People v. Szabo, No. 52626

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtCLARK; SIMON; RYAN; WARD; RYAN, C.J., and UNDERWOOD
Parties, 68 Ill.Dec. 935 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. John L. SZABO, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 52626
Decision Date24 January 1983

Page 193

447 N.E.2d 193
94 Ill.2d 327, 68 Ill.Dec. 935
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee,
v.
John L. SZABO, Appellant.
No. 52626.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Jan. 24, 1983.
Rehearing Denied April 8, 1983.

[94 Ill.2d 334]

Page 196

[68 Ill.Dec. 938] Robert J. Agostinelli, Deputy State Appellate Defender and Verlin R.F. Meinz, Asst. State Appellate Defender, Ottawa, and Charles M. Schiedel, Asst. Appellate Defender, Springfield, all of the Office of the State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Tyrone C. Fahner, Atty. Gen., Chicago (Herbert L. Caplan, Melbourne A. Noel, Jr., and Michael B. Weinstein, Asst. Attys. Gen., and Scott Nelson, Chicago, of counsel), for the People.

CLARK, Justice:

The defendant, John Szabo, was indicted by a Will County grand jury for two counts of intentional murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)), and two counts of felony murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(3)), as well as one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery (Ill.Rev.Stat.1979, ch. 38, pars. 8-2(a), 18-2(a)). Following a bench trial on July 16-24, 1979, in the circuit court of Will County, he was found guilty on all counts. The State then requested a hearing to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed (Ill.Rev.Stat.1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(d)). The defendant chose to have a jury impaneled for the sentencing hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing the defendant was sentenced to death for the murders. The court also imposed a three-year sentence of imprisonment for conspiracy. Szabo appeals both the convictions and sentence directly to this court pursuant to article VI, section 4(b), of the 1970 Illinois Constitution and Rule 603 (73 Ill.2d R. 603). The sentences were stayed pending appeal.

In the early morning hours of January 27, 1979, the [94 Ill.2d 335] bodies of John Rajca, age 19, and his brother Christopher (Chris) Rajca, age 17, were discovered on a farm road near Naperville, close to the entrance to the Avery Gravel Pit. The cause of John Rajca's death was determined to be a bullet wound to the chest; Chris Rajca had died of multiple stab wounds. A 1974 Vega station wagon, identified as the Rajca family car, was parked near the entrance to the gravel pit. There was a bullet hole through the left front seat of the Vega, and there were powder burns on the right front seat. Will County investigators searched the scene and recovered a spent projectile from a .38-caliber revolver from the ground near the Vega, and a black and red ski glove from inside the Vega. The Vega's keys were later found on the ground at some distance from the spot where the car had been parked.

The State's principal witness at trial was Robert Leatherman, Szabo's alleged accomplice in the crimes. Leatherman testified pursuant to an agreement with the State. According to the agreement, Leatherman, who was 16 when the offenses were committed, would admit to the two murders as a juvenile and would be committed to the Juvenile Division of the Department of Corrections until he reached 21. Since the only issue Szabo raises with regard to the validity of his conviction concerns his asserted inability to conduct effective cross-examination of Leatherman, due to the trial court's refusal to order discovery of certain pretrial statements made by Leatherman to an assistant State's Attorney, it will be necessary to recount Leatherman's testimony in some detail.

Page 197

[68 Ill.Dec. 939] TESTIMONY OF ROBERT LEATHERMAN

Leatherman, who was expelled from high school before completing his sophomore year, lived with his parents in Bolingbrook and worked intermittently as a laborer with a [94 Ill.2d 336] cleanup crew on construction sites. Leatherman admitted being a regular user of various illegal drugs for some time before he became acquainted with John Szabo. He also admitted dealing in drugs. During a three to four month period prior to January 1979, Leatherman sold LSD to John and Christopher Rajca, whom he knew from Bolingbrook high school, on some 12 separate occasions. On cross-examination, Leatherman admitted to being arrested, together with Szabo, for the armed robbery of one Jimmy Davis.

Leatherman testified that he first met Szabo in December 1978. Leatherman was introduced to Szabo by Nick Hartley, who shared an apartment in Lemont with Leatherman's brother. During January 1979, Leatherman spent a good deal of time with Szabo, frequently getting rides in Szabo's white Gremlin. He also got drugs from Szabo.

