Thursday, March 27, 2014
By: Norman V. Kelly
On a warm April 23, 1983, Armanda Kay Burns was preparing to leave work over at Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. Armanda was the nightshift supervisor in the housekeeping department and a busy lady indeed. She stood talking to her relief person when she saw a familiar face. Kay walked over and spoke to Willie Enoch, brother of one of her employees. They talked a moment or two before Kay said good night and walked out with Willie. The time was a little after 11:30 p.m. when the two friends left the hospital for the short walk over to Kay’s basement apartment in a two-story apartment building. The two talked as they walked, and to the casual observer they appeared just to be another couple heading home.
Kay and Willie were not a couple. Police later learned that Willie had wanted to talk to Kay about his brother and complained that Kay was going to fire him. Willie had a different version of what the two talked about. They arrived at the apartment after Kay unlocked the door and the two entered. A few minutes after they arrived a violent scuffle broke out between Burns and Enoch resulting in a horrible death for Armanda Kay Burns.
A GRISLY DISCOVERY
Outside that basement apartment over at 109 NE Glen Oak, Kay’s boyfriend, Derrick Proctor was walking toward the building. He often met her there after work and it was now nearing midnight. Mr. Proctor knocked on the door and waited…he knocked again. Frustrated, Derrick walked over to Methodist to see if Kay had been detained for some reason. He saw by her time card that she had checked out so he walked back to Kay’s apartment. About 100 feet from the door he saw a figure coming out of the basement apartment.
“I stopped to light a cigarette and then started walking
To Kay’s apartment when I heard the door open. I was
Pretty close now and I said, ‘damn, Kay what took you
I seen a man comes out and I asked the guy if Kay was
down there and he said, ‘yeah, she’s down there.’”
The guy took off running and Proctor ran after him, they crossed Main Street and the man, a small man with a beard ran into the medical college’s land and disappeared. Remember, that’s when Big John’s BBQ was there next to UICOMP, that’s the Illinois Medical School. Proctor recalled Willie Enoch, remembering that he had come to Kay’s apartment one night asking to use her telephone.
Back at the apartment, Proctor banged on the door trying to get Kay to answer. He went over to security at the hospital and together they returned to Kay’s apartment. Police were then called and Officer Ledbetter and the security guard finally gained access to the Burns’ apartment. What they saw stopped them in their tracks, burning an image on their brains that they would never forget for the rest of their lives.
THE CORONER’S PHYSICIAN
Let’s jump ahead and let the ever professional Dr. Immesoete describe for you in medical terms what the two officers saw that night that they had to force their way in to Armanda Kay Burns’ apartment. Keep in mind he was giving testimony at the inquest over the body of the victim and it is out of chronological sequence.
April 24, 1983.
The body is that of a black woman, five foot six, one hundred sixteen pounds. Multiple lacerations and stab wounds of the entire body, head to feet. There is a 2.6-inch laceration of the neck and a “Y” shaped slice across the trachea. The stab disrupts all the structures in the front of the neck.
There is a five-inch laceration of the neck and esophagus. A five-inch slash across the head and nares as well as multiple stab-wounds about the shoulder. There are fifteen slashes that just pierce the skin.
A large thirty (30) inch slash to the lower third of the sternum and
extending to the pubic bone. Multiple serrated wounds, done in a swaying motion or fashion. There are large lacerations to the chest and stomach, with cuts to the liver.
There are true wire marks encircling both wrists where the wrists were
tied behind her back. Swabs were taken no evidence of semen. The
abdominal cavity is exposed. This person died of exsanguination due to a ruptured superior vena cava due to stab wounds of the left back.
THE CALL GOES OUT
Like all crime scenes that are observed by the average person the activity seems to be chaotic and never-ending. In Kay’s apartment the investigators worked through the night. When the apartment was finally sealed off and a crime scene warning was in place the officers left. With them they took everything they could get their hands on from blood to fibers. All of the evidence was bagged and marked and recorded. Everything was then sent off to the forensic laboratory to be analyzed for future use as evidence in some future trial. The officers found evidence of a struggle in the apartment with blood scattered about the small apartment, but mainly in the bedroom. Kay had been gagged with a piece of torn sheet and bound by wire coat- hangers.
April 24, 1983 dawned as only early spring can, but by then, the case against Willie Enoch had grown substantially. Eyewitnesses came forward to tell police that they had seen Willie and Kay leave the hospital together. Other witnesses told the police that they had seen them walking together very near her apartment. Mr. Proctor’s statement to the police had Enoch coming out of Kay’s apartment. Later the lab results would match hairs and fingerprints to the only person the police considered a suspect at the time…Willie Enoch. Of course they checked out Proctor and other acquaintances of Ms. Burns, but the finger pointed at Enoch.
Willie Enoch was arrested without incident, read his rights, and incarcerated in the Peoria County jail for safekeeping. The SA was now in the picture and charges were brought against the suspect and a public defender was assigned. Bail was denied, not that he could have raised it anyway.
During all this, Armanda Kay Burns, born July 22, 1958, murdered 4-23-83 was buried. As I mentioned before, except for the people that loved her, Kay was soon forgotten. The spotlight was now on her killer, Willie Enoch, and it would stay there for some time to come.
The detectives were still working on the case tying up loose ends. It is always a break when the murder weapon is found and police concentrated on that very clue. The knife that the killer had used was found where he dropped it on the road leading up to the medical School. The blood and fingerprints found at the crime scene were analyzed by the crime lab with positive results. Police had their killer as far as they were concerned and the state’s attorney agreed. The case would now be put on the criminal trial schedule, with the SA seeking the death penalty. It would be the first death penalty case since the State of Illinois revised the death penalty in 1977.
