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People v. Willis

June 01, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 96 CR 25928 Honorable Kenneth Wadas, Judge Presiding

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE

[8]  A jury convicted defendant Brian Willis of two counts of first degree murder for the shooting deaths of 23-year-old Alexander Clair and 25-year-old Jewel Marie Washington on October 30, 1996, near the intersection of 69th and Calumet Streets in Chicago. Willis was sentenced to natural life in prison. In this appeal, Willis claims that reversal is warranted because (1) the trial court improperly allowed the judge who presided over Willis' first trial and later granted his motion for a new trial to testify at Willis' second trial; (2) the trial court erred in denying Willis' two motions for continuances; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to prove Willis' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

[9]  At trial, Darlene Clair testified that two weeks before he was killed, Alexander sold a small beige or tan, two-door car to Willis. Alexander had purchased the car in August or September of 1996. On October 30, 1996, the car was in the area where Alexander and Jewel were killed.

[10]   Joan Curry Jernigan testified that at 10 p.m., on October 30, 1996, she was braiding her 13-year-old daughter's hair in her home at 6857 South Calumet Street when she heard two shots, " boom boom." The shots "went off right together" and were very loud from the back of her house. The shots sounded as if they were coming from 69th Street. After she heard the shots, Jernigan heard "footsteps running" from the corner of Calumet up to the front of her house. Then, she heard "a high pitched voice" say "please don't, please don't." The voice was pleading, begging. Immediately, she heard "[a]bout two [to four] loud shots that shook [her] house." When the police arrived, they knocked on Jernigan's door. She looked outside and saw "a body dead, laying [sic] in front of [her] house." On cross-examination, Jernigan stated that, after she first testified in this case, threatening comments were made to her when she walked through her neighborhood. She was subsequently relocated at the State's expense.

[11]   Readonia Bryant, also known as "Baldy," admitted that he pled guilty to five counts of possession of a controlled substance, one count of delivery of a controlled substance, and one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver between August 1991 and June 1999. Bryant had a pending misdemeanor marijuana charge at the time of trial. In October 1996, Bryant had known Alexander Clair and his brother Virgil for approximately 17 or 18 years. They were good friends. He had only known Jewel Washington for about a month or two. Bryant had known Willis, also known as "Little B," for about four or five years. Bryant and Willis were not friends, but they had spoken before.

[12]   In the evening of October 30, 1996, Bryant went to a restaurant called Little Hobo's, which was located on 69th Street and Calumet Streets. At the restaurant, Bryant ran into Alexander. Jewel was not with Alexander at that time. Alexander left the restaurant and then, two or three minutes later, called Bryant over to a car that was parked diagonally on Calumet across the street from the restaurant. Bryant was not sure, but he thought the car was a brown, maroon, or tan LTD. About 10 days earlier, Alexander had sold the car to Willis.

[13]   Bryant went over to the car. Alexander asked Bryant whether Bryant had any keys. Alexander wanted "to try to get in the car." They got into the car, and Alexander tried to start it. The car would not start. Alexander told Bryant he was going home. Alexander walked off. Bryant went back to the restaurant. At some point, Bryant left the restaurant and went to Virgil's. Between 9 and 10 p.m., Bryant went to a store at 69th and Prairie. As he walked towards King Drive, he ran into Willis at the corner of 69th Street and Calumet. Willis asked Bryant if he knew anything about Alexander trying to get into Willis' car. Willis seemed "angry, mad." Harry Tanner was standing close to Willis and Bryant. Two or three minutes later, Alexander walked by on the opposite side of the street. Jewel was with him.

[14]   Bryant asked Willis where he was going, and Willis said he was going to "check Alexander." Bryant understood that to mean that Willis was going to confront Alexander. Willis went across the street to where Alexander was standing. Bryant stood where he was for a second, then he walked to the other side of the street, where Willis and Alexander stood arguing. Bryant heard Willis say "if I hear about your or I catch you in my car again, then I'm going to burn you." Bryant understood "burn you" to mean "shoot you." Willis and Alexander continued to argue "back and forth." Alexander was trying to get "his money from the car, the purchase." Willis said "I'm not going to give you s--t." Alexander replied, "[I]f I catch you in the car -- if I see the car or I catch you in the car, I'm going to burn the car up." The argument lasted about 20 minutes.

[15]   A man came out of a nearby lounge and told them to move on. Bryant walked east, back towards King Drive. Willis, Alexander, and Jewel stepped about 10 feet towards Calumet Street and stood in front of a vacant lot. Alexander and Willis continued to argue. Willis ran across 69th Street diagonally towards Calumet, towards the car. Willis ran into a backyard. Alexander chased Willis and Jewel followed behind Alexander.

