Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 07 CR 03703
Honorable Thomas Joseph Hennelly, Judge Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices McBride and Howse concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Defendant Antoine Simmons was convicted of first-degree
murder based on evidence that he shot and killed Larry
Watkins at a stoplight at the corner of Garfield Boulevard
and Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Three eyewitnesses, including
the two passengers in Watkins's car, identified defendant
as the shooter. The State also presented evidence that a
bullet found in Watkins's body matched a bullet recovered
in the shooting of Ellen Williams. Williams testified that
defendant had shot her in the hand about a month before
2 Defendant appeals, raising seven issues: (1) that the State
failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because
the eyewitnesses' identifications of him were unreliable;
(2) that the trial court erred in denying his motion to
suppress the identifications because the judge who saw
defendant testify was not the same judge who ultimately
denied the motion, and the outcome of the motion rested on a
credibility determination; (3) that the expert who testified
that the bullets from the Watkins and Williams shootings
matched failed to lay an adequate foundation for his opinion,
rendering his testimony inadmissible; (4) that the evidence
of the Williams shooting was inadmissible because the State
failed to show that defendant was involved in that shooting,
and any probative value attributable to that evidence
substantially outweighed the risk of unfair prejudice it
carried; (5) that the prosecution made improper comments
during closing arguments; (6) that the trial court failed to
consider defendant's rehabilitative potential when it
sentenced defendant to natural life in prison; and (7) that
three of the counts of murder of which he was convicted
should be vacated pursuant to the one-act, one-crime
3 We affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.
Defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, where
the three eyewitnesses identifications of defendant as the
shooter bore sufficient indicia of reliability and were
corroborated by firearms evidence linking defendant to the
crime. Defendant cannot claim that the trial court erred in
ruling on his motion to suppress after reviewing a
transcript, where that was the course of action his attorney
suggested the trial court take. The trial court did not abuse
its discretion in admitting the testimony of the State's
firearms identification expert where the deficiencies in his
testimony merely affected its weight, not its admissibility.
Nor did the court err in admitting evidence of the Williams
shooting where Williams, who knew defendant, identified him
as the shooter and the evidence of the other shooting was
significantly probative of defendant's identity. We also
find that the prosecutor's remarks in closing arguments,
though improper, did not prejudice defendant's right to a
fair trial. Finally, we find that the trial court considered
proper factors in sentencing defendant to natural life in
prison and decline to reweigh the sentencing factors
considered by the court.
4 We agree with defendant that three of his counts of murder
must be vacated because they arose out of the same act. We
direct the clerk to issue a corrected mittimus with only one
count of first-degree murder.
5 I. BACKGROUND
6 A. Motion to Suppress Identifications
7 Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress lineup
identifications of him as the shooter, arguing both that the
police improperly showed him to witnesses before conducting
the lineups and that the compositions of the lineups were
8 The hearing on the motion was conducted over the course of
two dates. Judge Laws presided over the hearing on the first
9 On the first hearing date, defendant testified that the
police took him to Area 1 police headquarters on the evening
January 11, 2007. At the time, defendant was in a wheelchair
because he had "just [been] shot" and could not
10 Defendant testified that, when he arrived at Area 1, the
officers left him in the back of the squad car in the parking
lot. Another squad car pulled up next to defendant and shined
a spotlight on defendant. Defendant testified that he tried
to duck down, but the detective in the squad car made him
raise his head into the light.
11 Defendant testified that he saw two people in the other
car with a police officer. He said that he heard one of these
people say, "I'm Blackstone. You the one that killed
my man." The two men in the car then got out and
approached defendant. One of the men said, "I'm
Blackstone. I'm gonna kill you." Defendant testified
that he believed "Blackstone" was a reference to a
gang but defendant did not know either man.
12 Defendant said that the officers in his squad car
retrieved his wheelchair from the trunk and brought him into
the police station. The officers took him to the bathroom,
where he again saw one of the two men who had confronted him
in the parking lot.
13 Defendant testified that the police put him in a lineup
with four other people. The detectives took defendant's
wheelchair from him and made him lean against the person next
to him in the lineup. Defendant testified that, during the
lineup, he heard one of the detectives say, "Hurry up.
We ain't got time for this bullshit. Hurry up. Pick him
up. You wasting our time, " and "That's him.
Antoine Simmons, guy number four, right there. Pick him
out." Defendant testified that the detective also told
another witness to pick him out of the lineup, saying,
"That's the guy right there who killed your friend,
14 Defendant acknowledged that, in a picture of the lineup,
he was seated. But he said that photograph was taken after
the witnesses had picked him out.
15 Defendant testified that he had been convicted of four
prior felonies: aggravated discharge of a firearm, two
separate attempted murders, and escape.
