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People v. Sardin

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

September 30, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
AHBIR SARDIN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CR 9255 The Honorable Thomas V. Gainer, Jr., Judge, presiding.

          GORDON, PRESIDING JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GORDON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 After a jury trial, defendant Ahbir Sardin, 17 years old, was convicted of the first degree murder of Venzel Richardson, 14 years old, during a drive-by shooting and sentenced to 40 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

         ¶ 2 Defendant claims: (1) that the trial court erred by overruling defense objections to the State's introduction of the names and nicknames of two local rappers, Clint Massey, also known as Rondonumbanine, and Courtney Ealy, also known as C-Dai, who were with defendant the day before the shooting and who had been convicted of another murder two months prior to defendant's trial; and (2) that the State elicited testimony that a police detective spoke with the mother of an eyewitness, returned to the police station and generated a photo array with defendant, thereby creating the inference of an inadmissible out-of-court identification by the mother.

         ¶ 3 The State responds, among other things, (1) that the two rappers were relevant to the course of the police investigation of this offense because, the day before, they and defendant were stopped by the police in a van that witnesses identified as the same type of vehicle used in this drive-by shooting; and (2) that the detective did not testify to an identification by the mother and he subsequently explained how defendant, in fact, became a suspect.

         ¶ 4 For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 5 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 6 I. Pretrial Proceedings

         ¶ 7 On May 28, 2014, defendant was indicted for the murder of Venzel Richardson, during a drive-by shooting on February 12, 2014.

         ¶ 8 On September 8, 2016, defendant filed several motions, including a motion in limine to bar the State from mentioning a rapper known as Chief Keef. Defendant argued that the State intended to present identification testimony that Darrell Johnson, an event witness, had recognized defendant from a rap music video by Chief Keef. Defendant argued that the fact that it was a Chief Keef video was irrelevant for identification purposes and that mentioning Chief Keef would unfairly prejudice defendant at a jury trial. Defendant argued that "Chief Keef had recently been repeatedly affiliated and even blamed for gang violence in Chicago in both local and national press." In support, defendant's motion cited numerous newspaper articles, including articles from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

         ¶ 9 On September 8, 2016, defendant also moved in limine to bar certain firearms evidence. Defendant argued that the eight cartridge cases recovered from the scene of this shooting were sent to the Illinois State Police for comparison to other cartridge cases found on the scene of other shootings; and that four of the cartridges in this case were found to have been fired from the same firearm that had fired cartridge cases in three other shootings. Defendant argued that, since defendant had not been charged in those other cases, this firearms evidence was not relevant and was highly prejudicial.

         ¶ 10 On September 8, 2016, defendant also moved in limine to bar: (1) gang membership evidence and (2) other crimes evidence, namely, identification testimony by event witnesses Darrell Johnson and Keyshone Bowie that they had recognized defendant from a time when the three of them were all locked up in the same Chicago police station on a prior date.

         ¶ 11 On September 12, 2016, the State indicated that it had no objection to defendant's motion barring gang evidence, and the trial court granted it. With respect to the other crimes evidence, the trial court ruled that the State had the right to establish that the witnesses had observed defendant on other occasions but the State was not "allowed to use the fact that they saw him in a police station."

         ¶ 12 On September 13, 2016, the State indicated that it had no objection to defendant's motion barring certain firearms evidence, and the trial court granted that motion. With respect to the motion concerning Chief Keef, the trial court ruled that the State could elicit that the witnesses recognized defendant from a music video "but without the words, 'Chief Keef " The trial court explained: "As far as [Chief Keef s] connection to gang violence *** I know about it, and I just know about it because I read the papers every day, so I fear that allowing this to come in with the mention of Chief Keef could be prejudicial."

         ¶ 13 II. Trial

         ¶ 14 The jury trial began on September 13, 2016, and the State's first witness was Laveta Richardson, the victim's mother, who identified a photograph of her son.

         ¶ 15 A. Darrell Johnson

         ¶ 16 1. Direct Examination

         ¶ 17 The State's second witness, Darrell Johnson, age 16 at trial, identified defendant in court as someone whom he knew from social media and music videos as D-Rose. On February 12, 2014, at 8 p.m. Johnson was with: (1) his brother, Keyshone Bowie;[1] (2) the victim, Venzel Richardson, who was a friend from grammar school; (3) Jarron George, who was a friend of his brother's; and (4) Joseph Belchor, also known as White Mike, who was also a friend from grammar school. Belchor has since died in an automobile crash. The group had just come from a convenience store at 61st Street and King Drive in Chicago, and they were walking down Vernon Avenue, between 61st and 62nd Streets, toward the victim's house. Johnson and the victim were walking in the street, while the others walked on the sidewalk. As the group reached the middle of the block, Johnson observed a white van turn into the block. Johnson identified a photo of a white van as looking like the white van that he had observed that night. The photo was admitted into evidence without objection.

