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People v. Ephraim

June 29, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. 96 CR 15350 Honorable Stuart Palmer, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman


Defendant William Ephraim (defendant) was convicted by a jury of two counts of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. On the two counts of attempted first degree murder, defendant was sentenced to two 20-year terms of imprisonment to be served consecutively. We affirm in part and vacate in part.

In the late afternoon on April 10, 1996, Asiah Vance and her aunt, Halimah Muhammed, were on the front porch of Muhammed's house at 5125 South Laflin in Chicago, Illinois watching their children play. While sitting on the porch, Vance heard two cars speeding down the street and approximately 10 gunshots, so she ran into the house with her two-year-old daughter, Tiara Moren. When she got inside the house, she realized her daughter had been shot.

Muhammed testified that she was standing on the bottom stair of the front porch when she heard approximately three or four gunshots. She immediately began gathering up the children and ran inside. When she got inside, she realized that her four-year-old son, Andrew White, had been shot.

At the time of the shooting, Terrice Hartfield, who lived next door to Muhammed, was washing his car in front of his house. Upon hearing the gunshots, Hartfield dove to the ground in front of his car. He does not recall the make of the first car to pass him, but he does remember that it was white. As for the second car, Hartfield identified it as a white Pontiac Grand Prix with a gray bottom.

Benjamin Navarro, who also lives on Laflin, was in the alley throwing out his garbage when the shooting occurred. He remembers hearing gunshots and then seeing a white Pontiac Grand Prix race toward him. The Grand Prix stopped in the alley while the driver threw an object out the window. According to Navarro, the driver, a black male, was the only person in the car. The car did not have license plates but did have an orange sticker in the back window. On April 17, 1996, Navarro identified the car in the police department parking lot. However, after viewing a lineup, Navarro was unable to identify the driver.

On the day of the shooting, Chicago police detective John Halloran arrived at the scene and could not find any physical evidence connected with the shooting. While at the crime scene, Halloran spoke with Nicole and Antoinette Muhammed, the 16-year-old sisters of Andrew White. Nicole Muhammed told Halloran that she was sitting on her porch at the time of the shooting and saw a black, four-door car with gold rims chase another vehicle northbound down Laflin. Nicole Muhammed said the gunman was sitting in the back seat of the car and was shooting randomly out of the back passenger window. According to Nicole Muhammed, her boyfriend, Jason Miller, and Anthony Branch witnessed the shooting from across the street from her house.

Antoinette Muhammed told Halloran than she too observed a black, four-door car with gold rims chase another car northbound down Laflin. According to her recollection of the shooting, the shooter was in the front passenger seat sitting on the window ledge with his upper body outside of the car while he shot a gun in a forward direction.

Next, Halloran spoke with Jason Miller and Anthony Branch. They both told Halloran that from the porch of Miller's house they observed a black four door car with gold rims chase another car down Laflin. Miller and Branch recall that the shooter was in the black car. They identified the shooter as Eric, a member of the Black P Stones Gang, who lives at 51st and Paulina.

At trial, Halloran testified that the area where the shooting occurred is controlled by the Black P Stones street gang. Further, Halloran stated that both Miller and Branch are members of the Black P Stones gang. Halloran testified that he knew of a person named Eric Gibson who did in fact live on the block claimed by Miller and Branch. Halloran showed Miller and Branch a photograph of Eric Gibson, and they both identified him as the shooter. Moreover, the police located a dark blue, four-door car with gold rims and Miller and Branch identified this car as the one driven by Eric Gibson when the shooting occurred.

Halloran testified that Nicole and Antoinette Muhammed, as well as Miller and Branch, viewed a lineup. Miller and Branch both identified Eric Gibson as the shooter, but Nicole and Antoinette Muhammed did not. Halloran was concerned over the information he received from Nicole and Antoinette Muhammed, Miller, and Branch because their accounts of the shooting varied significantly from the accounts of others who also witnessed the shooting.

In an effort to reconcile the varying witness accounts Halloran received, he interviewed Miller and Branch for a second time. They both admitted that they lied when they not only identified the dark blue car, but also when they identified Eric Gibson as the shooter. Halloran testified that Branch went so far as to say that Eric Gibson was not even present at the shooting. When Nicole and Antoinette were confronted with the fact that Miller and Branch had recanted, they refused to speak to the police any further.

Halloran testified that in the course of his investigation he learned the nickname of an individual possibly involved in the shooting and his gang affiliation. More specifically, Halloran learned that a Black P Stones gang member called "Big Man" might be involved in the shooting. In court, Halloran identified Big Man as the defendant.

Halloran first spoke with defendant after he was taken into custody. After Halloran advised defendant of his rights, defendant agreed to speak with him and initially denied any knowledge about the shooting. However, defendant did admit to Halloran that he is known as Big Man and is a member of the Black P Stones gang.

