Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 98 CR 19106 The Honorable Joseph G. Kazmierski, Jr., Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cohen
The defendant and co-defendant were charged by indictment with five counts of first degree murder, three counts of attempted first degree murder, one count of aggravated battery with a firearm, two counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm and two counts of aggravated battery. The defendant and the co-defendant received separate trials.
A jury convicted the defendant of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder. At the sentencing hearing the State presented a multitude of victim impact statements. The trial court granted a motion by the defense asking that it consider only those statements from the immediate family of the murder victim and not those from friends and employers. The trial court sentenced the defendant to concurrent terms of 50 years in prison for the first degree murder and 10 years for the attempted first degree murder.
The defendant appeals his conviction, arguing that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting hearsay testimony from police officers to the effect that bystanders at the crime scene had said the defendant was involved in the crime. He also appeals his sentence, arguing that by statute the court was only permitted to consider one victim impact statement in sentencing him for murder. The State contends that the defendant's sentence is void and that he must be resentenced because the sentencing statute mandated consecutive rather than concurrent sentences.
The following evidence was presented at the trial of defendant, Cion Rice. (His co-defendant, Donzell Lowe, was tried separately.) Late in the evening of June 21, 1998, Reggie Rupert and his girlfriend Gerchaton Young (Gercha) were talking outside the house of her cousin, Kamara Evans. Reggie had been charged with the murder of the brother of Donzell Lowe and was now out on bail. Gercha was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car parked in front of Kamara's house. Gercha's sister Quintina Young sat in the driver's seat. Reggie stood outside the car next to Gercha. Kamara and Lawanna Smith, a friend of Quintina and Gercha, stood outside the car next to Quintina. Terrell Robinson, another cousin of Quintina and Gercha, stood on the sidewalk nearby.
According to Reggie Rupert, at about 11:20 p.m. a maroon car came down the street with four people inside. The two men in the backseat started firing at them. Reggie testified that he recognized the man in the backseat on the driver's side as Cion Rice, whom he had seen a few times previously around the neighborhood. He recognized the man in the backseat on the passenger side as Donzell Lowe. Reggie further testified that when the shooting started, a few bullets went by him, and then one hit him in the hand and another hit him in the right hip. He fell to the ground behind the car. Shortly afterward he heard Kamara screaming Gercha's name. He did not see either Cion or Donzell exit the car during the course of the attack.
When the police came, Reggie told them that he recognized the gunmen as Donzell and Cion. Paramedics then arrived at the scene and took Reggie to Christ Hospital, where he remained for two days. Two detectives interviewed him at the hospital.
Terrell Robinson testified that the neighborhood where the shooting took place was controlled by the Gangster Disciples street gang. Terrell said that he thought Reggie was a Gangster Disciple but did not know for certain. In the days before the shooting, Cion had been riding around the neighborhood on a bicycle. As he did, he would often make hand signs insulting to the Gangster Disciples. Three days prior to the shooting, Terrell had been standing outside with Reggie and some other gang members. Cion passed on his bicycle and pointed at Reggie and said he was going to kill him.
Terrell said that on the night of June 21, 1998, a reddish car drove by and he saw Cion with his hands out the window firing a gun. Cion was in the backseat on the driver's side. Terrell said Cion was the only person that he saw with a gun. He did not see anyone get out of the car. After he heard a couple of shots, Terrell started running. He took refuge in a neighbor's house until he heard the car pull off. When he went back outside, he saw Reggie in the street saying that he had been shot. Terrell told his grandmother and she called the police. When he went outside again, Quintina said that Gercha had been shot.
Lawanna Smith testified that she knew Gercha and Reggie and knew Cion and Donzell as well. She had attended grade school with Cion. When the shooting occurred, she had gone inside the house to talk to her boyfriend. She heard gunshots and went to the window. She saw Cion standing on the sidewalk across the street holding a gun. She did not see a car on the street other than Gercha's. She then ran downstairs. When she got outside, Cion had gone. Reggie was lying in the street saying he had been hit.
Kamara Evans and Quintina Young testified that they heard gunshots and felt bullets whiz by them but in the commotion they did not see the assailants. One bullet went through Kamara's hair, grazing her scalp. After the gunfire ceased, Quintina saw that Gercha had been shot in the head. She went with Gercha to the hospital where, soon afterward, Gercha died.
Chicago police officer Sean Pickett testified that he and his partner, Officer Saul Arambula, went to the scene of the shooting in response to a radio call. When they arrived, about 30 onlookers were crowding around the car. He and his partner spoke with the onlookers. At trial the prosecutor asked:
"Q: Did you develop information or did you and your partner develop information as to people who maybe were involved in this shooting?
Q: What names did you receive?
Chicago police officer Charles Kocanda testified that he and his partner, Officer Andre Parham, heard the radio call and went to the scene of the shooting. When they arrived, many bystanders were around screaming and yelling for help. They exited the car to investigate and ...