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People v. Blue

September 27, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
MURRAY BLUE, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

UNPUBLISHED

Agenda 2-May 2001.

Following a jury trial in the Cook County circuit court, the defendant, Murray Blue, was convicted of first degree murder for killing Louis Moret. The jury found the defendant eligible for the death penalty. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3) (West 1998). The jury then found no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude the death penalty, and the trial court sentenced the defendant to death. That sentence has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a).

We reverse the defendant's conviction and remand for a new trial.

BACKGROUND

Around 10 a.m. on February 26, 1995, a Chicago police officer patrolling a west side neighborhood passed an Amoco gas station where a group of people had gathered. When the officer pulled into the station's parking lot, she saw Louis Moret lying dead on his back in a pool of blood near the rear of the cashier's booth. An autopsy revealed that Moret had been shot 14 times. Injuries to his lungs, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and intestines caused his death. On March 8, 1995, the defendant was arrested on an unrelated charge. *fn1 He was later indicted for the first degree murder of Moret.

At trial, Terrance Hall, an attendant at the Amoco station, testified that a two-tone gray van pulled up to the full-service pumps around 10 a.m. on the day of the shooting. While Hall filled the van with gas, a green car pulled up to the self-service pumps. A passenger, Moret, exited the car, approached the van, and spoke to the van's driver. Hall could not hear this conversation. According to Hall, Moret then walked away from the van and stood in line at the cashier's booth with two persons from the car. The defendant then exited the van, walked toward the cashier's booth, and began arguing with Moret. Hall finished pumping gas for the van and returned to the booth. Inside the booth, Hall saw the defendant become angrier as the argument continued; Moret did nothing. Hall could not quite hear the entire argument from inside the booth. He did not hear any mention of drugs or gangs, but he did hear the defendant say "f- this bitch." During the argument, Hall did not see anything in Moret's hands nor did he see Moret reach into his jacket or make any unusual movements with his hands. Hall testified that he saw the defendant shoot Moret once. Moret then turned to run, but the defendant pursued him and shot him again. Moret fell to the ground, and the defendant kept shooting. As Hall called 911, the defendant returned to the van, which then sped away from the gas station.

Irma Pane, a cashier at a gas station across the street from the shooting, testified that she saw a green car pull into the Amoco station around 10 a.m. Moret exited the car, stopped for a moment to count money, and stood in line at the cashier's booth. A gray van then pulled into the station, and the defendant exited the van to speak with Moret. Pane could hear this conversation because the station's loudspeaker was on. Pane heard the defendant call Moret a "motherf--." The defendant then pulled a gun from his side and shot Moret. Moret spun toward the car to escape, and Pane turned to call the police. When she looked back at the Amoco station, Moret was lying face down on the ground. The defendant then kicked Moret and returned to van. The van drove away from the station. Pane never saw any weapons in Moret's hands and never saw him reach for a weapon.

Tyrus Taylor, one of Moret's friends and the driver of the green car, testified that he pulled into the Amoco station around 9:45 a.m. on the day of the shooting with Moret, D'Shon Myrick, and Gabriel Blakemore. The four men all exited the car. Taylor prepaid for gas at the cashier's booth and returned to the car; Moret, Myrick, and Blakemore continued to stand in line. The defendant's gray van was already at the station. Tall Ralph and Chow Mein, two of the defendant's friends were also standing in line at the cashier's booth to buy cigars and soft drinks. The defendant exited the van and approached Moret. According to Taylor, he heard Moret and the defendant arguing about a recent confrontation between two high school students: "Little James," a friend of Moret and Taylor, had slapped Tutu, a female friend of the defendant. Taylor heard the defendant say, "[F]- that nigger." He heard Moret respond, "[F]-that bitch and f- you, too." The defendant then pulled a gun and shot Moret. Moret began to run, but the defendant pursued him and continued to shoot. Taylor dropped to the ground, taking cover behind his car. When the shooting stopped, he saw the defendant get into the van, which sped away. Taylor stood and walked around the car to see Moret, but he did not touch him. Money from Moret's hand was flying around the station. Taylor then gave his car keys to Blakemore, so Blakemore could leave the station to tell Moret's family about the shooting. Taylor had not seen Moret with a gun that day, and he did not see Moret reach for anything inside his coat while at the station. Taylor conceded that the gas pump was between him and Moret during the argument, but he insisted that the pump did not obstruct his view of the shooting.

