The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Quinn
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Daniel Kelley, Judge Presiding.
Following simultaneous separate jury trials, Charles Williams and his co-defendant, Dwight Peal, were found guilty of the first degree murder of Andrew Webb. Williams was 15 years old at the time of the offense but was tried and sentenced as an adult pursuant to section 5-4(6)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/5-4(6)(a) (West 1996)). Williams was initially sentenced to 30 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, but after reconsideration, this sentence was reduced to 25 years. On appeal, defendant claims that: (1) the trial court should have suppressed his statements to the authorities; (2) the court erred in admitting prejudicial evidence regarding the structure of the Gangster Disciples street gang and defendant's gang membership and; (3) the evidence was insufficient to prove defendant's guilt on a theory of accountability where defendant asserts he was merely present at the time of the offense and did not participate in the shooting. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
This case arose out of the facts concerning the shooting death of Andrew Webb in the early morning hours of July 13, 1996, in the lobby of the housing project building at 3542-44 South State Street, Chicago. The defendant was picked up by the police at 3:30 p.m. on July 16, 1996. Before trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements obtained during his interrogation by police and prosecutors. Defendant argued that the police efforts to notify his mother of his whereabouts were insufficient, a youth officer was not present until eight hours after his arrest, and the youth officer expressed no interest in safeguarding his rights.
During the hearing on the motion to suppress, Detective Frank Valadez testified that defendant was picked up on July 16, 1996, at 3:30 p.m. by other police officers. Valadez testified that shortly after arrival at Area One police station, defendant told him he was 15 years old. Valadez asked defendant for his mother's home phone number and called it three or four times but no one answered. Valadez testified he then phoned defendant's mother's place of employment and left a message with a co-employee that it was important for the mother to call the police regarding her son. Valadez testified that at approximately 4 p.m. he checked on the availability of a youth officer to participate in the interview of defendant. He was told a youth officer would be sent to him as soon as one became available. Valadez interviewed other suspects and witnesses until youth officer Terrell saw him at 11:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Valadez gave defendant his Miranda rights and Terrell asked defendant "basic information." The interview took place in a large conference room and defendant was not handcuffed.
In his initial statement, at approximately midnight, defendant said he was with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting. Valadez testified that he spoke with the girlfriend, who did not corroborate defendant's story. Valadez talked to defendant again at 12:30 a.m. on July 17, 1996, and told him of the discrepancy. Defendant then admitted he was present at the shooting. At 3:30 a.m., an assistant State's Attorney interviewed defendant and defendant agreed to give a court reported statement. At 6 a.m., Assistant State's Attorney Michael Oppenheimer took a court-reported statement from defendant in the presence of Valadez and Terrell.
Defendant's mother also testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress. She testified that she is deaf but that she has a TTY phone in her home. A TTY telephone is designed to allow hearing-impaired persons to communicate over the telephone. When the phone rings, a light on the phone goes on. To communicate, the hearing-impaired person types in her message on the phone's keyboard. This message is then transmitted to another TTY phone, where it is printed out. Defendant's mother never saw the light on the phone go on, indicating an incoming call. On cross-examination she admitted that on the afternoon of July 16, 1996, a neighbor told her the police had picked up her son. The neighbor told her that she thought the police had taken her son to 51st and Wentworth. Defendant's mother testified that she did not go to Area One or call Area One. She also admitted that she would not have seen the light on the phone go on while she was sleeping.
Defendant testified that after being picked up by Valadez, he was handcuffed and put in an interview room where he was handcuffed to a chair. Defendant testified that at one point Valadez told him that he had spoken to defendant's mother. Valadez said defendant's mother was not very happy with him and she told Valadez to "leave his black ass in here." Defendant testified that only the assistant State's Attorney read him his rights and when he made his court-reported statement at 6 a.m. he only repeated what the police told him about the case.
In rebuttal, Officer Thomas Richardson testified that he and his partner picked defendant up at 3:30, Valadez was not present, and defendant was not handcuffed. After arguments, the trial court denied the motion to suppress defendant's statements.
Fannie May Branch testified that about 5:30 p.m. on July 12, 1996, she was walking with her two cousins past the building located at 3542-44 South State Street in Chicago, which was "controlled" by the Gangster Disciples street gang. She saw a group of men she recognized as members of the Gangster Disciples standing outside the building. This group included defendant, James Freeman, Dwight Peal and Narvel Salter. Branch had lived in the area for a year and was familiar with all four and knew them to be members of the Gangster Disciples street gang. As she walked past the building, she saw Salter "writing some BD was going to die, something, GD, and then something." "BD" referred to the Black Disciples street gang, while "GD" referred to the Gangster Disciples street gang. Branch then went to her sister's home for the next several hours.