         ¶ 18 Johnson testified that, after the van slowed down, the door behind the driver's side slid back, and shots were fired from the van. Johnson was approximately 10 feet from the door when it slid open. Johnson did not look toward the open door and, thus, did not observe anyone inside the van. Instead he just ran. Both he and his friends ran toward 61st Street. After one gunshot, his ears started ringing and he held his ears as he ran. Johnson observed the victim laying in a gangway, on his stomach, face down in the snow, with blood on him. When Johnson's brother, Bowie, turned the victim over, Johnson could not look and walked away. Johnson remained at Vernon Avenue and 61st Street until the police and paramedics arrived, but he did not speak to the police then, choosing instead to return home. Later that night, police officers came to his home to speak to him and he told them what had happened. At that time, he did not state that D-Rose had shot the victim.

         ¶ 19 Johnson testified that, on February 15, 2014, police detectives came to his home again, so he could view a couple of photo arrays. Johnson was only 13 years old at the time, so his mother was present. Both he and his mother signed an advisory form explaining that he did not need to select anyone from the photo arrays. In court, Johnson identified: (1) his and his mother's signatures on the form; (2) the photo arrays as the ones he had viewed; and (3) one of the photos in the first array as a photo of D-Rose. However, at trial, Johnson denied making an identification of the shooter from the first photo array. With respect to the second array, Johnson denied recognizing anyone depicted in it and testified that none of the individuals depicted were in the white van on February 12, 2014.

         ¶ 20 On appeal, defendant claims that it was error for the trial court to allow the introduction of the names and nicknames of two local rappers, whose names were first introduced during Johnson's testimony. Since this is an issue on appeal, we provide, below, as much detail as we have from the transcript about these objections.

         ¶ 21 Johnson was asked if he knew Clint Massey, and defense counsel objected, whereupon the court held a sidebar which was not transcribed and not part of the record. Afterwards the trial court overruled the objection, and Johnson denied knowing anyone named Clint Massey. When the State asked if Johnson knew anyone by the nickname Rondonumbanine, defense counsel stated: "Objection. Same reason." After the court overruled the objection, Johnson testified that he had heard the name from the internet and rap music. When Johnson was asked if he knew a person named Courtney Ealy, defense counsel stated: "Objection. Same basis." The trial court again overruled the objection, and Johnson replied no. However, Johnson did know the nickmame C-Dai. When he was asked how he knew that nickname, defense counsel stated: "Objection for the same reasons on the previous two questions." The trial court again overruled it, and Johnson explained that he knew that nickname from the "[i]nternet and songs."

         ¶ 22 Johnson testified that, on March 9, 2014, police detectives returned to his home to talk to him and his mother about the victim's murder, but he denied telling them who the shooter was. Johnson testified that he viewed another photo array; and he identified in court the array that he had viewed and another advisory form that he had signed. Johnson acknowledged that this was the same array that he had viewed and that D-Rose's photo had a circle around it and Johnson's initials on it, but Johnson denied placing the circle or his initials on it.

         ¶ 23 Johnson testified that, on March 26, 2014, he and his mother went to a police station, signed another advisory form and viewed a lineup. At trial, Johnson identified a photo of the lineup and acknowledged that D-Rose was in the photo, but he denied making an identification on March 26, 2014.

         ¶ 24 Johnson testified that he had previously viewed a surveillance video that truly and accurately depicted Vernon Avenue on February 12, 2014. The video was admitted into evidence without objection. As the video was played for the jury, [2] Johnson testified that clip 2 depicted his brother Bowie, falling to the ground, and also Jarron George; that clip 3 depicted George running, immediately after the victim was shot, and Johnson walking; that clip 5 depicted Johnson and Bowie, as well as Belchor with a cell phone in his hand and George putting his hands over his face. Clip 5 also showed the arrival of a police officer and a person named Tyrece. Johnson testified that the video clips truly and accurately depicted what transpired on February 12, 2014.

         ¶ 25 Johnson testified that, on March 28, 2014, he and his mother went to a police station to meet with assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Lamas, and that Johnson told the ASA everything he remembered about the night of the murder. Johnson denied that the ASA asked for their consent to videotape a statement and denied that he agreed to do so. However, he admitted that they went into an interview room in order to have his statement videotaped. After entering the interview room, he had a conversation with the ASA and Detective Sipchen[3]and he was aware at that time that he was being videotaped.

