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People v. Griffith

September 11, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John J. Moran, Jr., Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson


On May 11, 1985, sixteen-year-old Evan Griffith, the defendant, used a hammer, then scissors, then a knife, and then a bigger knife to kill Leroi Shanks. After killing Shanks, Griffith took about $124 from Shanks's wallet and ran away. Eleven days later, on May 22, 1985, Griffith was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and extradited to Chicago, Illinois, for trial.

More than 14 years later, Griffith went to trial, charged with intentional or knowing first degree murder, felony murder, and armed robbery. On June 17, 1999, a jury found Griffith guilty of felony murder and armed robbery. The trial court then sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On appeal, Griffith raises numerous contentions relating to his statements, jury instructions, and the prosecution's conduct.

We affirm.


A fairly detailed account of the facts is required for an understanding of why we decide the case as we do.

At the trial, the State offered the testimony of three witnesses -- Detective James Gildea, Detective Paul Parizanski, and Assistant State's Attorney Richard Sikes. Griffith gave detailed statements to each of them. Their accounts of what Griffith said he did to Shanks on May 11, 1985, were nearly identical:

Griffith knew Shanks for about two years. He met him in 1983 when Griffith's family lived in an apartment building at 840 Belle Plaine in Chicago. Shanks also lived in that building. At the end of 1984, Griffith's family moved to 6255 Oakley in Chicago, and shortly after that to Pennsylvania.

After being in Pennsylvania, Griffith ran away from home. He returned to Chicago in February 1985. When he got to Chicago, he "went straight to Leroi's [apartment]." He lived there on and off until May 11, 1985.

Griffith said Shanks was a homosexual and that the price of staying in the apartment was allowing Shanks to perform sexual acts on him. But on May 11, 1985, said Griffith, there was a struggle when Shanks made new sexual demands. Griffith said "no" a couple of times. Shanks got mad. Shanks tried to use force. Griffith resisted.

After struggling for some time with Griffith, Shanks "just got [more] mad and started cussing me out." He told Griffith he was ungrateful "and stuff like that." Shanks told Griffith to leave the apartment by the time Shanks returned. Then Shanks left. It was about noon.

Griffith became angry. After Shanks left, Griffith started drinking a bottle of wine that Shanks kept on his dresser. He just sat there for a while, "thinking and stuff." After thinking Shanks had hurt him "this way," Griffith decided he was going to hurt Shanks in another way. He was going to "rip [Shanks] off."

Griffith knew Shanks had been collecting money from the tenants of his apartment building. He believed Shanks had between 12 and 14 hundred dollars and knew Shanks kept the money in a safe in his closet. Griffith went into the closet and took out the safe.

Griffith then got a tool box. He emptied the tool box on the floor and picked up a hammer and chisel. He used the hammer and chisel to put a hole in the top of the safe. After about an hour and a half, and drinking almost a whole bottle of wine, he was able to pry open the safe. But there was no money; the safe was empty.

After finding nothing in the safe, Griffith decided to leave the apartment. As he was getting ready to leave, Shanks came home. Griffith got worried. He thought that if Shanks saw the safe open he would call the police, or worse, try to hurt Griffith in some way. So he picked up the hammer he used to break open the safe and hit Shanks on the head with it.

Shanks fell down, but he got back up in a couple of seconds. Griffith again hit him with the hammer. He was trying to "knock him out." But Shanks "didn't want to knock out." Griffith hit him with the hammer a couple of more times, about four or five times total.

Shanks picked up a chair and tried to defend himself, but Griffith took the chair away from him. Shanks continued to try to defend himself. At some point the hammer broke, so Griffith grabbed a pair of scissors. He used the scissors to stab Shanks, but the scissors "didn't go in."

Griffith then retrieved a red-handled kitchen knife. Griffith "tried to use that, too, but the handle broke off, and it didn't go in either." Its blade was long and thin, and it bent instead of penetrating Shanks's body.

Griffith then retrieved a "bigger" kitchen knife that had a heavier blade. He used this knife to stab Shanks in the back and neck. Shanks "fell back down again and that was it." When Shanks fell down, he was breathing hard, and his eyes were open.

Once Shanks was down, Griffith went through Shanks's pockets looking for money. He found Shanks's wallet. Griffith took the wallet from his back pocket, opened it, and took $124 out of it.

