People v. Williams

Annotate this Case
People v. Williams, No. 80242 (3/19/98)

Docket No. 80242--Agenda 4--May 1997.
WILLIAMS, Appellant.
Opinion filed March 19, 1998.

JUSTICE NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:
Defendants Remon Williams, Michael Coleman, and Sherrell Towns were all
indicted in the circuit court of Madison County on five counts of first degree
murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a) (West 1994)), arising from the November 17, 1993,
shooting deaths of five individuals. Williams and Coleman were tried jointly and
a jury found both guilty on all counts. Williams waived his right to be sentenced
by the jury and the trial judge determined he was eligible for the death penalty
based on the aggravating factor that he was convicted of murdering two or more
individuals. See 720 ILCS 5/9--1(b)(3) (West 1994). After considering factors in
aggravation and mitigation, the trial judge determined that there were no
mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty.
Accordingly, Williams was sentenced to death. See 720 ILCS 5/9--1(h) (West
Codefendant Coleman was sentenced to natural life imprisonment. See 730
ILCS 5/5--8--1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1994). Codefendant Towns was tried separately
and was found guilty on five counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)
(West 1994)). Towns was sentenced to death, and his convictions and sentence
were affirmed on direct appeal by this court in People v. Towns, 174 Ill. 2d 453
(1996). The instant appeal involves only Remon Williams' convictions and
sentence. Williams' sentence has been stayed pending this appeal. Ill. Const. 1970,
art. VI, sec. 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a).

Evidence presented at trial revealed the following. On November 17, 1993,
Kim Fulton and her three children lived with Jeff Mosby in a trailer located at 204
Hare Street in Eagle Park. Kim left home that night about 8:30 p.m. to run some
errands. At that time, Mosby was at home barbecuing and watching the three
children. Sometime later in the evening, Mosby and the children were watching
television when three men entered the trailer. Christopher Fulton, Kim's eight-
year-old son, identified one of the men as "Little Mike," whom Christopher knew
previously from the neighborhood and whom Christopher believed lived in the
trailer next door. The men made Christopher lie on the floor with his face down.
Little Mike and one of the other men then went into the back room of the trailer
and Christopher heard Little Mike ask Mosby where their mail was. The men
returned to the front room of the trailer and Little Mike yelled at Mosby and then
shot him in the chest.
Kim returned home at about 10:30 p.m. with a friend, Demetria McIntire.
Upon arriving at her trailer, Kim noticed a green minivan parked in the driveway
of the neighboring trailer. Kim then saw three persons jump into the green
minivan, and it pulled away in a hurry. When Kim and McIntire entered the
trailer, they saw Mosby lying on the floor. Kim's children said "they killed Jeff."
Kim asked Christopher what happened and in response Christopher kept repeating
"the boy next door." McIntire called 911 and Kim went outside and yelled for
David Thompson next door. The door to Thompson's trailer was cracked open but
no one responded to Kim's calls.
At trial, Christopher identified Coleman as being "Little Mike," the man who
shot Mosby. On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited that during the police
investigation into the murders Christopher was shown a photographic array of five
men, which included Williams' picture. Christopher selected three men out the
array who he believed resembled the three men who entered his trailer that night.
However, Christopher did not identify Williams as one of the intruders. Kim was
unable to identify any of the three persons she saw get into the green minivan.
McIntire did not see either the people or a minivan outside the neighbor's trailer;
however, she was not wearing her glasses at the time and she does not see well
at night without them.
State Police Officer Michael Terrell received a call at 10:28 p.m. the night
of the murders. He responded to 204 Hare Street in Eagle Park. Terrell arrived at
the same time as an ambulance, and the ambulance personnel attempted to
resuscitate Mosby. After speaking with Kim regarding what had occurred, Terrell
went next door to 206 Hare Street. Terrell found the front door of the trailer
partially open. Terrell entered the trailer and immediately saw three men lying on
the floor. The men had their hands bound with duct tape and tape had also been
placed over their mouths. Terrell observed that all three men had massive head
wounds and were laying in pools of blood. When Terrell noticed one of the men
move, he returned next door to bring paramedics to the scene. Terrell returned to
the trailer with paramedics, who attempted to resuscitate the man without success.