         ¶ 26 Johnson testified that on February 12, 2014, when the victim was shot, the streetlights were on, but he could "not really" see at that time. At trial, he denied stating during the videotaped interview that: " 'It was light enough to see your faces right up. It was lighting up. The streetlights was light enough to brighten up the street.' "

         ¶ 27 At trial, Johnson admitted stating during the videotaped interview that, when the van approached, the door slid back, but denied having stated: that he was close to the van; that he could observe both someone in the driver's seat and another person in the van; that he knew the driver as J.B. and the other person as D-Rose; that D-Rose held a gun in his right hand that was silver on top with a black handle; that D-Rose pointed the gun at the victim who was in front of Johnson; that, at the moment D-Rose fired the first shot, Johnson was five feet from D-Rose; that the victim ran toward a gangway by 62nd Street but he was shot before he could reach it; that the victim was running when Johnson last observed him; that after Johnson ran, he looked back and observed the van driving off and turning right on to 63rd Street toward King Drive; that Johnson then walked back towards the victim; and that Johnson's brother flipped the victim over; and that Johnson walked away.

         ¶ 28 At trial, Johnson denied telling police during the videotaped interview that he provided the following reason for not selecting the shooter on February 15, 2014: " 'Because I was concerned if I point him out (inaudible) he was going to find out that I pointed him out or something.' "

         ¶ 29 Johnson identified a photo as a photo of D-Rose and identified his own signature on the photo, but denied that he signed it during the videotaped interview. Johnson denied stating during the videotaped interview: that he observed this person shoot the victim, and that he was sure " '[b]ecause [he had] seen him enough times to know his face.' " Johnson denied recognizing a six-photo array and denied recognizing his signature on it.

         ¶ 30 Johnson testified that he did not recall the police speaking to him at his home on March 9, 2014, although he had acknowledged this interview during his direct examination earlier in the day, before the lunch break. However, he now denied having testified previously on direct examination that he recalled the detectives coming to his home on March 9, 2014. He also denied answering questions about the March 9, 2014, interview during the videotaped statement, particularly that he had selected D-Rose's photo from an array on March 9, 2014, as the person who had shot the victim.

         ¶ 31 At trial, Johnson denied having stated during the videotaped interview that he had selected D-Rose from a physical lineup held on March 26, 2014, as the person who shot the victim. Johnson testified that he did not recall: coming to the courthouse on May 8, 2014, meeting with ASA Bob Mack, and testifying in front of the grand jury. Johnson identified a photo of D-Rose but denied that it was his signature on the photo or that he was shown it on May 8, 2014. He also denied having viewed an array on May 8, 2014, and denied that was his signature on the array. Johnson denied ever having been before the grand jury. Johnson was handed a transcript and given time to read it, and then denied that it was a transcript of his testimony in front of the grand jury.

         ¶ 32 The prosecutor then read through most of the questions and answers before the grand jury, and Johnson denied having provided those answers. Before the grand jury, Johnson had testified about the approach of "a white Caravan" van and the shooting of the victim by D-Rose from the van, repeating substantially the same information that had been provided during the videotaped interview.

         ¶ 33 2. Cross-Examination

         ¶ 34 On cross-examination, Johnson testified that on February 12, 2014, the night of the shooting, he met with police detectives and told them everything he knew. His mother was present during that interview but she was not present during the videotaped statement and he could not recall whether she was with him during the grand jury proceeding. Johnson testified that his birthday was May 8, but he could not recall whether he testified before the grand jury on his birthday. Johnson testified that, after he viewed photos of a white van at his mother's house, there was nothing distinctive about the vehicle that made him believe that it was the same vehicle used in the shooting.

         ¶ 35 B. Jarron George

         ¶ 36 Jarron George testified that he was presently 18 years old and a high school senior. On February 12, 2014, he was 15 years old and a sophomore. At 8 p.m., on February 12, he was with a group of friends from the neighborhood: the victim; Keyshone Bowie; Darrell Johnson; and Joseph Belchor. They were coming from a store at 61st Street and King Drive, and walking down Vernon Avenue, from 61st Street toward 62nd Street. That block on Vernon Avenue is residential, with street lights. Johnson and the victim were walking in the street, while the other three were walking on the sidewalk. A white minivan drove up, heading down the street in the same direction that the group was walking. The van stopped in the middle of the street, right next to Johnson and the victim. The door behind the driver's door slid open. The driver's side was the side of the van closer to George. When George first heard shots coming from the van, he observed the bottom of a dark-red pants leg and a hand holding the gun extending out of the vehicle. The sleeve of the shirt was white. The door did not open "that far." After hearing shots, George and Bowie turned around and ran back toward 61st Street. Johnson ran in the same direction that George and Bowie ran, but on the other side of the street. When George reached the corner of 61st Street, he looked over his shoulder and observed the victim running in the opposite direction, toward a gangway. The victim's right arm was twisted, and he was falling. After the shots stopped, George, Bowie and Johnson ran to where the victim was, in the gangway, lying face-down in the snow. Bowie flipped the victim over, and George observed a hole in the right side of his head. No one in the group had a phone, so they yelled for help and the police later arrived. At some point, Belchor returned to the scene. After the police gave them permission to leave, George walked to his grandmother's house, where he was staying at the time. That evening, a police sergeant came to his grandmother's house, but George did not provide him with a description of the shooter. On February 15, 2014, George spoke with a police officer at Johnson and Bowie's house, where George provided a description of the shooter's clothing, namely, a red pants leg and a white sleeve. Neither George's mother nor grandmother were present. The police showed George a photo of a white van which George identified as the same type of van as the shooter's van. On March 26, 2014, George went to a police station with his mother and cousin to view a physical lineup. Prior to viewing it, George signed an advisory form and the police explained that he did not have to select anyone. George identified both the advisory form and a photo of the lineup that he had viewed.

