The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John E. Morrissey, Judge Presiding.
Kevin Hamilton literally talked himself into the penitentiary. His conviction by a jury of the first degree murder of Curtis Jackson was based almost entirely on his oral and written statements. He was sentenced to 41 years in the Department of Corrections.
On appeal, the defendant contends: (1) his statement should have been suppressed; (2) too much gang life evidence was admitted; (3) his prior conviction for possession of a controlled substance should not have been admitted to impeach his credibility; (4) he was denied a fair trial when the State made improper remarks during closing argument; and (5) his sentence was based on an improper factor and was excessive. We affirm the defendant's conviction and sentence.
Curtis Jackson was shot seven times and killed as he talked to someone in a small white car at 41st and Indiana Streets in Chicago shortly after midnight on July 9, 1995. Very little progress in the police investigation of the death was made until February 13, 1996, when Officer David Case arrested the defendant for unlawful use of a weapon.
Case testified that while outside the car defendant told him he did not want to go to jail. Once inside the car, defendant again said he did not want to go to jail, and asked "would it help if he knew about a murder."
Case showed no immediate interest in the defendant's inquiry. He took the defendant to the 9th District and processed him for the unlawful use of a weapon. Again, defendant said he had information about a murder. He gave Case the name of the victim, Curtis Jackson, and he gave him the location in Area 1 where the murder happened. Case began to take the defendant seriously. He notified detectives from Area 1 that the defendant was in custody and had information about the murder of Curtis Jackson.
Two Area 1 detectives, Cegielski and Crescenzo, went to the 9th District on the morning of February 14. They read the defendant his rights. The defendant described his role in the shooting of Jackson and told them where they could find the shooter, Shaboo. They arrested Shaboo and brought him to the station. The defendant later identified Shaboo as the shooter.
ASA Elaine Wisnosky arrived at the police station in the late morning of February 14. She had two unrecorded conversations with the defendant, and then, at about 6:46 to 7:10 that evening, the defendant gave a court-reported statement. She reviewed the completed statement with the defendant and allowed him to make corrections to it. She read it to the jury.
The confession sets out the defendant's role in the murder and the reason for it in exhaustive detail. At trial, the defendant did not deny he made the statement. Nor did he say he made it involuntarily or that he was treated badly. He admitted he told Officer Case he did not want to go to jail and that he wanted to make a deal. But at all times, said the defendant, he was merely repeating what he had been told by the police officers and by people he knew, including Shaboo. He made the untrue statements, he said, because the officers led him to believe the unlawful use of a weapon charge would be dropped and he would be allowed to go home. In fact, he said, he was shocked when he realized he was being charged with first degree murder.
Each police witness denied feeding the defendant any incriminating information and denied promising him he could go home once the statement was made. Cegielski's testimony about what the defendant told him mirrored the defendant's court-reported statement to ASA Wisnosky.
Because the contents of the defendant's confession play the leading role in this appeal, we summarize it in some detail:
Kevin Hamilton was 23 years old at the time of the statement; he attended high school for one year and then got his GED. In July of 1995, when the shooting occurred, he was living at 4445 South Evans in apartment 1610. He remembered the day of July 8, 1995, because that was the day that Randy, a fellow Blackstone, was killed. The defendant was a member of the Blackstone street gang and had been for seven years. The Blackstone's territory is the building at 4445 South Evans. He held a position within the gang as a "motif." He had been a motif for seven months and prior to that he was a "soldier." A motif's role, according to defendant, is to secure the members of the gang with higher rank. The hierarchy of the gang is as follows: generals, motifs, key soldiers, and soldiers. He was a soldier before he was a motif. Randy was an emir in the gang, an enforcer, "hit man of the nation," a higher rank than the defendant. Ranks within the gangs are called different names in different areas of the city. The ranks at 4445 South Evans were angels, emirs, mutoddys, and magalises.
