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People v. Plummer

December 26, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 92 CR 20236 The Honorable Edward M. Fiala, Jr. Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cousins

Defendant, Johnny Plummer, was indicted for first degree murder and attempted armed robbery pursuant to sections 9-1, 8-4, and 18-2 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/9-1, 8-4, 18-2 (West 1992)). He was sentenced to natural life imprisonment and a term of five years' imprisonment, both to run concurrently with his prior natural life sentence. On appeal, defendant contends that: (1) the State did not meet its burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the judge abused his discretion and deprived him of a fair trial when the prosecution presented details of his other crimes; and (3) the trial court erred by precluding the cross-examination of a key prosecution witness.

We affirm.


On June 17, 1991, at about 2 a.m., Mrs. Jeanette Pole and Mrs. Perrijean East were driving southbound on Halsted Street in Chicago, Illinois. While sitting at the stoplight on the corner of 63rd and Halsted, Mrs. Pole heard a male voice coming from the right passenger side of the vehicle. However, Mrs. Pole could not understand exactly what was being said. When Mrs. Pole looked toward the window, she saw a gun held by a black hand, the man's right hand, sticking through the window. She could not see the man's shoulders or head as he pointed the gun inside the car. Mrs. Pole attempted to raise the window and drive away. However, her 54-year-old passenger, Mrs. East, was shot once in the head. Mrs. Pole immediately drove her to the emergency room of St. Bernard Hospital. Mrs. Pole spoke to a police officer, and after her car was driven by the police to the emergency room entrance, she was not allowed to go near her car. The vehicle was parked in front of the hospital where it was searched and tested for fingerprints. The police were able to retrieve one fingerprint and one palm print from the top of the car on the passenger side of Mrs. Pole's car.

The State filed a pretrial motion to introduce evidence of defendant's other crimes and arrests. The State's motion articulated that the other crimes evidence would be used for the following purposes: (1) to establish the identity of the defendant as the perpetrator of Mrs. East's murder; (2) to establish the reliability of the State's key witness' handwritten statement; (3) to establish that defendant possessed a gun; and (4) to establish that defendant frequented the area of the murder. The trial judge allowed the testimony at trial, for limited purposes.

At trial, one of the prosecution's key witnesses was Erica Frazier. She was serving a three-year sentence for forgery in Wisconsin at the time of her testimony. Frazier testified that on June 16, 1991, at about 9 p.m., she saw defendant and Malcolm Sharkey on the corner of 59th and Union sitting on the porch in the middle of the block where she had seen them on numerous occasions. On that night, they were selling drugs and she saw a gun hidden in the grass, a gun that she had seen "all the time."

Frazier testified that, at about 9:40 p.m., she overheard a conversation between defendant and Sharkey. Defendant stated that he hoped somebody was "walking along" so he could stick him up for his gold herringbone chain. She also overheard defendant mention that he hoped a rival gang member would stop at a stoplight so that he could rob him of his chain. She then testified that the men escorted her towards home, going southbound on Halsted until she got to 61st Street. The next morning, June 17, 1991, Sharkey stopped by Frazier's home, briefly.

Frazier testified that, two days after the shooting, defendant and Sharkey were at her home. Frazier jokingly told defendant that she knew he was the one who committed the murder and that the victim was her cousin. Frazier also testified that after defendant heard this, he apologized to her. Frazier noticed that he was unusually quiet after that. Eventually, she told him that she was only kidding and that the victim was not her cousin. She observed that defendant seemed relieved.

During trial, an in camera examination of Frazier was heard outside the presence of the jury regarding her suicide attempt and subsequent five-day hospitalization for depression in 1990. She testified that after her hospitalization she was not medicated for her depression. She also testified that she did not have any problems with her memory and did not suffer from hallucinations or an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. The defense requested to cross-examine Ms. Frazier in the presence of the jury. The trial court denied defendant's request. The court explained that the defense failed to demonstrate the relevance of such inquiries.

