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People v. Harris

June 13, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 97-CR 11558 The Honorable Themis N. Karneis, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cousins

After simultaneous but severed bench trials, the defendants were each convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault, home invasion, armed robbery, aggravated kidnaping, aggravated battery of a senior citizen, residential burglary, burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The trial court sentenced the defendants to four consecutive terms of 30 years' imprisonment, totaling 120 years each.

The defendants appeal, arguing that: (1) the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress confessions that were allegedly coerced; (2) the judge improperly admitted DNA evidence as to defendant Derrick Harris that did not meet scientific standards; (3) the evidence was not sufficient to prove Sammy Lowery or Erskine DeLoach guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the maximum possible sentence on all the defendants.


On February 22, 1997, Louise Watson was 74 years old. She lived with her son Kevin and his daughter Monica, who was 15 at the time. Kevin's six-year-old twin daughters were visiting for the weekend. At trial she testified as follows.

Louise had gone to bed around 9:30 or 10 p.m. Her twin granddaughters slept in the bed with her. At approximately 4 a.m. she was awakened by someone turning on the light. She heard a man say "Give me the money, give me the money." She said "Who are you? Who are you? Get out of my house." Then her son said "Mom, give him what he wants." She saw that there were four young men in the room along with her son Kevin. All four of the intruders had handguns. One of them had his gun pressed to the back of Kevin's head. She identified the four men in court as Sammy Lowery, Derrick Harris, Erskine DeLoach and Dante Handy. The men were saying gang slogans. Lowery said he ought to kill her son. She quieted the twins, who were crying, and gave Lowery the money in her purse, which amounted to about $12. Lowery took her into the hall and whispered to her not to tell the others that she had given him the money. Louise, however, said to the other men: "I gave him the money. I gave him all I have."

Lowery went into Monica's room. He grabbed her out of bed and then took her into her father's room. Louise was following him, saying "Leave my granddaughter alone." She repeatedly tried to pull Monica away from him, but each time he pushed her away. He had torn off Monica's shorts and underwear, leaving her wearing only a T-shirt. Lowery then dragged Monica back out into the hall. Harris and DeLoach were taking the television and videocassette recorder. Handy still had his gun against Kevin's head.

The defendants then left, carrying Monica with them. Louise tried to stop them, but one of them knocked her down into the snow. They put Monica in Kevin's van and drove off. One of the defendants had torn the phone cord out of the wall, but Kevin also had a cordless phone, on which he called the police. The police arrived promptly. Later, as they were giving information to the police, Monica ran into the house, saying that she had been raped. She was immediately taken to the hospital.

Kevin Watson testified as follows. He was a school bus driver. On Sunday February 23, 1997, he had awakened before dawn, as was his custom, and prepared to go to Indiana to buy gas and cigarettes. He sat drinking coffee in the van while the engine warmed up. A station wagon pulled up and four men got out. Two came up on either side of the van. One pointed a handgun at him and ordered him out. After taking the money he had on his person, which only amounted to about $6 or $7, they forced him to let them into the house. They took him through the house, with guns pressed against him. They went to his mother's room and forced him to his knees, and eventually made him lie on the floor. One of the intruders held a gun to his head all the while. He could hear struggling and crying and saw that his daughter was being dragged around. A little later he felt the barrel of the gun leave his head. Shortly afterwards the front door slammed. He got up and dialed 911 on his cordless phone and then called his neighbor, who was a police officer. Later, while he and his mother were giving information to the police, Monica drove up in the van. She left it in the middle of the street. She ran straight to him screaming, wearing only a T-shirt. They took her to the hospital right away.

Monica testified that on February 22, 1997, she went to bed at about 1 a.m. She was awakened by the sound of her grandmother screaming. Two men carrying handguns entered her room. She identified these men in open court as Handy and DeLoach. DeLoach took her into the hallway. Then Lowery grabbed her and took her into her father's room, where he pulled off her shorts and underwear. Lowery tried to rape her several times in various parts of the house, but did not succeed because Louise would not stop struggling with him. He kept throwing Louise off and she fell into things. Monica saw Harris carry off the television. Lowery said "We got to take the bitch with us" and started dragging Monica off. He took her out and put her in the back of the van, pushing Louise into the snow. The other three men then got in the van and they left, with Harris driving.

Once in the van, the men raped her multiple times, orally anally and vaginally. Lowery made her remove her shirt. At one point Handy took over driving from Harris, so that Harris would also have an opportunity to rape her. After they were finished, Handy said they should put her out of the van. When Lowery refused, Handy raised his weapon and threatened to shoot her. Lowery told Monica that he should have "fucked" her grandmother. He asked her if she had ever had sex before, and if she had ever had oral sex. He asked if she would go home with him and if she would be his girlfriend.

The van stopped and the four men got out. Monica asked for her shirt back and Lowery gave it to her. After a minute she tried to start the van, but could not. She then lay back down in the back seat. DeLoach and Lowery got back in. Lowery again made her perform oral sex on him and again asked her if she had ever had sex and if she would be his girlfriend. Then DeLoach made her look him in the face and he told her that if she told anyone what had happened they would kill her family. DeLoach gave her directions to her house and she drove off.

Shoshana Strader testified that she lived across the hall from Handy. She came back from a party at about 4 or 5 a.m. on February 23, 1997. As she walked up the stairs to her apartment, she saw Handy come up the stairs with a revolver. She asked him where Harris was and he did not reply. About five minutes later Harris knocked at the front door and came in carrying a television set. About five minutes after that DeLoach and Lowery came in the back door. Lowery's penis was hanging out of his pants. Lowery said that they had just finished "fucking this bitch."

Latrice Riley, an ex-girlfriend of DeLoach's, who also lived in the apartment, asked what "bitch" they had "fucked." DeLoach denied having "fucked" anyone, but while he said this he pointed a gun at Riley's head. Handy said that he had never done anything like this before and that he was going to kill himself. The next day Harris came back to get the television. The day after that DeLoach stopped by. Riley accused him of having raped "the girl in the paper." DeLoach replied "How did you hear about this? You not telling anybody about this are you?"

Riley testified that Harris and Lowery came to the back door after Strader returned. Lowery's penis was out. She asked him "Why you got your nasty-ass dick hanging out?" Lowery replied that he had just "got through fucking the shit out of some bitch." When Riley asked him who he meant, he said "Me and Derrick" and then added Handy. He said DeLoach had not. Lowery also said that he had "knocked the shit out of that old lady" because she had choked him.

Regina Cobbs is Strader's niece. Cobbs testified that shortly after Strader returned home on the morning of the 23rd, Harris came in carrying a television set. Lowery and DeLoach then entered. Lowery's penis was exposed.

Lowery's mother testified that she and her husband had a wedding anniversary party on the night of February 22 and that the party lasted into the early morning of the 23rd. She testified that Lowery went to his room and did not leave until the afternoon of the 23rd. Lowery's father testified that at 4 a.m. when he fell asleep, Lowery was still at the party. One of Lowery's sisters testified that he was at the party when she left about 2 or 3 a.m. Another sister testified that Lowery was present when she left around 3:30 or 4 a.m with her boyfriend, Sean Smythe. Smythe also testified that Lowery was present when they left, but he said that the time was around 2 or 3 a.m. Lowery's brother testified that Lowery was at the party when ...

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