Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 96 CR 22383(02) The Honorable Mary Maxwell Thomas, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cohen
The defendant, Lamont Jackson, and his co-defendant, Jessie Williford, were indicted for first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and other offenses. Williford received a sentence of 25 years' incarceration pursuant to a plea bargain. Jackson pled not guilty and opted for a bench trial. The judge convicted Jackson and sentenced him to 50 years in prison.
Jackson appeals his conviction, arguing that the trial court improperly considered polygraph evidence that buttressed a confession made by Williford implicating Jackson.
Jackson also appeals his sentence, arguing that: (1) the trial court based its sentence in part on improperly admitted evidence that Jackson was the shooter from an officer who had not been qualified as an expert in ballistics; (2) the trial court improperly considered more than one victim impact statement from the family members of the murder victim; and (3) the court abused its discretion in refusing to allow the defendant a continuance to present mitigation witnesses.
After the defendant was arrested, he gave a court-reported statement before an assistant State's Attorney (ASA). In the statement, the defendant related the following events.
On the morning of July 13, 1996, Jessie Williford, whom the defendant had known since he was 12, came to see the defendant. The defendant got dressed in black shorts and a black and white shirt. The two then went to Williford's godfather's house and stayed there between 30 and 40 minutes. They then drove to a mall, where the defendant bought some car supplies at Trak Auto. As they left the store, Williford said he wanted to go to "the Arab store with the high priced clothes" to "check things out." The defendant was familiar with the store to which Williford was referring, a store called "Tops and Bottoms." He knew that Williford wanted to rob the store. When they were in the car Williford pulled up his shirt and showed the defendant a black semiautomatic handgun in his waistband.
They decided that the defendant would go into the store first in order to see if there were police officers, a large number of people or a security camera inside. Then Williford would come in and rob the store with his handgun. After Williford had taken the money out of the register, he would run for his grandmother's house while the defendant would drive away.
Williford and the defendant parked the car and the defendant walked into the store as planned. Williford, however, came in right behind him instead of waiting. The defendant walked to the west side of the store. Williford was on the east side. The defendant saw a man standing near a glass counter. He thought that the man made a motion as if to draw a weapon, although the defendant did not actually see a gun in his hand. Then he saw Williford draw his semiautomatic. He heard gunshots and then ducked. He thought he heard two guns firing. In the ensuing chaos, the defendant slipped out of the store and drove to his sister's house. The defendant did not see Williford again until August 4, 1996, when Williford told him that the police were looking for them in connection with a murder.
Williford also gave a statement that was read at trial. Williford stated that on the morning of July 13, 1996, he was at his uncle's house when the defendant came over. They got into the defendant's car, and the defendant showed Williford a black semiautomatic handgun in his waistband. Williford suggested they commit a robbery and the defendant agreed.
They then drove to Trak Auto and bought a quart of oil. As they drove, they worked out a plan for the robbery. They would stick up the store called Tops and Bottoms. The defendant would draw his handgun and yell "stickup" and Williford would take the money from the register.
They parked, entered and walked around "casing" the store. The defendant stared at a man near the back the store and said "There go the nigger." The defendant drew his weapon, and Williford ducked down. Williford heard five to eight shots from the defendant's direction. He did not see anybody else with a gun. After the shooting stopped, Williford ran out of the store and went to his grandmother's house.
Mohamed Kassim, the owner of Tops and Bottoms, testified that on July 13, 1996, he was working at the store with three or four employees. He was bagging clothes for a customer when the customer said he needed to get more money from his car and left. The customer then came back in and walked towards the back of the store, where he had a conversation with a man in the west aisle of the store wearing a white T-shirt. Kassim noticed that the man in the white T-shirt had a handgun. Kassim heard gunfire and he ducked down behind the counter. He could hear people running out of the store. He peeked out from behind the counter and saw the man in the white T-shirt walk out of the store while putting the handgun in his waistband. Kassim was told that a woman had been shot, and he called 911. The woman, later identified as Karen Heard, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the back and arm.
Melvin Evans, an employee at Tops and Bottoms, testified that at about 11 a.m. on July 13, 1996, he was at the store trying to fix the vacuum cleaner. As he knelt over the vacuum cleaner he heard some yelling from the back of the store. Evans turned and saw an African-American man wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt. The man was holding a gun. Evans turned back around. He heard a gunshot and dropped to the floor beneath a clothing rack. He did not see the face of the man in the white T-shirt and did not see him firing.
Detective Richard Chernikovich testified that on July 13, 1996, he was assigned to investigate a homicide at Tops and Bottoms. When he and his partner, Detective Joe Walsh, arrived at the store, they observed the body of Karen Heard on the floor. They recovered evidence including expended casings, a spent bullet, and blood splattered on and behind the glass counter. There was a hole where a bullet had gone through one of the display shelves. There were two bullet holes in the east wall of the store.
At trial, Detective Chernikovich testified that from the position of bullet holes in the east wall and the bullet hole in the shelf one could determine that the shooter must have been on the west side of the store. Detective Chernikovich explained his ...