16 After defendant testified, the parties agreed to continue
the hearing so that defense counsel could locate another
witness. The hearing was continued several times at defense
17 Eventually, the case was reassigned to Judge Hennelly.
Defense counsel explained to Judge Hennelly that defendant
had three cases pending and said, "The elected matter is
a homicide in which we started a motion with Judge Laws. What
I suggest to the Court is if this court could read the
transcript from what we've heard already." The court
replied, "Sure. I'm glad to do that." The
parties agreed to continue the hearing again.
18 After one more continuance, the hearing resumed before
Judge Hennelly. Judge Hennelly indicated that he had read the
transcript of defendant's testimony, summarized
defendant's testimony, and asked defense counsel if the
summary was accurate. Defense counsel said that it was and
rested defendant's case.
19 The State called Detective Brian Lutzow, who testified
that he conducted the lineup on January 11, 2007. Lutzow said
that defendant was in a wheelchair when they picked him up
from Cook County jail.
20 When Lutzow set up the lineup, he put defendant in a chair
and brought him another chair so that he could put his feet
up. Lutzow testified that the other participants in the
lineup were also seated. Lutzow said that he kept the three
witnesses who viewed the lineup separate from one another
before and after they viewed it.
21 Lutzow denied displaying defendant before the witnesses in
the parking lot of the police station. He also denied
bringing defendant to the bathroom in front of any of the
witnesses or instructing any of the witnesses to identify
22 The parties stipulated that, in a report prepared by
Detective John Foster regarding the lineup, Foster said that
the lineup participants were told "to approach the
one-way mirror and perform facing movements so that both
side[ ] profile[s] and full face position could be
23 The court reserved its ruling for a later date, at which
time the court denied defendant's motion. The court
"I am faced with the situation where I have to juxtapose
and judge the testimony of the defendant, who has been proven
to be a convicted felon, against the testimony of a Chicago
Police Officer, which I found came in un-rebutted and
Therefore, *** having reviewed [the defendant's]
testimony, along with that of the detective, and the
allegation that [defendant has] made, *** I choose to believe
the testimony of the police detective.
And the [defendant's] factual allegations I find to be
without merit, and I frankly do not believe that factual
allegations that [he has] made in [his] motion ***."
24 B. Trial
25 Karl Stevens and Jeffon Henson, two friends of the
decedent, Larry Watkins, testified regarding the shooting.
26 On the evening of December 27, 2006, Stevens, Henson, and
Watkins went to a liquor store and purchased champagne and
small cigars to roll "blunts"-cigar rolling papers
filled with marijuana. Stevens testified that he and Watkins
had smoked two blunts that morning, and Henson testified that
he had smoked marijuana earlier that day. Both Stevens and
Henson denied being under the influence of marijuana at the
time they went to the liquor store, however.
27 Watkins, Stevens, and Henson stopped at Watkins's
house, picked up marijuana, and left in Watkins's car.
Watkins drove, Stevens sat in the front passenger's seat,
and Henson sat in the middle of the backseat.
28 The trio drove east along Garfield Boulevard (which is
also known as 55th Street), stopping at a red light at the
intersection of Garfield and Wells Street. Stevens testified
that he noticed a bright red Grand Am with "big rims,
" the number "22" on the side of it, and
"some type of diamond shape over *** the vent" in
the parking lot of a gas station on the corner. Stevens
testified that, when the light turned green, the red car
quickly pulled out of the gas station and cut off the cars
waiting at the light. At that point, Stevens did not get a
good look at the driver of the red car, but he could tell the
driver was a man. Stevens testified that, at the light at
Garfield and Wells, Watkins's car was first in line in
the lane adjacent to the right-turn lane.
29 Henson also testified that he saw the red car come out of
the gas station at Garfield and Wells. He testified that he
was able to see the driver, whom he identified as defendant,
at that point. Henson testified that Watkins's car was
waiting behind another car at the light, in the lane adjacent
to the right-turn lane.
30 Watkins, Stevens, and Henson continued driving east. They
caught up to the red car at the intersection of Garfield and
State Street, where they stopped at another red light.
Stevens testified that, at that point, the red car was on
their left. Stevens said that he saw the driver, whom he
identified as defendant, and a woman in the front passenger
seat of the red car. Stevens testified that nothing was
blocking his view of defendant, and the streetlights were
working that night. There were no lights on in the red car.
31 Henson testified that, when he, Stevens, and Watkins
reached the State Street stoplight, the red car was on the
right side of Watkins's car. Henson testified that he was
laying across the backseat of Watkins's car, with his
back against the inside of the rear passenger-side door.
Henson testified that he was able to see defendant in the red
car again. He testified that nothing blocked his view of
defendant and that the streetlights were working. He
acknowledged that there were no lights on in the red car.
