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People v. Peoples

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

June 30, 2015

JAMES PEOPLES, Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 07 CR 15238. Honorable Angela Munari Petrone Judge Presiding.

For OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS STATE APPELLATE DEFENDER, APPELLANTS: Michael J. Pelletier, Appellate Defender; Alan D. Goldberg, Deputy Appellate Defender; Patrick Morales-Doyle, Rachel Moran, Assistant Appellate Defenders, Chicago, IL.

For OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS STATE'S ATTORNEY, APPELLEES: Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney; Alan J. Spellberg, Tasha-Marie Kelly, Brian Hodes, Paul J. Connery, Assistant State's Attorneys, Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Howse in the judgment and opinion.



[¶1] This case involves a drive-by shooting on the south side of Chicago that turned into a shootout between the offenders and the targets along two city blocks. After a jury trial, defendant James Peoples was convicted of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder and sentenced to an aggregate term of 70 years' imprisonment. For the reasons that follow, we reverse defendant's first-degree murder conviction and remand for a new trial. We affirm the attempted murder convictions. We affirm the sentences for attempted murder and order the mittimus corrected.

[¶2] Defendant raises several issues on appeal. First, he contends the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and the State's witnesses were not credible for various reasons. He argues that the trial court erred in responding to the jury's request for a definition of reasonable doubt by stating, " Reasonable doubt cannot be defined for you. That is for you to determine." He also claims that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his request for a continuance to obtain a presumably neutral witness's testimony that would have corroborated a defense witness's testimony. We reject these arguments.

[¶3] We agree, however, that the trial committed reversible error when, in its response to another jury question, the trial court injected into the trial a theory of guilt by accountability. The State charged defendant with first-degree murder only as a principal shooter and did not, at any time, argue that defendant was guilty on an accountability theory. Defendant's murder conviction must be reversed and remanded.

[¶4] Defendant also raises three issues regarding his sentence. He first argues that his sentence was excessive. We disagree that the remaining sentence, after our reversal of the murder conviction and sentence, was excessive. The State agrees with defendant's additional two arguments regarding presentence credit and fines. There is no dispute that the mittimus should be corrected to reflect a presentence credit, for the days spent in presentence custody, of 1,722 days (instead of 1,535 days), and the fines, fees, and costs order should reflect an outstanding balance of $530. We order the mittimus corrected accordingly.


[¶6] On June 27, 2007, at approximately 12:30 a.m. in the vicinity of 73rd Street and South Stewart Avenue in Chicago, a shootout occurred involving several individuals. As a white van drove by 7308 South Stewart Avenue, several gunshots were fired at the porch, and gunfire was returned by the intended targets. Roosevelt Wilson, who had been standing on the sidewalk, was shot in the head and died. As the van continued southbound on South Stewart Avenue toward 75th Street, two individuals followed and opened fire at the van.

[¶7] Shortly thereafter, Chicago police officer Richard Griffin went to St. Bernard's Hospital in response to a call of a person with a gunshot wound. When Officer Griffin arrived at the hospital, he saw defendant sitting on a gurney soaking his hand in a solution. After detectives arrived and interviewed defendant, the police took defendant into custody and brought him to the police station.

[¶8] On July 23, 2007, defendant was charged by indictment with first-degree murder of Roosevelt Wilson, as well as attempted first-degree murder of Taft Wilson, attempted first-degree murder of Michael Watson, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. Prior to trial, the court heard and denied defendant's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence and his motion to suppress statements. Defendant was tried before a jury from May 31 to June 3, 2011. A summary of the relevant testimony follows.

[¶9] A. State's Case-in-Chief

[¶10] The State's evidence included testimony from six occurrence witnesses: Roosevelt Gray, Taft Wilson, Michael Watson, Shawn Bowens, Willie Thomas, and Antoinette Burrage. Three of these witnesses, Taft Wilson, Michael Watson, and Shawn Bowens, identified defendant as an occupant of the white van. Because defendant argues on appeal that these three State witnesses contradicted each other, testified incredibly regarding their own involvement in the crime, and had a motive to curry favor with the State in relation to their own criminal acts by falsely accusing defendant, we will consider their testimony in detail.

[¶11] 1. Taft Wilson

[¶12] Taft Wilson testified that he lived at 7308 South Stewart Avenue with his mother, three brothers, and sister. Michael Watson was his brother, and Roosevelt Wilson and Roosevelt Gray were his cousins. On June 27, 2007, at 12:30 a.m., he was standing to the side of his house talking with his cousin, Roosevelt Wilson, when he heard Shawn Bowens, who was standing on a porch across the street, shout a warning that a white van was approaching with its passenger side door open.

