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People v. Edwards

October 27, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NATHANIEL EDWARDS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 98--CF--291 Honorable Donald C. Hudson, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala

UNPUBLISHED

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Kane County, defendant, Nathaniel Edwards, was found guilty of felony murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(3) (West 1998)) predicated upon the offense of robbery (720 ILCS 5/18--1 (West 1998)) and was sentenced to natural life imprisonment. On appeal defendant contends that he was denied a fair trial due to: (1) the trial court's failure to sua sponte instruct the jury with the definition of robbery; and (2) the violation of a pretrial order prohibiting reference to a statement defendant allegedly made that he had killed before and would kill again. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

I. FACTS

On January 22, 1999, David Suter was found strangled to death on the floor of his home at 441 North Highland Avenue, Aurora. Thereafter, defendant was indicted for three counts of first-degree murder. In count I it was alleged that defendant committed first-degree murder in that he strangled Suter with the intent to kill (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(1) (West 1998)). In count II it was alleged that defendant committed first-degree murder in that he strangled Suter knowing that such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(3) (West 1998)). In count III it was alleged that defendant committed first-degree murder in that he strangled Suter while committing the forcible felony of robbery (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(3) (West 1998)) (felony murder).

At trial Carl Henry Neal, the victim's friend and handyman, testified that the victim telephoned him in the evening on January 21, 1999, and asked him to come over the following morning to install a dryer vent. The next morning Neal arrived at the victim's house and let himself in with his key. Neal found the normally orderly house in disarray and the victim lying on the floor with a cord around his neck. Neal said that defendant is married to Neal's sister, Kattye Neal Edwards. Neal testified that defendant had helped him do some work at the victim's house earlier in the week of the victim's death.

Defendant's wife, Kattye Neal Edwards, testified for the State in exchange for the State's recommendation that she receive probation on a charge of possessing stolen property. In January 1999, Kattye lived part-time at her mother's house and part-time at defendant's apartment. At 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. on January 21, 1999, she arrived at defendant's apartment. Defendant was there preparing to go out. Kattye said defendant left the apartment about 15 or 20 minutes after she arrived. Defendant returned to the apartment an hour to an hour and one-half later. Kattye saw defendant take his clothes off, including a pair of blue coveralls. Defendant bundled up his clothes, left the apartment, and returned without them. Kattye and defendant left the apartment in a small light-colored compact vehicle. Kattye identified a photograph of the victim's white Geo Metro as the vehicle in question. Kattye said that defendant did not own such a vehicle but that he started it with a key. They drove to a residence at 19 North Highland hoping to find James "Ricky" Taylor. When they reached the house, Kattye and defendant found Taylor and a woman named Rose Faulkner Neal in the living room. Kattye sat and spoke to Rose and they smoked some cocaine while defendant spoke with Taylor on the other side of the room. Defendant left the house and returned with two speakers and some stereo equipment. Kattye saw defendant hand Rose a cellular telephone and also saw Taylor and Rose give defendant some rock cocaine. According to Kattye, defendant told Taylor and Rose that they would find out tomorrow or read about where defendant obtained the stereo equipment and the cellular telephone. Kattye and defendant left and went back to defendant's apartment where they smoked the crack cocaine. Kattye related that in January 1999 she used cocaine a couple times a week but she did not consider herself an addict.

Detective William Jeffers testified that he interviewed defendant at the Aurora police station on February 3, 1999. During that interview defendant admitted that he knew the victim and had been at his house to do some work. Defendant also told Jeffers that he had seen the victim once at Carl Neal's house and also at Carl Neal's mother's house. Defendant said that he had been in the victim's car on an occasion when they went to get lumber and that he sat in the backseat. Defendant denied being at the victim's house on January 21, 1999. Defendant claimed that on the evening of January 21, 1999, he was drinking and then around 9 p.m. he walked over to a man's house around the corner. Jeffers said that defendant gave the name Brian but did not know Brian's last name. Defendant said that he and Brian went out to buy some lottery tickets but that the place was closed.

Jeffers also testified that on the morning following the first interview defendant indicated that he wanted to talk to Jeffers again. Jeffers met with defendant and recorded the interview. A recording of the interview was played for the jury. During the interview defendant said, "I want to talk about the charges that I'm being charged with and that there are other people involved that have not been charged with anything." When asked who were the other people involved, defendant said, "Kattye Neal and Rick Taylor." When asked how Kattye Neal was involved, defendant said "that she was an accessory." When asked if Kattye Neal was inside David Suter's house with him, defendant said "yes." When asked how they got into the house, defendant said Kattye Neal knocked on the door and the victim let them into his house.

