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People v. Wembley

May 23, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Colleen McSweeney-Moore Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Quinn


Following separate jury trials, defendant, Ronald Wembley (defendant), and Roosevelt Stevens (co-defendant), were both convicted of first degree murder. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1998). The trial court sentenced defendant to 45 years in prison. This appeal followed.

On appeal, defendant argues that he was denied a fair trial because: (1) the trial court questioned his venire en masse and asked potential jurors to defer their questions; (2) the judge who conducted the voir dire was different from the judge who presided over the trial; (3) the State made improper closing arguments; and (4) the trial court erred in considering a void prior conviction in sentencing defendant. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.


Defendant and co-defendant were both tried before Judge McSweeney-Moore for the first degree murder of Tyree Williams. There were two juries, one for the defendant and one for the co-defendant.

On September 7, 2000, Judge Sacks conducted the voir dire for Judge McSweeney-Moore for the impending trial of the defendant. Judge Sacks instructed the venire members en masse about the requirements in Supreme Court Rule 431(b)(177 Ill. 2d R.431(b)) and People v. Zehr, 103 Ill. 2d 472 (1984), that: (1)the defendant was presumed innocent of the charges against him; (2) the defendant could only be convicted of the charged crime if the State proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the defendant was not required to present any evidence of his innocence; and (4) the defendant's failure to testify could not be held against him. During the voir dire, Judge Sacks asked the venire persons: whether or not any person knew the defendant; whether anyone had "any difficulty following the law about the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt"; whether anyone had a problem with "the State has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt"; whether "anyone in the courtroom serve[d] on a jury within the last year"; whether anyone had any "physical, emotional infirmities that would prevent [him/her] from serving on the case." When a venire person raised his/her hand in response, Judge Sacks would tell the person that he would discuss the question when the venire person was called as a potential juror. Defense counsel raised no objections.

After addressing the entire venire, Judge Sacks questioned each juror individually. During individual questioning, Judge Sacks asked each and every potential juror whether he or she could be fair and impartial. Each of the venire members who eventually was picked as a juror answered affirmatively to the question. Judge Sacks also asked every venire member but two who later became jurors in this case whether they had raised their hands in response to the earlier questions. They all answered in the negative. However, Judge Sacks did not ask jurors Elizabeth Hall and Sally Sellers whether they had raised their hands earlier.

During voir dire, the State attempted to use a peremptory challenge to exclude juror Sally Sellers and defense counsel objected. After hearing arguments from both parties, Judge Sacks denied the State's peremptory challenge. Sally Sellers served as a juror in this trial. After a jury was selected, the jurors reported to Judge McSweeney-Moore for the trial.

Steven Williams (Steven), the victim's brother, testified that he was serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated vehicular hijacking and possession of controlled substance with intent to deliver. Steven testified that on April 18, 1998, he and Tyree drove their aunt's red Cavalier to Stateway Gardens to look for girls. Stateway Gardens is a public housing complex located at 35th and South State Streets. The buildings comprising the Stateway Gardens were controlled by the Gangster Disciples (GD's) or the Black Disciples (BD's), rival street gangs. After conversing with two girls at the complex, they left. As Tyree was driving down a fire lane, Steven saw Ronald Wembley (defendant) raise a gun and aim at them. Seeing this, Steven urged Tyree to drive into a playground to escape. Steven testified that when the car was in the basketball court, the defendant fired a shot which hit their car. The bullet penetrated the car's trunk and hit Tyree in the elbow. After being shot, Tyree lost control of the car and crashed into a parked car. After the crash, Tyree and Steven tried to escape on foot. As they were fleeing, about 10 to 15 GD's caught them and dragged Steven into a building and beat him. Steven escaped with minor injuries because Black Disciple members came to his rescue. Meanwhile, other GD's caught Tyree and dragged him to the side of a building to beat him. After escaping, Steven went to look for Tyree and found him lying dead beside a building. Steven stayed by his brother until the police arrived. He gave the police the names of the defendant and another Gangster Disciple (GD's) who had jumped him and Tyree.

On April 19, 1998, Steven went to the police station to view a lineup. Steven identified Roosevelt Stevens (Stevens) as one of the GD's who dragged Tyree away. Steven also identified the defendant in a photo array as the person who fired the shot into the car that hit Tyree's elbow.

Antwone Lee (Lee) testified that he and the defendant were both GD's. Lee testified that the GD creed was to "aid and assist" any GD under any circumstances. If a GD did not follow this rule, the GD would be "violated." "Violated" means the GD would be beaten, punched and kicked by fellow gang members. Lee further testified that the first rule of the GD was "silence and secrecy," which means no outsider is privy to GD business. The punishments for the violation of this rule range from a five-minute beating in the face with the hands tied behind the back to being killed by other GD's.

