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The People of the State of Illinois v. Spencer Martin

March 16, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 CR 6677 The Honorable Dennis J. Porter, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice J. Gordon

JUSTICE J. GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Epstein and Justice Howse concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Following a jury trial in September 2009, defendant, Spencer Martin, was found guilty of two counts of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm for the January 2006 shootings of Bryan Williams (Bryan) and Johnny Williams (Johnny). Defendant was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 55 years' imprisonment, to be served consecutively with a 24-year sentence for his involvement in an unrelated shooting. This appeal followed.


¶ 3 A. Trial

¶ 4 Following the January 14, 2006 shootings of Bryan and Johnny, defendant was indicted on four counts of attempted first degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, and four counts of aggravated battery. The following evidence was adduced at defendant's jury trial.

¶ 5 Johnny and Bryan Williams both testified for the State at trial. They each stated that at approximately 10 p.m. on January 14, 2006, they, along with their cousins Terry Hawkins and Ronald Jackson, and Ronald's one-year-old son, drove to a Fat Albert's restaurant located at 69th and Ashland Street in Chicago to get food. Johnny testified he parked the vehicle on the west side of the street and that he and the others began walking south toward the restaurant. As they approached the restaurant, Johnny was bumped by a man that he did not know. Johnny asked the man what was going on, and another man standing next to him, later identified as defendant, replied "we are not on that." Johnny and his companions then entered the restaurant.

¶ 6 Subsequently, within a few minutes, Johnny, Bryan, and their cousins exited the restaurant and began walking back to their vehicle. As they did so, Johnny was bumped again by the same man who bumped him earlier. Johnny and the man exchanged words and a fight began between the man, Johnny, and Bryan. During the fight, defendant pulled out a chrome, semiautomatic .380-caliber handgun and fired four or five shots at Johnny and Bryan. Johnny was struck once in the left wrist and Bryan was struck once in the pelvis.

After the shooting began, Johnny ran north on Ashland Street towards his vehicle, while Bryan ran east into an alley. Defendant and the other man ran west through a gangway between two buildings. Johnny got into his vehicle and picked up Bryan and his cousins. By that time, a police officer had arrived and asked Johnny which direction defendant ran. Johnny then drove to Holy Cross Hospital.

¶ 7 Johnny testified that the area of the shooting was well lit by streetlights and a large sign in front of the restaurant. He and Bryan both stated that they were close to defendant when the shots were fired. Johnny stated that he was "looking directly at [defendant's] face when [defendant] pulled the gun and started to shoot." He further said that he was able to observe defendant for 10 to 15 seconds. He described defendant as wearing all black clothing, with black hair, and fair, light skin, and weighing approximately 190 pounds. Bryan testified that he was approximately three feet away from defendant. According to Bryan's testimony, defendant was about 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing between 140 and 150 pounds, with a brown complexion and braids in his hair.

¶ 8 Officer Patrick Lee Palmer testified that at approximately 10 p.m. on June 14, 2006, he received a dispatch call reporting shots fired at 6854 South Ashland Street, near Fat Albert's restaurant. When he arrived at the scene, he learned from restaurant patrons who had witnessed the shooting that the shooter was a black male. He testified that the area where the shooting occurred was "pretty well lit" due to streetlights in the area and the illuminated awning in front of Fat Albert's.

¶ 9 Palmer averred that after leaving Fat Albert's, he spoke to Johnny and Bryan at Holy Cross Hospital, where Johnny described the shooter as being 5 feet 8 inches tall, 190 pounds, dressed in a black hat, a tan coat, and black pants, and armed with a chrome handgun.

¶ 10 Phillip Campbell, a retired Chicago police department evidence technician, testified that on the evening of January 14, 2006, he reported to a crime scene near Fat Albert's restaurant where he discovered three "Winchester .380" cartridge casings in front of an abandoned building next door to the restaurant. The casings were then sent to the Illinois State Crime Police Laboratory (ISCP lab) for analysis.

¶ 11 Kurt Murray, a forensic chemist at the ISCP lab, testified that on January 25, 2006, he received a request to examine three Winchester .380 cartridges, which he concluded were fired from the same firearm. After making this determination, he entered one of the cartridges into the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) to see if it matched any other cartridges that were in the database. Murray explained that IBIS serves as the ISCP lab's "computerized unsolved case file" which records images of the microscopic irregularities in cartridges and then compares them to images in the database from other cases and ranks them based on the degree of similarity. He testified that after entering the cartridge into IBIS, the system was unable to find a sufficiently similar match.

¶ 12 Detective Brian Lutzow testified that in February 2006, he became involved in an unrelated investigation of a domestic dispute in which an individual named Erlin Pinnix was shot. He testified that he was later informed that the cartridge cases taken from the Pinnix shooting matched those recovered from the scene in the current case.

