People v. Munson, 76197

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtFREEMAN
Citation662 N.E.2d 1265,171 Ill.2d 158,215 Ill.Dec. 125
Parties, 215 Ill.Dec. 125 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. James MUNSON, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 76197,76197
Decision Date25 January 1996

Page 1265

662 N.E.2d 1265
171 Ill.2d 158, 215 Ill.Dec. 125
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
James MUNSON, Appellant.
No. 76197.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Jan. 25, 1996.
Rehearing Denied April 1, 1996.

Page 1268

[171 Ill.2d 166] [215 Ill.Dec. 128] Charles M. Schiedel, Deputy Defender, Timothy M. Gabrielsen, Asst. Defender, of Office of the State Appellate Defender, Springfield, for James Munson.

[171 Ill.2d 167] Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Springfield, Jack O'Malley, State's Attorney, Chicago (Arleen C. Anderson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Chicago, Renee G. Goldfarb, Sally L. Dilgart and Judy L. DeAngelis, Asst. State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Justice FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, James Munson, was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, armed robbery and arson of property of Marvin Cheeks. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a), 10-2(a)(5), 18-2(a), 20-1(a).) Following a bifurcated sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced defendant to death on the first degree murder conviction. Defendant was additionally sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 30 years for

Page 1269

[215 Ill.Dec. 129] armed robbery, 15 years for aggravated kidnapping, and 5 years for arson.

Post-trial motions for a new trial and for a new sentencing hearing were denied. Defendant's appeal lies directly to this court. (See Ill. Const.1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill.2d Rules 603, 609(a).) After careful consideration, we now affirm defendant's convictions and sentences.


The following evidence was adduced at trial. Paramedic Kerry Pakucko testified that on the morning of October 5, 1991, at about 4 a.m., she and her partner, John Florone, were returning to the firehouse when they noticed smoke northwest of their location. As they headed toward the smoke, they came upon a car totally engulfed in fire. The area was very isolated, lonely and desolate. Because the streets in the area had no signage, it was difficult for the paramedics to identify their location. While attempting to do so, they noticed the body of a man lying face down in some water under a viaduct.

[171 Ill.2d 168] There was a bullet hole in the man's back and coagulated blood by his mouth. The paramedics determined that the man was dead. Pakucko eventually hailed a passing police squad car while Florone called to have a fire engine dispatched to the scene.

Police Officer Wade Spencer testified that he was "flagged down" by paramedics on Kostner Avenue near Van Buren Street. After speaking with the paramedics, Spencer and his partner, Larry Stubbs, proceeded west on Van Buren where they discovered a body lying in the street. There was a bullet hole in the victim's lower back area and one in his head. The officers found no identification on the victim.

Further down the street, about 200 feet to the west of the body on the other side of the viaduct, the officers observed a vehicle engulfed in flames. The license plate on the vehicle was burned. The communication operations section of the police department later identified the vehicle as being registered to Marvin Cheeks.

Detective Clifford Pilgrim, a certified fire investigator, testified that he investigated the origin of the fire which burned Cheeks' vehicle. Based upon his investigation, the fire had been started with an accelerant. Pilgrim concluded that the cause of the fire was arson.

Officer Lawrence Krause, a crime scene technician, testified that he recovered a copper bullet jacket from the floor of the interior of the burned vehicle on the passenger's side. Outside, in the area around the vehicle, Krause found a small "Bic" cigarette lighter and a burned plastic beverage bottle with a partially burned rag wick inserted in its neck.

Kenny Curry testified as follows. On October 6, 1991, the day after the murder, he was working on his car at the home of his friend, Kenny Burks. Defendant came over to Burks' home and began conversing with Burks. Burks went into the house to clean up, leaving defendant and Curry alone outside.

[171 Ill.2d 169] Curry noticed that defendant's face had burn marks and was covered with grease. Defendant told Curry that his "thing [was] taking [people] out of their cars." Defendant elaborated, telling Curry that on the prior evening he set fire to an Amigo truck because "the guy tried [him.]" He shot the man once and then shot him a second time after the man "broke and ran" away from him. Defendant then purchased some gasoline and returned to the area to burn the victim's truck. In the process of burning the truck, defendant's face was burned.

Curry further testified that he later learned that defendant's victim was Marvin Cheeks, the brother of Maurice Cheeks, a professional basketball player. Although Curry did not know Marvin Cheeks, he and a friend attended the funeral in anticipation of Maurice Cheeks' presence there. Curry did not, however, report to the police what defendant had told him about the killing.