Lee also testified that GD's had to do security duty. While on security duty, the GD's would carry handguns. Lee testified that he had seen defendant carry a 44 Magnum silver handgun 10 to 15 times while defendant was carrying out security duties.

Prior to joining the GD's, Lee had been a member of a rival street gang, the BD's, for three years. On April 18, 1998, he was playing basketball with his fellow gang members, Stevens, Arthur Pinex (Pinex), B.B., Tiny, Mute, and several other GD's. In fact, all the people on the basketball court were GD's. Lee testified that as he was playing ball, defendant approached them with the 44 Magnum handgun sticking out of the pocket of his jacket. Defendant then told them "if we hear shots, don't worry, they [are] coming from him because he just saw 2 boys from DuSable High School that were [BD's] that [had] jumped on him." After informing the other GD's, defendant then went to the corner of the 3519 building to wait for the red Cavalier. Lee further testified that he saw a red Cavalier driving down the fire lane, approaching the 35th Street exit. As the car passed the basketball court, the GD's stopped the game to let the car pass. Lee testified that he saw defendant firing a "big silver gun" at the red Cavalier. After the shots, the red Cavalier lost control and crashed into a parked car. Lee testified he saw the victim and Steven jump out of the car and start running. At this time, defendant yelled at the GD's on the basketball court, "folks, catch them bitches." The GD's are members of a group of gangs that call themselves "folks."

The GD's chased the victim and Steven. Lee testified that Stevens caught Steven and along with other GD's dragged Steven inside a building to beat him. Lee also testified that Pinex and several other GD's caught the victim and dragged him to the side of the building. Pinex knocked the victim unconscious. Lee himself then kicked the victim several times. After kicking the victim, Lee walked away. As Lee was leaving, he saw another GD, Haynes, run up to the victim with a small black pistol, stand over the victim and fire five shots into him.

On May 1, 1998, along with his mother, Lee went to the police station to confess his participation in the crime. Lee was arrested and charged with the murder of the victim. Later, through his lawyer, Lee agreed to testify for the State in this trial, and in return, the State recommended that Lee serve a sentence of 20 years for the murder.

Chikira Parker, 16, testified that on April 18, 1998, she lived in Stateway Gardens. Parker testified that she knew Haynes and Lee and that she was with Samantha Finley on the day of the shooting. They were talking to the victim and his brother. Parker further testified that she saw the victim drive down the fire lane and saw defendant stop the victim's car. She also saw defendant say something to Steven, heard a gunshot, and saw a gun in the defendant's hand. After the gunshot, Parker saw the victim's car crash into another car. Parker saw Stevens grab Steven out of the car. Stevens then dragged Steven inside a building. Parker also testified that as Steven was being dragged away, she saw Lee and Haynes drag the victim to the side of a building. Lee then started beating the victim. Parker heard two gunshots. Parker saw defendant and Haynes standing by the victim and Haynes had a gun in his hand.

Parker testified that gang crimes police officer Milton Seaton tried to talk to her at the homicide scene. Parker refused to talk to Officer Seaton at that time because she was afraid that the GD's would retaliate against her. Officer Seaton then asked Parker to meet him in a nearby school. Once there, Parker told Officer Seaton what happened. Parker viewed a photo array in the police station and identified defendant as the person who shot at the victim's car. Parker also identified Haynes as the person who had a gun in his hand when the victim was shot at the side of the building. The day after the shooting, Parker went to the police station to view a lineup. She identified Stevens as the person who beat up Steven Williams. Parker stated that Samantha Finley was with her throughout the entire incident.

Samantha Finley testified that she was 17 years old and lived at 3618 South State Street on the day of this incident. On the day of the trial, Finley was still living at the Stateway Gardens. Finley testified that she knew Steven and Tyree Williams. She knew that Steven was a BD; however, the victim had no gang affiliation. She also knew Stevens and Haynes were both members of the GD's. Finley testified that she talked to the victim and Steven prior to the shooting. After the conversation, she went home and then to a shopping mall. Finley testified that when she returned from the mall, Parker told her what had happened to Tyree and Steven. Finley denied witnessing the murder. Finley testified that Officers Seaton and Kimble interviewed herself and Parker after the shooting. In this interview, Finley repeated Parker's account of the events to the police officers.

During trial, the State introduced evidence that Finley had testified before a Grand Jury several days after the shooting. In the Grand Jury proceeding, Finley testified that she saw the victim drive down the fire lane. The victim drove off quickly as someone approached the car. Meanwhile, she saw Tyrell Foster box the victim in with a white car. As the victim was boxed in, Finley saw the defendant, Bobby Ellis, Lee, Stevens and Haynes approach the victim's car. As the GD's approached the victim's car, she saw the defendant, Lee and Haynes pull the victim out of the car, drag him to the side of a building and beat the victim for about five minutes. She also saw Stevens and Ellis ...

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