Approximately one week before the murders, Leatherman testified, he arranged a sale of PCP (phencyclidine) to John Rajca for Szabo. Leatherman accompanied Szabo to the Rajca's house where the sale was consummated. John Rajca at that time expressed an interest in buying marijuana, which Leatherman communicated to Szabo.

Leatherman further testified that some four to five days before the murders, he rode with Szabo to a house in Romeoville, where Szabo obtained a bluish-black revolver with a short barrel from a person named "Earl." Several days later, Leatherman overheard Szabo's end of a telephone conversation between Szabo and "Earl" during which Szabo mentioned ammunition. Later that same day Leatherman saw Szabo with two bullets, which he inserted into the revolver.

According to Leatherman, on January 26, 1979, at approximately 1 p.m., Leatherman, his girlfriend, and Szabo drove to Nick Hartley's apartment. They were followed by another car containing three blacks who were interested in buying marijuana. At Hartley's apartment, Leatherman [94 Ill.2d 337] heard Hartley and Szabo discuss selling drugs to the black men, who were waiting outside. In response to Hartley's expressed concern about dealing with blacks, Szabo pulled a gun from the front of his pants and waved it around, saying that he "could take care of them niggers."

Later in the afternoon of the 26th, Leatherman received a call from his girlfriend about a friend of hers who wanted to buy 10 pounds of marijuana. Leatherman testified that he discussed this potential deal with Szabo and had several telephone conversations with the would-be buyer, Tom Carlson. Szabo, identifying himself as "Lou," also spoke with Carlson from a pay phone at a Romeoville gas station to arrange the deal and give Carlson directions to a meeting place. According to Leatherman, Szabo said that he had not contacted the person from whom he could obtain the marijuana to sell, but told Leatherman that the two of them could hold up Carlson and take his money.

Szabo then took two bullets from the revolver he was carrying, took a pair of pliers from the Gremlin's glove compartment, and squeezed the tips of the bullets with them.

The transaction with Carlson was arranged for 4 p.m. at the Avery Gravel Pit. Leatherman testified that he and Szabo drove there and waited for a half-hour, but Carlson did not appear. Szabo and Leatherman then returned to Szabo's home in Romeoville, where Leatherman phoned Carlson. It appeared that Carlson had misunderstood Szabo's directions and had waited for him at another location. The meeting was rescheduled for 8:30 p.m. According to Leatherman, before leaving for this second meeting, Szabo brought a large kitchen knife from upstairs in his house. He covered the knife handle and the handle of the revolver with black electrical tape and gave the knife to Leatherman, who put it in his belt. As they were driving, Szabo

Page 198

[68 Ill.Dec. 940] told Leatherman that Leatherman should hold the knife, Szabo would hold the gun and they would get their money.

[94 Ill.2d 338] The parties made connections this time, but neither the deal nor the planned robbery went through. On arriving at Avery Gravel Pit at about 9 p.m., Leatherman realized that the person accompanying Tom Carlson was Pete Dixon, a friend of Leatherman's parents. Leatherman told Szabo that since he knew Dixon they could not go through with the plan. Szabo and Leatherman then told Carlson that the deal was off for that night, but that they might go through with it the following day.

On leaving the gravel pit after the meeting with Carlson and Dixon, Leatherman testified he and Szabo returned to Szabo's house, arriving about 9:30 p.m. Szabo asked Leatherman if he knew anyone else who wanted to buy marijuana. In response to Leatherman's suggestion that he would know these people also, Szabo said that they could do them in and thus avoid the problem. Leatherman then called Christopher Rajca.

After several phone calls, it was agreed that the Rajca brothers would buy three pounds of marijuana for $700. Szabo gave Christopher Rajca directions to the Avery Gravel Pit where they were to meet at 12:15 a.m.

Before setting out for their meeting with the Rajca brothers, Szabo and Leatherman drove to David Brainerd's house in Romeoville, where Szabo conversed with Brainerd for about 15 minutes. Szabo and Leatherman then returned to Szabo's house. Both used cocaine, this being the third or fourth time Leatherman had used drugs that day. Szabo took a coil of rope from the garage and put it under the passenger seat of the Gremlin.