[¶13] Taft Wilson further testified that there was a light on inside the van, and he recognized the individuals in the van because they were his friends, had all attended the same school, and were about the same age as him. The individuals he saw in the van were defendant (nicknamed Midget), Robert Davis (nicknamed Snuggles), Kevin Stanley (nicknamed K-Up-Slow) and Dimarko (whose last name he did not know). He testified that he could see defendant aiming a gun at Roosevelt Wilson and him. He saw Robert Davis in the front passenger seat, Kevin Stanley behind the driver, and Dimarko in the third row of the van. He testified that defendant fired three to seven shots at him and Roosevelt Wilson (although he initially told police that it was three to five shots). He " ducked down" for about seven seconds. When he got up, he saw Roosevelt Wilson lying on the ground. Taft Wilson then fired a semiautomatic 9-millimeter pistol at the van six times. He chased the van as it slowly travelled south. After firing at the van, Taft Wilson ran inside his house and called 911. He stated that he had " found" the gun he fired that night. He initially told the police that he put the gun in a sewer following the incident but later admitted that he gave it to Roosevelt Gray.

[¶14] Although Taft Wilson testified that he had not seen the white van before, he admitted that he had told the police that he had seen the white van earlier. At trial, he stated that he had not paid close attention to the van. He also testified that, five minutes before the shooting, he saw Robert Davis drive by as the passenger in a green Grand Am. Taft Wilson also testified that his brother, Michael Watson, was not in the area during the shooting. He claimed he did not see his brother riding a bicycle that night, and that his brother returned home on foot after the shooting.

2. Michael Watson

[¶16] Michael Watson testified that he also lived at 7308 South Stewart Avenue and was outside at 12:30 a.m. on June 27, 2007. Moments before the shooting, with his brother, Taft Wilson, present, Roosevelt Wilson asked Watson to go purchase some cigarettes for him. As Watson began to leave on his bike, he heard someone shout to watch out for a van.

[¶17] Watson saw the light inside the van come on and heard shots. Watson testified that the van was travelling at a slow speed, and he saw defendant and Robert Davis shoot at Watson's family members in front of his house. He testified that they fired " numerous shots" and it " was a crossfire." In contrast to his brother's testimony, he stated that Robert Davis was behind the driver's seat, defendant was behind the front passenger seat, and Kevin Stanley was in the front passenger seat. Watson jumped off his bike and took cover behind a car as the van " slowly rolled" towards him. They started firing at Watson, who returned three or four shots with a semiautomatic nine-millimeter pistol. Watson testified that he followed the van on his bicycle to get the license plate number but was unsuccessful because the van picked up speed and ran the stop sign. Watson went home where he saw his cousin, Roosevelt Wilson, on the ground, unresponsive. Watson said he went inside his house and watched the scene from his window.

[¶18] Similar to his brother, Watson claimed that he " found" the gun he used. He testified that he found it in a lot next to his house " 15 seconds" before the shooting started. Watson testified that his younger brothers and his daughters played in that lot, and he picked up the gun out of concerns for the children's safety. He testified that he put the gun in a sewer after the incident.

[¶19] 3. Shawn Bowens

[¶20] Shawn Bowens was the third witness to testify that he saw defendant in the white van. At the time of trial, Bowens was incarcerated for a parole violation. Bowens had a pending felony charge being prosecuted by the Cook County State's Attorney's office. He also had prior convictions for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

[¶21] Bowens testified that, on June 27, 2007, at about 12:30 a.m., he was at 7308 South Stewart Avenue, his friend Taft Wilson's house. Roosevelt Wilson, Roosevelt Gray, and Taft Wilson were outside. Bowens stated that he was on the front porch of 7308 South Stewart Avenue with Blair Davis. This testimony contradicted that of Roosevelt Gray and Taft Wilson, who said that Bowens was across the street, on the east side of South Stewart Avenue, when Bowens warned them about the approaching van. Bowens testified that at no time that night was he across the street from Taft Wilson's house, although he later admitted that he had told the grand jury that he had been across the street earlier that night, before he sat on the porch.

[¶22] Bowens testified that, while he was sitting on the porch, he noticed a white van and saw the sliding door open on the rear passenger's side. He stated that the interior lights were on inside the van and he saw defendant, Robert Davis, Kevin Stanley, and Dimarko Jones in the van, but placed them in a configuration that was different from both Taft Wilson's and Michael Watson's testimony. Bowens testified that Jones was in the front passenger seat, and the other three men were in the van's back row. He later admitted that he told the grand jury that Davis, not Jones, was in the front passenger seat. Bowens testified that defendant got up and moved toward the door of the van, so he shouted to watch out for the van. Bowens then went inside the house, where he stayed until the shooting ended. Bowens heard about four gunshots coming from the van and then, in a matter of seconds, he heard a second set of 25 to 50 shots coming from the area right next to him where Taft Wilson and Roosevelt Wilson had been standing. When Bowens came back out, he saw Taft Wilson with a gun.

