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People v. Wilkinson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

June 5, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL L. WILKINSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois, Circuit No. 15-CF-164 Honorable Walter D. Braud, Judge, Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion

          OPINION

          CARTER PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Michael L. Wilkinson, appeals following his conviction for aggravated battery. He argues that the State presented insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his use of force in defending himself was not reasonable. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The State charged defendant with aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(a)(1) (West 2014)), stemming from events occurring on May 23, 2015. The charging instrument alleged that defendant knowingly caused great bodily harm to Kevin Cook in that he struck Cook in the head and face with a hammer. Defendant disclosed to the prosecution before trial that he would be claiming self-defense.

         ¶ 4 Defendant's trial commenced on October 20, 2015. The evidence at trial showed that Cook lived at 607 Dixon Avenue in Rock Falls. Defendant's fiancée, Tacura Britt, lived at 614 East Fourth Street in Rock Falls. The backyards of those two residences were separated by two other yards and a fence. Defendant did not live with Britt, but was at her house frequently to watch the children or to spend the night.

         ¶ 5 Testimony adduced at trial showed that defendant and Cook were in their respective yards on the morning of May 23, 2015. Defendant, in an attempt to have Britt's children come into the house, yelled profanities at them. Cook testified that he called defendant over to the fence between the yards and told him "we don't do this in the neighborhood" because they did not want the children to hear such language. Cook testified that he asked defendant to "take it in the house." Cook's wife, Sherry, recalled that Cook "screamed 'hey' " at defendant, then told him "this is a good neighborhood" and that people did not want to hear defendant using bad language. Defendant heard Cook yell "hey, " but he assumed Cook was not speaking to him. Later, Cook told defendant that "this is a good neighborhood, we [are] good parents." Defendant walked away.

         ¶ 6 Later that day, Cook heard defendant yelling to Britt: "[T]his white mother fucker back here is telling me how to talk to my kids ***." Cook again chastised defendant for his use of profanities. Cook testified that defendant threatened to kill him. Sherry testified that defendant yelled "I'll beat you down, white boy." At defendant's invitation, Cook jumped over the fence separating the yards, but did not approach defendant.

         ¶ 7 Defendant testified that the confrontation was mutual, with each man threatening to "whoop each other's ass." Once Cook had come over the fence, defendant and Cook continued yelling and using profanities until Britt coaxed defendant into her car. Britt testified that Cook yelled to defendant: "[W]e'll finish this when the kids aren't around." She saw Cook jump over the fence and threaten to "F [defendant] up." Cook referred to defendant as "a boy."

         ¶ 8 Cook testified that he saw someone return to Britt's house later that evening. He believed it was just Britt and the children. Feeling bad about the altercation, Cook and his friend, Mark Moore, approached Britt's door with the intent of apologizing and thanking her for calming defendant down. They knocked on the side door to Britt's house. Cook testified that when Britt opened the door, defendant was standing behind her. Cook was surprised to see him. Cook began to apologize when defendant struck him in the face with a hammer. Cook described the impact as a white flash. He agreed that the hammer strike caught him in the eyebrow area. He fell down. Cook testified: "I kept getting hit, kept seeing them white flashes." While this was happening, Cook was "[t]rying to get up, trying to get away." He testified that "after a few more hits" he could not see anything. He denied ever striking defendant or Britt. He denied ever entering or reaching into Britt's house. Moore eventually helped Cook up and took him back to his house.

         ¶ 9 Cook testified that he suffered fractures to his eye socket, sinus cavity, and "nose socket" as a result of the altercation. He required 12 staples and a number of stitches. A tendon was also severed. He continued to suffer from eye spasms and headaches.

         ¶ 10 On cross-examination, Cook testified that he took "[t]wo hits" of marijuana that evening, before the physical altercation. He could not recall how much alcohol he drank because he was not keeping track. He denied telling a police officer that he and Moore went to Britt's house to confront defendant. He explained that he brought Moore to Britt's house because defendant was very upset and Cook "didn't want to appear that [he] was *** in the same manner." Moore also had a cell phone "in case anything happened."

         ¶ 11 Sherry testified that she saw Britt and three children return to the house that night, but did not see defendant. Cook told Sherry that he wanted to go to Britt's house to apologize to her. While Cook had consumed alcohol that day, Sherry did not believe him to be intoxicated.