At that time, Terrell discovered the body of another man to the right of the door.
The four men discovered in the trailer at 206 Hare Street were Marion
Jennings, Bedford Jennings, Cedric Gardner, and David Thompson. Bedford
Jennings, Gardner, and Thompson all had their hands and ankles bound with duct
tape. It was stipulated at trial that all four men had died of gunshot wounds.
Gardner, Thompson, and Bedford Jennings all died of a single gunshot would to
the head. Marion Jennings suffered separate gunshot wounds to the chest and
head, with the head wound being the fatal wound. In addition, it was stipulated
that Mosby died of a single gunshot to the forearm which passed into his chest
causing the fatal wound.
There were no other witnesses to any of the shootings, but several prosecution
witnesses gave testimony regarding events they observed on November 17 which
may have been connected to the crimes. At about 9:45 p.m., Yuenna Sander was
speaking with her brother, Bedford Jennings, on the telephone when she heard a
gunshot. Bedford's phone was then hung up. Sander immediately called Bedford
back but his answering machine answered the call. Sander did nothing more that
night because she believed that Bedford and his roommates were just playing with
guns, as they often did. Sander also testified that she had been present at the
trailer at 206 Hare Street several times and was aware that drugs were being sold
at the residence.
Candice Branch, a sixth-grade student who lived on Hare Street, was
returning home from a school program some time between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00
p.m. While walking past Thompson's trailer, Branch saw three boys outside in the
yard. A van was also parked outside the trailer. Branch heard one of the three
boys say "let's go do this" or "let's smoke them." Branch ran home after hearing
this. Although Branch could not identify anyone in the court room, she did pick
Towns from a photo array as resembling one of the boys she saw that night.
Darren Wise, an Eagle Park resident, was walking to a tavern some time
between 9 and 10 p.m. As he was walking, a turquoise-green Chrysler van
traveled past him in the direction of Hare Street. Wise was unable to see anyone
inside the van. Wise returned home briefly to retrieve something he had forgotten.
After leaving his home again, Wise heard a gunshot, but he continued on to the
tavern. Approximately 15 minutes later, Wise saw several ambulances drive by the
tavern. On cross-examination by defense counsel, Wise admitted that at the time
of the murders he was addicted to crack cocaine and had used drugs the day he
saw the van.
Johnnie Mosley, codefendant Towns' cousin, testified that Towns and
Williams visited him some time in the evening on November 17 in a minivan.
During a conversation between the three men, Towns asked Mosley if he wanted
to go with him to "take care of some business." Mosley testified that he declined
Towns' invitation because he was on parole and did not "want to get involved in
that anymore." On cross-examination, Mosley admitted that he was not sure what
time or even what day it was that Towns and Williams visited him and that he
was probably "high" at the time.
Chontelle Clark testified that she was driving around between 9 and 10 p.m.
when she saw Williams, Towns, Coleman, and another boy in a dark-colored car
at a stop light. Clark testified that she did not recognize the fourth person in the
car. On cross-examination, Clark denied ever dating Towns. Also, defense counsel
impeached Clark with the contents of a police report which stated that Clark had
told police that Towns, Michael Coleman, and Eric Coleman were the only
occupants of the car that evening.
Defendant Williams also offered the testimony of Theodore Beatty, a sheriff's
deputy who interviewed Clark shortly after the murders. Beatty testified that Clark
had stated to him that she was Towns' girlfriend. Clark had also stated that it was
between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. that she saw Towns, Michael Coleman, and Eric
Coleman in a dark-colored car. Clark never mentioned seeing Williams with the
others in the car that night.
Yulanda Allen testified that she was Towns' girlfriend. Between 10 and 10:30
p.m. Allen stopped by Towns' home. Allen noticed that both Towns' green
minivan and grey Grand Am were parked outside. Allen entered the house and
found Williams, Coleman, and Towns inside. Allen made plans to meet Towns
later that evening and then she departed. Later, as Allen was dropping a friend off
at home, Towns pulled up alone in a dark-colored automobile which was a
Cadillac or a Park Avenue.
Several witnesses testified regarding the physical evidence found at the scene.
