concurrently with a 21-year sentence for armed violence, with which the three aggravated battery counts were merged for sentencing purposes. Defendant Baggett was sentenced to an 18-year prison term for armed violence, to be served concurrently with an 18-year sentence for attempted first degree murder. His convictions for aggravated battery with a firearm and two counts of aggravated battery were merged with the attempted murder conviction for sentencing purposes. Defendants contend upon appeal that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they did not act in self-defense. They also contend the trial court erred in sentencing them for armed violence predicated upon aggravated battery, because the 15-year minimum term for that offense is unconstitutionally disproportionate to the 6-year minimum term for aggravated battery with a firearm, although the two offenses are virtually identical. Finally, defendant Baggett contends that his 18-year sentence is excessive and should be reduced.
At trial, Dennis Johnson testified that on March 31, 1995, at approximately 11 p.m., he and his friend James Brown were parked in the lot between a liquor store and a motorcycle club on the 5700 block of West Madison Street in Chicago. Johnson went into the liquor store to buy liquor while Brown remained near the car talking on a cellular telephone. After Johnson came out of the liquor store, he saw Kennith Boston enter the parking lot. At approximately 11:30 p.m., defendants entered the parking lot from the direction of the motorcycle club. They walked over and spoke to Boston. Baggett told Shields, "Up the thing, shoot them niggers," and Shields fired in the direction of Johnson and Brown, who jumped behind Brown's car. Brown looked up to see whether they were still shooting, and was wounded in the right temple, blinding him. Johnson put Brown in the car and drove him to the hospital. He did not see Brown with a weapon on the night of the incident and did not carry one himself. Johnson told police officers during an interview that he recognized Baggett as the man who had robbed him several months earlier, but he never made a police report at the time of the robbery. Johnson testified that both he and defendant Baggett were members of the Vice Lords street gang, but that Brown was not. Johnson later identified both defendants in separate lineups.
James Brown testified that when he heard the words, "Up the thing, shoot them niggers," he ran and ducked behind a car. He heard several shots being fired before he looked up from behind the car and was hit in the temple. Brown testified that before the shooting he had had no arguments or conflicts with Baggett. On the night of the shooting he did not consume any alcohol, and Johnson had one drink.
Chicago Police Officer, Jeffrey Coleman, testified that, on the night of the shooting, he arrived at the parking lot at approximately 12:20 a.m. There were no civilians at the scene and no one approached him about a shooting at that location. A gray, four-door car with shattered windows was in the lot. There was blood on the car, and an expended casing in the driver's side. Officer Coleman searched for weapons but did not find any. After several minutes, he called to verify the location and was told the victim was at the hospital. Officer Coleman waited for other officers to arrive to secure the scene before going to the hospital. At the hospital, Officer Coleman spoke to Dennis Johnson, who said that he and James Brown had been drinking in the parking lot before the shooting. Shields and Baggett, who had robbed Johnson sometime earlier, came to the parking lot where an altercation between them ensued that resulted in Brown being shot.
Chicago Police Officer, Patrick Moran, testified that he was assigned to process the crime scene, arriving at approximately 4:10 a.m. He observed a silver Ford with blood on the door and shattered windows. He collected a metal fragment that was similar to a fired bullet on the ground near a bullet hole in the front bumper. On the floor of the driver's side of the car was broken glass and an expended bullet. Officer Moran then searched the area surrounding the vehicle and found a cartridge casing approximately 30 feet away from the car. He also searched two garbage cans that were in the lot, but he did not empty them completely and could not see to the bottom of the cans.
Kennith Boston, testifying for the defense, stated that approximately 20 people were in the parking lot when he first saw Dennis Johnson and James Brown. Both Johnson and Brown were drinking. When defendants entered the parking lot from the gas station across the street, Boston heard a "clack, clack" sound that he recognized as a bullet being chambered in a gun. He turned around, saw James Brown holding a gun and heard him say, "What's up, bitch?" Brown then fired the gun toward Baggett and Joseph Tate, who was standing near Baggett and Boston. Baggett said, "Up them things," and Boston heard shots from another direction. Shields was approximately 30 feet away, near the liquor store. Boston heard shots from approximately four guns. He jumped into a truck, looked around, and saw Johnson put Brown into the car and pick up a chrome 9 millimeter gun. Boston testified he was still in the parking lot when the police arrived, and that he spoke with a police officer. Shields was also in the parking lot when the police arrived. Boston never saw Shields with a gun.
Boston testified he had known Baggett for 10 years, and that his uncle had a relationship with Baggett's mother.
Joseph Tate testified that on the night of the shooting he was in the parking lot with Baggett and a boy named Eddie. Tate was wearing a blue and red Starter jacket identical to one that Baggett was wearing. Tate heard James Brown say loudly, "What's up, bitch?" and then heard the sound of a bullet being chambered into a gun. Tate turned around, heard a shot, then ran and ducked between cars. A bullet grazed his arm, and he went to the hospital later to receive treatment. He heard at least three different guns being fired and saw the window of a car broken.
Clayton Rainey testified that on July 17, 1994, at approximately 11:30 p.m., James Brown drove by Rainey at the 5300 block of Congress Parkway and told him to leave the corner. Brown drove away and then returned, jumped out of the car and struck Rainey in the back with a gun. Rainey called the police, who stopped the car and recovered the gun.
The parties stipulated that if Sergeant Nigro were called upon to testify, he would state that on July 17, 1994, he met with Clayton Rainey and toured the area until Nigro stopped a car driven by James Brown and recovered a gun from the car.
The parties also stipulated that if Detective Salemme were called upon to testify, he would state that James Brown told him he was a member of the Vice Lords and that Brown recognized Baggett as the ...