[16]   Willis raised a shotgun into the air. Bryant was about 25 feet from Willis when he raised the shotgun. Bryant heard two gunshots "right behind each other." Jewel ran towards Calumet Street. Willis chased her with the shotgun in his hand. He said, "[W]here do you think you're going, b---h? Where in the f--k do you think you're going b---h?" Jewel ran North on Calumet. Willis followed her. Then, Bryant heard another "boom boom boom, three shots." He heard the second series of shots about one or two minutes after he saw Jewel turn the corner onto Calumet. Bryant did not see Jewel or Alexander with a weapon on October 30.

[17]   Bryant stayed where he was until a stranger told him that Alexander was dead. Tanner was with the stranger. Bryant went and looked at Alexander's body. Then, Bryant turned back around. As the police arrived, Bryant "went on [his] business and went on home." Bryant did not stay and talk to the police because he did not want to get involved. Bryant did not talk to Virgil again that night. Bryant went to the police station with Virgil and Virgil's mother on November 19. On cross-examination, Bryant admitted he had smoked marijuana "a couple of days" prior to testifying. He said he did not smoke marijuana or drink alcohol on October 30, 1996.

[18]   Harry Tanner testified that he and Willis were friends and had known each other for about five or six years on October 30, 1996. At 10 p.m., Tanner left Cartay's lounge, also known as Shaw's, on East 69th Street and saw Willis arguing with a man Tanner did not know. About 15 minutes later, Tanner saw a woman about 10 feet away from the men. Tanner could not tell what the men were arguing about, and after watching them argue for about 10 or 15 minutes, Tanner went back inside the lounge and had a drink. About half an hour later, Tanner heard gunshots. Tanner started walking toward King Drive. Tanner did not see anything as he walked away.

[19]   While Tanner remembered talking to the police that night, at first he did not remember telling them that he saw Willis shoot two people. After continued questioning, Tanner admitted telling the police that when he came out of the lounge, he saw Willis and Alexander "arguing in the alley just west of that lounge and that *** Jewel Washington, was standing nearby." Tanner did not remember telling the police that he saw Willis leave the alley and cross the street and enter the gangway west of 352 East 69th Street. He admitted, however, that it was possible he told the police that. Tanner did not remember telling the police that Alexander walked across the street to where Willis was or that Jewel followed across the street. Tanner remembered telling the detectives that he heard a loud shot and then turned to see Willis "standing there pointing a short-handled pump gun, shotgun at something in the ground." On further questioning, Tanner clarified that he saw "somebody pointing a shotgun at the ground." He did not see the person's face, so he "couldn't really tell it was [Willis]."

[20]   Tanner claimed that the police "pointed [Willis'] face out to [him] and said this is the one that the [sic] committed murder." Tanner admitted identifying the photograph of Willis as the guy he saw pointing a shotgun at the ground. He also told the police that he saw Willis shoot the gun into the ground. Tanner did not remember telling the police that he could not see what Willis was firing at or that he saw Jewel standing on the street near Willis. Tanner, however, admitted that it was possible he told the police that.

[21]   Tanner remembered telling the police that he saw Jewel run westbound down 69th Street to Calumet and then north, going right on the east side. Tanner conceded that he could not have been in the lounge when he saw these things happen. Tanner remembered telling the police that he saw Willis chase after Jewel and "seconds after Willis turned the corner, [Tanner] heard four more shots being fired with the same sound [he] heard with the first two shots on 69th Street." Tanner claimed that he did not tell anyone to call 911. He also denied telling the police that he yelled for people in the lounge to call 911. Tanner told police that he walked across the street and found Alexander's body where he had seen Willis firing the shot into the ground.

[22]   Tanner claimed that he saw Readonia Bryant "maybe two, three hours *** prior to [the shooting]." Tanner admitted running from the police after the shooting because he did not want to be a witness to it and he did not want anyone to know that he saw what had happened. Tanner said he still lived about a mile and a half from Willis at the time of trial.

[23]   The day after the shooting, Tanner testified in front of a grand jury. In front of the grand jury, Tanner testified that at 10:06 p.m., on October 30, he came out of a motorcycle club and was at 352 East 69th Street. When he came out of the club he saw Willis, whom he had known for about six months, and another man arguing. He watched them argue for about five minutes. Then, he started east towards King Drive. That was when he heard the shots.

[24]   Tanner did not tell the grand jury that he went back into the lounge and did not see anything. Tanner told the grand jury that after he heard the first shot, he turned around and saw Willis "holding a 12 gauge pump towards the ground." Willis was aiming the gun at someone lying on the ground. Willis fired the gun toward the person's head. Tanner told the grand jury that Willis then "fled down 69th Street going west and then he headed, turned down Calumet going north." Tanner heard several more shots about five or six seconds after he saw Willis turn the corner.

[25]   On August 13, 1998, Tanner met with two assistant State's Attorneys. He did not recall telling them that he had seen Willis fire the shotgun into the ground. Instead, Tanner claimed he told the assistant State's Attorneys that he was in the lounge.