The victim's granddaughter, Ms. Mills, testified at trial as to her conversation with Ms. Frazier in April of 1992 at Mills' home. By chance, Mills and Frazier lived in the same apartment complex and became friends. Mills testified that while Frazier was visiting Mills in April of 1992, the murder of Mrs. East came up. In their conversation, they concluded that Ms. Mills' grandmother was the victim of the shooting that Ms. Frazier claimed to have details about. Defendant was not arrested until almost 10 months after the murder.

During the State's case in chief, the medical examiner testified that there was no partially burned gunpowder residue on Mrs. East's skin surface or hair that would indicate that the weapon was held at close range at the time of firing. He explained that if a handgun was shot at the distance of 18 to 24 inches from the surface of the body or if the bullet passed through a door or glass prior to striking the victim, there would be no evidence of such "tatooing or stippling."

As an expert in the field of fingerprint identification, Officer Brewer of the Chicago police department testified that the latent fingerprint and palm print, which were obtained from the exterior passenger side of the car, matched those of the defendant's left hand. It was elicited that Mrs. Pole had owned her car for approximately five years and was in the routine of washing it once a month. She stated that she did not frequent the area of the murder and probably had not been there in about a year. In June 1991, she had been parking her car on the street.

Frank Wachowski, who at the time of the shooting recorded data regarding the weather reporting station at Midway Airport on a volunteer basis, testified that in June 1991, there was only a trace amount of rainfall.

To establish defendant's identification, the State presented evidence of defendant's other crimes and arrests. Officer Dixon was called by the State to testify regarding a March 1991 arrest of defendant. The trial court admonished the jury, and the State conducted the following direct examination, in pertinent part, of Officer Dixon:

"THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence you're about to receive is that the Defendant has been involved in offenses other than those charged in the indictment. This evidence is to be received on the issues of the Defendant's identification and may be considered by you only for that limited purpose.

Q. Now officer, I would like to direct your attention back to March the 16th of 1991, were you working on that particular date?

A. Yes, I was.

Q. Now, Officer, I'd like to direct your attention specifically to approximately 10:40 on the evening of March 16th, 1991, can you tell us where you were at that time?

A. I was in the vicinity of 59th and Emerald.

Q. Can you tell us, Officer, why you were at that location?

A. Because at that time there was an area of high narcotics traffic.

Q. Can you tell me as you were driving through that alley did you observe anything?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Can you tell me what it is you observed?

A. I observed two subjects standing at the corner of the east alley of Emerald, it's a T alley, east corner of Emerald, make a hand to hand exchange.

Q. Officer, based on your experience as a Chicago Police Officer can you tell us what you believe was taking place when you saw this hand to hand exchange?

A. I believe it to be an illegal narcotics transaction.

Q. Can you tell me when you made this observation what happened next?

A. At that time these two subjects looked in the direction of my squad car and both fled on foot.

Q. Did you pursue them?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Tell me where the pursuit took you? [sic]

A. It took me through the alley, through the south alley of 59th, west to Emerald, at that time when the subjects split up the one subject turned north on Emerald and ran north across 59th street with me in the squad car in pursuit of him. At that time as we hit the corner of 59th and Emerald, this Defendant ran into the Maxwell Restaurant, 5859 South Emerald.

Q. Roughly in the intersection of 59th and Emerald?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you pull your squad up to the Maxwell Restaurant?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell me what happened once your squad car got right up to the entrance of Maxwell Street entrance? [sic]

A. As I stopped the car at the restaurant this subject ran into the door of the restaurant, at which time he threw down a clear plastic bag, as I exited the car and ran in the restaurant behind him I retrieved the bag.

Q. The person that you observed making this hand to hand transaction that you chased and then observed drop a clear plastic bag do you see that person in the courtroom today?

A. Yes.

Q. Can you identify him by something he's wearing today in Court?

A. Yes, the young man with the cream colored shirt and glasses.

Mr. Dillon: May the record reflect the in-Court identification of the ...

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