At Thompson's trailer at 206 Hare Street, crime scene technicians found four
spent shell casings stamped "Winchester nine millimeter." Two spent projectiles
were discovered in the trailer and two spent projectiles were recovered underneath
the trailer. In addition, a projectile fragment was recovered from Gardner's body.
A bullet hole was also discovered in the door of the trailer, but the projectile
which caused the hole was never recovered. At Mosby's trailer at 204 Hare Street,
one spent 9-millimeter shell casing was discovered laying on the floor. A forensic
scientist tested the projectiles and the shell casings and determined that all the
shots were fired from the same gun, most likely a 9-millimeter handgun
manufactured by Glock.
More than 100 fingerprints suitable for comparison were recovered from the
crime scene. Of these, fingerprints matching Towns' fingerprints were discovered
on the duct tape used to bind some of the victims. In addition, Towns' fingerprints
were found on some papers in Mosby's trailer. Neither Williams' nor Coleman's
fingerprints matched any fingerprints left at the scene. Although shoeprints were
recovered at the scene, none of the prints matched the shoes that were seized from
An employee of Croft Motors testified that his company rented a green
minivan to Elmer Jennings on November 6, 1993. Elmer Jennings testified that he
rented a green minivan from Croft Motors for Roosevelt Towns, Sherrell Towns'
uncle. Elmer saw Sherrell driving the minivan on one occasion. In addition, he
saw Sherrell washing the minivan one or two days after the murders.
Tony Whitehead testified twice for the prosecution. The first time he testified,
Whitehead was asked about a statement he had heard Williams make during a
birthday party in a St. Louis hotel. Whitehead was unresponsive and stated that
he needed "some air or something." After an examination outside the presence of
the jury, the court declared Whitehead a hostile witness. The State then impeached
Whitehead with a prior statement he had made to police in which he indicated he
had heard Williams admit taking part in the murders.
On cross-examination, Whitehead admitted that at the time he made the
statement he was in jail for violating probation. The day after giving the statement
to police, Whitehead was released from jail. Whitehead stated that his statement
consisted of things he heard about the crime on the street, not from anything he
had heard Williams say. Whitehead admitted that at the birthday party he was
drunk and everyone eventually got thrown out of the hotel because the party got
too loud.
The next day of trial, Whitehead testified again. Whitehead stated that he
contacted the prosecutor the previous night and informed him that he had not
testified truthfully the first day because there were a couple of Gangster Disciples
in the court room. Whitehead testified that he, Williams, and Coleman all
belonged to the Gangster Disciples. Whitehead testified that he did overhear
Williams talking at the birthday party. Whitehead heard Williams say that "he
didn't know that Sherrell [Towns] didn't know how to do a murder." In addition,
Williams stated that after Towns shot "those people," Williams picked up a shell
casing. Whitehead also heard Williams claim to shoot three people.
Defendant Williams offered the testimony of Larry Delk. Delk testified that
he attended the birthday party with Williams. The room where the birthday party
was held was very crowded and noisy and a person had to shout in order to talk
to someone. Delk did not recall seeing Whitehead at the party, and if he was
there, Delk knew that Williams did not speak with Whitehead. Delk did not hear
Williams ever talk about the murders. Delk also testified that the day of the
murders he was with Williams riding around in Towns' Grand Am getting drunk
and high. Williams dropped Delk off at home around dark.
Neither Williams nor Coleman testified. Williams presented evidence of an
alibi. Williams' girlfriend and her family members testified that Williams came
to their house between 4 and 6 p.m. the day of the murders. Williams was high
and drunk and went into a bedroom and slept. At some point in the evening,
Towns showed up at their house and exchanged his green minivan for the Grand
Am that Williams had been driving. Williams did not leave with Towns and
Williams remained at their home all night.

On appeal, Williams' principal contention of error arises from the circuit
court's refusal to sever his trial from that of codefendant Coleman. Prior to trial,
the circuit court granted the State's motion to consolidate Williams' case with
Coleman's case. See 725 ILCS 5/114--7 (West 1994). Thereafter, Williams filed
a written motion to be tried separately from Coleman. See 725 ILCS 5/114--8
(West 1994). Defense counsel argued, inter alia, that Williams would be
prejudiced by the introduction of admissions by a nontestifying codefendant which
implicated Williams. The circuit court denied the motion. Williams renewed his
motion for severance several times prior to trial; however, the circuit court denied
each request.