Griffith then gathered up his belongings, took Shanks's prescription medication, and left the apartment. At some point when he was leaving the apartment, Shanks said to him, "You're going to jail for this." Griffith then fled from the apartment.

Griffith came back to Shanks's apartment building two days later, on May 13, 1985, and went to the garage where Shanks's car was parked. He tried to break into Shanks's car because he thought that Shanks's money might be in it. He could not, however, get into the car.

The State offered the following testimony to describe what Griffith did after he killed Shanks:

Richard Kasparian, also known as Vrej Abdelahad and nicknamed Virgil, testified that on May 11, 1985, his dad owned a three-flat apartment building located at 6225 North Claremont. According to Kasparian, Griffith came to him on the evening of May 11 and told him he had killed the man he had been living with. Griffith asked Kasparian if he could stay for a couple of days in the basement of his father's building.

Before Kasparian replied to Griffith's request, he asked Griffith why he killed the man. Griffith said, "For the money." Griffith told Kasparian he took $123 from the man he killed. He then showed Kasparian the money, and told him he killed the man by the closet in his apartment on Belle Plaine. He said he used a hammer to kill him.

Kasparian allowed Griffith to stay in the basement for a couple of days. Kasparian did not know when Griffith left -- "one day he was just gone." Later, when police came by, Kasparian told them all he knew about Griffith.

Detective Richard L. Mariner of the Area 6 Violent Crimes Unit of the Chicago Police Department, testified that at 2:40 p.m., on May 14, 1985, he and his partner Detective Daniel Sterling drove to 820 West Belle Plaine to investigate a murder.

820 West Belle Plaine was a high-rise apartment complex. It was 24 stories high and had 271 apartments. The detectives went to apartment 809.

The detectives walked through the door of apartment 809 and immediately entered a long hallway, about 12 feet long. At the entrance of the hallway the detectives saw a cardboard box. In the box was an eight-inch butcher knife. The knife had blood on it.

While walking down the hallway, passing the kitchen that was off to the left, the detectives smelled a very strong odor. The odor did not emanate from the kitchen. It came from within the apartment.

The hallway opened up into the apartment's living room. The rectangular living room was about 25 feet by 18 feet. It was in complete disarray: furniture was knocked over and things were strewn about.

The detectives took particular notice of a chair in the living room. The chair was lying on its side. It had blood on both its front legs and the front portion of the seat cushion. There was no blood anywhere else in the living room.

The detectives continued walking through the apartment. Off to the left and eastern-most portion of the living room was another hallway. The detectives looked down that hallway and saw the body of Leroi Shanks. His body was face down. The upper portion of his body was in the hallway and the lower portion extended back into the living room.

The detectives saw "a lot of blood." There was blood splattered on the walls of the hallway, on a bathroom door, on a closet door, and on the hallway ceiling. Shanks's body was in a pool of blood. He was wearing a white T-shirt that was blood-soaked and brown pants. Shanks had a shoe on only one foot. The other foot was bare.

Shanks's body was "in a state of decomposition" and was the source of the strong odor. It had several stab and/or puncture wounds, which were later determined to be the cause of his death. Near Shanks's body, the detectives found a bloody nine-inch knife "minus the handle," the handle of a hammer, the bloodied head of that hammer, and a bloody pair of scissors.

Past Shanks's body was a linen closet. The linen closet door was bloody and open. A safe had been removed from the linen closet and placed on the floor, about two feet into the hallway. The safe had been broken into. The top of the safe had been punctured, and the hinges of the safe door had been pried so that the door hung open. On the floor near the safe were several different types of tools. The safe was empty.

After conducting further investigation, the detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Griffith, who, to the detectives' knowledge, was sixteen years old at the time.

Angel Mazariegos testified that on May 16, 1985, five days after Shanks was killed, he was "hanging out" with Griffith when police officers approached. Before the officers could approach, Griffith told Mazariegos that if the police asked for him, Mazariegos should tell them he did not know Griffith.

When the police approached, they asked Mazariegos and Griffith if they knew an Evan Griffith, because they were looking for him. Both Mazariegos and Griffith replied they did not know an Evan Griffith. After the police checked their identifications -- Griffith used a false ID -- and left, Griffith admitted the police were looking for him because "he had committed a murder, and he killed his roommate over money." Griffith later added that he needed to get out of town. He specifically mentioned Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mazariegos felt "surprised" and "overwhelmed" by Griffith's admissions. He left Griffith at a building on North Oakley. He later returned with the police, but Griffith was gone. He then went with the police officers to the Area 6 police station and gave a statement.

