Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 96 CR 13175 The Honorable Michael B. Bolan, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cohen
Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant Anthony E. Williams was found guilty of attempt (first degree murder) (720 ILCS 5/8-4 (West 1992)) and aggravated battery with a firearm (720 ILCS 5/12-4.2(a)(1) (West 1992)). Defendant was sentenced to 29 years' imprisonment. *fn1 On appeal, defendant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction, but only alleges that prejudicial errors deprived him of a fair and impartial trial. Specifically, defendant argues that he was denied a fair trial because: (1) the State attempted to impeach defendant during cross-examination, without later perfecting the impeachment by presenting evidence to substantiate the State's claims; and (2) the State subsequently based improper arguments during its closing rebuttal argument on the unperfected impeachment.
Because we find that the State conducted improper cross-examination and made improper and prejudicial remarks during its rebuttal argument, we reverse defendant's convictions and remand this cause for a new trial. As these two issues are dispositive, we need not address the additional arguments defendant raises on appeal.
The evidence introduced at trial revealed that defendant and the victim, Sheila Robinson, had a brief sexual relationship in the fall of 1992. Defendant and Sheila each presented conflicting accounts of the events surrounding their brief affair. Both testified, however, that in February of 1993, Sheila informed defendant that she was pregnant. Defendant denied that the child was his and subsequently cut off all communication with Sheila.
After Sheila gave birth to baby boy Rakeem, she filed suit against defendant both to establish paternity and to obtain child support. Between 1993 and 1996, Sheila and defendant saw each other only during court proceedings. Defendant and Sheila exhibited no hostility toward one another, nor did they speak directly to one another while in court. The paternity action remained pending in April of 1996.
Sheila testified that she had been employed as a mail carrier for approximately two years prior to the incident in question. On April 22, 1996, at approximately 2:30 p.m., she was delivering mail on foot in the vicinity of 87th Street and Winchester Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. As Sheila was returning to her car, she noticed a man she recognized as defendant leaning up against a building in an alley. The alley was north of where she had parked her car. Defendant was dressed in dark pants, a dark long-sleeved shirt and had his "dread locks" pulled up in a Rastafarian-type knit cap. Defendant emerged from the alley pointing a gun at Sheila. According to Sheila, defendant then stated "this is for you" and began firing the gun. Sheila suffered gunshot wounds to her right wrist, right chest, left thigh, left arm and left shoulder. None of her injuries proved fatal.
The State also presented the testimony of two eyewitnesses. Kristen Carter testified that at the time of the shooting he lived at 8724 South Winchester Avenue in a house located on the west side of the street. While standing near the front door of his house, Kristen heard five gunshots. After hearing the gunshots, Kristen testified that he slowly opened his front door approximately 14 inches to "see what was going on." Kristen looked across the street and observed Sheila falling to the ground. Kristen recognized Sheila as his neighborhood mail carrier. Kristen testified that he also observed a light-skinned male with "dread locks," whom he later identified as defendant, standing a few feet away from Sheila. According to Kristen, defendant was holding a dark object which Kristen believed to be a gun. Defendant then crossed Winchester and began walking toward 87th Street. When defendant reached the corner of 87th Street and Winchester Avenue he crossed the street. Kristen then lost sight of him, but a few seconds later Kristen observed a white Cadillac traveling at a rapid speed eastbound on 87th Street.
Edward Stevens, an electrician, testified that he was remodeling a basement on Winchester Avenue at the time of the shooting. Edward's truck was parked on the east side of Winchester Avenue near a vacant lot approximately 50 feet from an alley. Edward was getting into his truck when he heard someone shout. While looking through his rearview mirror, Edward observed a man, whom he later identified as defendant, shoot a "mail lady" between five and six times. Edward testified that defendant was wearing a dark black leather jacket, jeans and had "dread locks." After the shooting, Edward observed defendant place a pistol into his jacket and walk across Winchester Avenue toward 87th Street. Defendant then turned the corner and walked south on 87th Street. Edward also testified that he later observed defendant driving a white Cadillac eastbound on 87th Street.