32 When the light at State Street turned green, Watkins,
Stevens, and Henson began to drive again. They stopped for a
third time at the light at Garfield and Michigan Avenue,
where they were again near the red car.
33 Stevens testified that the red car was on the left side of
Watkins's car. Stevens testified that the music in the
car was very loud. Stevens said that Watkins bumped him,
trying to get his attention. Stevens reached to turn the
music down, when he glanced to his left and saw the driver of
the red car reaching toward Watkins's car with an object
in his hand. Stevens saw a "flash" and felt Watkins
lean on him. The car began to move forward, and Stevens tried
to steer it. Stevens crashed the car into two parked cars,
when Henson was able to reach into the front seat and put the
car in park. Stevens jumped out of the car and ran to a
nearby McDonald's, where he yelled for someone to call
34 Henson testified that, when he, Stevens, and Watkins
reached the Michigan stoplight, the red car was to their
left. Henson saw the woman in the red car lean back and the
passenger-side window of the red car roll down. Henson said
that he tapped Watkins in order to get his attention because
he thought that defendant was trying to speak to Watkins.
Henson testified that he heard a shot but did not see a gun.
When the shot went off, Henson ducked. He did not see
defendant at that point.
35 Henson estimated that he remained ducked in the backseat
for "a good minute." When he sat up, Watkins was
slumped over and his foot was still on the gas. Henson
testified that Stevens grabbed the wheel of the car and
turned it, smashing into several cars. The crash caused the
car to stop, when Henson reached over, pulled Watkins's
foot off the gas, and put the car in park.
36 Henson testified that he did not remember telling an
assistant State's Attorney (ASA) that he saw defendant
fire a handgun. He maintained that he did not see defendant
with a gun at Garfield and Michigan.
37 Stevens and Henson testified that they went to the police
station on January 11, 2007 and separately viewed a lineup.
They both testified that they identified defendant. Henson
testified that, when the lineup participants entered, he
noticed that one of them had difficulty walking. He also
testified that, after the lineups, he saw defendant sitting
in the back of a police car in the parking lot of the
station. He acknowledged that the police shined a light on
defendant in the parking lot.
38 Stevens testified that he had four felony convictions: a
conviction for armed robbery in 2009, two convictions for
delivery of cannabis in 2003 and 2005, and a conviction in
2005 for giving false information to the police. Stevens had
also been convicted of a misdemeanor cannabis offense in
2007. He also had several misdemeanor charges made against
him since Watkins's death, which were dismissed. Stevens
testified that the State had never offered to dismiss any of
charges against him, or offered him any other deals, in
exchange for his testimony. Nor did the State make any
threats in order to secure his testimony.
39 Henson testified that he had felony convictions for
possession of a stolen motor vehicle in 2005, delivery of
cannabis in 2007, and attempted burglary in 2011. He had also
been convicted of several misdemeanors and had several
misdemeanor charges dismissed following the shooting. Henson
also testified that the State had not offered him any deals
in exchange for his testimony in this case.
40 The parties stipulated that, at an earlier hearing, Henson
testified that Stevens smoked another blunt before the
shooting and that he believed that Stevens was under the
influence of marijuana at the time of the shooting. And the
parties stipulated that, when Henson arrived at the police
station to view the lineup, a detective told him that they
had "the possible guy who shot" Watkins.
41 Michael Smith also testified regarding the shooting. Smith
said that, around 8:45 p.m. on December 27, 2006, he was
driving east on Garfield to drop off his friend. At the
stoplight at the intersection of Garfield and Wells, Smith
saw a red Grand Prix with "nice wheels" cut him off
as the light turned green. Smith identified a photograph of
the red car-the same photograph that Stevens and Henson had
identified as the red car defendant was driving. Smith
testified that, at that time, he was in the lane adjacent to
the right-turn lane and was the first car in line at the
42 Smith testified that he recognized a black car two lanes
to his left, and two cars back, that he recognized as
Watkins's. Smith knew Watkins's face from the
neighborhood but had no relationship with him. Smith also
recognized Stevens and Henson from the neighborhood but did
not know them personally.
43 Smith saw the driver at that point and he identified
defendant as the driver. Smith also noticed a woman in the
front passenger's seat.
44 Smith said that, as he continued east on Garfield, he lost
sight of the red car because it was speeding. A few blocks
east from Garfield and Wells, Smith saw the car again. It was
pulled alongside Watkins's car, moving slowly. Smith
testified that the front passenger-side window of the red car
was rolled down. He could not tell what the people in the
cars were doing; he said they were "just rolling real
45 Smith testified that, because the two cars were moving so
slowly side-by-side, the other traffic began to go around
them in the third lane. Smith also drove around the red car
and black car.
