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People v. Palmer

October 8, 2004

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES B. PALMER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. No. 99CF139. Honorable Theodore E. Paine, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH

PUBLISHED

In April 2000, a jury convicted defendant, Charles B. Palmer, of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West Supp. 1997)), and the trial court sentenced him to natural life in prison. In August 2002, defendant filed a pro se post-conviction petition. In November 2002, the court summarily dismissed defendant's petition, finding his claims were frivolous and patently without merit. Defendant appeals, contending the trial court erred in summarily dismissing his post-conviction petition. We affirm.

In February 1999, the State charged defendant by information with five counts of first degree murder in that defendant (1) "with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm to William Helmbacher, repeatedly struck [him] on the head, thereby causing the death of [him]" (count I); (2) "repeatedly struck [Helmbacher] on the head, knowing said act would cause the death of [Helmbacher], thereby causing the death of [him]" (count II); (3) "repeatedly struck [Helmbacher] [o]n the head, knowing such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to [Helmbacher], thereby causing the death of [him]" (count III); (4) "while committing or *** attempting to commit a forcible felony, [r]obbery, *** repeatedly struck [Helmbacher] on the head and thereby caused the death of [Helmbacher]" (count IV); and (5) "while committing or attempting to commit a forcible felony, [r]esidential [b]urglary, *** repeatedly struck [Helmbacher] on the head and thereby caused the death of [Helmbacher]" (count V) (see 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2), (a)(3) (West Supp. 1997)). The State also charged defendant with residential burglary of Helmbacher's apartment (count VI) (720 ILCS 5/19-3 (West 1998)).

The evidence at defendant's April 2000 trial showed the following. Ray Taylor, defendant's cousin, testified that he lived upstairs in Helmbacher's apartment building in Decatur. Around dusk on August 26, 1998, defendant came to Taylor's apartment and told Taylor that he was going to break into Helmbacher's apartment. Defendant then went in the side window of Helmbacher's apartment, opened the front door, and asked Taylor to look out for him. Taylor "stood there, and then *** went upstairs" to his apartment. Shortly thereafter, defendant came upstairs to Taylor's apartment with some items, including beer and some change in a jar. He asked Taylor for a bag to put things in, and Taylor handed him a plastic garbage bag. Defendant put some of the items in the bag, and Taylor and defendant drank some of the beer. They then walked to a Dumpster a few blocks from Taylor's apartment, and Taylor threw the plastic bag in it. At that point, Taylor went to his mother's home. He did not see defendant again that night.

On the evening of August 27, 1998, Taylor saw defendant at the apartment of another cousin, John Bradford. Defendant asked Taylor to come inside Bradford's apartment. Once inside, Taylor noticed that defendant was wearing a different pair of shoes and different clothes from the previous day. Defendant said to Taylor, "Man, you know I had to beat the dude to death." Taylor asked defendant, "What dude?," and defendant replied that it was the man who lived downstairs in Taylor's building--namely, Helmbacher. Defendant also said that Helmbacher only had $11 on him on August 27. Taylor then asked defendant where his new tennis shoes were that he was wearing the previous day during the burglary, and defendant replied that "blood was everywhere."

Later that night, police officers came to Taylor's apartment and questioned him about Helmbacher's murder. Police also questioned him again on September 1, 1998. During those interviews, Taylor did not tell them that he knew anything about the murder because he did not want to become involved. Later during September 1998, after police recovered the plastic bag containing Helmbacher's property and informed Taylor that they had found his fingerprints on the bag, he told them what he knew about defendant's participation in the burglary and Helmbacher's murder. (On September 10, 1998, a gardener at the James Millikin Homestead found a plastic bag containing empty beer bottles, a wallet, and a packet of business cards identifying Helmbacher as an attorney.)

Taylor also stated that after Helmbacher's murder, police officers showed him a pair of tennis shoes, which he identified as the shoes defendant was wearing during the August 26, 1998, burglary of Helmbacher's apartment.

Taylor acknowledged that he had been charged with residential burglary of Helmbacher's apartment (720 ILCS 5/19-3 (West 1998)), based on the August 26, 1998, burglary (Macon County case No. 98-CF-1476). Because Taylor agreed to testify for the State at defendant's trial, the State told him that his cooperation would be taken into account in case No. 98-CF-1476. However, the State had not made any promises to Taylor regarding the outcome of his case. Taylor also acknowledged that he had two prior felony convictions.

Joseph Moyer testified that in August 1998, he and Helmbacher both worked for Doug Lee. On the evening of August 27, 1998, Moyer and Lee were collecting rent from occupants of apartment buildings owned by Lee. At around 9:45 p.m., Moyer and Lee arrived at Helmbacher's apartment and knocked on the door. When no one answered, they left to collect rent at other buildings. At around 10:30 or 10:45 p.m., they returned to Helmbacher's apartment. Moyer looked through a small window in Helmbacher's front door and saw a half-eaten cheeseburger on a table and Helmbacher's shoes lying on the floor. Thinking something was wrong, Lee opened the door and found Helmbacher dead on the floor.

Moyer acknowledged that on the night of the incident, Lee was upset with Helmbacher because Helmbacher was behind in collecting rent for Lee. Moyer also acknowledged that he had a prior felony burglary conviction.

Decatur police officer Brian Cleary testified that on the evening of August 27, 1998, he responded to a call at Helmbacher's apartment. Upon arriving, he looked through a window and saw Helmbacher lying on the floor. Cleary saw no signs of forced entry.

Decatur police detective Roger Ryan testified that he investigated the crime scene on August 27 and 28, 1998. Ryan stated that the inside of Helmbacher's front door was splattered with blood and a large pool of blood had formed around Helmbacher's body. However, Ryan did not observe bloody footprints or any blood outside Helmbacher's apartment. Ryan also stated that he found a hammer near Helmbacher's body.

Dr. Travis Hindman, a forensic pathologist, testified that he performed an autopsy on Helmbacher. Hindman opined that Helmbacher died as a result of brain trauma resulting from narrow surface blunt ...


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