Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 13 CR 3551
Honorable Thomas V. Gainer Jr., Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Howse
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 Defendant Sylvester Tatum was jumped and beaten on a street
corner. By all accounts, he was furious that his best friend,
Levi Stubblefield, stood by during the beating and let him
fend for himself. Moments later, the two friends went inside
defendant's apartment building, where several gunshots
were soon fired. Stubblefield's body was found in a
vacant apartment on the first floor where defendant,
Stubblefield, and others from the neighborhood often hung
out. The State's theory at trial was that defendant,
feeling abandoned and betrayed, killed Stubblefield in a fit
of rage. The jury agreed and found defendant guilty of
2 On appeal, defendant argues that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain his conviction; that his right to a
speedy trial was violated; that the State impermissibly
bolstered the credibility of two key witnesses with their
prior consistent statements; and that the trial court abused
its discretion when it allowed the jury to view graphic
autopsy photos that had little or no probative value. We
5 By November 4, 2011, Stubblefield's mother, Arbrett,
and his sister, Latoya, had grown concerned. They had neither
seen nor heard from Stubblefield for at least a couple of
days, which was unusual. Latoya spoke to the police, who told
her to find the last person to be seen with her brother.
Latoya went to see defendant, a close friend of the family
since childhood. Defendant told Latoya that he had not seen
Stubblefield. He also said that he was beaten up two days
earlier, on November 2, and that Stubblefield did not come to
his aid during the fight. Defendant and Latoya filed a
missing persons report together.
6 The next day, Arbrett, Latoya, and Latoya's husband,
Lamont, went to defendant's home, a first-floor apartment
at 320 North Pine Street in Chicago. Latoya asked defendant
to help them look for Stubblefield in the building. Defendant
directed them to an apartment on the second floor, but Latoya
wanted to check the vacant apartment on the first floor,
which she knew to be a hangout spot that her brother
frequented. (To be precise, the building is 320-322 North
Pine Street; it has two front entrances, one corresponding to
each address. The vacant apartment is on the 320 side;
defendant's apartment is on the 322 side. But other than
Detective Mike Mancuso, the witnesses referred to the
building as 320 North Pine, without any further distinction.)
7 Stubblefield's family and defendant went to the vacant
apartment. The door was locked, and defendant did not let
them in. Through the front window, Arbrett and Latoya saw
shell casings on the floor. Arbrett then saw the lower half
of her son's body. The family called the police, and
after a forced entry, Stubblefield's dead body was found
just inside the front door. He had numerous gunshot wounds.
8 Late in 2012, about a year after Stubblefield's murder,
the police issued an investigative alert for defendant. He
was arrested in January 2013 and soon indicted for this
9 The evidence implicating defendant came from three
principal occurrence witnesses- Christopher Randolph, Tyisha
Hillard, and Al Thompson-who testified for the State. These
witnesses all knew defendant and Stubblefield, and considered
them friends. And they all had prior convictions. (Mostly,
but not exclusively, drug cases.) At the time of trial,
Randolph was on parole from his most recent conviction;
Thompson had a pending UUWF charge; and Hillard was on
probation for escape on an underlying drug case. Hillard also
had a pending case for contempt, having failed to obey a
witness subpoena issued by the trial court in this case. She
frankly acknowledged that she did not want to testify.
Thompson was equally clear that he only begrudgingly talked
to the police.
11 Randolph testified that on November 2, 2011, he was
hanging out in front of a small retail strip near the
intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street. Defendant and
Stubblefield were both there. Four or five guys from the
neighborhood, all in their teens or twenties, arrived. They
were all relatives-a son and some nephews-of one "Robert
K." Randolph and the other witnesses all agreed that it
was "fair to describe" Robert K. as a
"dangerous man" "off the west side," who
was "involved in not so legal activities," and who
was no friend to either defendant or Stubblefield. But the
witnesses were reluctant to say more than that. Randolph, in
particular, denied knowing whether that retail strip was
Robert K.'s drug turf.