When Branch left her sister's house about 9:30 p.m., she saw the same group of men outside the side and back doors of the 3542 building, with other men she also recognized as members of the Gangster Disciples. Branch testified that the lights were on in the common areas. She went upstairs and played cards at her cousin's apartment until about 3 a.m. She then left her cousin's apartment and walked down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairwell, Branch saw Peal, Salter, Mario Bailey and another person she only knew as "Mike" holding guns. She also saw that the lights in the hallway by the elevator were out and Peal was walking back and forth, looking out the front and back doors. When Branch asked why the lights were out, Salter stated that a peace treaty between the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples had been broken and that a "Black Disciple" was going to die. She heard Peal say, "Here come [sic] a Black Disciple," as the victim, Andrew Webb, walked through the front door. The victim said "What's up" but nobody replied. Salter then pushed Branch behind some bricks by the stairs, and he and Bailey each fired two shots at the victim. Salter than told Branch to "get out." When she stood up, she saw the victim lying on the floor with blood around him. Peal then opened the door so she could leave. Branch testified that she did not see Peal or Mike fire any shots. Branch testified that she told a Chicago Housing Authority police officer what she had seen. She then talked to Detective John Bloore and later gave a written statement to an assistant State's Attorney and testified before a grand jury.
Cherlyn Wilson testified that she lived at 3542 South State Street, in July 1996 with her boyfriend, Andrew Webb. Before the shooting, there was a stick figure of a dead body with writing around it underneath her window. The building where she lived was controlled by Gangster Disciples. After hearing shots and getting phone calls from Webb's mother and some other people, Wilson went downstairs. Wilson saw Webb lying on the floor with one of his shoes off. There was a stick in the front door so the Gangster Disciples could prevent people from coming and going. She called the police, and when they arrived, she removed the stick from the door and let them in. Medical examiner Dr. Chira testified that Webb died as a result of gunshot wounds to his chest.
Over the objection of defendant, Detective John Bloore testified as a gang expert that the hierarchy of the Gangster Disciples consisted of the leader, Larry Hoover, then board members, governors, regions, coordinators, and soldiers. Coordinators make sure that the soldiers turn in their money and are paid. Soldiers are the lowest-ranking members in the gang, and if they do not do as they are told they are punished, or "violated," which may include being killed. Bloore testified that Narvel Salter was a coordinator for the Stateway Gardens housing project, which included the 3542-44 South State building. Bloore testified that defendant was a soldier and would not make any major decisions. Bloore testified that the Black Disciples had split from the Gangster Disciples. Webb was a "minister" in the Black Disciples, which is the equivalent of a governor in the Gangster Disciples. Webb was the leader of the building located at 3517 South Federal, another building in the Stateway Garden housing project, approximately one block from 3542 South State. Approximately a month before Webb was murdered, an administrator in the Black Disciples was killed. There was a dispute within the gang over whether the administrator had been shot by members of his own gang or the Gangster Disciples. This made things uneasy between the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples.
Officer Kyle Erbacker was at the scene of the shooting and saw a stick figure drawn in chalk just outside the rear door of 3542. Written next to the figure were the letters "GDN or die tonight bitch." On the wall "NuNu" (Webb's nickname) and "G" were printed. He also saw a broken six-pointed star, which is a sign of disrespect for the Black Disciples. Some three hours later, he saw the letters "DOA" next to the figure.
Valadez testified before the jury in a manner consistent with his testimony at the hearing on the motion to suppress statements.
Assistant State's Attorney Oppenheimer testified before the jury in the same manner as at the suppression hearing. He additionally testified that he spoke to defendant alone and asked him how he had been treated by the police. Defendant said he had been treated well. While reading defendant his rights, during the court-reported statement, Oppenheimer told him that even though he was 15 years old, he would be tried and sentenced as an adult.
As defendant's conviction rests primarily on his statement, we will recite it in some detail. Defendant said that he had been a member of the Gangster Disciples for four or five months. He was a soldier-"I do what the people with rank tell me to do." He said there was a meeting of the Gangster Disciples board on July 12, 1996. "I was told there was going to be a war between Gangster Disciples and Black Disciples...That meant they were going to start shooting." This conversation took place outside 3542 South State and included Narvel Salter, Mario Bailey, Dwight Peal, and two others. All of them were in the lobby shortly after the conversation, with defendant sitting on a crate.
Q: Were you working security for this?
A: Not really. Not really. But I was around there so I just did it... When you work security aint no sitting down. Supposed to stand by the door.
Q: What does it mean to work security?
A: Like call out when the police come. And like since it was already tension between Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples, you had all Black Disciples break theirself; that means they got to raise their shirt up and show [if they had a gun].
Narvel had a gun...He was playing with it. Like, man, if they come out, we are going to get them, you know what I am saying.
Q: What did you interpret that to mean?
A: That he was going to kill somebody.
Q: Once [victim] came into the building, what happened?
A: When he came in the building the first people I told- I was getting ready to tell him to break himself, but he already broke himself. [He was not armed].
Q: If he had not broken himself or lifted up his shirt, would you have asked him to break himself?
Q: Once he did that what happened next?
A: Narvel followed him. And Narvel and Dwight came, and then it ...