Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 97--CF--3027 Honorable Henry C. Tonigan, Christopher C. Starck, and George Bridges, Judges, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Bowman
A jury found defendant, Demetrious Wilson, guilty of one count of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(1) (West 1996)) and four counts of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18--2(a) (West 1996)). Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. Following a sentencing hearing, the court sentenced defendant to 40 years' imprisonment on the murder charge, to be served consecutively to a 15-year imprisonment term on one of the armed robbery counts. The court imposed concurrent 8-year terms of imprisonment on each of the remaining armed robbery counts and ordered that those sentences be served consecutively to the 40-year murder sentence and the 15-year armed robbery sentence. Defendant's motion for reconsideration of his sentence was denied, and defendant then filed this timely appeal.
On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to allow defense counsel an opportunity to argue to the jury whether defendant was accountable for the offense of murder after a jury query, during its deliberations, prompted the court to further instruct the jury regarding accountability; (2) the prosecution improperly vouched for the veracity of the testimony of a key witness by eliciting that the witness's plea agreement required him to testify truthfully; (3) the trial court erred in ordering that defendant's sentence for murder run consecutively to the sentences for armed robbery because the "triggering offense," the armed robberies, although Class X offenses, did not involve severe bodily injury as is required for the imposition of consecutive sentences for offenses committed as part of a single course of conduct; and (4) the trial court erred in imposing a 15-year sentence for one of the armed robbery counts and ordering it to run consecutively to the other 8-year armed robbery sentences, as all of the armed robberies were part of a single course of conduct. Issues two through four are addressed in a nonpublished portion of this opinion.
On the evening of October 31, 1997, Jermaine Price, David Taylor, Deon Tramble, and Alexius Brooks went to an apartment located at 2102 Barrett in North Chicago, where Brandy Owen, Patricia Amann, Keith Calvert, and Jemeil Amlet were already present. Price testified that, shortly thereafter, Calvert mentioned something about "putting up the heat." Price interpreted this comment as meaning that Calvert had a gun on him and that he was going to "put it up." Calvert and Amlet left, returning with defendant, who appeared slightly intoxicated. At that time, Price, Tramble, Owen, and Amann were seated on the floor playing cards.
Price testified that defendant and Owen decided to exchange sweatshirts. Defendant removed his sweatshirt, exposing a gun in a shoulder holster. Owen became upset because her children were present in the house. Defendant then pulled the gun from the holster, saying, "This ain't s---. This ain't nothing." Defendant then discharged the gun four to six times into the floor around the area where the group had been playing cards. Price recalled that, as defendant started shooting, Amann ran out of the apartment. Calvert and Amlet went to the kitchen, returning with knives. Defendant instructed Taylor, Tramble, and Price to empty the contents of their pockets onto the floor, and Calvert and Amlet picked up the items off the floor. Defendant demanded that Price, Taylor, and Tramble drop their trousers.
Defendant then went into the kitchen, where Brooks was sitting at the kitchen table, either sleeping or passed out, and woke up Brooks. Price stated that Calvert and Amlet were standing next to defendant at this time. Price had a clear view of the kitchen, as the apartment was small and the kitchen and living room were together. When the men got Brooks to his feet, he came and stood next to Price, emptied his pockets, and also dropped his trousers. When Brooks pulled out his car keys, Amlet snatched them. Then Calvert and Amlet left the apartment, followed by defendant.
Price recalled that Taylor commented that defendant's gun was not real, but fake, because it sounded like a cap gun. Price disagreed, saying that he saw fire coming from the end of the pistol. Taylor left the apartment with Tramble right behind him. Price stated that as he exited the apartment he heard several gunshots and ran back into the apartment. When the shots stopped, he went down the stairway leading to the outside of the building. As he exited the front door of the building, he saw Taylor take a few steps and fall into Tramble's arms. As Tramble lay Taylor down on the ground, Price saw blood on Tramble's shirt.
Deon Tramble's testimony was substantially the same as Price's. According to Tramble, Calvert and Amlet left the apartment twice before returning with defendant. Prior to leaving the first time, Calvert talked about a gun he had hidden in the bushes.
Tramble recounted that after defendant fired his gun, which Tramble believed was a .45, about four times, one of the other guys with him declared, "[T]his is a m------f------ robbery." Tramble related that after he, Taylor, and Price had emptied their pockets and dropped their trousers, "they" (defendant, Calvert, and Amlet) approached Brooks, who was "still asleep or whatever" and pointed the gun at his face. They took his car keys and any money he had and then left. According to Tramble, defendant exited the apartment first, followed by Calvert and Amlet.
Tramble stated that, because defendant had fired his first shot close enough to hit the woman sitting on the floor and nothing had happened and no holes could be seen in the floor, he and Taylor thought defendant had been firing blanks. Therefore, Taylor ran out the door and down the stairs. Tramble picked up a bottle and ran behind him. As he approached the front door, Tramble thought he heard a shot fired. He then saw Taylor running back towards him. Taylor had a bullet wound in his chest. Taylor collapsed, and Tramble caught him.
Tramble stated that he never saw anyone besides defendant with a gun in his hand. He never saw defendant put the gun down.
Brandy Owen testified that on the evening of October 31, 1997, she had a birthday party for Patricia Amann, who was going to be 16. Amann had invited a few friends from school as well as a couple of people her age from the area. Owen had invited Brooks, her ex-fiancee. When Brooks arrived, he was accompanied by Price, Tramble, and Taylor. Owen stated that Calvert and Amlet were present at the time the other men arrived, but Calvert left immediately thereafter, claiming that his gun was outside in the bushes and that he was taking it home. He returned about 5 or 10 minutes later, and then he and Amlet left. About one hour later they returned with defendant.
Owen's testimony regarding what transpired after the arrival of defendant did not differ substantially from that of Price and Tramble. It differed only in that she stated that defendant's gun was tucked into the front of his jeans and that he discharged it about eight times, although that was an estimate. Owen said that when defendant started shooting, she pushed herself back against the wall by the side of the couch. From her location she could not see Calvert or Amlet and did not have a full view of Price, Tramble, and Taylor. She heard defendant tell them between shots to empty their pockets and lower their trousers.
Then, defendant approached Brooks, who was alseep at the kitchen table. Owen said that she had a full view of defendant and Brooks. Owen recalled:
"And I don't know if he [defendant] had smacked him [Brooks] in the head or if he had hit him with the gun in the head, but he had woke Lex up anyway, and Lex didn't know, he wasn't aware of what was going on. And, you know, all he knows is this guy has a gun, and ***." According to Owen, when defendant ordered Brooks to empty his pockets and drop his trousers, Brooks "kind of laughed" and asked, "[W]hat are you talking about?" Defendant raised his gun up to Brooks. Brooks then gave defendant his car keys, telling defendant that was all he had. Defendant took the keys and fled the apartment as did Calvert and Amlet. Owen did not know the order in which the offenders left. She discovered that Amann had left the apartment as soon as the shooting had started.
Owen remembered that Calvert left her apartment prior to the time that he and Amlet left together and then returned with defendant. On that prior occasion, Calvert stated that ...