On the eve of trial, Williams waived his right to be sentenced by the jury and
then made an oral motion for severance. Defense counsel argued that death-
qualifying potential jurors for Coleman's sentencing would prejudice Williams.
The court granted Williams' motion for severance. At that point, the State
withdrew its request for the death penalty for Coleman. The court then reversed
its ruling on defendant's severance motion.
Defense counsel also filed a motion in limine seeking to bar, inter alia, the
introduction of out-of-court statements by any codefendant which "refers to or
gives rise to any inference that inculpates [Williams] as such would violate the
Bruton rule." Williams' counsel cited specific examples of statements made by
codefendant Coleman that would imply the complicity of Williams and argued that
use of such statements would violate Williams' right to confront witnesses. The
circuit court denied Williams' motion. Immediately before trial began, the circuit
court clarified its ruling on the motion in limine. The court stated that it would
allow the introduction of Coleman's out-of-court statements, but admonished the
State that the "statements [were] to be cleansed of all references to the non-
declaring defendant."
Williams argues that the trial court erred in denying these motions and,
therefore, he was denied a fair trial because the testimony of several witnesses
improperly connected him to Coleman's admissions. See People v. Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d 400 (1988). Williams further contends that the admission of Coleman's
statements at the joint trial with Williams violated his constitutional right to
confront and cross-examine witnesses against him. See U.S. Const., amends. VI,
XIV; Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 20 L. Ed. 2d 476, 88 S. Ct. 1620
Williams first protests the testimony of Alfred Lumpkins regarding a
conversation Lumpkins had with Coleman in January 1994 while both men were
incarcerated at the Madison County jail. During examination of Lumpkins by the
State, there was the following colloquy:
"Q. Would you tell us what [Coleman] said regarding his charge?
A. That him and two other guys was--went to a trailer in Eagle Park
and in a green mini-van to buy drugs and once they got inside [Coleman]
went inside to set up a deal on a drug deal. Once he got inside he took
Cecil Gardner--control of Cecil Gardner and waved the other guys to
come on in and ordered the other guys to search the trailers and tie these
guys up so they could search the trailer and at that time he got them all
tied up.
Q. Did he say what they used to tie the people up?
A. Duct tape.
* * *
Q. And what happened next?
A. They searched the trailer and then he ordered them to shoot them.
* * *
Q. Did he tell you whether there would be any fingerprints or not?
A. Yes, he told me Towns left a fingerprint behind. That's because
they had on gloves and Towns didn't. That's how--
MR. HILDEBRAND [Coleman's counsel]: I am going to object to
the narrative, your Honor, move to strike.
MS. ROBBINS [Williams' counsel]: I am going to object to the
references, your Honor, which we previously discussed in various Motions
in Limine.
THE COURT: Thank you, ma'am. Overruled.
Q. Did Mr. Coleman tell you that he had worn gloves?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did he tell you anything about his clothing?
A. Yes, sir. He said he got rid of the clothing because they had blood
and could have been identified through their clothing.
Q. Did he say how he got rid of the clothing?
A. They burned them.
Q. Did he say when they got rid of the clothing?
A. Right after they left Eagle Park and went to East St. Louis.
Q. Did he tell you anything about the trailer next door?
A. Yes. The reason he was--shot the guy outside because he could
identify Coleman for coming out and the guy that was with him."
Williams also disputes the admission at his joint trial of the testimony of
Robert Lockett. During direct examination, Robert testified that he and his brother,
Michael, were with Coleman one day in June 1993. The three men were sitting
in Coleman's car outside a liquor store planning a home invasion. Bedford
"Sonny" Jennings and David Thompson, two of the murder victims, pulled up
beside Coleman's car and Coleman stated that they could rob Thompson. Coleman
then exited the vehicle and spoke with Thompson. Coleman quickly returned and
informed the Locketts that the robbery would have to wait because Thompson did
not have any dope at the time. Robert testified that he and his brother never
participated in any robbery of Thompson because Michael was arrested and
incarcerated soon thereafter.