¶ 13 Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine seeking the introduction of the testimony of Pinnix to establish defendant's identity by showing that he was shot by defendant with the same weapon used in the instant case. Prior to his testifying, the court admonished the jury that Pinnix's testimony was going to be admitted for the limited purpose of identifying defendant. Specifically, the court stated:

"[T]he defendant was involved in an offense other than that charged in this indictment. This evidence is being received on the issues of the defendant's identification, and it may be considered by you only for that limited purpose. It's for you to determine whether the defendant was involved in that offense and, if so, what weight should be given to that evidence on the issue of identification."

¶ 14 Pinnix then testified that at approximately 2 a.m. on February 4, 2006, he was driven in a friend's vehicle to a gas station at 755 West Lawrence in Chicago. He exited the vehicle and approached the service window to purchase potato chips and water. As he waited, he saw an acquaintance, Earl Willis, with whom he spoke briefly before Willis got into his vehicle. Pinnix purchased his items, and as he turned to get back into the vehicle, he was met by defendant, who pointed a "silver, shiny" gun to his forehead. Pinnix stated that the gas station was well lit and that he recognized defendant from his neighborhood, having seen him with Willis numerous times. While pointing the gun at his head, defendant demanded of Pinnix, "give me what you got," and Pinnix reached into his pockets to give defendant his money. Pinnix testified that defendant then got distracted at which time Pinnix grabbed for the gun. A scuffle between the two men ensued and "the gun went off." Pinnix was shot in the pelvis. After he was shot, Pinnix continued to struggle with defendant for approximately 45 more seconds, at which time defendant walked away. Defendant then returned and attempted to shoot Pinnix twice, but his weapon would not fire. Defendant then began to walk away again, but turned around, cocked the gun, and attempted to fire again, but the weapon would not fire. Defendant then entered Willis's vehicle and left the gas station.

¶ 15 Pinnix further testified that a few days later, he spoke with police and told them that defendant had shot him. On March 23, 2006, Pinnix identified defendant from a photographic array and from a physical lineup.

¶ 16 Following Pinnix's testimony, the defense moved for the trial court to declare a mistrial because the admission of that testimony "poisoned" the jury against defendant. The trial court denied that motion, stating that Pinnix's testimony was "admitted solely on the issue of the defendant's identification, which is an issue in this case."

¶ 17 Officer Carla Rodriguez, an evidence technician for the Chicago police department, testified next for the State. She stated that at approximately 2 a.m. on February 4, 2006, she was assigned to assist in the investigation of the Pinnix shooting. At the scene of the shooting, she recovered "one live round and one expended shell."

¶ 18 Peter Brennan, a former forensic scientist at the ISCP lab, testified that on April 28, 2006, he examined the two cartridges recovered by Officer Rodriguez and determined that they came from the same weapon. He then entered the fired cartridge into IBIS and determined that there were similarities between the cartridge from the Pinnix shooting and those from the instant case. Brennan further testified that on May 12, 2006, he examined the cartridges from both shootings and concluded that they were all fired from the same weapon.

¶ 19 Johnny and Bryan testified that on May 23, 2006, they went to the Area 2 police station to view a photographic array, from which they each separately identified defendant as their shooter. The two further testified that on March 13, 2008, they each separately viewed a physical lineup and positively identified defendant as the shooter. The State then rested.

¶ 20 Defendant did not call any witnesses. Before resting, the defense read into evidence a stipulation that "if the Genesis Clinical Laboratory were called, they would tell us that in fact Erlin Pinnix on February 4, 2006, had 170 milligrams [per deciliter] of alcohol in his blood." Afterwards, the defense then rested.

¶ 21 Following closing arguments, the court again admonished the jury that it could only consider the evidence relating to the Pinnix shooting for the limited purpose of determining defendant's identification as the shooter in the instant case. The jury found defendant guilty of two counts of attempt first degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, finding that he personally discharged a firearm during the attempted murders and proximately caused great bodily harm to Johnny and Bryan.

¶ 22 B. Sentencing

¶ 23 Defendant's sentencing hearing was held on November 4, 2009. The presentence investigation report revealed that defendant had juvenile adjudications for possession of a stolen motor vehicle and criminal trespass to a vehicle, as well as other sentences for a variety of crimes committed as an adult, including possession of a controlled substance, criminal trespass, and the unlawful use of a weapon. The report indicated that defendant was also currently serving a 24-year sentence for attempted first degree murder and attempted armed robbery in the Pinnix case. The report further indicated that defendant had never been employed and had supported himself by selling drugs.

ΒΆ 24 The court sentenced defendant to two consecutive terms of 55 years' imprisonment for the two counts of attempted first degree murder, having merged them with the two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. In support of its decision, the court noted that Bryan's gunshot wound, and arguably Johnny's as well, qualified as a severe ...

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