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People v. Howard

June 10, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 95--CF--2590 Honorable Rosemary Collins, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger

Following a jury trial, the defendant, Richard L. Howard, was convicted of first-degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9-- 1(a)(2)) and sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by (1) permitting the State to bolster a witness's testimony through the use of the testimony of an expert witness; (2) admitting evidence of his abusive behavior that occurred after the victim's death; (3) tendering to the jury a modified form of an Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction regarding evidence of his other crimes; (4) failing to allow his attorney to review a diary written by the State's chief witness; and (5) imposing a sentence of life imprisonment. We reverse the defendant's conviction and remand the cause for a new trial.

I. Facts

The following facts are relevant to the Disposition of this appeal. On November 8, 1995, the defendant was indicted for first-degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9--1(a)(2)). Specifically, the indictment alleged that, between February 1 and April 1, 1990, the defendant beat Carrie Gaines (the victim), knowing such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.

On June 21, 1996, the defendant filed a motion to produce copies of diaries written by Sherri Gaines (Sherri), the victim's mother. After conducting an in camera review, the trial court denied the defendant's motion. The trial court explained its ruling as follows:

"I've read through every page, 200, 300, pages ***.


***[T]here's no direct mention made of the deceased child anywhere in any of these writings, but I think I should tell you this, there are 2 pages here, 2, 3, part of which makes some allusions to the time that the child died. It is in no sense inconsistent with the statement she made to the police so it would be my judgment it's not admissible as a prior consistent statement. *** I don't think it's admissible or relevant or would lead to anything that is relevant. None of the rest of this makes any reference to, directly or indirectly, really to the event or events surrounding the death of the child nor even to the child ***."

Prior to trial, the defendant filed two motions in limine. The first motion sought to exclude evidence of the defendant's abusive behavior occurring on dates that were not alleged in the indictment. The defendant's second motion in limine sought to exclude the expert testimony of Anna Wilson on the issue of whether Sherri suffered from battered woman syndrome. The defendant argued that such evidence was irrelevant to any issue in the instant case.

In response to the defendant's motions, the State argued that the evidence of other incidents of the defendant's abusive behavior was relevant to show intent. In addition, the State argued that Wilson's testimony was necessary to explain Sherri's failure to report the victim's death. On August 29, 1997, the trial court issued a ruling providing as follows:

"1. The People may introduce evidence of defendant's prior acts of violence against [the victim] on the issue of intent and lack of mistake;

2. The People may introduce evidence of defendant's prior acts of violence against Sherr[i] Gaines ***. These prior acts of violence are relevant to explain why Gaines permitted the clandestine burial of her child; why Gaines chose to remain in the same household with the defendant for five years; why Gaines participated in a pattern of deception concerning the whereabouts of [the victim] between 1990 and 1995; and to explain why Ms. Gaines did not notify the police of the victim's death.

3. All other prior acts of violence committed by the defendant are inadmissible."

The case then proceeded to trial. The State first presented the testimony of Sherri Gaines. Sherri testified that she had two daughters: Cherish, born in March 1987, and the victim, born in May 1988. In November 1989, she and her two daughters moved in with the defendant, who lived at 3120 Searles Avenue in Rockford. Sherri testified that, on the average, the defendant beat her three times a week. On several occasions, Sherri developed bruises on her face, back, arms, and legs as a result of the defendant's beatings.

Sherri further testified that, in the four months prior to the victim's death, the defendant struck the victim between 12 and 24 times. She testified that the incident that caused the victim's death occurred in March 1990. On the night in question, the victim was sleeping in bed next to Sherri. At about midnight, the defendant came home drunk. When he entered the bedroom, he slapped Sherri on the head, causing her to fall to the floor. At that time, Sherri was 3½ months pregnant.

After Sherri fell to the floor, the victim began crying. The defendant then slapped the victim. The victim began crying louder. When Sherri went towards the victim, the defendant shoved Sherri down and kicked her in the head and stomach. When Sherri "balled up," the defendant kicked her in the back.

Sherri testified that the defendant then picked the victim up and threw her against a wall. The victim fell to the ground crying. The defendant then picked the victim up by her left arm and kicked her hard in the stomach, back, and buttocks. According to Sherri, at that time the defendant weighed about 250 pounds and was wearing hiking boots. The defendant kicked the victim several times and then "let her fly into the air" about four feet. The victim landed on the floor, crying and bleeding from the mouth. The defendant then told Sherri that, if he got into trouble because of her or her "little bitches," he would have her "tracked down." The defendant then left. Afterwards, Sherri picked the victim up and put her in bed. The victim had dark marks on her stomach and back. Sherri testified that the victim closed her eyes and slept. She testified that she did not call the police or take the victim to the hospital because she was afraid of the defendant.

The following morning, the victim became unconscious. The defendant placed the victim on the floor and tried to revive her. However, the victim did not respond. Sherri believed that the victim had died. Sherri held the victim, and the defendant left. ...

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