         ¶ 37 At trial, George denied picking anyone out of the lineup on March 26, 2014. After viewing the lineup, he viewed a video taken the night of the shooting and he identified himself running in the video. George acknowledged that one could not observe the van in the video. After viewing both the lineup and the video, George, with his mother present, spoke with an ASA and told him about the shooting, but George denied informing the ASA that defendant shot the victim. After the interview, George agreed to have his statement recorded. However, it was late by that point, so he went home. The next time he spoke to someone about the shooting was in May 2014, when he came with his mother to the courthouse and appeared in front of the grand jury. Before he went into the grand jury room, he spoke with an ASA with his mother present. Before testifying, he swore to tell the truth; and since testifying, he had an opportunity to review the transcript.

         ¶ 38 At trial, George denied having identified anyone before the grand jury. George acknowledged that the ASA asked him questions about the lineup during the grand jury proceeding. But George denied being asked the following questions and giving the following answers:

"Q. Did you identify somebody in that lineup?
A. No, I didn't say it was. I didn't point that person out as the direct shooter.
Q. You did point someone out though?
A. Yes. I said it was a possibility.
Q. After that lineup?
A. But I said I wasn't sure."

         ¶ 39 On cross, George testified that, on the night of the shooting, events happened very fast, it was dark and he ran. Later that night, he could not provide a description of the shooter's face to the police; and he did not identify defendant as the shooter before the grand jury.

         ¶ 40 C. Keyshone Bowie

         ¶ 41 Keyshone Bowie testified that he was 19 years old, that the last grade of school he completed was his sophomore year of high school, and that Darrell Johnson was his younger brother. On February 12, 2014, at 8 p.m., Bowie was walking from a store on 61st Street with: (1) his brother, Darrell Johnson; (2) the victim, who was a friend from school; (3) Jarron George; and (4) Joseph Belchor, also known as White Mike, who Bowie knew from the "[neighborhood." The group was walking southbound on Vernon Avenue, from 61st Street toward 62nd Street. Bowie did not recall whether there were street lights.

         ¶ 42 Bowie testified that his brother noticed a white van and they "thought it was the police, so [they] ran." The van was heading southbound, in the same direction that they had been walking. As Bowie ran, he heard gunshots. After hearing gunshots, Bowie ran to a gangway and the victim ran to a different gangway. Bowie observed the white van but he could not discern whether it had tinted windows. When shown a photo of a white van, he testified that it did not look similar to the white van that he had observed on the night of the shooting, because "[t]he van had things on top of the front of it." Bowie sat in the gangway until the shooting stopped, and then went to where the victim was located. The victim was face-down in the snow, and Bowie turned him over onto his back. When Bowie turned him over, Bowie observed that the victim was shot multiple times and had already passed away. Bowie waited until the police arrived but, when they arrived, he told them that he "wasn't there." He said this because he did not "want to deal with none of this." After speaking with the police on February 12, 2014, Bowie left the state and returned to Chicago only when the police "put a warrant" on him. When he returned to Chicago, he went to his mother's house, but he did not recall detectives visiting him at his mother's house on April 13, 2014. Bowie did recall viewing a photo array. Before viewing the array, he and his mother signed an advisory form and, in court, he identified their respective signatures on the advisory form dated April 13, 2014. Bowie also identified in court the array that he had previously viewed.

         ¶ 43 Bowie testified that he identified the photo circled on the array and that he had placed his initials there. Bowie testified that the photo was a photo of D- Rose, and Bowie then identified defendant in court as D-Rose. Concerning the shooter, Bowie unequivocally testified:

"Q. Was D-Rose the individual that shot your friend?
A. Yes."

         Bowie knew D-Rose from observing him on social media but denied ...


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