[26]   On August 25, 1998, Tanner testified that he was coming out of a motorcycle club at about 10 p.m., on October 29, 1996, when he saw two people arguing. One of the men was Willis. The two men argued for about 5 or 10 minutes. Then, Tanner "started heading east, walking home." He heard a shot fired. After hearing the sound, Tanner turned around and saw Willis "holding a shotgun towards the ground." Tanner admitted that was what he saw that night. On August 25, Tanner did not testify that he went back into the lounge. Tanner did not remember getting up in front of the judge and "using [his] hands to indicate the direction that the gun was pointed towards." However, Tanner stated he remembered Judge Locallo saying that "the record will reflect that you were pointing the weapon at the ground."

[27]   On August 25, Tanner testified that when he turned around and saw Willis holding the gun, Willis fired again towards the ground. Willis then fled. Tanner also saw a girl on the street. She was with the man Willis was arguing with. The girl ran in the same direction as Willis. Tanner then heard several more shots. The second series of shots was about 10 or 15 seconds after Tanner lost sight of Willis. Then, some people came out of the lounge, walked across the street, and called the police. The State showed Tanner a series of photographs that he identified in court on August 25 and asked him if he remembered identifying them. Tanner said he did. Tanner, however, did not remember marking a diagram on August 25. When Tanner was shown the diagram, he remembered the diagram, but claimed the writing was not his. Tanner did not remember using his hands on August 25 to show the judge how big the gun was. Tanner admitted to testifying on August 25 that he had seen Bryant about 30 to 45 minutes before the shooting. Tanner admitted that on November 1, 1996, he pled guilty to delivery of a controlled substance and that a few weeks prior to his testimony, he was found guilty of theft, but he had not yet been sentenced.

[28]   On cross-examination, Tanner stated that when he was walking home after the shooting, police detectives approached him. He looked at them and ran because he was in possession of marijuana. The police pursued him. Near midnight, they caught him, handcuffed him, took him to the police station, and questioned him. Tanner was handcuffed to a bench in an interview room at the police station. He claimed that he asked to call his mother, but the police would not let him. After questioning Tanner for about 30 minutes, the officers showed him a photograph of Willis. They asked him if he knew the person in the photograph. Tanner said he did. Then, the officers asked if the person in the photograph was the shooter. Tanner told them he did not know. He continued to tell them he did not know who the shooter was for an hour and a half, during which time the police repeatedly asked Tanner who the shooter was. At the end of that time, Tanner told them that Willis was the shooter because "they were trying to pin it on [Tanner]." The police told Tanner he was a suspect and that he fit the description of the shooter.

[29]   On October 30, 1996, Tanner drank three shots of Courvosier over the course of 45 minutes. He also smoked some marijuana when he left the club. According to Tanner, he was "high." Tanner said that being high slowed him down, affected his eyesight. Tanner claimed he did not see Bryant on 69th Street when he came out of the lounge on October 30. Tanner did not see Bryant later that night either. After hearing the first shot, Tanner turned around and "saw a person standing over somebody with a shotgun." He was "[k]ind of a hefty guy." He weighed about 230 pounds and was about 5 feet 10 inches tall. The man was wearing a hood. Tanner claimed that the police never asked him to give a description of the man holding the gun. The assistant State's Attorney never asked him for a description. Further, he claimed that each time he had testified previously, no one asked him for a description of the man holding the gun. When asked whether he believed that he saw Willis "do the shooting," Tanner answered, "Yes. I don't know." He explained that he did not see the person's face. Tanner did not see anyone go into the gangway that night.

[30]   When Tanner met with the assistant State's Attorneys on August 13, 1998, they offered to help him with three warrants. The warrants were quashed. Assistant State's Attorney Joe Alesia told Tanner that he should not tell anybody about the warrants being quashed. On August 13, the State also offered to relocate Tanner. He declined that offer.

[31]   On redirect, Tanner admitted that he was not in the lounge at the time of the shooting. He claimed "it just came back to [him]." Tanner admitted that it was the first time in five years that he told anyone that he had smoked marijuana that night. Tanner did not remember testifying on August 25 that he had one beer on October 30, 1996. Tanner admitted that Willis' mother and grandmother talked to his mother after Tanner testified on August 25. Tanner did not remember testifying on January 11, 1999, that he had talked to the Willis family once or twice after he testified on August 25. Tanner claimed he told the assistant State's Attorneys that the shooter wore a hood. Tanner said that on the night of the shooting, he told the police "what they wanted to hear."

[32]   Assistant State's Attorney Joe Alesia testified that he looked for Harry Tanner for six to seven months. On August 13, 1998, he made contact with Harry Tanner. Alesia, assistant State's Attorney Brian Sexton (one of the prosecutors trying the case at issue in this appeal), and Investigator Pack questioned Tanner. Tanner told them that on October 30, 1996, he was at a bar called Shaw's until 10 p.m. When he exited the bar, he saw two men arguing and a woman standing nearby. One of the men was Willis. The men argued for about 5 or 10 minutes. As Tanner walked away, he "heard what he believed to be a shotgun blast." Tanner saw Willis "holding a shotgun to the ground, and he saw [Willis] shoot the shotgun at the ...

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