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People v. Spraggins

December 30, 1999

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ISHMAIL SPRAGGINS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit Rock Island County, Illinois No. 95-CF-235 Honorable John D. O'Shea Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

In this case, we are called upon to decide whether the defendant, Ishmail Spraggins, was denied a fair trial when the prosecution, through direct examination of one of its witnesses and then in closing argument, suggested that the defendant threatened prosecution witnesses. Concluding no reversible error, we affirm.

On December 9, 1994, Hector Muriel was shot to death. Following an investigation, defendant Ishmail Spraggins was charged by indictment with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated kidnaping. Following trial, a jury returned a verdict of guilty as to all counts. After the jury could not unanimously agree to find the defendant death eligible, the Rock Island circuit court sentenced the defendant to a natural life term of imprisonment for murder and a consecutive 30-year term of imprisonment for aggravated kidnaping.

The defendant's sole assignment of error is that the State improperly suggested that the defendant had threatened prosecution witnesses. During its case in chief, the State called Eugene Patterson to testify, inter alia, that the defendant, while they shared the same cellblock in the months preceding the defendant's trial, made various admissions to him concerning the murder of Hector Muriel. According to Patterson, the defendant told him specifics about how the crime took place and his motive for the crime.

Also, Patterson testified that the defendant expressed a desire to shoot one witness, Renea Berndt, and at one point sang a rap song in which he substituted lyrics suggesting his intent to kill witnesses against him. Specifically, the following colloquy took place:

"Q. While you were in the cell with him, did he sing a song?

A. Yes, Sir.

Q. Had you heard that song before?

A. Yes, Sir.

Q. How does that song ordinarily go? What are the words to that song?

A. 'Nigger don't believe that song. That nigger's wrong. Gangsters don't live that long.'

THE COURT: Say slower. I can't understand a word of it.

A. 'Nigger don't believe that song. That nigger's wrong. Gangsters ...


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