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People v. Norris

February 05, 1999



PRESIDING JUSTICE CAMPBELL delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant Lance Norris was found guilty of armed robbery, armed violence and aggravated battery. The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment on the convictions for armed robbery and armed violence, pursuant to the Habitual Criminal Act. Defendant also received a concurrent five year sentence for aggravated battery. Defendant now appeals his conviction.

The record on appeal indicates the following facts. Defendant was arrested on August 13, 1991. Defendant states in his brief that "[c]oncurrently, at least five other cases were pending against him." The indictment in this case, number 91-22465, is file stamped September 24, 1991. The State was granted leave to file the indictment on October 2, 1991. The State originally elected to proceed on a separate case before Judge Mahon. While the State proceeded on the separate case, this case was continued on more than 20 occasions.

On September 9, 1993, defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence in this case. On November 23, 1993, the trial court held a hearing on the matter. Chicago Police Officer Anthony Powell testified that during the early morning hours of August 13, 1991, he and his partner, Officer Greg Reynolds, stopped defendant for a traffic violation at the 5900 block of North Broadway. Officer Powell testified that the car Norris was driving was dark blue and had no license plates, though it had a "license applied for" sticker in the window.

Defendant produced his driver's license to the police, but chose to go to the 24th District police station to post a cash bond, rather than have his license confiscated.

Officers Powell and Reynolds were assisted during the traffic stop by Officer William Ruck and his partner. Officer Ruck testified that prior to beginning his shift at midnight on the date in question, he had been informed by the watch commander during roll call that several armed robberies had recently occurred in the area during the first watch. The perpetrators were generally described as two male African-Americans, armed with handguns and driving a black automobile.

Officers Powell and Ruck testified that Norris had a passenger in the car named Ronald Selvage, who exited the vehicle during the traffic stop. Selvage appeared to be holding an object in the waistband of his jogging pants by pressing his arm against it. Officer Ruck asked Selvage to put his arms away from his body. Officer Ruck saw an object travel down Selvage's pant leg and heard a "thump" when the object hit the ground.

Officer Ruck then recovered the object, a .38 caliber revolver. The gun was loaded, but had one spent round. Selvage was then arrested for the unlawful use of a weapon and taken to the 24th District police station. Defendant posted a cash bond for the traffic violation at the 24th District police station, then left. Selvage remained at the police station. Officer Reynolds testified at trial that defendant said he would return to the police station to post bond for Selvage.

After defendant left the police station, Officer Ruck pulled case reviews from the past several days. One of the police reports covered an armed robbery of a gas station at 6000 North Western, which had occurred within the prior two weeks. The report described three perpetrators who appeared to be less than 30 years old, with two handguns, driving a dark blue or black automobile without license plates.

Officer Ruck then spoke with Officer Reynolds, who told him about a telephone call Officer Reynolds made to the Skokie Police Department. Officer Reynolds had telephoned the Skokie Police Department because he had tried to buy gasoline for his car the prior afternoon at a gas station on Touhy Avenue, but was blocked from entry by crime scene tape. Officer Reynolds was told that there had been an armed robbery at the gas station and that what appeared to be a .38 caliber bullet was fired into the counter.

Officer Ruck testified that he was told by Officer Reynolds of the armed robbery. Officer Ruck estimated that the gas station was six or seven miles away from the police station. According to Officer Ruck, Officer Reynolds had received a description of the offender as an African-American male, approximately six feet tall, weighing approximately 210 pounds, with short cropped hair. This description was corroborated by the testimony of Skokie Police Officer Thomas Nelis. Officer Ruck testified that defendant was approximately six feet tall and had short cropped hair at the time of the traffic stop. Officer Ruck used the information obtained from defendant during the traffic stop to check whether defendant had a criminal history. Defendant had prior convictions for rape and armed robbery.

Officer Ruck further testified that defendant returned to the 24th District police station approximately 20 to 30 minutes after he left. Officer Reynolds testified that defendant was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery at that time. Officer Reynolds testified that he prepared a report in this case, but did not mention his telephone call to the Skokie Police Department in that report. The trial court denied defendant's motion to quash and suppress. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court also denied.

On December 3, 1993, Judge Mahon set one of defendant's cases for trial on December 7, 1993. The transcript of the proceedings in that case indicates that the State represented that they had "elected the case in the suburbs," whereupon Judge Mahon stated that "[y]ou're not going to elect the case in the suburbs. I have told you that on the record fourteen times. This case is going to trial on the date I have set." Defense counsel stated that he would not be ready, to which Judge Mahon replied, "Sorry. You're going to be ready." However,later in December 1993, the State changed its election and proceeded in this case; the cases pending before Judge Mahon were apparently transferred to the trial Judge in this case.

This case was then continued on numerous occasions. On January 9, 1995, defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the State was in violation of the Speedy Trial Act. On April 21, 1995, the trial court heard defendant testify that in August 1991, he was represented by private counsel, but that attorney was discharged in 1992. Defendant was then assigned to the public defender, where he was represented by two attorneys. The record indicates that the public defenders later became the subjects of a pending Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee complaint regarding this case. Defendant was again represented by private counsel. The hearing was continued to May 4, 1995; the motion to dismiss was denied on that date.

The case proceeded to trial on June 6, 1995. Rosemary Spizzirri, the manager of a Citgo gas station at 5343 West Touhy in Skokie, Illinois, testified that on August 12, 1991, at approximately 10 a.m., she and a cashier named Jane Yacoub were working at the station. It was a sunny day. There was artificial lighting inside the station.

Spizzirri testified that an African-American male, approximately six feet tall and weighing approximately 200 pounds, entered the station carrying a small briefcase. The man told Yacoub that "this is a robbery." Spizzirri stated that Yacoub seemed to be in shock. Spizzirri pushed Yacoub aside and asked the man to repeat himself. The man repeated that "this is a robbery" and pulled a gun out of the briefcase. Spizzirri was standing approximately a yard from the man.

Spizzirri told the man that she did not think he had a real gun, whereupon the man fired a shot through the side of the counter into the office door. The man then reached over the counter, pressed a button to open the cash register, and began to take money out of the drawer. Spizzirri slammed the cash drawer on the man's fingers. The man then struck Spizzirri in the left side of her face with the gun. The man went around to Spizzirri's side of the counter to retrieve more money kept under the counter. The man again struck Spizzirri in the side of her face with the gun. The man unsuccessfully attempted to open the gas station's safe, then left the premises.

Spizzirri testified that the police arrived a few minutes later. Spizzirri described the offender to the police and told them that he had opened the register. Spizzirri was taken by paramedics to the hospital for treatment of a cut, ...

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