Testifying on his own behalf, defendant stated that on the date of the offense he was employed as a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus driver. On April 22, 1996, defendant had the day off. Defendant testified that he awoke around 10:30 a.m. and drove his red Oldsmobile to the CTA garage located at 39th Street and Archer Avenue to "pick vacation days." Defendant admitted that he owned a white Cadillac, but claimed that it was at a car dealership that day because he was trying to sell it. Defendant testified that he arrived at the CTA garage around 11:30 a.m. and began looking for his union steward, Chester Robinson. Defendant was informed that Robinson was out of the office and would not be returning until 3 p.m. Defendant then made a stop at the car dealership located at 1122 West Foster Avenue to inquire about the status of his white Cadillac. Defendant and a friend, Thelma Mitchell, then drove to defendant's brother's apartment located at 61st Street and Stony Island Avenue. According to defendant, he stayed at his brother's apartment until 2:15 p.m. when he returned to the CTA garage to speak to Robinson. Robinson was still out of the office, so defendant waited to speak to his superintendent, Mr. Harrington. Defendant testified that he spoke to Mr. Harrington around 3:15 p.m., left the CTA garage at 3:30 p.m. and then returned to his apartment located at 5101 Sheridan Road.
On cross-examination, the State asked defendant a number of questions relating to Rakeem's birth and Sheila's paternity action. Defendant denied being angry that Sheila was pregnant and denied that he was avoiding responsibility for paying child support. The State inquired whether defendant knew that paternity tests established that he was indeed Rakeem's father. Defendant admitted to taking blood tests, but denied knowing how many tests he took or the results of those tests. The State further inquired whether defendant knew that there was an upcoming court hearing on May 15, 1996, to "establish paternity and set up child support." Defendant adamantly denied knowing that there was a hearing set for May 15, 1996.
The State called Detective Andrew Abbott as a rebuttal witness. Detective Abbott interviewed defendant post-arrest both at defendant's apartment and at the police station. Detective Abbott testified that at defendant's apartment, defendant told him that defendant knew Sheila from a "former love affair" and that Sheila had accused defendant of fathering her child. Defendant also told Detective Abbott that defendant and Sheila had been involved in a lengthy court battle over child support payments.
Detective Abbott further testified that at the police station defendant admitted that he had encouraged Sheila to have an abortion and that he was angry that Sheila continued to pursue him for money. Defendant also told Detective Abbott that he felt Sheila was trying to "blackmail" him. Detective Abbott testified that defendant further admitted that he had hired an individual who resembled defendant to "beat up" Sheila in retaliation for this alleged "blackmail."
After closing arguments, the jury found defendant guilty of attempt (first degree murder) (720 ILCS 5/8-4 (West 1992)) and aggravated battery with a firearm (720 ILCS 5/12-4.2(a)(1) (West 1992)). Defendant was subsequently sentenced to 29 years' imprisonment. This appeal followed.
Defendant argues that the State's cross-examination of him and subsequent closing denied defendant a fair trial. Specifically, defendant points to the State's questions which assumed as fact that the blood tests substantiated defendant as Rakeem's father and further implied that defendant knew that at an upcoming paternity hearing those blood tests would reveal that defendant was, in fact, Rakeem's father. Defendant argues that the State failed to present any evidence substantiating these claims, although presenting them as conclusive-while failing to perfect the impeachment. Defendant further contends that the State argued to the jury during its closing rebuttal argument that defendant shot Sheila because he knew he was going to be declared Rakeem's father at the upcoming court hearing and wanted to avoid paying child support. Defendant asserts that both instances served to impute to defendant a motive that was neither proven nor supported by the record.
The State responds that it substantiated its questioning during defendant's cross-examination through the rebuttal testimony of Detective Andrew Abbott. The State also asserts that its rebuttal argument was properly "based on the evidence presented and the reasonable inferences arising therefrom." Furthermore, the State asserts that defendant waived these issues because he failed either to object at trial or to raise the objection in his posttrial motion.
Defendant concedes that he only objected to some of the prosecutor's cross-examination questions at trial and failed to raise a proper objection in his posttrial motion. Nevertheless, defendant asks this court to review the issues as plain error. Defendant claims that the plain error exception applies to his case because the State's ...