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People v. Griffin

August 15, 2007


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 04 CR 8865 The Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman

Published opinion

Following a jury trial, defendant, Sherome Griffin, was convicted of first degree murder, armed robbery, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. Defendant was ultimately sentenced, as a result of a resentencing hearing, to a total of 42 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that inadmissible prior consistent statements made by the State's key witness were improperly introduced and used to bolster the witness's testimony. Defendant additionally contends that his conviction and sentence for armed robbery must be vacated. Finally, defendant argues that the State impermissibly asserts that the trial court erred in imposing concurrent sentences in violation of section 5-8-4(a)(i) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Code) (730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(a)(i) (West 2002)).

Briefly stated, the evidence demonstrated that, on February 17, 2002, defendant, his brother, Andre, Sherrod Guy and Antonio Young forced the victim, Walter Gills, and his young son into a van at gunpoint. They restrained the victim, a known drug dealer, and stole items from his home and his mother's home, including two handguns, clothing and video game consoles.

While in his mother's garage, the victim attempted to flee, but was fatally shot. The victim's son was later found, unharmed. Thereafter, Anthony Thomas, defendant's longtime friend, learned the details surrounding the incident and eventually contacted the police. Thomas agreed to wear a hidden listening device for the police and then engaged defendant in a conversation regarding the incident. Defendant was subsequently arrested and provided a videotaped statement confessing his involvement in the offense. Prior to trial, the court denied defendant's motion to suppress the videotaped statement, finding that it was given voluntarily.

At trial, Thomas testified that defendant, defendant's brother, Guy and Young arrived at his house around 10:30 p.m. on the night of the victim's murder. The men initially asked to speak to Thomas's brother because they wanted him to sell some items that they obtained because they "hit a lick, and *** had to lay him down," meaning they robbed and murdered someone. Thomas's brother was not home; therefore, defendant asked Thomas to sell some of the stolen merchandise, which included a television, a radio, a Play Station video game console, two fur coats, clothes, a bullet-proof vest, and two handguns, a .38-caliber revolver and a .40-caliber automatic. Defendant then explained that the men had forced the victim and his son into a van at gunpoint, restrained the victim with duct tape and plastic zip ties and hit him while demanding money and drugs. The men subsequently drove the victim to a house and a garage, where they found drugs and took the above-listed items. While in the garage, the victim tried to escape; therefore, defendant told Thomas that he shot the victim twice with the revolver. Thomas admitted that he later sold the two handguns, one of the coats and the Play Station.

Thomas further testified that, in the spring of 2003, he and his brother were driving with defendant when they passed an outdoor memorial picnic. They noticed that the attendees were wearing T-shirts marked with a picture of the victim, and defendant told them that the man pictured was the individual that he had robbed and murdered.

Thomas additionally testified that, in late 2003, while incarcerated for two pending offenses of which he was ultimately convicted, his cell mate was a friend of the victim. Thereafter, Thomas contacted detectives to disclose what he knew about the victim's murder because he felt it was "the right thing to do." Thomas subsequently agreed to wear an eavesdropping wire to further assist in the investigation. As a result, Thomas was released from jail and partook in a consensual overhear on March 11, 2004. Under the pretense that he had been placed on home monitoring, Thomas engaged defendant in a conversation about the robbery and the victim's murder. Thereafter, Thomas returned to jail and defendant was arrested one week later. After his arrest, defendant was placed in a holding cell with Thomas in an effort to obtain more information. Defendant, however, warned Thomas not to say anything and the men were eventually separated. Thomas ultimately served his sentence by completing boot camp.

The tape of the consensual overhear was published to the jury. On the tape, Thomas can be heard saying, "cause I know you, you -- I know for sure you told me like, man, I murked [sic] dude with that mother----ing .38," to which defendant replied, "right." Defendant also stated that he did not have a .40-caliber automatic handgun but, rather, that he "used that sh---ing thing" because "[t]hat's [what] the revolver [is] for." The tape contained additional statements by Thomas regarding his cell mate, the fact that defendant told him he used the .38-caliber revolver in the offense and that Thomas sold the .40-caliber automatic handgun.

