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People v. White

December 3, 2004


Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County, No. 02CF932, Honorable Timothy J. Steadman, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH


On January 24, 2003, a jury convicted the defendant, Jeffrey L. White, of three counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2000)) for the killing of Travis Williams. On March 11, 2003, the trial court sentenced him to 28 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant argues that (1) the court erred by failing to appoint a special bailiff under section 13 of the Jury Act (705 ILCS 305/13 (West 2002)), (2) the court should have instructed the jury on the justifiable use of force in self-defense and the second degree mitigating factor of sudden and intense passion by provocation, and (3) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm.

Leslie Creason testified that on July 31, 2002, she and Andrew Murphy arrived at the Macon County courthouse in Decatur at approximately 8:20 a.m. Each had a traffic matter to resolve. After Leslie finished her case, she sat in the back of the courtroom and noticed the defendant enter the courtroom. The defendant walked up to a man located on the other side of the courtroom, tapped him on the shoulder, made eye contact with Andrew, and left. Andrew and Leslie later left the courthouse and proceeded to Leslie's car. She began to pull out when Andrew turned around and stated that the defendant was behind them. Leslie looked in her rearview mirror and saw a brown or tan Honda with tinted windows "chasing" her. She eventually "lost" the vehicle by taking a complicated route.

Leslie then drove across town to 541 West Waggoner, the home of Travis Williams and Lisa Creason, her sister. She hurried and started walking up to the house; Andrew was behind her. Leslie saw the car that had been following them reappear and drive toward them. She went inside and told Travis that Andrew wanted to talk to him. Travis walked outside to the porch, and Leslie immediately heard a series of four gunshots.

Dr. Travis Hindman, a forensic pathologist, testified that the cause of Travis's death was brain trauma due to a gunshot wound to the head.

The defendant testified that Corlis McSpadden had given him, Derek Edwards, and Bobby Talley money to travel from Decatur to Arizona on July 14, 2002, and purchase 50 pounds of cannabis for him. On July 17, 2002, while driving back to Decatur, the defendant and Edwards decided to instead steal the entire amount of the substance purchased for McSpadden. The pair abandoned Talley in New Mexico. On July 18, 2002, the defendant and Edwards arrived back in Decatur, where McSpadden confronted them at gunpoint, struck the defendant in the face with his weapon, and ran over Edwards with his vehicle. McSpadden fled the scene. Police arrived, but the defendant did not tell them who ran over Edwards. Both Edwards and the defendant were taken to the hospital for treatment. The defendant acknowledged that when he was questioned by Detective Jason Walker of the Decatur police department, he initially lied about the situation but later told officers what had transpired.

The defendant stated that he had received phone calls previous to and after July 18, 2002, "saying it wasn't over and [he] was going to die" if he did not turn over the drugs. During one phone call, the defendant recognized the voice as that of McSpadden. The defendant would sometimes receive multiple calls in one day, but other days he would not receive any. Since July 18, the defendant began carrying a gun.

The defendant related a story that on July 25, 2002, Travis Williams and Andrew Murphy "kidnapped" him at gunpoint and told him to produce 10 pounds of cannabis or money or he would die. The defendant stated that he later escaped.

The defendant testified that on July 31, 2002, Andrew saw him in court and told him, "You better come up with something or I'm going to kill you today." The defendant stated that he was scared, so he left the courthouse and went to his aunt's house. He saw Jarrett Jelks and asked for a ride to the courthouse because he "had a problem with somebody [he had] seen up there, and [he] wanted to go up there and fight--confront him." Upon arriving at the courthouse, he saw Andrew and Leslie leaving in a black car. He told Jelks to "follow the car." The defendant's cellular phone rang, and he answered it. He then told Jelks to proceed down Waggoner Street when the defendant observed Andrew. He acknowledged that he "raised [his] hand over the window out the roof, put [his] head down, and started shooting to scare him. Cause [sic] [he] was in fear of [his] life also."

Officer Keith Mullins of the Decatur police department recovered the car used in the shooting and found two bullet marks the nature and appearance of which suggested that shots were fired from the passenger side to the driver's side. One indentation included a hole leading underneath the car's exterior.

On August 1, 2002, Detective Roger Ryan of the Decatur police department processed and searched the vehicle. The car had what appeared to be two bullet defects in the roof of the vehicle. One defect showed penetration of the roof above and behind the driver's head. Ryan located a .38-caliber bullet between the cushions of the backseat. He found, inter alia, a black and yellow Pittsburgh Steelers hat in the backseat behind the driver's side.

Detective Walker testified that he responded to 541 West Waggoner to investigate the crime scene. In a search of the area, he located four spent shell casings with the number "380," which represented the caliber.

Detective Shane Brandel of the Decatur police department was a lead detective in the resulting homicide investigation. On August 4, 2002, he arrested the defendant for the murder of Travis Williams and advised him of his Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L.Ed. 2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966)). The defendant agreed to speak with Brandel and Detective Tim Carlton.

The defendant told them that he had to be in court on the morning of the shooting. He later went to speak to a friend in a different courtroom. Detective Brandel then showed him photographs of the vehicle seized in relation to the shooting. The defendant recognized the vehicle, stating he had been inside it about a week and a half before the incident. Brandel showed him a picture of the black baseball cap found in the vehicle, without the logo showing. The defendant indicated that it was a Pittsburgh Steelers hat and acknowledged owning such a hat.

The detectives then confronted the defendant as to his participation in the murder. The defendant laughed and denied any knowledge of the shooting, stating he was not involved. During this stage of the interview, the defendant "would sit way back in his chair *** and lean back into the far corner of the interrogation ...

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