Robert further testified that he, his brother Michael, and Coleman were all
incarcerated in the Madison County jail at a later time. One day in December
1993 or January 1994, while all three men were waiting in a lounge to see their
attorney, Robert entered into a conversation with Coleman about the murders.
Robert testified:
"A. I asked him, why did they kill them. And he stated to me that
one of the individuals jumped up and got shot in the chest so therefore
they knew they were going to have to do them all. And by that time, by
him not being able to wear a mask because he had to get the door open
he had to take care of the clucker in which I mention which is Jeff
Mosby and at that time I asked him so I referred to--said so if you seen
me with some money--
* * *
Q. Did you convey that information to anyone?
A. You mean--
Q. Did you talk to anyone and tell them that you had been told about
the murder?
A. I spoke with Sherrell but--
Q. Any law enforcement?
A. Yes, I contacted your office."
On cross-examination by Coleman's counsel, the following colloquy occurred:
"Q. You are telling this court that Mike Coleman sat down with you
and told you all about this case here?
A. I am telling you and the Court that Mr. Coleman discussed this
case with me due to the fact that we know circumstances and individuals
Q. You know what?
A. We know individuals such as Mr. Towns. As I said before I was
in the same cell block and the initial conversation started."
Finally, Williams complains of the testimony of Michael Lockett. During
examination by the State, Michael testified consistently with the testimony of his
brother about the June 1993 meeting in Coleman's car, when Coleman identified
David Thompson as a possible target for a robbery. Then, regarding the
conversation between the three men in the Madison County jail, this dialogue
"Q. And what was said at that time by Mr. Coleman?
A. Little Mike just said that--he said that he went--that he went into
the trailer and that the gun actually [sic] went off or whatever. It was an
accident and they knew they had to kill the rest.
Q. When he said it was an accident what did he say about that?
A. He said the gun--he heard the gun go pop, gun went off.
Q. Then he said they had to kill the rest?
A. Because they knew the boy was going to die."
Subsequently, during redirect examination by the State, the following colloquy
"Q. Did [defense counsel] ask you about any other acquaintances that
you had or did she just ask you if you were going to testify about the
police report?
A. What did she ask me, she asked me if I knew him. I don't know,
I suppose that's Remon."
The court sustained defense counsel's immediate objection and instructed the jury
to disregard Michael's reference to Williams.
During Robert Lockett's testimony, a sidebar conference was held at which
defense counsel objected that Lumpkins' testimony regarding Coleman's
admissions had not been cleansed of all references to Williams. The court
overruled the objection. Counsel for both defendants then objected to the failure
of the court to instruct the jury that the testimony of Lumpkins and Lockett was
to be considered only against codefendant Coleman. The court agreed to so
instruct the jury regarding Lumpkins' testimony when the sidebar ended. In
addition, the court stated that it would instruct the jury regarding the testimony of
the Lockett brothers after each witness testified. When the proceedings resumed,
the prosecutor asked the judge if he had any instructions for the jury. In response,
the court stated that it was going to wait until the witness was finished testifying.
However, the court did not provide the jury with the appropriate limiting
instructions regarding any of the three witnesses' testimony until the next day of
the trial.

In Bruton, the Supreme Court ruled that the admission at joint trial of a
statement by a nontestifying codefendant which expressly implicates defendant in
the crime violates the defendant's constitutional right to confront witnesses against
him. Bruton, 391 U.S. at 137, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 485-86, 88 S. Ct. at 1628. The
Bruton Court reasoned that instructing the jury to disregard the statement in
determining defendant's guilt or innocence was an inadequate substitution for the
defendant's right to cross-examine the codefendant regarding the powerfully
incriminating yet doubtfully credible extrajudicial statement. Bruton, 391 U.S. at
132-37, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 483-86, 88 S. Ct. at 1626-28.
This court subsequently addressed a similar issue in People v. Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d 400 (1988). In Duncan, the trial court admitted testimony at joint trial of
an extrajudicial statement made by the nontestifying codefendant which named
one of the victims and "Bill" as two of the people who stood in the way of the
codefendant's control of the local drug trade. The trial court admitted a second
statement which acknowledged the existence of a drug courier from Kansas City.
Other testimony revealed that the defendant, William Duncan, had participated in
delivering drugs from Kansas City. Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 408.
