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People v. Ransom

April 05, 2001


Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 99CF596 Honorable Donald M. Cadagin, Judge Presiding.

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

In June 1999, the State charged defendant, Darren Ransom, with attempt (murder) (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 9-1(a)(1) (West 1998)), home invasion (720 ILCS 5/12-11(a)(1) (West 1998)), and armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2(a) (West 1998)). In September 1999, a jury found defendant guilty of all counts. In November 1999, the trial court sentenced him to 15 years in prison for home invasion, 20 years for armed robbery (to run consecutively to the home invasion sentence), and 35 years for attempt (to run concurrently with the armed robbery and home invasion sentences).On appeal, defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred by (a) denying his motion in limine seeking to bar the State from introducing evidence of his flight and (b) admitting certain evidence; (2) the prosecutor made improper statements during closing argument; and (3) section 5-8-4(a) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Unified Code) (730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(a) (West 1998)) is unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. ___, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). We affirm.


The evidence at defendant's jury trial showed the following. On the night of May 15, 1999, the victim, Donna Hill, was out with her friend, Alexis Bell. At 11:30 p.m., Donna returned to her home, which she shared with her mother, Denise Wilborn, her brother, Carl Hill, and her three sons. Her mother and youngest son were the only ones at home when she arrived. Around midnight, Wilborn invited Dewayne Bias and his sister, Diane, into the home to visit with Donna. Wilborn then went next door to a friend's house. Dewayne and Diane stayed for about 15 minutes. Around 3 a.m., Bell honked the horn of her car in front of the home, and Donna talked to Bell out of her bedroom window for about 15 minutes.

Around 4 a.m., Donna's baby became fussy, and Donna started downstairs to prepare a bottle. Halfway down the stairs, she heard someone come in the front door. When she got to the living room, she saw defendant with one foot in the living room and one on the porch. Donna recognized defendant because he had been at her home several times in the previous weeks to see Wilborn, who braided his hair. A week before, Donna and defendant had argued at Donna's home, and she told defendant not to come there again.

Donna asked defendant to leave, and he left. She closed the door but did not lock it. After fixing the bottle, she returned to her bedroom, fed the baby, and put him in bed. Donna then got undressed and lay down on her bed to watch television and count her rent money. As she was counting the money, she heard someone coming up the stairs.

Donna then saw defendant and another man, whom she did not recognize, standing at her door, and she asked defendant to leave. Defendant had a hammer in his hand. Carl testified that a day before the incident, he and his cousin, Shantel Williams, had used a hammer to install a door on Donna's bedroom and had left it on the floor nearby. Defendant attacked Donna with the hammer, first striking her on the side of her face and then on her forehead. As she lost consciousness, the money fell out of her hands.

When she regained consciousness, Donna went to her bedroom window and yelled for help. She then crawled down the stairs and tried to leave the house. She made it to the kitchen, where she lost consciousness again.

Later that morning, Donald McClain, a former boyfriend of Donna and the father of her oldest child, entered the home and found Donna lying in the kitchen. He then went to his cousin's house where he called 911.

When Springfield police detective James Young, an evidence technician, arrived on the scene, he found blood on the bed and walls of Donna's bedroom that continued in a path to the kitchen, where a considerable amount of blood had collected on the floor and walls. Young also found Donna's purse in the bedroom and its contents strewn on the floor. The hammer was never found.

During the night of May 15, 1999, and the early morning of May 16, James Jones and Monte Turner were at Mac's Lounge with defendant. Around 1 or 1:30 a.m., Jones could not find defendant. Jones and Turner left the lounge and returned to their home. When Jones entered the home, he placed his car keys on top of his entertainment shelf.

Around 8 a.m., Jones and Turner were awakened by defendant, who was knocking on the window and calling Jones' name. Turner testified that defendant knocked on the window and repeated "let me in" in a "panicky, rushing, [and] hurrying" manner for 5 or 10 minutes. Eventually, Turner opened one door and asked defendant what he wanted. Defendant offered $20 if someone would open the door. Turner opened a second door and let defendant inside. Jones and Turner did not notice any blood on defendant. Defendant, carrying a black gym bag, asked Jones if he could drop defendant off at defendant's father's house and offered him another $20. Jones denied defendant's request, and he and Turner went back to sleep. Turner described defendant as panicky, jumpy, and nervous that morning.

At 9:30 a.m., Turner's brother stopped by Jones and Turner's home to drop their child off and mentioned that Jones and Turner's car was gone. Jones and Turner then noticed that the keys were missing from the entertainment shelf. Approximately one week later, the car was found in St. Louis, Missouri. When it was returned, the car did not contain any blood or tools.

On May 23, 1999, a St. Louis police officer arrested defendant, and in June 1999, the State charged him as stated. Before trial, defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit the State from offering any evidence of his flight. The trial court denied the motion, finding sufficient circumstantial evidence of defendant's flight.

At trial, the State sought to use a hammer similar to the one used in the attack to illustrate that Donna's injuries were consistent with those a hammer would cause. The trial court overruled defense counsel's objection to the use of the hammer.

The State also sought to show how Donna initially identified defendant by using a book of mug shots, which contained arrest photographs of defendant and other individuals. Defense counsel made a motion in limine to prohibit the State from introducing the mug shot book. The trial court denied the motion. However, the court directed the State not to refer to the book as a "mug book" or "police book" and ruled that the book would not go back to the jury during deliberations.

Defense counsel made another motion in limine to prohibit the State from introducing evidence that Donna became physically ill upon seeing defendant's photograph. The trial court denied the motion, stating that the police officers could testify to what they observed when Donna saw the photograph.

At the trial's conclusion, the jury found defendant guilty of all counts. Defendant subsequently filed motions for merger and a new trial. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court denied defendant's motion for a new trial but never ruled on the merger motion. The court then sentenced defendant as stated. This appeal followed.


A. Evidence of Flight

Defendant first argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion in limine seeking to prohibit the State from introducing evidence of his flight. Specifically, he asserts that no evidence showed or raised the inference that defendant knew he was a suspect in a crime or that the police were pursuing him. We disagree.

Evidentiary rulings lie within the trial court's sound discretion, and this court will not disturb them unless the trial court abused its discretion. People v. Boclair, 129 Ill. 2d 458, 476, 544 N.E.2d 715, 723 (1989). The fact of flight is a circumstance that a jury may consider as tending to prove guilt. People v. Lewis, 165 Ill. 2d 305, 349, 651 N.E.2d 72, 93 (1995). The inference of guilt that may be drawn from flight depends upon the suspect's knowledge that (1) the offense had been committed, and (2) he is or may be suspected. Lewis, 165 Ill. 2d at 349, 651 N.E.2d at 93. Although evidence that a defendant was aware that he was a suspect is essential to prove flight, actual knowledge of ...

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