Eventually, defendant told Halloran about his involvement in the shooting. According to Halloran, defendant told him that at the time of the shooting he was on the corner of 53rd Street and Laflin playing dice with fellow gang members. While playing dice, defendant saw a gray, two-door car drive northbound down Laflin. As the gray car passed, one of defendant's fellow gang members yelled out for someone to "get on that car," since the driver was a rival gang member. Another member of the gang, known as both "Percy" and "Verge," ran to his car to retrieve a gun and began shooting at the gray car while standing in the middle of the street. Halloran testified that defendant then stated that he jumped into his white Pontiac Grand Prix, unaccompanied by any fellow gang members, and began chasing the gray car. Halloran stated that defendant admitted that he was armed with a .32-caliber revolver that he fired with his left hand at the gray car out of the driver's side window. When he reached the 5100 block of Laflin, defendant fired additional shots at the gray car and then turned down the alley located at approximately 5207 Laflin, where he threw his gun out the window. Defendant told Halloran that he thinks a Mexican man in the alley may have seen him throw away the gun. Defendant then returned to 53rd and Laflin.

Assistant State's Attorney Don Lyman testified that he was at the police station where Eric Gibson was in custody. After speaking with Nicole and Antoinette Muhammed, Miller, and Branch, Lyman confronted Branch with the inconsistencies in their accounts of the shooting. Branch then admitted that it was not Eric Gibson he had seen at the shooting and refused to speak any further with Lyman. When Lyman confronted Miller with the inconsistencies in their accounts, Miller admitted that he saw a white, two-door car chase another car north down Laflin. Further, Lyman testified that Miller told him that he heard gunshots and recognized the driver of the white car as Big Man.

Miller testified at trial that he is a former member of the Blackstones street gang. Miller stated that at the time of the shooting he was dating Nicole Muhammed and knew the defendant as "Big Shorty." Miller was sitting on the front porch of his house, which is directly across the street from the Muhammeds' house, when the shooting occurred. Miller remembers seeing two cars come down the street and hearing about five or six gunshots. According to Miller, the police forced him to say that one of the vehicles he saw was a gray, four-door and that the other was black with gold wheels. Miller admitted that he told the police that he saw Eric Gibson shooting a gun out of the passenger side window of the black car. However, Miller testified that he did not recall telling Lyman that he saw Big Man driving a white, two-door car while chasing another vehicle. In fact, Miller denied ever seeing Big Man drive a white car down his street. When asked if he recalled giving previous testimony in this case in July of 1997, Miller responded in the affirmative. When asked if he remembered testifying that he saw a gray, four-door followed by a white car driven by Big Shorty, Miller replied, "I guess." Miller testified that the police told him that they were going to charge him with the shooting, and, consequently, he gave the police a false account of what took place. Miller denied knowing anyone by the name of Eric Gibson. According to Miller, he was not a friend of the defendant's and had no reason to protect him.

Police Officer Thomas Glynn testified that on April 16, 1996, he observed defendant driving a white, two-door vehicle with an orange sticker in the rear window. Officer Glynn pulled defendant over and recalls defendant telling him that his nickname is Big Man. Officer Glynn also testified that he learned the car defendant was driving was registered to his mother, Mary Williams.

Assistant State's Attorney Dan Weiss ("Weiss") testified that he interviewed defendant after his arrest and defendant admitted to him that he is a member of the Blackstone street gang and that he is frequently in the area of 53rd Street and Laflin. Defendant told Weiss that on April 10, 1996, while he was playing dice on the corner of 53rd Street and Laflin, he and Percy were ordered by another gang member to stop the car of a rival gang member which was proceeding northbound down Laflin. Percy immediately retrieved a gun from his car and fired at the gray, four-door car as it sped down the street. Defendant jumped into his car and began following the gray car while he simultaneously fired a .32-caliber gun out the driver's side window. According to Weiss, defendant said that he fired two additional shots when he was between 52nd Street and 51st Street. Defendant remembers seeing children on the street when he fired the gun and throwing the gun out somewhere around the 5200 block.

Mary Williams, defendant's mother, was the only witness to testify on behalf of defendant.

Williams testified that in April of 1996, she worked three days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. as a cashier at a dollar store located at 65th Street and Ashland. Defendant also worked at the store, usually in the late afternoon or evenings, on an "as needed" basis. On the day of the shooting, Williams remembers asking her boss, Patricia Hodges, to pick her son up from school. Williams testified that her son then worked at the store with her from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. At the time of trial, Williams stated she was no longer in touch with Hodges and did not know where she was living. Williams testified that the Pontiac Grand Prix her son was seen driving belonged to her, ...

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