Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 95-CR-16858 The Honorable John E. Morrissey, Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cousins
The defendant, Sydney Miller, was convicted in a jury trial of attempting to murder his ex-wife and murdering her boyfriend. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 55 years in prison for the first degree murder conviction and 25 years for the attempt (murder) conviction, to be served consecutively.
The defendant appeals his convictions and sentences on the grounds that the trial court erred by: (1) improperly admitting prior consistent testimony that bolstered the credibility of a crucial prosecution witness; (2) allowing the prosecution to make in its closing argument multiple improper statements that inflamed the jury's passions and misstated the burden of proof; (3) finding that consecutive sentences were mandated, in the absence of a specific finding that the two crimes were part of a single course of conduct and thus fit under the consecutive sentencing statute; and (4) imposing an excessive sentence that did not adequately take into account mitigating factors and the defendant's rehabilitative potential.
Gloria Miller obtained a divorce from the defendant after two years of marriage. They had one child, Tiana, who was six at the time of the trial. In May of 1995, Gloria lived with her boyfriend Julius Wilson, her godmother Lorraine Hampton, and her daughter Tiana. Ms. Miller was seven months pregnant with Mr. Wilson's baby. Tiana stayed with the defendant on weekends.
On one occasion in April, Mr. Wilson spanked Tiana for not cleaning up her room when asked to do so. Tiana told this to the defendant over the weekend of May 13-15. According to Tiana's testimony, the defendant went into a rage. He called Ms. Miller and said he was going to take her to court. He walked around talking to himself and said that he was going to stab Mr. Wilson. Tiana testified that before the defendant took her home that Sunday, he took a gun out of the trunk of his car and put it in his waistband.
Lorraine Hampton testified that she was in the kitchen that afternoon when she heard the doorbell ring. Ms. Miller buzzed Tiana and the defendant into the building. She saw the defendant stick his head through the doorway. She heard the defendant and Ms. Miller arguing in the stairwell and then outside on the porch.
At that point, Mr. Wilson came out of the bedroom. Ms. Hampton tried to persuade him not to go outside, but Mr. Wilson said that he wanted to explain that he did not beat Tiana and was not mean to her. Ms. Miller met him at the bottom of the stairs and she also implored Mr. Wilson to go back inside to avoid a confrontation with the defendant. She went back onto the porch, where she and the defendant resumed their argument. Ms. Hampton once again asked Mr. Wilson not to go outside, but to no avail. While Ms. Hampton was on the staircase she heard sounds like gunfire. When she looked through the door a few moments later she saw the defendant walking to his car, putting a black object in his waistband.
Ms. Miller had been shot in the head, and Mr. Wilson had been fatally shot in the head and chest. Ms. Miller survived, as did her baby, although she suffered brain damage which apparently has left her unable to remember the shooting.
Testimony also established that the defendant had bought a handgun in 1993 of the same general type as that used in the murder. The murder weapon was not recovered, however.
Geneva Barnes, the downstairs neighbor of Ms. Miller, testified that she heard shots and then she saw a man get into a car after putting a gun in his waistband. From her angle, however, she could not see his face.
Detective Elizabeth Shinn testified that she spoke with Tiana at the crime scene. She asked Tiana to describe the gun used in the incident. Tiana said that it was black and gold. Detective Shinn showed Tiana her gun, which was black and silver, and asked if the murder weapon looked like that. Tiana pointed to the silver part of the gun, and Detective Shinn said "Honey, that's silver."
During direct examination, Tiana testified that she had seen her father with a gun. When Tiana was being cross-examined at trial, however, she said that she had never seen a gun and did not know what one looked like. The prosecution wanted to introduce Detective Shinn's testimony in order to show that the latter statements were not true. The defense objected that this would be an inadmissible prior consistent statement. The trial court admitted the evidence either as a prior consistent statement to rebut an implied charge of recent fabrication or as a prior inconsistent statement for the prosecution to impeach its own witness. The court did not admit it as substantive evidence and did include a limiting instruction.
Tiana testified that she went to see the defendant in jail prior to the trial. During this meeting, the defendant reportedly told her that in order for him to get out she would need to stop saying that she had seen him with a gun. He also reportedly told her that she should tell the truth at trial.
The defendant was convicted in a jury trial of first degree murder and attempt (murder) as well as two counts of aggravated battery which merged with the prior counts. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 55 years for the first degree murder conviction and 25 years for the attempt (murder) conviction, with the sentences to run consecutively.