In exchange for the dismissal of three criminal charges pending against him on which he had served 24 months in pretrial custody, James Taylor agreed to testify for the State. Taylor said that he has known defendant for over 25 years and that Kattye's niece was his former girlfriend. Taylor related that on January 21, 1999, he was at 19 North Highland with Rose Neal when defendant and Kattye arrived. Defendant told Taylor that he had some stereo equipment, a cable box, and a cellular telephone for sale that belonged to a friend who wanted to get rid of the items. Taylor told defendant that he did not want to buy the items but Rose said to bring them in the house. Defendant brought in a cellular telephone, a compact disc player, a cable box, a cassette player, and some speakers. Defendant again asked Taylor if he wanted to buy the items. Taylor said that he did not because he was out on bond. Rose said that she wanted the items. Defendant also said that he had a car for sale. Taylor identified a photograph of the victim's white Geo Metro as the vehicle defendant tried to sell. Taylor testified that he gave Rose $75 and 1.7 grams of rock cocaine and that Rose handed the money and drugs to defendant. Taylor said that defendant looked nervous that night. According to Taylor, defendant said something about reading the newspaper the next day. Taylor also testified that in the late evening on January 22, 1999, he went to Kattye and Carl's mother's house and saw defendant there. According to Taylor, when he walked in the door, defendant got up from the kitchen table and said that he wanted to talk. Taylor's testimony proceeded as follows:

"[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] Okay. Was there anybody else on the porch besides you and the defendant?
[TAYLOR:] Just me and the defendant.
[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] Okay. What, if anything, did he say to you, and what, if anything, did you say to him?
[TAYLOR:] He -- he said that -- he said that he went over to Carl's house, and the old man was running off at the mouth, stuff like that there.
[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] And did you say anything back to him?
[TAYLOR:] Then I said that -- what I said, I said that what you did wasn't right.
[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] Okay. What, if anything, did he say to you?
[TAYLOR:] He said that you didn't know the old man.

[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY:] What did you say?

[TAYLOR:] I said that you shouldn't killed him. He said that he didn't have no other choice, he came home."
Taylor testified further that he was present at 19 North Highland when a police officer came and took possession of the items defendant had sold. Taylor made an in-court identification of the two speakers, the cable box, the compact disc player, the cassette player, and the cellular telephone that defendant sold for money and drugs at 19 North Highland and that were seized by police.

Rose Faulkner Neal testified while she was in custody on an alleged violation of her probation for a forgery charge. Rose testified that she was living at 19 North Highland on January 21, 1999, and that Taylor was there with her when Kattye Neal and defendant arrived. According to Rose, defendant told Taylor that he had some stereo equipment for sale but Taylor said that he did not want it. Defendant brought two speakers, a compact disc player, a cable box, a cassette player, and a cellular telephone into the house. Rose said that defendant handled everything with gloves. Rose testified that she needed a cellular telephone so she took it and used it thereafter. According to Rose, she did not handle any money or drugs, and it was Taylor who purchased the items. Rose testified that defendant also said that he had a vehicle for sale. Rose went outside and looked at the vehicle and asked defendant if he had a title for the vehicle. Defendant said that he did not and that he just needed to get rid of it that night. Rose and Taylor told defendant that they did not want the vehicle. Rose also testified that defendant said that they would probably read about this in the newspaper the next day. Rose said that Kattye and defendant got into the vehicle and left.

Rose explained that ultimately she took the police to the basement at 19 North Highland and showed them the items defendant sold that night. Rose made an in-court identification of the two speakers, the compact disc player, the cable box, the cassette player, and the cellular telephone that defendant brought to 19 North Highland on the night in question and that were seized by the police. Rose also identified a photograph of the victim's white Geo Metro as the vehicle that defendant and Kattye had on the night in question and that defendant tried to sell.

Other evidence presented at trial established that the victim went to the Ace Hardware store at 994 North Lake Street, Aurora, at 7:12 p.m. on January 21, 1999, and purchased an aluminum dryer vent. About 30 minutes later, the victim went back to the store and contemplated exchanging the aluminum vent for a plastic one, but he decided not to and left. Testimony at trial established that police found a window open at the victim's house and there was a damaged window screen leaning against the house adjacent to that open window. Police also found a vacuum cleaner cord and a telephone cord wrapped around the victim's neck. The forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on the victim testified that the cause of death was strangulation. He also testified that the body showed signs of a struggle or a physical altercation prior to death. Other evidence established that on January 22, 1999, police located the victim's white Geo Metro in a parking lot one block from defendant's apartment. The State presented a cellular telephone contract found in the victim's house referencing a Nokia brand cellular telephone and a serial number. The cellular telephone recovered from Rose Faulkner Neal was a Nokia model with the serial number referenced in the contract. The State also presented a receipt found in the victim's house for speakers showing serial numbers that matched those on the two speakers recovered from the house at 19 North Highland. Finally, the State presented an expert witness in the field of microscopy and trace evidence who testified that he found one red fiber matching the fibers composing the victim's shirt on a jacket recovered from defendant's apartment.

Defendant was the only witness called by the defense. Defendant related that in January 1999, he was working and his wife Kattye was staying with him at his apartment off and on. Defendant explained that he had "put her out" because she was not working and she was smoking drugs. Defendant admitted that he was using cocaine in January 1999. According to defendant, on January 21, 1999, he went to a house on North River Street where he worked until 5 p.m. Defendant said that he knew he was back at his apartment before dark and was there alone until Kattye arrived. Defendant said Kattye came in, they spoke, and she lay down with a book. Defendant said that he left his apartment at 8:40 p.m. and went to the Randall liquor store. A neighbor named Brian gave him a ride. Defendant said that he returned to his apartment 20 to 25 minutes later and there was a white car parked outside of his apartment building with stereo equipment in the backseat. Defendant identified the two speakers, a compact disc player, a cable box, a cassette player, and a cellular telephone that police seized from 19 North Highland as the equipment in the car. Defendant testified that he and Kattye got into the vehicle and drove to a known drug house. Defendant said that he drove the vehicle and that Kattye gave him the keys. After leaving the drug house they drove to a house at 19 North ...


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