On appeal, this court granted Duncan a new trial, determining that the trial
court erred in failing to sever Duncan's trial from that of the codefendant. This
court stated that "we have allowed admission of such statements at joint trials only
reluctantly, only with proper limiting instructions, and only if the statements are
cleansed of all references to a nondeclaring defendant." (Emphasis in original.)
Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 414. This court observed that the proper cleansing was not
performed when the jury heard, among other things, a reference to a Kansas City
drug courier "that in light of other testimony it might reasonably construe to mean
defendant." Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 414.
In the instant case, Alfred Lumpkins testified that Coleman said he and "two
other guys" traveled to a trailer in Eagle Park in a green minivan. Once Coleman
was inside the trailer, he ordered the other guys to restrain the occupants with duct
tape. After searching the trailer, Coleman ordered "them" to shoot the victims.
Coleman also said that Towns left fingerprints at the scene because, unlike
Coleman and the remaining guy, Towns had not worn gloves. Coleman said that,
because of the blood, "they" burned their clothing right after returning to East St.
Louis. Both of the Lockett brothers testified that Coleman said that "they"
believed that, after the first victim was shot, they needed to kill all the victims.
Other testimony offered against Williams showed that he was with Towns the
evening of the murders in a green minivan while Towns solicited Johnnie Mosley
to help "take care of some business." Another witness saw three men, one of
whom looked like Towns, standing by a van outside David Thompson's trailer
between 9:30 and 10 p.m. that same evening. One of the men said something like
"let's go do this," or "let's smoke them." Christopher Fulton stated that Coleman
and two other black men entered his trailer that evening and Coleman shot Mosby.
Towns' fingerprints were discovered on papers inside Mosby's trailer. Kim Fulton
returned home shortly after 10 p.m. that evening. Before entering her trailer to
discover Mosby's body, Fulton saw three black men jump into a green minivan
parked next door at Thompson's trailer and leave in a hurry. Williams was seen
at Towns' home, along with Towns and Coleman, between 10 and 10:30 p.m. the
night of the murders. Towns' green minivan was parked outside. At the crime
scene, evidence technicians found Towns' fingerprints on the duct tape used to
bind the victims. However, neither Williams' nor Coleman's fingerprints were
found at the scene.
We disagree with the State's assertion that Coleman's statements did not
prejudice Williams merely because there was no direct reference to him by either
his name or nickname. As this court observed in Duncan:
"[F]or its use at a joint trial to be weighed against a defendant's right
to confrontation, a codefendant's `confession or admission' need not
expressly state that a defendant was involved in an offense; it is sufficient
that it clearly imply the defendant's guilt when considered in light of
other evidence against the defendant." Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 410.
This court has repeatedly rejected the contention that substitution of another word
for the defendant's name cures the Bruton error when the substituted term still
plainly identifies defendant. See People v. Hernandez, 121 Ill. 2d 293, 313-18
(1988) (improper under Bruton to revise codefendant's statements to say that
"friends" or "two other named individuals" were involved in the crime); People
v. Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d 321, 331-35 (1988) (same); People v. Johnson, 13 Ill. 2d 619,
623-25 (1958) (error to substitute defendant's name with "Blank"); People v.
Hodson, 406 Ill. 328, 333-35 (1950) (error to substitute defendant's name with a
letter); see also United States v. Bennett, 848 F.2d 1134, 1142 n.8 (11th Cir. 1988)
(revising codefendant's admission to state "they" were involved still clearly
referred to defendants).
When considering Coleman's statements in light of the other evidence offered
against Williams, it is clear that they implied Williams' guilt. Although Coleman's
admissions are not directly inculpatory of Williams in that they did not explicitly
name Remon Williams as his accomplice, the nature of these statements in the
context of the joint trial and the testimony linking Williams with Coleman and
Towns rendered it impossible for the jury to conclude that the other person to
whom Coleman referred was anyone other than the man seated next to him in the
The State nevertheless urges this court to follow the holding of Richardson
v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 95 L. Ed. 2d 176, 107 S. Ct. 1702 (1987), and find that
the limiting instruction provided to the jury was an adequate protection of
Williams' rights. The State supports its contention by arguing that, unlike Duncan,
the prosecutor did not encourage the jury to use Coleman's admissions against
Williams. Under these circumstances, the State contends that the limiting
instructions given to the jury were adequate to protect Williams' rights.