When Randy was killed on July 8, 1995, the Blackstones called a meeting. He attended the meeting because it was mandatory. The meeting took place at 4445 South Evans. Defendant then gave names of specific people who attended the meeting. At the meeting, the gang discussed the killing of Randy by the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, a rival gang. The Mafia Insane Vice Lords are the "opposition" of the Blackstones on 4445 South Evans. At the meeting, they gave prayer for Randy's passing, and talked about how it was war between 4445 South Evans and the 4120 building, between the Blackstones and the Mafia Insane Vice Lords. By the word "war," the defendant said he meant retaliation, "Like eye for eye. They kill one of us; so we kill one of them." He said that they decided to retaliate because Randy was the emir and he had rank.
After the meeting, he went downstairs to the fifth floor of 4445 South Evans to see his friend Saladine. They drank, smoked, and watched a movie. He then left there and went upstairs to "Shaboo's" apartment to play cards and drink. At the time he had known Shaboo for a few weeks. Shaboo has several aliases, including Lee Joyson and Shelby Mitchell. Shaboo was also at the meeting and he stated that somebody had to pay for the death of Randy, "either hell or jail," but he was going to make it right for his brother. When he was up in Shaboo's apartment, they decided to walk up to the Bootlegger to get something to drink.
When defendant and Shaboo exited the front door and started to walk towards 43rd and Evans, where the Bootlegger lady was, a white car pulled up in front of 4445 South Evans. There was a heavy-set black male driving the car and no one else was inside the car. He didn't remember the make or year of the car, but believed it was "like an Escort, Tempo, or something like that, a small car." The car had four doors. Shaboo walked over to the guy in the car and started to have a conversation; defendant stayed back on the sidewalk. After Shaboo finished talking to the man in the car, he opened the door, and before he got in on the passenger front side, he said "come on" to defendant. Defendant walked over to the driver-side door and got in the back seat.
They then drove over to the area where Randy had been shot in Mafia Insane Vice Lord territory. They drove around there with the purpose of retaliation against the Mafia Insane Vice Lords. While they were in the car, Shaboo bent down and was fiddling with his leg or shoe or something. When he came back up, he had a chrome .9 millimeter Smith and Wesson. He passed it to defendant in the back seat. Defendant asked Shaboo what he wanted him to do with it, and he said "just hold it." Defendant took it and held it while they kept driving around.
They saw the victim, Curtis Jackson, at the corner of 41st and Indiana. He was in front of the liquor store on that corner. Upon seeing the victim, Shaboo said, "there go one of them bitches there." Defendant stated that he understood that to mean that Curtis Jackson was a Mafia Insane Vice Lord. The man driving the car stopped across the street from the liquor store and Shaboo signaled for Curtis Jackson to come over to the car. Mr. Jackson walked over to the car. He was wearing a tee shirt, jeans, and a red cap turned to the left. A cap turned to the left represents People. Both the Mafia Insane Vice Lords and Blackstones are members of People. Even though these two gangs were within People, it was not unusual for them to be at war. The defendant did not think that Mr. Jackson was a gang member, he thought that he was a bum or something like that.
When Mr. Jackson walked up to the car, Shaboo asked him to buy beer for them. Jackson said he would, and the driver gave him some money. Mr. Jackson then went back across the street and inside the liquor store. Once Mr. Jackson walked away from the car, Shaboo said to defendant, "Give me that," referring to the gun. The defendant then gave Shaboo the gun. The defendant knew, at that point, Shaboo was going to shoot Mr. Jackson because he thought he was a Mafia Insane Vice Lord.
Mr. Jackson then exited the store and walked over to the car. He started to walk towards the driver's side door, and Shaboo said to him, "No, hold it, bring it over here to the passenger side." Mr. Jackson walked to the passenger side and handed Shaboo the beer. Shaboo said "thank you" and then shot him six or seven times. Mr. Jackson was standing outside of the car and the bullets hit him in the ...