Detective James Washburn testified that defendant was arrested without incident on the morning of March 18, 2004. At 11:30 a.m., approximately one hour after his arrest, defendant was placed in an interview room and read his Miranda rights. Washburn then left to interview Guy, who had also been arrested that day. Guy eventually agreed to give a videotaped statement that evening. While Guy's interviews were ongoing, Washburn moved defendant into a holding cell with Thomas in an effort to gain information. Defendant was later returned to an interview room where he had continuous contact with various detectives. At 10:30 p.m., after again advising him of his Miranda rights, Washburn interviewed defendant. Initially, defendant denied having any knowledge of the victim's murder; however, when Washburn confronted him with fingerprint evidence found on the victim's van, defendant responded that he merely purchased marijuana from the victim on the day in question. Washburn subsequently played a portion of the consensual overhear tape, and defendant identified his voice. He then described what occurred, but denied that he was the shooter. The interview concluded shortly thereafter; however, Washburn later returned and told defendant that Guy identified defendant as the shooter. Defendant subsequently confessed to being the shooter and Washburn called an assistant State's Attorney (ASA). Washburn admitted that the police never recovered any proceeds from the theft in defendant's apartment.

ASA Timothy Carter testified that he interviewed defendant in Washburn's presence. The interview lasted approximately 45 minutes, and after it concluded, ASA Carter spoke to defendant alone about his treatment while in police custody. Defendant reported that he was treated fine. Defendant then chose to memorialize his statement by video. In the statement, which was published to the jury, defendant reported that he, his brother, Guy and Young first approached the victim because Young wanted to purchase drugs. All four men eventually entered the victim's van and drove to his apartment. While in route, Young and the victim got into an argument over drugs, so Guy placed duct tape over the victim's mouth. The men found the .38-caliber revolver, coats, video games and a television in the apartment. However, when they did not find cocaine, the men removed the duct tape from the victim's mouth and he informed them that the drugs were at his mother's home. Defendant pointed the .38-caliber revolver at the victim as the men proceeded into the basement of the victim's mother's home. The victim retrieved cocaine from underneath a mattress and then brought them to the garage, where more cocaine and an assault rifle were located. The victim then tried to flee. Defendant warned him to stop running, but, when the victim refused, he was forced to shoot. Defendant further stated that he sold some of the stolen goods to Thomas.

Tamika Turner testified that, at the time of the offense, she lived with the victim and their 11-month-old son. After returning home from work, Turner learned that the victim had been murdered and discovered that her apartment had been ransacked. She reported that clothes, three coats, DVDs, the victim's handgun, two video game consoles and video games had been taken. Turner then identified two exhibits, her coat and a video game console, as items that had been stolen. She further testified that she did not know that the victim was a drug dealer and denied reporting to Washburn that $10,000 had been taken from underneath a mattress in the victim's mother's home.

Defendant testified that the victim was known as the "[s]treet [p]harmacist" and Young and Guy sold drugs for him in the neighborhood. Defendant further stated that, on February 17, 2002, he purchased marijuana from the victim early in the day. A couple of days later, while at Young's house, Young and Guy informed defendant that they robbed the victim and killed him because they feared retaliation. They stated that the victim was killed because he was not "treating them right [by] not giving them a deal [on drugs]." Young explained that the victim's son was present when they robbed the victim, but that the baby was not harmed. Defendant further testified that Young asked him to sell some of the stolen goods, and defendant admitted that he sold the two handguns and a video game console. Defendant, however, denied selling a fur coat, asking Thomas to sell any coat, or speaking to Thomas on February 17, 2002. Rather, defendant stated that he contacted Charles Thomas, Thomas's older brother, and Charles assured defendant that he would have his younger brother sell the handguns and the video game console.

Defendant additionally testified that he was arrested in the spring of 2003 in connection with the victim's death. The police accused him of murdering the victim and told him that they had fingerprint evidence to support their claim; however, after being placed in two ...

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