According to Leatherman, he and Szabo left for the rendezvous with the Rajcas at about 11:45 p.m., Szabo carrying the revolver and Leatherman carrying the knife. Leatherman was wearing a brown suede jacket with a fur lining; Szabo was wearing a blue denim jacket with a fur lining. En route to the gravel pit, Szabo told Leatherman, "Just hold the knife. I'll hold the gun and I'll do them in. [94 Ill.2d 339] If anything goes wrong, I only got two bullets and then you stab them."

The two found the Rajcas waiting for them at the gravel pit. Leatherman testified that the four young men met outside their cars but then went to the Rajcas' car. Szabo sat in the back seat behind the driver, Chris; Leatherman sat behind John. After Szabo asked about the money, John Rajca showed them some loose bills and Chris Rajca showed his billfold. On the...

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147 practice notes
  • People v. Yates, No. 53482
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • October 25, 1983
    ...trial can properly be considered in a sentencing hearing. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(e).) As I said in People v. Szabo (1983), 94 Ill.2d 327, 369, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (Simon, J., concurring), fundamental fairness requires that the defendant receive every opportunity to......
  • California v. Ramos, No. 81-1893
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 6, 1983
    ...247 Ga. 814, 279 S.E.2d 650 (1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 984, 102 S.Ct. 2258, 72 L.Ed.2d 862 (1982); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 277, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (1983); Farmer v. Commonwealth, 450 S.W.2d 494 (Ky.1970); State v. Brown, 414 So.2d 689 (La.1982); Poole v. State, 295 Md. 1......
  • Del Vecchio v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections, Nos. 92-2553
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • July 19, 1994
    ...possibility of parole when arguing to the jury. People v. Walker, 91 Ill.2d 502, 64 Ill.Dec. 531, 440 N.E.2d 83 (1982); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 327, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (1983); People v. Brisbon, 106 Ill.2d 342, 88 Ill.Dec. 87, 478 N.E.2d 402 (1985); and, People v. Gacho, 122......
  • Calhoun v. State, Nos. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • November 21, 1983
    ...432, 661 P.2d 1105, 1133 (1983); State v. Osborn, 102 Idaho 405, 410-11, 422-23, 631 P.2d 187, 192-93, 204-05 (1981); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 327, 354-55, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 948, 447 N.E.2d 193, 206 (1983); State v. Martin, 243 Iowa 1323, 1326-28, 55 N.W.2d 258, 260-61 (1952); State v. Spe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
147 cases
  • People v. Yates, No. 53482
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • October 25, 1983
    ...trial can properly be considered in a sentencing hearing. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(e).) As I said in People v. Szabo (1983), 94 Ill.2d 327, 369, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (Simon, J., concurring), fundamental fairness requires that the defendant receive every opportunity to......
  • California v. Ramos, No. 81-1893
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 6, 1983
    ...247 Ga. 814, 279 S.E.2d 650 (1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 984, 102 S.Ct. 2258, 72 L.Ed.2d 862 (1982); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 277, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (1983); Farmer v. Commonwealth, 450 S.W.2d 494 (Ky.1970); State v. Brown, 414 So.2d 689 (La.1982); Poole v. State, 295 Md. 1......
  • Del Vecchio v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections, Nos. 92-2553
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • July 19, 1994
    ...possibility of parole when arguing to the jury. People v. Walker, 91 Ill.2d 502, 64 Ill.Dec. 531, 440 N.E.2d 83 (1982); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 327, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 447 N.E.2d 193 (1983); People v. Brisbon, 106 Ill.2d 342, 88 Ill.Dec. 87, 478 N.E.2d 402 (1985); and, People v. Gacho, 122......
  • Calhoun v. State, Nos. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • November 21, 1983
    ...432, 661 P.2d 1105, 1133 (1983); State v. Osborn, 102 Idaho 405, 410-11, 422-23, 631 P.2d 187, 192-93, 204-05 (1981); People v. Szabo, 94 Ill.2d 327, 354-55, 68 Ill.Dec. 935, 948, 447 N.E.2d 193, 206 (1983); State v. Martin, 243 Iowa 1323, 1326-28, 55 N.W.2d 258, 260-61 (1952); State v. Spe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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