We first observe that this case does not fall under the purview of the
Richardson holding. In Richardson, the Supreme Court addressed a scenario where
the nontestifying codefendant's written confession was redacted to eliminate all
references to defendant's existence. The codefendant's confession did not become
incriminating of defendant until defendant's own testimony placed herself in the
codefendant's company during the crime. Under these circumstances, the Court
declined to extend the Bruton reasoning, holding that "the Confrontation Clause
is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's confession with
a proper limiting instruction when *** the confession is redacted to eliminate not
only the defendant's name, but any reference to his or her existence." Richardson,
481 U.S. at 211, 95 L. Ed. 2d at 188, 107 S. Ct. at 1709. The Richardson Court
expressly refused to consider the admissibility of a nontestifying codefendant's
statement in which, as here, the defendant's name has been replaced with a neutral
pronoun. Richardson, 481 U.S. at 211 n.5, 95 L. Ed. 2d at 188 n.5, 107 S. Ct. at
1709 n.5.
Unlike Richardson, which dealt with a written confession carefully redacted
to eliminate even an anonymous reference to the defendant, the instant case
involves the oral testimony of third parties regarding a codefendant's out-of-court
admissions which inculpated two other defendants. This court has criticized
attempts to cleanse such oral testimony to procure admissibility at a joint trial
(see, e.g., Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 408; Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d at 330), and the Supreme
Court has recognized the dangers that can occur when such a witness mistakenly
or intentionally refers to the defendant while testifying, as Michael Lockett did in
this case (see Bruton, 391 U.S. at 134 n.10, 20 L. Ed. 2d at 484 n.10, 88 S. Ct. at 1626 n.10).
For Coleman's statements to be otherwise admissible under Richardson, a
proper limiting instruction would still be required. See Richardson v. March, 481 U.S. 200, 211, 95 L. Ed. 2d 176, 188, 107 S. Ct. 1702, 1709 (1987); Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 411. Here, the limiting instructions were not proper. Despite a timely
request, the limiting instructions were not given contemporaneously with any of
the disputed witnesses' testimony; the jury was not instructed regarding the
disputed witnesses until the day after they all finished testifying. See Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 411; see also Bennett, 848 F.2d at 1142 n.8 (jury should be instructed
at time the confession is admitted to consider it only against declaring defendant).
Furthermore, and contrary to the State's assertion, the prosecution did
encourage the jurors to consider Coleman's admissions against Williams. Such
actions erased any possibility that the jury would be able to follow the mandate
of the limiting instructions. See Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 411; Hernandez, 121 Ill.
2d at 313-14; Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d at 332-33. During closing arguments to the jury,
the prosecutor specifically addressed the connections between Williams' and
Coleman's statements:
"Now we're talking about how much time would it take to bind the
people up. I don't know. I don't know how fast you act in a crime like
this. But if there are two people doing it, it goes faster. Are there two
people? Look at the evidence. On two of the victims Sherrell Towns'
fingerprints appear on the tape, not the third. Was Alfred Lumpkins right?
Was somebody wearing gloves that was helping? I don't know. That's for
you to decide." (Emphasis added.)
Lumpkins testified that Coleman stated that he and one of the perpetrators wore
gloves. Moreover, Lumpkins testified that Coleman ordered the "other guys" to
bind the victims with the duct tape. Therefore, the prosecutor's statement was
intended to refer directly to Williams.
In another instance, the prosecutor commented on Coleman's attempts to
recruit accomplices to rob these specific victims:
"Travon Watt was on the street in November. He testified that he
sees Michael Coleman, Ramone [sic] Williams and Sherrell Towns
together. What's the significance of that? The significance of that is that
we have Michael Coleman who has looked for someone to commit the
crime with him. He's been unsuccessful because the victims didn't have
the money at that time and didn't have the right things, so he's still
At that time he finds someone to commit the crime. He finds two
more. He finds Ramone [sic] Williams and Sherrell Towns. Now, they
aren't committing it then, but they're out. They're associating."
The only testimony regarding Coleman's predisposed intent to rob the specific
victims came from the Lockett brothers, which was admissible only against
Coleman. However, the prosecution utilized that testimony here to transfer that
intent to Williams.