46 Smith said that, after he passed them, he heard a
"pop" noise. He looked in his rearview mirror and
saw the black car swerve and hit a parked car. The red car
sped away, passed Smith, and turned south onto Martin Luther
47 Smith dropped off his friend and, on his way home, he
passed the location where he had heard the pop. He saw yellow
police tape, stopped, and told the police what he had seen.
48 Smith testified that, on January 4, 2007, the police
showed him a photo array, from which Smith picked
defendant's picture. On January 11, 2007, Smith viewed an
in-person lineup at the police station and again selected
defendant as the driver of the red car.
49 Detective Lutzow went to the scene of the shooting around
9 p.m. on December 27, 2006. He spoke to Stevens, Henson, and
Smith at the scene. Lutzow testified that they described
defendant's car as a "Grand Prix, 22 inch rims with
dents, 22 decals near the front wheels, and red in color, red
or maroon." Lutzow also testified that Henson and Smith
simply described the driver of the red car as "a male
black, " and that Stevens described the driver as
"a male black with a clean look, clean hair." They
described the passenger of the red car as "a female
black [with] long hair." Lutzow did not include the
description of the driver having "clean hair" in
50 Lutzow testified that he searched a Chicago police
department database using the description of the red car he
had received from the three eyewitnesses and obtained
information on a vehicle matching that description. Lutzow
sent out the vehicle's information in a citywide
broadcast to other police officers.
51 Lutzow testified that, the next day, he heard that the red
car had been recovered. He received a picture of the car that
had been recovered and showed it to Stevens, Henson, and
Smith. All three identified the photograph as a picture of
the red car they had seen on December 27, 2006.
52 Lutzow testified that he also received a name in
connection with the red car. Using that name, Lutzow compiled
a photo array that he showed to Smith. Lutzow testified that
Smith picked out defendant's picture from the array.
53 The medical examiner who performed Watkins's autopsy
testified that his cause of death was a gunshot wound to the
face. The wound to Watkins's face was irregular, which
suggested that the bullet likely hit something, such as a
window, before hitting him. The medical examiner uncovered a
bullet lodged in Watkins's brain, which was sent to the
Illinois State Police for testing.
54 The State introduced its other-crime evidence via two
witnesses: Ellen Williams and Officer Ricky Thompson.
Williams testified that she knew defendant through the father
of her children, Abdulah Ali. Williams testified that, around
1 a.m. on November 14, 2006, she was in front of her
friend's home at 8238 South Paulina Street in Chicago.
Defendant pulled up in a "dark colored car" and
spoke to Williams. Williams testified that she and defendant
exchanged "very [harsh] words, " then defendant
55 Williams testified that, five to seven minutes later,
defendant emerged from an alley two houses down with a gun.
She also said that defendant was "five feet" from
her. On cross-examination, she testified that defendant could
have been six or seven feet from her. She also testified that
she could see it was defendant because the streetlights were
56 According to Williams, defendant yelled something at her
and fired the gun. Williams tried to run into the house and
noticed that her fingers were bleeding. She did not see where
defendant went after he fired the shots. She also said that
defendant fired "[m]aybe three" shots at her but
that she was not sure.
57 Williams identified photographs of the front stoop of her
friend's house. Those photographs show that the front
door to the house was recessed slightly, so that a brick wall
blocks the view of the stoop from the alley. On redirect
examination, Williams testified that she was not on the stoop
when defendant shot at her; she testified that she was in
front of the house. She added that nothing blocked her view
of defendant when he emerged from the alley. The photographs
showed no blood on the sidewalk in front of the house.
58 Williams called the police and paramedics, who took her to
the hospital. She was treated for the graze wound to her
fingers. While at the hospital, a police officer discovered a
bullet in Williams's jacket.
59 Williams testified that she told the police that defendant
had shot her. She also identified defendant in a photo array.
60 On cross-examination, Williams testified that Ali had been
incarcerated shortly before November 14, 2006. She denied
blaming defendant for Ali's incarceration and testified
that Ali did not shoot one of defendant's friends. She
also testified that she did not know whether defendant
yelled, "I had your baby's daddy locked up, "
when he pulled up in his car.
61 The parties stipulated that Williams had been convicted of
felony manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance in
1997. They also stipulated that Williams told a detective
that she believed that defendant "had something to do
with her boyfriend *** getting arrested" and that she
heard defendant fire one or two shots at her.
62 Officer Thompson testified that he responded to the
Williams shooting on November 14, 2006. He testified that
Williams said that the car defendant had pulled up in was a
black Chrysler and that defendant said, "I had your
baby's daddy locked up." He testified that his
partner found a bullet in Williams's jacket ...