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People v. Abdullah

December 02, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DEXTER ABDULLAH, A/K/A DEXTER MONROE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 99CF474 Honorable John G. Townsend, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton

UNPUBLISHED

A jury found defendant, Dexter Abdullah, guilty of armed robbery, a Class X felony (720 ILCS 5/18-2(a)(2), (b) (West 2000)). The trial court adjudged him a "habitual criminal" under the Habitual Criminal Act (720 ILCS 5/33B-1 through 33B-3 (West 2000)) and sentenced him to life imprisonment (720 ILCS 5/33B-1(e) (West 2000)). Defendant appeals, arguing the trial court erred in (1) denying his motion for a mistrial, (2) denying his motion for a directed verdict, (3) denying his motion for an acquittal or, in the alternative, for a new trial, and (4) adjudging him a "habitual criminal." We affirm the trial court's judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Witnesses testified that on March 6, 1999, at approximately 10 p.m., a person in a ski mask and hooded coat entered a Taco Bell restaurant in Urbana, Illinois, produced a sawed-off shotgun, and demanded the money in the cash registers. The State called six eyewitnesses to the robbery. Most of them could tell that the robber was male, either from his build or his voice or both. Estimates of his height ranged from 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 4 inches. Because the eyeholes of the mask revealed the skin around the eyes, several of the witnesses saw he was black.

Witnesses testified the robber's coat was either black or dark blue. It came down below his waist but not below his knees. The hood was pulled up over his head. One witness noticed the hood had a zipper. Three witnesses saw masking tape across the back of the coat.

Several witnesses described the shotgun as well. It was a black, single-barreled, sawed-off shotgun, with a pump-action and a pistol grip instead of a rear stock.

The robber wore white Fila athletic shoes. According to one witness, Lawrence Johnson, these were an older style of Fila shoe that one did not commonly see any more. (He got a good look at the shoes when, at the robber's command, he lay down on the floor.)

After employees handed him the money from the cash registers, the robber left the restaurant and fled on a bicycle. Two customers, Priscilla Pruitt and Thad Rather, testified it was a mountain bike. Pruitt testified it was light blue with white lettering. Rather testified it was either a 10-speed or 12-speed bike.

Cary Hansing was an assistant manager of the restaurant. During cross-examination, defendant's attorney asked him:

"Q: Do you see the man who committed the robbery in court today?

A: Um, as far as his face, no. But I do see his eyes.

Q: Well, I'm asking you not about individual body parts. I'm asking you, do you see the man who committed the robbery in court today?

A: Yes."

Neither the defense counsel nor the prosecutor knew, beforehand, that Hansing would recognize defendant as the robber. During redirect examination, Hansing identified defendant as the man to whom he was referring. His eyes, he testified, were large and "not *** clear white. They're kind of, just pale yellow."

Several of the eyewitnesses identified People's exhibit No. 1 as the robber's shotgun, People's exhibit No. 2 as his coat, and People's exhibit Nos. 3(a) and (b) as his shoes, or they testified that those exhibits looked like the robber's shotgun, coat, and shoes. Pruitt identified People's exhibit No. 4 as the mountain bike.

Leander Lee, 12 years old, testified that in March of 1999 he was living in trailer No. 22 of Abe's Estates in Rantoul, Illinois. In February of that year, he acquired a mountain bike, People's exhibit No. 4. A month later, in March, the police took it from him. To his knowledge, no one else ever took the bike. He had kept it leaning against his front porch at night, never locking it up. He had ridden the bike every day and never lent it to anyone, except, on rare occasions, to his cousins. He neither knew nor recognized defendant.

Steven Calhoun testified he first met defendant in approximately July or August 1998, when defendant brought an El Camino automobile to a body shop in Champaign, where Calhoun worked. Eventually defendant and Calhoun became well-enough acquainted with one another to share heroin, to which Calhoun was addicted. In the last part of February or the first part of March 1999, defendant called Calhoun to come and talk with him about an article in a newspaper. That same day, Calhoun rode with defendant in the El Camino to Danville, Illinois. Defendant was driving. On the way, defendant stopped the car, pulled out a shotgun from behind the front seat, opened the hood, and hid it under the hood. After getting back into the car and driving off again, he handed Calhoun a "stocking mask" and asked him to tear it to pieces and get rid of it. Calhoun tore up the mask and threw the pieces out the car window. Defendant acceded to Calhoun's suggestion that they take the shotgun to Calhoun's stepmother's house in Rantoul. Calhoun hid it in the hall closet of her house.

Calhoun testified that because he had taken possession of the sawed-off shotgun, the State had charged him with possessing an unlawful weapon. He also faced a charge of domestic battery. However, he denied having any expectation of leniency in his pending criminal cases as a result of his testimony. Pamela Monroe testified she is defendant's wife. In March 1999 she and defendant resided at trailer No. 25 in Abe's Estates in Rantoul. On March 19, 1999, the police searched her trailer and, with her consent, her inoperable Toyota car, parked outside the trailer. In the Toyota, the police found a blue coat she had bought for defendant from Goodwill Industries in November or December 1998. She and defendant had two vehicles at that time: the inoperable Toyota and the El Camino. The El Camino's headlights would not work, and sometimes the car refused to run. In Monroe's opinion, the El Camino could have made the trip from Rantoul to Champaign during daylight hours on March 6, 1999, but it could not have done so at night, because of the inoperable headlights. Monroe further testified that on March 6, 1999, defendant was home in bed the whole night. His back hurt, and he "had a real bad cold, problems breathing."

Patrick Funkhauser, a Champaign police officer, testified he arrested defendant on March 19, 1999, and took defendant's shoes as evidence (People's exhibit Nos. 3(a) and (b)). He admitted that Fila shoes were popular, and he was unaware of anything unique to differentiate defendant's shoes from any other Fila shoes of the same style and size.

Dale Rawdin, a detective of the Champaign police department, identified People's exhibit No. 2 as the coat the police took out of the Toyota. He had watched the officers remove the coat from the trunk, and it was in the same condition as when they seized it.

Another Champaign detective, John Schweighart, testified he interviewed defendant on March 19, 1999, after the arrest. Defendant admitted, during the interview, "that he does or that he was using heroin at the time." The prosecutor then asked Schweighart:

"Q: Did he tell you whether he had purchased some [heroin] that night?

A: No. When I asked about how much heroin he used or how much he paid for the heroin that was in his possession on the night of the arrest--

MS. LENIK [(defense counsel)]: Objection. Motion for a mistrial."

The trial court denied the motion for a mistrial, sustained the objection to testimony of other crimes, and instructed the jury to disregard Schweighart's answer to the last question.

Schweighart further testified that he interviewed Steven Calhoun, promising him nothing. Later, on March 22, 1999, he and Detective David Griffet went to the house of Edith Calhoun, Steven Calhoun's stepmother. They requested permission to search her house, whereupon she "left the kitchen *** and came back holding a sawed[-]off shotgun, with a pistol grip [(People's exhibit No. 1)], and asked if this was what [they] were looking for." She had found the shotgun in a closet in the hallway.

Griffet testified he saw the bicycle (People's exhibit No. 4) near the front porch of a neighboring residence as the police searched defendant's residence on March 19, 1999. The neighboring residence was across the street and two trailers down from defendant's residence.

Troy Phillips, an Urbana police officer, testified that when the police arrested defendant on March 19, 1999, defendant admitted using heroin. He estimated defendant's height to be 6 feet 2 inches.

The State rested, and defendant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that "the identification testimony has been nil." The trial court denied the motion because it believed "there [was] sufficient evidence on each ...


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