People v. Wynekoop

Decision Date12 February 1935
Docket NumberNo. 22725.,22725.
Citation194 N.E. 276,359 Ill. 124
CourtIllinois Supreme Court


Error to Criminal Court, Cook County; Harry B. Miller, Judge.

Alice L. Wynekoop was convicted of murder, and she brings error.

Affirmed.Frank J. Tyrrell and Darrow, Smith, Cronson & Smith, all of Chicago (William W. Smith and Edward M. Keating, both of Chicago, of counsel), for plaintiff in error.

Otto Kerner, Atty. Gen., Thomas J. Courtney, State's Atty., of Chicago, and J. J. Neiger, of Springfield (Edward E. Wilson and Henry E. Seyfarth, both of Chicago, of counsel), for the People.

ORR, Justice.

Alice L. Wynekoop, who brings her case here by writ of error, was convicted of murder by a jury in the criminal court of Cook county and sentenced to the Women's Reformatory at Dwight for twenty-five years. She is a widowed physician sixty-three years old and the mother of two sons and a daughter. At the time of the homicide she resided in her own property in Chicago. She had office rooms in the basement of her home and was engaged in the active practice of her prefession. One of her sons, Earle W. Wynekoop, and his wife, Rheta, lived with her. A school-teacher, Enid Hennessey, also occupied a room in her home. At about 10:00 o'clock on the night of November 21, 1933, in response to a radio call, the police went to the home of Mrs. Wynekoop, whom we will call the defendant. Upon their arrival she exclaimed: ‘Something terrible has happened; come on down-stairs and I will show you.’ She then conducted them to her office, where the police found the dead body of Rheta on an operating table. A sheet and blanket covered the scantily clad body, excepting the head and feet. Blood stains were noticed on the floor, on the table, the sheet, the banket and on Rheta's garments. Near the head of the body, on a raised portion of the operating table, a revolver was found under a small cloth. Three discharged cartridge cases were also found. An examination of the body disclosed that Rheta had been shot once. The bullet had entered her back and pursued an upward course, lodging under the skin near her left nipple. Her face bore some scratches and other parts of her body were abraded and discolored. A post mortem examination disclosed a hemorrhage along the course of the bullet, with the left chest cavity full of blood. The cause of the death was fixed as a result of the gunshot wound in the left chest, hemorrhage, and shock. Because of the extensive hemorrhage in the chest cavity it was the opinion of medical examiners that Rheta was alive when the bullet entered her lung. This examination further disclosed the presence of chloroform to the amount of nine and one-half grains in those portions of the body which were examined. In the same room with the body the police picked up a bottle of chloroform which the defendant pointed out to them. It was nearly empty and stood in a sink near the operating table.

In response to interrogations by the authorities the defendant made and signed three different statements within a few days following the death of Rheta. The first was made the night the body was found by the police and while the defendant was still in her homes and not in custody. This statement, in substance, was that about 8:30 p. m. she entered her officer for the purpose of obtaining some medicine for herself and the teacher who roomed at her home. She said she saw Rheta lying on the operating table in the office covered with a blanket. Thinking that Rheta was dead, the defendant said she called her daughter, Catherine, who is also a physician and stationed at the Cook County Hospital. Catherine found that Rheta was dead, and the defendant then called for an undertaker. The defendant then accounted for the killing of her daughter-in-law by relating that her office had been broken into previously and money taken, and she supposed that Rheta had been killed during an attempt of some personto obtain money from her. She said that the revolver belonged to her son Earle, who at the time of the death of his wife was on his way to Arizona on a business mission. A second statement made to the police was substantially like the first one. The main portion of the third statement, made after the defendant had been taken into custody, reads as follows: ‘Rheta was concerned about her health and frequently weighed herself, usually stripping for the purpose. On Tuesday, November 21, after luncheon, at about 1:00, she decided to go down to the loop to purchase some sheet music that she had been wanting. She was given money for this purpose and laid it on the table, deciding to weigh before dressing to go down-town. I went to the office. She was sitting on the table practically undressed and suggested that the pain in her side was troubling her more than usual. I remarked to her, since it was a convenient interval during the month for an examination, we would just as well have it over. She complained of considerable soreness, severe pain and tenderness. She thought she would endure the examination better if she might have a little anaesthetic. Chloroform was conveniently at hand and a few drops were put on a sponge. She was allowed to pour a little more on the sponge. She breathed it very deeply. She took several deep inhalations. I asked her if I was hurting her, and she made no answer. Inspection revealed that respiration had stopped. Artificial respiration for about twenty minutes gave no response. Stethoscopic examination revealed no heart beat. Turning the patient quickly on her side and examining posteriorly as well as anteriorly, there was no sign of life. Wondering what method would ease the situation best to all and with the suggestion offered by the presence of a loaded revolver, further injury being impossible, with great difficulty one cartridge was exploded at a distance of some half dozen inches from the patient. The gun dropped from the hand. The Germans say ‘the hand,’ indicating the possessive case. The scene was to overwhelming that no action was possible for a period of several hours. * * *'