12 Robert K.'s relatives unleashed a "straight
whooping" on defendant. They fought with him and
"jumped up and down on" him for several minutes,
while defendant struggled in vain to defend himself. They did
not attack Stubblefield, who "was sitting off to the
side" and did not try to help defendant during the
13 After the beating, defendant, Stubblefield, and Randolph
all left the retail strip. Robert K.'s relatives stayed
there. Defendant walked back to his apartment building on
Pine Street, a block east of Central Avenue. Stubblefield
followed, walking right behind him. Randolph, who lived
across the street from defendant, headed back the same way.
But he kept his distance, on the opposite side of the street,
because he wasn't sure if the fighting would continue-and
because "there is known to be shooting around
there," particularly in the aftermath of a fight.
14 On the walk back, defendant was visibly mad at
Stubblefield, and the two got into a "heated
argument." On direct examination, Randolph testified
that he couldn't hear what they were arguing about. On
cross-examination, Randolph acknowledged that he had told the
grand jury otherwise: Defendant and Stubblefield met up or
"reconvene[d]" after the beating and had a
"heated argument or verbal confrontation *** concerning
why [Stubblefield] didn't help [defendant]." (After
tiptoeing into some further areas of Randolph's
grand-jury testimony, including the apparent motive for the
beating, defense counsel withdrew those questions, and the
trial court instructed the jury to disregard them. But as we
read the record, the question about the argument between
Stubblefield and defendant stood.)
15 Defendant and Stubblefield went inside defendant's
apartment building, through one of the front entrances on
Pine Street. (Randolph did not say which one.) Randolph saw
them from the gangway of his building, directly across the
street, where he was smoking a cigarette. Other people were
out and about, "like a woman walking her dog," but
there was "no group of people" or "nothing
like that" on the block, and nobody else in the
immediate vicinity of defendant's apartment building.
16 Before Randolph finished his cigarette, he heard
gunshots-seven or eight, he estimated. He did not know
exactly where they came from, but it was somewhere "in
close proximity," and it sounded like they came
"from over there in the direction of the 320
building." Randolph did not see defendant or
Stubblefield leave the building, either before or after the
gunshots. And he never saw Stubblefield alive again.
17 Randolph testified that he was familiar with the vacant
apartment. He described it as "a little hangout
joint." Defendant, who had access to the vacant
apartment, would typically let Randolph in.
19 Like Randolph, Hillard lived on the same block as
defendant. And she frequently hung out with defendant and
Stubblefield in the vacant apartment.
20 Hillard testified that on the day of the murder, she was
on the corner of Pine and Lake Streets. She saw defendant
come around the corner, onto Pine Street, with someone she
knew as "JR." Defendant's clothes were ripped.
He told Hillard that some people "just jumped on
him," and that "[h]e was going to kill
[Stubblefield] and the people around the corner because they
didn't help him fight."
21 JR got into his car and drove away. Defendant went inside
the vacant apartment. Hillard saw Stubblefield walking by and
tried to buy some cannabis from him. She also told him that
he should not go into the vacant apartment because defendant
was there and wanted to kill him. But defendant went in,
anyway. As Hillard walked across the street, she heard five
or six gunshots coming from the first floor of that building,
and took off running.
22 Hillard spoke to Detective Mancuso the day after
Stubblefield's body was found. On cross-examination,
defense counsel confronted her with her statements from that
interview. Initially, she acknowledged that she did not
mention defendant. Rather, she told Mancuso that she saw
Stubblefield walk into the building on Pine Street, that she
heard gunshots a few minutes later, and that she was not sure
if anyone went into that building before him.
23 Hillard then testified, however, that she told Mancuso
that she saw defendant walking back to Pine Street shortly
before the shooting, that he looked beaten up and angry, and
that he said he wanted to kill Stubblefield. The parties
stipulated that Mancuso's police report, in which he
documented their conversation, did not include any such
statements by Hillard.