         ¶ 12 Defendant testified that he and Britt returned to her house that night sometime between 8:30 and 9. Five to ten minutes later, they "heard a loud banging on the door." Defendant did not know who was at the door, but told them to go away, reasoning that it was too late at night for someone to be visiting. Defendant retrieved a hammer because he was concerned that someone was trying to break into the house. Britt opened the door and defendant saw Cook. Defendant told Cook to leave the property. According to defendant, Cook said he was the neighborhood watch and that "he's going to have us out the neighborhood within a week, because the neighbors don't want us in the neighborhood anyway." An argument ensued, with Cook wide-eyed and angry. Defendant testified that Cook did not apologize or thank Britt for anything.

         ¶ 13 Defendant observed Cook ball his hand into a fist. Defendant testified: "I proceeded to ask him, man, point blank, who the fuck is you to tell me how to talk to my kids and next thing you know I'm being punched in the face." Defendant was standing inside the house when Cook punched him. The punch landed "[r]ight between the eyes." Defendant testified that after he was punched, he hit Cook with the hammer and then they both fell through the doorway and onto the porch. Defendant believed it was necessary to swing the hammer to protect himself.

         ¶ 14 Once they had fallen onto the porch, Cook had a hold on defendant's arms, and defendant repeatedly asked him to let go. He estimated that he told Cook at least five times to let him go. Defendant could not recall whether Cook initially grabbed his arms inside the house or after they had fallen outside. Defendant was trying to get away and "struck him again with the hammer." Moore took the hammer out of defendant's hand and threw it in the yard.

         ¶ 15 On cross-examination, defendant admitted he could not recall exactly how many times he hit Cook with the hammer inside the house, testifying that he "just started swinging." He testified that there was no blood in the house because after he struck defendant with the hammer they were "instantly *** outside on the ground fighting, tussling and stuff." Defendant did not see Moore until he and Cook were outside. He did not know if the first hammer strike caused the gash over Cook's eye. Defendant recalled hitting some garbage cans as he fell onto the porch; he did not know if Cook hit the cans as well.

         ¶ 16 Britt testified that she and defendant returned to the house around 8 p.m. The children were at a babysitter's house. Around 8:15 p.m., Britt "heard a big bang on the door." She peered through a window and saw Cook and another man at her door. She opened the door; Cook was standing on the grass adjacent to the concrete, with Moore behind him. Cook told Britt to tell defendant not to use profanities outside while yelling at the children. Britt asked Cook why he cared what defendant did. According to Britt, Cook responded:"[T]his is a good neighborhood and we're good parents." Britt described Cook as mad, with wide eyes and spit flying from his mouth as he spoke. Britt repeatedly told Cook to leave.

         ¶ 17 Britt yelled for defendant because she was scared. Defendant came to the door, standing behind Britt. Britt testified: "[A]s soon as he seen [defendant], [Cook] instantly went into a rage. *** [H]e was *** screaming even louder, screaming, just screaming. He was like, well, come out here, I'll give you a butt whoopin', *** I'll show you what a redneck country boy can do, come outside." Defendant and Cook yelled at each other. Britt continued to tell Cook to leave. According to Britt, Cook yelled: "I'm neighborhood watch. If you guys don't get out of here in a week, I'll have you out of here." Britt noted that Cook did not apologize.

         ¶ 18 Britt continued to stand between the two men because she did not want the situation to escalate. She could smell an odor of alcohol so strong it made her "sick to [her] stomach." Britt testified that Cook eventually punched defendant. Cook's fist grazed Britt's face before hitting defendant. Cook then stepped into the house and grabbed defendant's left arm. Britt testified that defendant reached for a hammer, which was sitting on the adjacent countertop. Defendant struck Cook in the head twice with the hammer, and they fell outside through the doorway. Cook was still holding onto defendant. Defendant landed on top of Cook; Moore was still standing in the grass next to the concrete. Britt testified that defendant and Cook "were wrestling around outside on the cement." Defendant was continuously yelling at Cook to let go of him. Britt recalled that Moore took the hammer out of defendant's hand. Britt called 911.

         ¶ 19 John Wolfe testified that he lived across the street from Britt. He was on the front steps of his house on the night of May 23, 2015, when he heard yelling from "[s]ome big, white guy" in Britt's side yard. Wolfe saw the man standing on a cement porch, yelling at someone inside the house. A second man was standing behind him. Wolfe explained what happened next:

"[H]e yelled for a few minutes, asked the neighbor to come outside and said he was going to kick his ass and then the next thing I know I seen him step through the door, *** looked like he was swinging a punch, big right hook coming up over top and the next thing I know he come back out the door on his back with a thin guy on top of him and the neighbor lady yelled that she was ...

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