On this review the principal contention made in the defendant's behalf arises out of the effort of the people to prove the third statement. The defendant objected to its admission and asked for the exclusion of the jury and a hearing as to the facts and circumstances under which the statement was procured. After the jury had been taken from the courtroom, the state's attorney contended that the statement was not a confession, but was only one against interest, and that consequently a preliminary examination by the court was unnecessary. The defendant contended that the people had at all times treated the statement as a confession and should not be allowed to say it was merely exculpatory. The trial court ruled that the statement was not a confession, dispensed with the preliminary hearing, and admitted it in evidence before the jury as an incriminating or exculpatory admission.

The general rule is that a confession is a voluntary acknowledgment of guilt after the perpetration of the offense, and that it does not embrace mere statements or declarations of independent facts from which guilt may be inferred. 1 R. C. L. 472, 550; 16 Corpus Juris, 715. This court has held that a confession is a voluntary declaration of guilt of a person charged with a crime of his agency or participation therein, and that ‘it is not equivalent to statements, declarations, or admissions of facts criminating in their nature or tending to prove guilt. It is limited in its meaning to the criminal act.’ Michaels v. People, 208 Ill. 603, 70 N. E. 747, 748;People v. Stapleton, 300 Ill. 471, 133 N. E. 224;People v. Kircher, 309 Ill. 500, 141 N. E. 151;People v. Arthur, 314 Ill. 296, 145 N. E. 413;People v. Rupert, 316 Ill. 38, 146 N. E. 456. In People v. Okopske, 321 Ill. 32, 151 N. E. 507, 509, we said: ‘A confession implies that the matter confessed constitutes a crime. An acknowledgment of facts merely tending to establish guilt is not a confession,but only an incriminating admission, which may be made without any intention to confess guilt. * * * An exculpatory statement denying guilt cannot be a confession. Wigmore on Evidence (2d Ed.) § 821.’ Exculpatory statements do not require proof of their voluntary origin, hence a preliminary examination is unnecessary. People v. Gibbs, 349 Ill. 83, 181 N. E. 628. We are supported in our view by the Massachusetts cases of Commonwealth v. Piper, 120 Mass. 185, and Commonwealth v. Dascalakis, 243 Mass. 519, 137 N. E. 879, 880, 38 A. L. R. 113. In the latter case it was said: ‘The rule which excludes a confession of guilt by a defendant, which he was induced to make through fear of personal injury or hope of personal benefit is not applicable to the declaration by a defendant not in the nature of a confession, although the declaration might tend, in connection with other circumstances, to prove his guilt.’

Under the law of this state as announced repeatedly by this court it seems evident that the third statement of the defendant was not a confession. She did not admit in that statement, or in the two previous ones, that she was guilty of the crime charged. None of the three statements, when considered alone and without relation to other evidentiary facts brought out at the trial, contain any admissions of guilt. The inferences of guilt which may be drawn from each statement, considered separately, are meager. However, when we consider the three statements in their relation to each other and also in relation to the defense of alibi, we find them to be very damaging to the defendant. Their injurious effect is intensified when they are studied in the light of facts adduced by the people at the trial. That these statements, so considered, are hurtful to the cause of the defendant, is no warrant for their treatment as a confession. No error was committed by the trial court in...

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  • Skakel v. Comm'r of Corr.
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    • May 4, 2018
    ...a window of time on the night of the murder for which appellant's whereabouts could not be verified" by alibi); People v. Wynekoop , 359 Ill. 124, 136, 194 N.E. 276 (1934) ("[a]s the crime is shown to have been committed some time during the five and one-half hour period between 3 and 8:30 ......
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    ...271, in which Judge Chesnut held that an admission given voluntarily by an accused could be used against him. See also People v. Wynekoop, 359 Ill. 124, 194 N.E. 276, 279; State v. Ludwick, 90 Mont. 41, 300 P. 558; State v. Bock, 80 Idaho 296, 328 P.2d 1065, 1072, for the proposition that i......
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    ...v. State, 198 Md. 80, 81 A.2d 241, 245 (Ct.App.1951); State v. Romo, 66 Ariz. 174, 185 P.2d 757 (Sup.Ct.1947); People v. Wynekoop, 359 Ill. 124, 194 N.E. 276 (Sup.Ct.1934); Commonwealth v. Dascalakis, 243 Mass. 519, 137 N.E. 879, 38 A.L.R. 113 (Sup.Jud.Ct.1923); 3 Wigmore, Evidence (3d ed. ......
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