Finally, commenting on the deals offered by the State in exchange for the
testimony of the Lockett brothers, the prosecutor stated:
"You've heard from the Lockett's, [sic] and I've talked with you
about them. It's not easy to offer something to someone to come in to
testify. As a prosecutor, we sit in a tough chair. You've got to be fair.
You've got to make decisions that affect people's lives. And you have to
make a call once in a while. If the call is letting two people go for five
murders or taking someone who's been in trouble before that has no
convictions and is a first offense and pleading for six years to the
penitentiary, then that's the call we have to make." (Emphasis added.)
The prosecutor's comment implied to the jury that the Locketts had testified
against both Coleman and Williams.
The Supreme Court has recognized that it is error for a prosecutor to attempt
to negate the court's limiting instruction by encouraging the jury to use a
codefendant's statements in evaluating a defendant's case. See Richardson, 481 U.S. at 211, 95 L. Ed. 2d at 188, 107 S. Ct. at 1709. The prosecution's attempts
during closing arguments to connect Williams to Coleman's statements was a
"constitutionally unacceptable attempt *** to circumvent the strictures of Bruton
and the confrontation clause." Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d at 333. Moreover, the admission
of Coleman's statements "at a joint trial, absent a total deletion of all references
to defendant, violated established Illinois case law that is independent of Bruton-
Richardson constitutional doctrine." Duncan, 124 Ill. 2d at 415.
We cannot agree with the State's assertion that the error of admitting
Coleman's statements at Williams' joint trial was harmless. The evidence against
Williams was not overwhelming. Towns was linked to the murders by direct
physical evidence. Coleman was identified by the only eyewitness to any of the
shootings and admitted his involvement in the murders on two separate occasions.
However, the bulk of the evidence against Williams was circumstantial; Williams
was linked to the crime by being seen in the company of Towns and Coleman at
times surrounding the murders. The only direct evidence of Williams' involvement
was an out-of-court statement testified to by Whitehead, a witness who changed
his testimony on the stand. Therefore, determining the outcome of the trial in the
absence of the improper testimony is impossible and reversal and remand for a
new trial is the necessary and proper remedy. See Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d at 335.
In order to address the issue of subjecting Williams to double jeopardy, we
address Williams' contention that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his
convictions. See People v. Jones, 175 Ill. 2d 126, 134 (1997); People v. Taylor,
76 Ill. 2d 289, 309 (1979). Williams argues that no physical evidence connected
him to the murders, the sole eyewitness to any of the shootings failed to identify
him, and the only direct evidence that he participated in the crimes was the highly
questionable testimony of Tony Whitehead. Williams argues further that his alibi
evidence and the testimony of his own witnesses greatly contradicts the State's
We find that the competent evidence presented against Williams was such that
the jury could have concluded that he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt. Proof of physical evidence connecting a defendant to a crime has never
been required to establish guilt. Hernandez, 121 Ill. 2d at 319. In addition,
circumstantial evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction where it satisfies proof
beyond a reasonable doubt of the elements of the crime charged. People v.
Digirolamo, 179 Ill. 2d 24, 43 (1997). The determinations of the credibility of
witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are responsibilities that
must be left to the trier of fact. See People v. Steidl, 142 Ill. 2d 204, 226 (1991);
Cruz, 121 Ill. 2d at 336. Finally, the jury was not obligated to accept alibi
evidence given by Williams' girlfriend and her family over the State's evidence.
See People v. Jimerson, 127 Ill. 2d 12, 46 (1989); Hernandez, 121 Ill. 2d at 320.
In conclusion, we observe that we are not making a finding as to Williams'
guilt or innocence which would be binding on retrial, but rather, we consider the
evidence in order to protect Williams' constitutional right against double jeopardy.
See Taylor, 76 Ill. 2d at 309-10. We find that under the evidence presented here,
retrial of Williams would not constitute double jeopardy.
Because of our reversal of Williams' convictions on the Bruton-Duncan
errors, we need not address the other issues raised in this appeal.

For the reasons set forth herein, the defendant's convictions are reversed and
his sentence vacated. This cause is remanded to the circuit court of Madison
County for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.