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People v. Sims

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

August 5, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOHNNIE LEE SIMS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. Circuit No. 15-CF-726 The Honorable John P. Vespa Judge, Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: James E. Chadd, Peter A. Carusona, and Matthew Lemke, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Ottawa, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Jerry Brady, State's Attorney, of Peoria (Patrick Delfino, Thomas D. Arado, and Justin A. Nicolosi, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

          JUSTICE LYTTON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Wright dissented.

          OPINION

          LYTTON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant was charged with and found guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon and sentenced to seven years in prison. Defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred in admitting other-crimes evidence, consisting of testimony that he possessed a different weapon prior to being charged with the crime at issue, (2) the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it could find defendant guilty, (3) the prosecutor's closing remarks deprived him of a fair trial, and (4) "cumulative errors" resulted in an unfair trial. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On November 10, 2015, defendant Johnnie Lee Sims was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2014). The indictment alleged that defendant possessed a handgun on or about October 26, 2015, and had previously been convicted of the offense of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

         ¶ 4 Prior to trial, the State filed a "Notice of Intent to Use Other Crimes," seeking to "introduce testimony and evidence of the Defendant's conduct with regard to other firearms as proof of intent, knowledge, design and for other lawful purpose in this case." Defendant filed a motion in limine, seeking to exclude all evidence and testimony of "other alleged crimes" committed by him, claiming that such evidence would be "substantially more prejudicial than probative." The trial court denied defendant's motion in limine.

         ¶ 5 At trial, Nathan Adams, a police officer with the Peoria Police Department testified that he was dispatched to Shenita Brown's home at approximately 11 p.m. on October 26, 2015, "for a civil matter between Johnnie Sims and Shenita Brown." Defendant and Brown were arguing because defendant thought Brown hid the keys to his vehicle. After searching for about 15 minutes, Adams found the keys in Brown's bedroom. According to Adams, defendant was "yelling" and "very angry." He kept calling 9-1-1 even after Adams arrived. As a result, several police officers responded to the scene.

         ¶ 6 After Adams found defendant's car keys, defendant began moving boxes of his belongings from Brown's home to his vehicle. He continued to do so for approximately 30 minutes. Brown and defendant continued arguing, and Brown eventually told Adams to look under the seats of defendant's car for a gun. Defendant responded by saying that if there was a gun in the car, Brown put it there. Adams searched defendant's vehicle and found a .380-caliber handgun in the center console. Defendant said the gun belonged to his son who had gone to the shooting range earlier in the day and left the gun in the car.

         ¶ 7 The parties stipulated that neither the gun nor a magazine found in defendant's vehicle provided prints with sufficient detail to be compared to defendant's fingerprints. The parties also stipulated that defendant had "previously been convicted of a felony."

         ¶ 8 The State called Shenita Brown to testify next, but before she testified, the judge read the following statement to the jury twice:

"Evidence will be received about the defendant's conduct involving firearms other than the one for which he is charged in this case. This evidence will be received on the issue of defendant's intent, knowledge, lack of mistake, lack of accident, and may be considered by you only for that limited purpose." Defendant objected to Brown's testimony.

         ¶ 9 Brown testified that she was defendant's ex-girlfriend and lived with him for approximately two years. During the time they were together, defendant spent most evenings at her house. About a month prior to October 26, 2015, defendant accused her son, Shaquille, of stealing a gun from his car. Defendant told Brown his stepson, Tylen, would get him another gun because "[h]e wouldn't be caught out here with these n***" without a gun. The gun defendant accused Shaquille of stealing was different than the one police found in defendant's vehicle on October 26, 2015.

         ¶ 10 Brown testified that defendant called the police on October 26, 2015, because he thought Brown was hiding his car keys. When police arrived, defendant was "irate" and "started hollerin' at the officer." Defendant continued to call the police until 10 to 12 officers arrived. Brown and defendant continued bickering, and Brown told the officer standing next to her to check under the seats of defendant's car "and see if there's a gun up under there." Police found a gun in defendant's car. Brown testified that defendant was the only person who drove the car that day.

         ¶ 11 Brown and defendant reconciled after October 26, 2015, and spoke about defendant's criminal charge. Defendant told Brown that he told his stepson, Tylen, to say he was driving the car on October 26, 2015, and had left his gun in it.

         ¶ 12 Matt Trimble, a police officer for the city of Peoria, testified that he responded to a call on October 2, 2015. Defendant reported that he was missing $300 in cash, about $100 worth of compact disks, and a .45-caliber handgun from his vehicle. Defendant believed his girlfriend's son, Shaquille, stole the items. Brenda Chepanoske, an information technician at the Peoria Police Department, testified that defendant came into the department on October 4, 2015, and provided the serial number of the gun taken from his vehicle. Defendant stated that the owner of the gun was Tylen Wright.

         ¶ 13 Tylen Wright testified that he bought a .45-caliber gun and stored it in his bedroom. Wright testified at trial that defendant took the gun from his closet and put it in defendant's car. Defendant reported the gun stolen after someone broke into his vehicle.

         ¶ 14 Wright further testified that he bought a .380-caliber gun on October 15, 2015. A couple days before October 26, 2015, Wright intended to go to the shooting range with the gun but never made it. He placed the gun under the driver's seat of defendant's car. Wright testified that he told defendant that the gun was in the car. After defendant was arrested, defendant told Wright to tell police that he left the gun in the center console.

         ¶ 15 Wright testified that defendant was married to his mother, Crystal Sims, but admitted that defendant was frequently not home at night. Sims, however, testified that defendant spent the night at her house the "majority of the time." She testified that defendant had access to Wright's room.

         ¶ 16 Defendant testified that, on the night of October 26, 2015, he drove his vehicle to McDonald's to purchase food for Brown. After he returned to Brown's house with the food, he and Brown began arguing, and his car keys became misplaced. Defendant called the police because he thought Brown was hiding his keys. Defendant continued calling the police, and a total of five officers arrived on the scene. Adams, one of the officers, found his keys.

         ¶ 17 Defendant asked the officers to remain at Brown's house until he retrieved his belongings. After making a few trips from the house to his car, defendant heard Brown tell Adams that there was a gun under the seat in his vehicle. Defendant responded, "[I]f there's a gun, she must have put it there." An officer looked inside defendant's vehicle and pulled a gun out of the console. Defendant told the officer, "[T]hat's my son's gun." Defendant explained that he recognized the gun because Wright showed it to him after he bought it. Defendant denied ever using the gun.

         ¶ 18 Defendant testified that, in October 2015, he was "in between places" because he and Crystal "were havin' some issues." He said he helped at Crystal's house but was not residing there. He testified he lived at several locations at that time. He considered Brown's home a "satellite location." Defendant described his relationship with Brown as "off and on." He denied knowing that the .380-caliber gun was in his vehicle on October 26, 2015. He also denied advising Wright or Brown about what to tell authorities about the gun.

         ¶ 19 Defendant testified that in the summer of 2015, he woke up to find the trunk and doors of his vehicle opened. He did not immediately know that Wright's .45-caliber gun was stolen, but he thought it might have been because Wright drove the vehicle the day before and "he has an issue with ...


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