Lopez Lminggio testified that sometime after May 16, 1985, Griffith came to his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Lminggio was like "a big brother" to Griffith. He had known him for a few months.

Griffith told Lminggio he needed to speak to him. So Lminggio put his wife and kids in the living room and took Griffith into his bedroom. There, Griffith told him he had killed Leroi Shanks with a hammer and knives. When Lminggio asked him why, Griffith replied, "Because of some money, some money." Although Lminggio first agreed to hide Griffith, he "got to thinking" and turned Griffith over to the Milwaukee police.

Detective Thomas Boehlke of the Milwaukee Police Department testified that on May 22, 1985, he and his partner Detective Mike Carlson, Detectives Elmore and Gildea of the Chicago Police Department, Officer Hanson of the Walworth County Sheriff's Department, and Lopez Lminggio formulated a plan to arrest Griffith. That same day the plan was carried out, and Griffith was arrested. After being arrested, Griffith was taken to the Milwaukee police station.

At the Milwaukee police station Detective Gildea advised Griffith of his constitutional rights. While Gildea was advising Griffith of his constitutional rights, Detective Boehlke called Griffith's mother, Myrna Griffith. She was in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. Detective Boehlke told Griffith's mother "where [he] was, and why." She made no reply or requests. Detective Boehlke then told Griffith he had contacted his mother. Griffith also made no reply or requests.

Detective James Gildea of the Area 6 Violent Crimes Unit of the Chicago Police Department, testified that he and his partner, Detective Elmore, were assigned to investigate the murder of Leroi Shanks. On May 22, 1985, he and his partner were called to the Milwaukee police station to assist in the arrest of Griffith.

After Griffith was arrested by Milwaukee police, he was brought to the Milwaukee police station. At the station, Detectives Gildea and Elmore spoke to Griffith. But first Detective Gildea gave Griffith Miranda warnings. According to Gildea, Griffith said he understood his rights and said he wanted to talk to him. They spoke for about 15 minutes.

After Griffith told Detective Gildea how and why he killed Shanks, Detective Gildea arrested him for the first degree murder of Leroi Shanks. The detective left Griffith to be processed in Milwaukee. He and his partner returned to Chicago.

Detective Paul Parizanski of the Area 6 Violent Crimes Unit of the Chicago Police Department, testified that on June 5, 1985, he and Detective Bittenbinder were assigned to transport Griffith from Milwaukee to Chicago. Griffith had waived extradition and was ready to be transported.

At about 10:30 a.m., on June 5, 1985, Milwaukee police turned Griffith over to the detectives. After Griffith was taken into custody by the detectives, the detectives placed him in the back of their unmarked squad car and began the drive back to Chicago.

As the detectives and Griffith were driving back to Chicago, Griffith started talking. Detective Bittenbinder said, "Wait, wait, just a minute before you say anything to us." He then took out a card and said, "Before you saying anything, I have to read you what is commonly referred to as your Miranda warnings."

"I have already heard that already when I got arrested in Milwaukee," replied Griffith.

Detective Bittenbinder said, "It doesn't matter, I'm going to tell them to you all over again, just so we're straight." Detective Bittenbinder then read Griffith his Miranda warnings from the card.

After hearing the Miranda warnings, Griffith began a narrative about how he killed Shanks. The drive from Milwaukee to Chicago took a little more than an hour and Griffith spent most of the ride talking about what happened. "He just kept talking."

Before taking Griffith to Area 6, the detectives bought themselves and Griffith some food from Burger King. When they arrived at Area 6, Detective Parizanski immediately started typing a report of Griffith's narrative, and Detective Bittenbinder took Griffith to a youth officer.

Richard Sikes testified that on June 5, 1985, he worked as an Assistant State's Attorney for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. He was assigned to the Felony Review Unit. Between 2:00 and 2:15 p.m., Sikes was called to Area 6 to interview Griffith.

When Sikes arrived at Area 6, he met with Detective Parizanski. Detective Parizanski gave Sikes a brief outline of what had happened before Griffith's arrest. After Sikes and Detective Parizanski reviewed police reports together, Sikes went into a conference room at Area 6 and spoke with Griffith. Detective ...

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