Detectives Mike Miller and James Hanrahan were assigned to investigate the Cheeks murder. Hanrahan testified that on October 8, 1991, he received a telephone call from a member of the Cheeks family. He and Miller subsequently met with the Cheeks family member, Kenneth Burks and Ricky Vivurette.

Page 1270

[215 Ill.Dec. 130] After speaking with those individuals, Hanrahan and Miller made arrangements to conduct a mobile surveillance of Burks' car.

Miller and Hanrahan followed Burks, with whom Vivurette was riding, for a period of time. Burks eventually parked on West Monroe Street. A person, later identified as defendant, approached Burks' car and began to talk to Burks. After a brief conversation, defendant turned and ran into the building at 2020 West Monroe Street and Burks drove off.

Hanrahan and Miller stopped Burks, at which time Burks explained that defendant had seen the detectives [171 Ill.2d 170] parked nearby and believed them to be vice detectives. Defendant told Burks to drive away and to come back.

The surveillance continued. Burks drove off, returned to 2020 West Monroe Street and parked. The detectives observed as defendant ran out of the 2020 West Monroe Street building and entered the rear of Burks' car. Burks then drove off with both defendant and Vivurette.

The detectives followed, eventually stopping Burks' car at North Leavitt Street. Hanrahan first ordered Burks and Vivurette out of the car and then defendant. While Hanrahan searched defendant, Miller searched the back seat of the car, where he found a weapon. At that time, Hanrahan handcuffed defendant and advised him of his Miranda warnings. Miller drove the vehicle to a police garage and Hanrahan transported defendant to Area 4 Violent Crimes.

Once at the Area 4 station, Hanrahan placed defendant in an interrogation room. In the interim, he interviewed Burks, Vivurette and Curry. At about 2 a.m., Hanrahan and Miller entered the interrogation room to speak with defendant. Miller advised defendant of his rights and informed him that he had been picked up as part of their investigation of the death of Marvin Cheeks.

Defendant denied knowing Marvin Cheeks and denied any knowledge of the crimes committed against Cheeks. Defendant claimed that his face was burned when someone, attempting to rob him, pointed an aerosol can at his face and ignited it. Defendant continued in his denial until the detectives brought Burks into the interrogation room. After Burks detailed what he knew and had already told police about the crimes, defendant agreed to tell the detectives what had happened.

According to Hanrahan, defendant told the interrogating detectives the following. On the evening of [171 Ill.2d 171] October 4, 1991, defendant was in the area of Kolmar and Van Buren Streets in Chicago. He saw a prostitute leaving Cheeks' parked car. Defendant approached the car with his gun drawn. Cheeks was asleep inside. Defendant got into the back seat of the vehicle and took $50 from Cheeks' back pocket. Cheeks told defendant that he was a fireman and a graduate of Malcolm X College.

Defendant ordered Cheeks to drive west on Van Buren Street. After traveling about 10 feet, defendant ordered Cheeks to stop the car. Cheeks then attempted to grab the gun from defendant. The gun discharged, shooting Cheeks.

Hanrahan further testified that he asked defendant whether defendant wanted Hanrahan to believe that the shooting was an accident. Defendant allegedly replied, "If you think this is an accident, how do I explain shooting him the second time and torching his car[?]"

Defendant repeated essentially the same version of these facts to Assistant State's Attorney Peter Fisher. He added that the revolver which police officers had seized from the back seat of Burks' car was the gun defendant had used to shoot Cheeks.

Detective Gene Harris and Assistant State's Attorney Charles Burnes also testified concerning statements made to them by defendant. Defendant stated to them that his prior statement concerning a prostitute had not been true. According to Harris, defendant told them that he and a friend had staked out some public telephones at 47th and Woodlawn Streets waiting for someone to rob. A black jeep-like vehicle pulled up to the telephones. A black man got out and used the telephone. Defendant told his friend that the black man was whom they

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[215 Ill.Dec. 131] were going to rob. At the time, defendant was armed with a Colt Python .357 Magnum.

[171 Ill.2d 172] Defendant and his friend approached the vehicle. The man appeared to have fallen asleep. Defendant "put the gun on the man" and told him to move over to the passenger's side of the vehicle. Defendant got in the driver's side while his friend entered the back seat. They took the man's coat, gold chain, watch and cash.

Eventually, defendant, his friend, and Cheeks switched seats. Cheeks ended up...

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