D'Shon Myrick testified that Taylor pulled into an Amoco station around 10 a.m. on the day of the shooting. Taylor, Myrick, Blakemore, and Moret all exited the car and walked to the cashier's booth. Myrick noticed a gray van was already parked at the full-service pumps. Blakemore paid for gas, and Taylor began pumping. At the cashier's booth, the defendant and one of his friends stood in front of Myrick and Moret. The defendant told his friends to buy cigars and got out of line to speak with Moret. According to Myrick, Moret asked the defendant why he was being phony about something regarding Tutu. Myrick could see the reflection of Moret and the defendant arguing behind him in the window of the cashier's booth. Myrick saw the defendant wave his gun in the air and begin shooting Moret. Moret ran away from the defendant, but the defendant followed and continued to shoot. Myrick eased behind the cashier's booth for safety and heard more shots. Once the shooting stopped, Myrick did not see the defendant or the van. He saw Moret lying on the ground with gunshot wounds; money was lying around Moret. Myrick said that before the shooting started, Moret was counting money in his hands. Myrick did not see a weapon in Moret's hands, and he did not see Moret reach into his jacket before the shooting. Myrick flagged down a police car and ran from the station to tell Moret's family about the shooting. Myrick encountered his friend Erwin Henry and related the events to him.

Erwin Henry testified that he heard gunshots down the street from the Amoco station. He saw Myrick crying hysterically and running down the street. According to Henry, Myrick said, "Murray shot Louis, Murray just killed Louis." Henry drove Myrick home.

Gabriel Blakemore testified that Taylor pulled up to the self-service pumps at the Amoco station on the day of the shooting. Blakemore saw a gray van which belonged to the defendant pull up to the full-service pumps. Blakemore, Taylor, and Myrick exited the car and went to the cashier's booth; Moret briefly went to the van and came back to the booth. The defendant exited the van, walked to the cashier's booth, where two of his friends from the van were waiting, and instructed them to buy cigars and soft drinks. The defendant then faced Moret and began arguing about Little James and Tutu; the defendant looked upset. Blakemore did not see any weapons in Moret's hands while they stood at the cashier's booth, and he did not see Moret reach into his jacket. Moret had money in his hands. During the argument, the defendant pulled a gun and started shooting Moret. Blakemore and Moret ran toward their car, but the defendant shot Moret in the legs. Blakemore hid behind the car with Taylor, and when the shooting stopped, he saw Moret lying on the ground. Neither Blakemore nor Taylor touched Moret's body. The defendant and the van were gone, and Blakemore took Taylor's car keys and drove the car to Moret's house.

Chicago Police Sergeant Michael Gerhardstein testified that he arrived at the scene of the shooting around 10:25 a.m. and saw Moret lying on the raised sidewalk on the side of the cashier's booth. Two other police officers were present, including Sergeant Ronald Holiday of the Maywood police department; Holiday had collected some shell casings, $600 in cash, and a piece of jewelry. Sergeant Gerhardstein spoke with several witnesses about the gray van. He learned that the van was registered to the defendant and obtained an arrest warrant for the defendant. Sergeant Gerhardstein also spoke with Blakemore after the shooting. Blakemore said that he and Myrick tried to move Moret's body. Sergeant Gerhardstein wrote in his investigatory notes that Blakemore, Taylor, and Myrick tried to pick up Moret before realizing that he was dead; some of Moret's money fell out of his hands and scattered around the gas station.

