Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 CR 19741 Honorable Joseph M. Claps, Judge Presiding.
HYMAN JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Neville and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant Tyrone Powell was convicted of first degree murder of his wife following a jury trial, and sentenced to 56 years in prison, which included a 25-year mandatory firearm enhancement. On appeal, Powell seeks to have the sentence reduced to the mandatory minimum of 45 years, contending that the trial court failed to consider certain mitigating factors. Contrary to defendant's assertion, the trial court in imposing sentence for first degree murder did consider the evidence in mitigation, including whether: (i) the circumstances of the offense were unlikely to reoccur, (ii) defendant showed remorse, (iii) defendant had improved his life over the past 10 years, and (iv) defendant acted under strong provocation and there were substantial grounds to excuse or justify his conduct. We affirm the sentence.
¶ 2 Background
¶ 3 The evidence revealed that 44-year-old Powell shot and killed his wife, Veltann Wilkins, near 82nd and Green Street, Chicago, close to their home at 8142 South Peoria, on the afternoon of September 22, 2008. Powell testified that he believed Wilkins was having an affair and feared that Wilkins's boyfriend, Albert Hudson, was coming to kill him.
¶ 4 At trial, the State played a portion of a phone call that Wilkins made to a 911 operator on September 22, 2008, at 12:57 p.m. On that call, Wilkins asked for police to come to 8142 South Peoria and said her husband "just now tried to drag [her] back in the house, " and was "getting in his car, he's in a Dodge Charger." Wilkins also told the operator, "Here he comes, here he come, he fitting to come get me."
¶ 5 Bobby Willis, who lived upstairs from Powell and Wilkins, testified that a little before 1 p.m. on September 22, he heard a woman's screams coming from the front of the building. Looking down from his balcony, he saw Powell on top of Wilkins, punching her, as Wilkins tried to move away. Wilkins then ran across the street as Powell "peeled off" in his car. Bobby heard gunshots, and later saw Wilkins at 82nd and Green Street, lying on the curb and bleeding.
¶ 6 Faithe Jordan testified that shortly before 1 p.m., she was driving on 82nd Street on her way to school. Jordan saw a woman running down the street who was hysterical and screaming and asked Jordan for help, but Jordan kept driving because she thought the woman was "hallucinating." Soon after, Jordan heard a gunshot, and drove back to where she first saw the woman. Jordan saw a Charger with its car door open, and then heard two more gunshots. When Jordan reached 82nd and Green Street, she saw a woman on the grass, bleeding, and the Charger on the sidewalk.
¶ 7 Louis Thompson testified that, shortly before 1 p.m., he was home at 8200 South Green Street when he heard two "pop" sounds and a woman's screams. He looked out the window, and saw a man exiting a Charger he recognized from the neighborhood. The man talked to a woman who was standing in the street and shot her. After standing over the fallen woman and shooting her four to six more times, the man returned to his car and began to drive away. Thompson called 911, and an ambulance arrived shortly afterwards.
¶ 8 Another witness, Fred Harvey, who was working at the gas station at 82nd and Halsted, testified that he saw a woman running down the street screaming as she was being chased by a man holding a gun. Harvey ran toward the woman and called for the man to stop, but the man shot the woman from about 30 to 50 yards behind her. After the woman fell to the ground around 82nd and Green, the man walked up to the woman, shot her twice more in the back, and walked away. A few hours later, Harvey found a cell phone on the street, which he gave to the police.
¶ 9 Officer John Smith testified that shortly before 1 p.m., he was called to the intersection of 82nd and Green Street along with other officers. Officer Smith and his partner approached a Charger, where he observed Powell point a gun under his head. Officer Smith yelled for Powell to drop the gun, but Powell pulled the trigger. When the gun did not fire, Powell pulled back on the gun's slide to chamber another round, and pulled the trigger a second time, shooting himself under his chin. The Charger then rolled over a stop sign before coming to rest. When the police approached the Charger again, Powell asked for the officers to kill him. Officers recovered a gun from the Charger's passenger seat.
¶ 10 The victim's son, Kenneth Williams, heard Powell and Wilkins arguing at 12:20 or 12:30 p.m.. He left the building before 1 p.m. that day. Around September 24, Kenneth found a letter torn in pieces in a tissue box in Powell and Wilkins's bedroom. With his upstairs neighbors, Williams pieced the letter together and identified the letter's handwriting as belonging to Powell. Williams' upstairs neighbors gave the letter to the police.
¶ 11 The State presented an excerpt of the torn, undated letter, which was addressed "To Whom it May Concern" and signed by Powell:
"As for that low down bitch I call my wife, this is the last time she will ever hurt me. I refuse to let that bitch continue to threaten me, to treat me like shit. Therefore I've decided to kill that bitch and then I will proceed to take my own life." The search also recovered about 40 items of Wilkins's clothing that had been cut and shredded and a photograph that had been ripped into two pieces.
¶ 12 The State presented evidence that Wilkins sustained blunt trauma injuries and gunshot wounds. The blunt trauma injuries included a small bruise by her right eyelid, a small injury and abrasion on the under surface of her chin, and abrasions around her left elbow, the back of her left hand, and on her right knee. Wilkins's gunshot wounds were located on the top of her head, above her left ear, and on the outer surface of her arm. A third gunshot entered the left side of her chest. An autopsy revealed that Wilkins died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.
¶ 13 Powell testified that he and Wilkins met in 2001 and married nine months later. Wilkins and her three children lived with Powell, and he and Wilkins also had a child of their own. Powell was the primary income-earner. Problems arose in the marriage, stemming in part from discipline issues with Wilkins's children and Powell's suspicions that Wilkins was stealing money from him. In 2005, after Powell noticed that money was missing from his bank account, he left home for about seven or eight months, but the couple reconciled and participated in marriage counseling. In May 2008, Powell began to suspect that Wilkins was having an affair because she would spend three or four hours on what should have been brief errands. In July 2008, Powell and Wilkins argued about the phone bill, which was normally $69, but totaled $400 that month. The bill revealed that about 200 text messages had been exchanged between Wilkins and another number, and many calls had been made to that same number. When Powell called the number and asked the man who answered why he was calling Wilkins, the man responded that Wilkins was just a friend he had met through her cousin. Also in July 2008, Powell was leaving a store when a small and seemingly unarmed man announced a stick-up, and the two men began to fight. Powell ran to his car, where he noticed he had blood on his shirt and a slash on the side of his face.
¶ 14 Despite changing phone companies, on September 18, 2008, Powell received another phone bill that listed the same number that had been on the July phone bill. Powell and Wilkins met in a park to discuss the matter, and when Powell called the number, the man told Powell he was a general for the Black P Stone Rangers street gang, had "numerous guys in his security detail, " and could have "this and this and this and this done to [him]." Powell became concerned and felt his life was in danger because the man knew where Powell worked and spent his free time. Initially, Powell testified that at the time of his July attack, he thought the attacker was sent by the Black Stone Rangers, but on ...