[¶23] 4. Roosevelt Gray

[¶24] Roosevelt Gray, who was Roosevelt Wilson's son, testified that he was present at the scene but did not identify anyone in the van. He testified that he was walking from his car towards the front porch of 7308 South Stewart Avenue, where his cousins, Taft Wilson and Michael Watson, lived. Roosevelt Wilson and Taft Wilson were standing on the sidewalk, just south of the house. Blair Davis was on the porch. As Gray ascended the stairs, he heard Shawn Bowens, who was across the street on the east side of South Stewart Avenue, shout to " watch out" for the van.

[¶25] Gray testified that he saw a person hanging from the van but he could not " tell anything about the people inside." He dropped to the ground on the porch and heard " a lot" of gunshots coming from the van and additional gunshots " going back towards the van." After the gunshots stopped, Gray got up and found his father lying on the ground, shot in the head. He followed the ambulance to the hospital, where he learned that his father had died.

[¶26] 5. Willie Thomas

[¶27] Willie Thomas, a retired Chicago police officer who lived at 7338 South Stewart Avenue, witnessed the incident from his front porch. At around 12:30 a.m., he heard gunshots in the area of 73rd Street and South Stewart Avenue. He saw " what looked like a gray van accelerate hard heading south towards 74th." Thomas testified that he saw a black male hanging out of the van's passenger side sliding door, facing backwards, firing a handgun back toward the north as the van travelled south. Two black males chased the van returning fire, one on foot and the other on a bicycle. The van went to the area of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue. Thomas then heard additional gunshots from the vicinity of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue. Shortly thereafter, Thomas saw a man riding a bicycle north toward 73rd Street, with a second man riding on the handlebars. The man on the handlebars appeared to be the same person who had chased the van on foot. When they reached the area of 7300 South Stewart Avenue, the two men took off their shirts and discarded them. Thomas called 911, flagged down the tactical unit, and spoke to the officers on the scene that night. However, Thomas was unable to identify the shooter in the van or the two men who chased the van and returned on the bicycle.

[¶28] 6. Antoinette Burrage

[¶29] Antoinette Burrage testified that defendant was her boyfriend. On the night of the shooting, she had an argument with defendant while at 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue. Burrage left him and went to the other side of South Stewart Avenue. Shortly after midnight, she was standing at the bus stop at 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue with two female friends when she heard gunshots. She testified that the gunshots came from the direction of " 73rd, 72nd and Stewart." After somebody said the shots were headed toward 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue, everybody scattered, including Burrage. She and her two friends hid in a basement stairwell in a backyard until they heard police sirens. Burrage left with her friends and began walking down South Stewart Avenue towards her friend's house on 73rd Street when a gray Charger pulled up to her. A person she knew as " Gargamel" was driving and defendant was in the passenger seat. Defendant told her to get in the car and that they were going home. Once in the car, she saw that defendant's hand was wrapped in a white t-shirt because he was bleeding from a gunshot wound. They drove to St. Bernard's Hospital.

[¶30] Burrage testified that, on the way to the hospital, defendant instructed her to fabricate a story to the police. Specifically, he told her to tell the police that defendant was at the bus stop on Stewart Avenue when a white car pulled up and started shooting. At the hospital, Burrage was questioned by the police and told them that false story. She reiterated this false story at the police station. She eventually told the detectives the truth, namely, that " when the shots rang out, [she] ran in a backyard with two other girls," that defendant had not been with her at that time, and that defendant had given her the idea for the false alibi. Burrage testified that, in fact, she had not seen defendant at all during the time between their argument and defendant picking her up in the car.

[¶31] Burrage also testified that when she had emerged from the hiding place in the backyard, she saw Dimarko Jones lying across the street at the intersection of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue by a liquor store. She testified that he was bleeding and had been shot, but she did not know how he had been shot.

[¶32] 7. Physical Evidence

[¶33] Several witnesses testified regarding the physical evidence and the police investigation. The jury was told about the 13 shell casings that were recovered, the locations of the bullet holes that were found near both crime scenes, the bloodstains found at both crime scenes, the recovered T-shirt stained with blood, and the weapons involved in the ...

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