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People v. Herman

March 29, 2004

[5] THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOSEPH HERMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 02 CR 11702 The Honorable Preston Bowie, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice O'malley

[8]  Following a bench trial, defendant, Joseph Herman, was found guilty of aggravated arson (720 ILCS 5/20-1.1 (West 2002)) and was sentenced to six years in prison. On appeal, defendant raises the following issues: (1) whether the firefighter was injured as a result of the fire or explosion in the manner required by the aggravated arson statute; and (2) whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's posttrial motion alleging that the complaint was insufficient to charge him with aggravated arson. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction.

[9]  BACKGROUND

[10]   Defendant provided a statement to police which was stipulated to by the parties and read into the record. According to defendant's statement, beginning in late March 2002, defendant observed drug activity in the parking lot of 6132 South Kedzie. He subsequently provided Chicago police officer Andrew Costello with information regarding the sale of drugs in the area. On April 11, 2002, defendant climbed through one of the back windows of the building at 6132 South Kedzie and observed a container marked "biohazard." There were a number of needles in the container which he spread out onto the floor. Defendant saw a couple of people on the second floor who told him not to touch "their stuff." Defendant proceeded to go back downstairs and placed a T-shirt on top of a cardboard box. He lit the T-shirt on fire, climbed back outside the building, and walked to the front. Defendant made sure that the people he had previously seen inside the building exited safely. Defendant acknowledged that he had made a mistake in starting the fire and apologized. At trial, Reverend Luis Ruiz testified that in 1998, he purchased the brick building at 6132 South Kedzie for use as a church. Services had been held in the building for a period of months before the building was boarded up for remodeling. Ruiz inspected the building on April 12, 2002, and it was completely burned out.

[11]   Charles Swan, a 19-year veteran of the Chicago fire department, testified that on the morning of April 11, 2002, he responded to a report of fire at 6132 South Kedzie. There were approximately 10 other firefighters at the scene when he arrived, some of whom were already in the burning building, while others were on the roof. Swan was assigned to climb a 20-foot wooden ladder in order to knock a hole in the roof to allow smoke to escape. Swan and another firefighter took a ladder from the truck, placed it against the back of the building, and rested the ladder on the gravel ground. While climbing the ladder, Swan carried an ax, which weighed approximately 15 pounds, and a pipe pole that was approximately 6 feet long.

[12]   After Swan climbed to the top of the building, the ladder started to "kick *** out from the building." The bottom was sliding away from the building and the top was sliding back. Swan "was holding on and [he] knew [he] was getting ready to come off the building the wrong way." Swan fell off the ladder approximately 18 feet from the ground, broke his right leg and seriously injured his knee. At the time of trial, he was unable to return to work as a result of the injuries he sustained on April 11, 2002. Swan denied that smoke or fire caused him to fall off of the ladder.

[13]   On cross-examination, the following colloquy, relied upon by defendant, transpired between defense counsel and Swan:

[14]  
"Q. Isn't there supposed to be somebody down there steadying that ladder?

[15]   A. Yes.

[16]   Q. Who was that?

[17]   A. The lieutenant.

[18]   Q. And he didn't or couldn't or what was it?

[19]   A. He didn't.

[20]   Q. Did he walk away from ...


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