24 Hillard testified that she was a heavy cannabis user
around the time of Stubblefield's murder. She estimated
that she smoked an ounce of cannabis daily, or at any rate,
"[e]nough to not remember nothing." She also drank
a pint or so of tequila at least a couple times per week.
25 But Hillard had stopped smoking cannabis by the time she
spoke to Mancuso again, over three months later, in March
2012. And having had time to "think about" what
happened, she had more information. In particular, defendant
told her that he wanted to kill Stubblefield. The parties
stipulated that Mancuso's police report does not include
any such statement by Hillard.
27 Thompson was a longtime friend of both defendant and
Stubblefield. He would typically speak to defendant on the
phone daily. The day after Stubblefield was shot, defendant
called Thompson on his cell phone about 10 times. Defendant
said it was important, that they needed to talk. Thompson
drove to defendant's apartment and picked him up.
28 Defendant looked like he had been in a fight; his face was
swollen and scratched, and one of his eyes was half shut.
Defendant said that Robert K.'s son and nephews attacked
him-and possibly attacked Stubblefield, too, although
Thompson's testimony was not always clear on this point.
(For instance: "[Defendant] didn't per se
say that [Stubblefield] didn't get jumped or he
didn't say that he did neither.") In any event,
defendant said that he thought Stubblefield "had
something to do with it," because, whether he was
attacked or not, "he ran off and left."
29 That didn't sound right to Thompson, who knew that
defendant and Stubblefield were close friends. Thompson asked
defendant where Stubblefield was. Defendant said he
didn't know, but he had been trying to reach Stubblefield
on the phone since the night before.
30 With defendant in the car, Thompson drove to the dry
cleaners to pick up his clothes and then dropped them off at
home. He was inside for a minute or two. As he walked back to
his car, which was double-parked in the alley, he saw
defendant walk over to a garbage can, "[b]y the pole of
the alley," and throw away a pair of black jeans and a
white shirt. Thompson didn't see defendant with those
clothes, or with a bag, when he first picked defendant up.
But he didn't make anything of defendant's behavior
at the time.
31 Two days later, Thompson learned that Stubblefield's
body was found in the vacant apartment. He drove over and met
up with Arbrett, Latoya, and Lamont. While talking to them,
Thompson got a call from defendant, who said to him, "I
am telling the police I was with you." Thompson said,
"Nope," and hung up on defendant. Thompson did not
tell the officers at the scene what defendant said on the
phone, or that defendant had thrown away some clothes in the
garbage behind his house.
32 Thompson eventually spoke to the police, after they went
to his house "like 30 times." On November 18, 2011,
Detective Gilger searched the alley and garbage cans but did
not find the clothes that defendant allegedly discarded there
15 days earlier.
34 The six fired bullets recovered from the vacant apartment
and Stubblefi eld's body were all fired from the same
gun. So were the eight cartridge casings recovered from the
apartment. The blood swab taken from the floor of the vacant
apartment matched Stubblefi eld. The medical examiner, Dr.
Goldschmidt, testified that Stubblefield died from multiple
gunshot wounds, and that he was shot a total of 10 times-in
the chest, back, pelvis, legs, hand, and groin.
35 The jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder. It
also found that he proximately caused Stubblefield's
death by personally discharging a firearm. The trial court
sentenced him to 47 years in prison. This appeal followed.
38 Defendant first claims the State failed to prove his guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no physical evidence
linking defendant to the murder. Defendant did not make any
inculpatory statements to the police. And there were no
eyewitnesses to the shooting. The State's case was
circumstantial, resting principally on the testimony of three
occurrence witnesses- Randolph, Hillard, and Thompson. And
not one of these witnesses, he argues, was credible.
39 In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we ask
whether a rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in the
light most favorable to the State, could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt. Jackson v. Virginia,443 U.S. 307, 319
(1979); People v. Ross,229 Ill.2d 255, 272 (2008).
With regard to the credibility of the witnesses and the
reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence, the
trier of fact's findings are entitled to great deference,
but they are not conclusive. Ross, 229 Ill.2d at
272. Circumstantial evidence alone, if found