The defendant testified that some friends picked him up in his van on the morning of the shooting and proceeded to the Amoco station. Two passengers, Tall Ralph and Chow Mein, exited the van to buy cigarettes, while the driver, Poo, asked the attendant for $30 worth of gas. Moret approached the van and asked Poo, "Where is that p-- a- Murray Blue at? He shot up our tip [i.e., drug-selling territory]." According to the defendant, Moret was "actually really [a] drug dealer actually just somebody that's a rival member or you can say somebody who sold drugs right down the street." The defendant stated that he and Moret were rival drug dealers a block apart on West End Avenue. Moret and his friends called themselves the Dog Pound, a subsidiary of the Vice Lords street gang.

The defendant testified that Moret then joined his friends Myrick and Blakemore in line at the cashier's booth. The defendant assumed Moret began talking about the shooting of his drug-selling territory with Tall Ralph and Chow Mein. The defendant exited the van and asked his two friends, "Is it all right? What's up? Is you okay?" Moret and Blakemore, referring to the defendant, said, "There go the p-- mother f-- right there." The defendant responded by pulling out his gun and insisting he was not involved in the shooting of Moret's drug-selling territory. The defendant told Tall Ralph and Chow Mein to return to the van. According to the defendant, Moret, again referring to the defendant, said, "He ain't going to do nothing, you know. We will do this guy, you know what I am saying, if you want us to." Moret motioned with his left hand that Blakemore should move out of the way and with his right hand he was "actually reaching toward his pocket going like he going in his [jacket] pocket." The defendant stated that he saw Moret's right hand go into his jacket and that he believed Moret was reaching for a gun. The defendant then began to fire, and Moret ran. The defendant pursued Moret and continued to fire, thinking that he had missed Moret. After all the shots were fired, the defendant "just kind of shuffled back to the van" and drove to his girlfriend's house in Bellwood.

On cross-examination, the defendant stated that he did not return to his own house after the shooting because he knew the police would look for him there. The defendant conceded that Moret posed no threat to him after he walked away from the van, though the defendant considered Moret's question to be an insult. The defendant, however, thought Moret posed a threat to Tall Ralph and Chow Mein because Moret was talking to them. When the defendant asked if Tall Ralph and Chow Mein were fine, Moret did not have a gun in his hand. The defendant did not see a gun when Moret purportedly reached into his jacket. The defendant acknowledged that he never saw Moret with a gun. The defendant testified that he feared for his life for at least the first five shots he fired at Moret. The defendant's fear dissipated once Moret was lying on the ground.

The defendant recalled Hall as a witness. Hall testified that Moret's friends approached his body and turned him over to see if he was dead. Moret had fallen to the ground and rested on his side; Moret's friends pushed him onto his back. Hall did not see anyone remove a weapon from Moret's body.

Sergeant Holiday testified as a defense witness. On the day of the shooting, he was dropping off his daughter for work at the gas station where Pane worked. He noticed a commotion at the Amoco station. Holiday crossed the street and saw Moret lying face down, arms out, with money in his hands and coming from his pocket. Holiday began picking up shell casings and the money because people were "touching everything" around the crime scene. Holiday did not see anyone reach toward the body to remove anything.

The jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder and eligible for the death penalty. After the aggravation/mitigation hearing, the jury found no mitigating factor sufficient to preclude the death penalty, and the court sentenced the defendant to death. This appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

The defendant raises numerous issues in this appeal. We focus on his third issue: whether the trial court unconstitutionally restricted defense counsel's cross-examination of key witnesses for the State.

Before trial, the State filed a motion in limine to bar any reference to gang affiliation. The State's motion asserted that "there is no evidence to show that this shooting was related to gang membership or any type of gang activity" and "there is no evidence to support a gang motive." According to the State, the defendant had alternative methods for discrediting the testimony of prosecution witnesses.

At the hearing on the State's motion, the State reiterated its contention that gang-affiliation evidence was irrelevant and potentially confusing to the jury. The defense responded that Moret and his friends were rival drug dealers and rival gang members to the defendant. The defense argued that members of Moret's gang, the Dog Pound subsidiary of the Vice Lords street gang, had shot at ...


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