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People v. Armstrong

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 10, 2013


Held [*]

The evidence was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction for first degree murder arising from a drug deal gone awry, notwithstanding defendant’s contentions that no physical evidence linked defendant to the crime and the State’s case rested solely on a prior inconsistent statement of a witness who recanted, since a conviction can be based on a recanted statement, there was some corroborative evidence, and the trier of fact’s determination of credibility was entirely within its purview.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, No. 09-CF-1334; the Hon. Glenn H. Collier, Judge, presiding.

Jay Wiegman (argued), of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Ottawa, for appellant.

Jerry Brady, State's Attorney, of Peoria (Terry A. Mertel and Robert M. Hansen (argued), both of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

Presiding Justice Wright and Justice McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Following a trial in the circuit court of Peoria County, a jury found defendant, Christopher Armstrong, guilty of first degree murder. The trial court sentenced defendant to 65 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

¶ 2 Defendant appeals from his conviction, claiming that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt where no witness at trial was able to identify defendant as the shooter and there was a lack of physical evidence linking defendant to the victim. We affirm.


¶ 4 Evidence presented at trial paints the picture of a drug transaction gone awry. On the evening of June 29, 2009, the victim, Jonathan Pickett, contacted James Pomerlee in an attempt to purchase marijuana. Pickett had bought marijuana from Pomerlee on previous occasions. Pickett told Pomerlee he was making this particular purchase on someone else's behalf. Pomerlee indicated to Pickett that he could get him the marijuana, and told Pickett to meet him at a gas station on the south end of Peoria. Pomerlee then asked Michael Linwood to give him a ride to the gas station. Linwood's girlfriend, Joanna Williams, drove both Pomerlee and Linwood to the gas station to meet Pickett. Pomerlee testified at trial that he sat in the backseat behind the driver.

¶ 5 Pickett arrived at the gas station shortly after Pomerlee, Linwood and Williams arrived. Pomerlee testified that Pickett was in a white sedan and was on the phone with the person for whom he was buying the marijuana. Pomerlee testified that he does not know who Pickett was on the phone with at the time, but the unidentified person told Pickett to meet him on Greenlawn Street. Pickett then told Pomerlee to follow him. Pickett was in his own vehicle; Pomerlee followed in Williams' vehicle (again, Williams was driving and Pomerlee was in the backseat behind the driver). At this point, Pickett parked his vehicle in front of a house five or six houses down from the gas station on Greenlawn Street. Pomerlee testified that Pickett was talking to someone on the porch of this home. Pickett then approached the house, asked a question, and turned and walked back down the steps. Testimony elicited earlier in the trial revealed that Pickett was speaking with two Iraqi refugees who were fixing a broken door on the home and that he asked the two men where "Lacy" was. Pomerlee stated that Pickett was talking into his cell phone as he walked away from the house. Pickett then came back to the vehicle Pomerlee was in and told Pomerlee to move down the street.

¶ 6 The respective vehicles moved approximately two houses down on Greenlawn Street. Pickett exited his car and approached a different house, where he spoke to a person sitting on the porch and shook the person's hand. Pickett turned around and returned to his vehicle by himself. Pomerlee testified they waited for approximately 10 to 20 minutes and, during that time, he could see Pickett calling someone on the phone. At that point, Pomerlee testified that Linwood noticed a black male come from between two houses on the opposite side of the street and approach Pickett's vehicle. Pomerlee stated that he could see the man had a handgun, and that he approached Pickett's car and told him to hand over the marijuana. The man made Pickett get out of his car; Pickett's hands were in the air. Pomerlee stated he could hear Pickett say, "I don't have nothing, I don't have nothing, " then say "they got it" as he pointed to Williams' vehicle. At Pomerlee and Linwood's urging, Williams immediately put the car in reverse and drove down the street backwards. Pomerlee saw the man and Pickett "tussling, " then heard a gunshot. Pickett's assailant started to run toward the house where someone had been on the porch, then he turned around and shot Pickett again as Pickett was attempting to get to his feet. As Williams, Linwood and Pomerlee left the scene, Pomerlee tried calling Pickett on his cell phone, but got no answer. Pickett later died of multiple gunshot wounds.

ΒΆ 7 Pomerlee stated that the police came to his home in the early morning hours of June 30, approximately around 5 a.m., and he accompanied them down to the station to talk. The police showed him two different photo lineups, out of which he was able to identify the man on the porch across from where Pickett was shot as Jacorey Shettleworth. Pomerlee was not able to identify defendant as the shooter, even though his picture was in the photo array. On cross-examination, Pomerlee had difficulty recalling some of the events ...

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