A CAPITAL MURDER TRIAL
Mark Rose was the court-appointed attorney for Willie Enoch as the parties met at the Peoria County Courthouse on November 11, 1983. This was a ‘hot ticket’ trial, as popular trials are referred to. The sheer brutality of the murder is enough to incite interest, and it did.
Seventy-nine prospective jurors were called and both sides knew exactly the type juror they were looking for. The defense rejected 30 prospects and the State refused 18. Finally, the jurors were in their seats, the alternates chosen, and the case against Willie Enoch, alleged killer of Armanda Kay Burns was about to start. There was a man’s life at stake here and both sides wanted to get it right.
READY YOUR HONOR
Willie Enoch was a small man, strongly built, and known by police as an ex convict. He came to Peoria a few months before the death of Ms. Burns, coming down from Chicago, Illinois. His birth date was listed as 2-11-24 on the police report, and as far as was known he was not employed. Willie’s mother and grandmother painted him as a ‘religious and caring person.’ Enoch’s mother told the jury that Willie was the oldest of ten children and that he had been without a father from the time he was two years of age.
Louise, Willie’s girlfriend was a key witness at the trial, and on Friday she entered the courtroom. She spoke in a low, almost inaudible voice as the jury leaned forward to hear. Her head down, her hands in front of her eyes, she struggled to answer.
“He told me he murdered Amanda Kay Burns.”
She shared her Warner Homes apartment with Willie Enoch and told the jury that she had a young son.
“Willie told me that he had just killed Kay Burns, then
told me that he cut her throat out.”
That got everyone’s attention and as Louise struggled with what she was saying the courtroom was still and all eyes were on the witness.
“Willie told me that she was crazy about cocaine
and that he was pretending he had some. Once inside
he walked up behind her and cut her throat. I asked
him did anybody see him. He said ‘her boyfriend was
coming in but he didn’t recognize me.’”
Haltingly she carried on as the prosecutor continued to bring out this devastating evidence against the defendant
“Why did he kill her?”
“He said it had something to do with the Disciple Gang and his
brother, Bobby. He said Kay was trying to get his brother fired.”
She then testified that Willie handed her $l43.00 which she assumed he had taken from Armanda Burns. She told the jury that Willie often carried one of her kitchen knives in a paper sheath. In tears she admitted that after she heard Willie confess the murder that she felt like killing herself.
THE TRIAL CONTINUES
Witness by witness the case against Enoch grew, including the lab people who with their exhibits tightened the noose against the defendant. Dozens of photographs were submitted as exhibits and ordered into evidence by the judge. By the time the coroner’s physician testified the horror of the crime had unfolded before the stunned jurors and spectators alike. During the doctor’s testimony, Mrs. Burns gasped, causing a stir. The judge
looked out to where the poor lady was sitting.
“I clearly understand why this is upsetting you but a capital
murder case must be done without emotion.”
The lab evidence convinced most jurors rather quickly that the man they had before them was the man that had killed Amanda Burns. Hairs that were similar to Willie Enoch’s hair were found in the sheets, socks and scattered around the apartment of the victim. Evidence from two other women that Enoch had attacked them with knives was also allowed to be heard by the jury.
From the opening argument until the closing argument, the trial continued to go against Willie Enoch. There was little doubt which way the jury was thinking, and no surprise that they took little time deciding his fate.
On Tuesday, November 23, 1983, the jury was given the case. Four hours later the jury found Enoch guilty of three counts of murder and guilty on the charge of rape. He was acquitted on armed robbery and a murder count that was tied to the armed robbery charge.
AND THE SENTENCE IS
A rousing post-trial sentencing hearing was heard, Judge Courson said
that Willie Enoch had “a willful wanton disregard for life.” After both sides had their say, Judge Courson pronounced sentence on the defendant, Willie Enoch. Enoch would die by lethal injection on February 7, 1984.
We all know that there is an automatic appeal on capital cases, so Willlie certainly would not die on that date, but the sentence was in the books.
Willie made a few statements of his own during the hearing.
“The jury conviction doesn’t prove that I
am guilty. I don’t fear death the Lord is my
salvation. Who should I fear?”
“What is it you want to gain by imposing
the death penalty? You are not going to gain
“I don’t have any hatred in my heart but if you
think taking my life helps you I don’t have no
fear of nobody. I don’t have a fear of death
because my father has prepared a place for me.
Before the death penalty was imposed, Enoch’s
attorney said “destroying Enoch’s life will in
no way resurrect Armanda Burns.”
Enoch added “if you grant me a death penalty
I would like State’s Attorney John Barra to
shoot the injection.”
THAT SHOULD END IT
We all know better than to think that a death sentence ends anything.
Our legal system is set up to protect the innocent and of course the guilty have a right to take advantage of the system. History has shown that innocent men have ended up on death row, so the appeal process continues.
Willie popped up in the Journal Star a few times and each time another appeal of some kind was either filed or granted. As the horror of a murder fades, the personality of the killer seems to drive the publicity. In Willie’s case a well-known lawyer from Chicago who was active in anti-death penalty cases got interested in Willie Enoch. Not Armanda Kay Burns, the victim, but Willie Enoch the convicted killer. The movement to save Willie from the lethal injection grew, and off they went.
DNA, DNA the chant went up, and a new appeal was filed stating that the wrong man was on death row. All the defense needed was to get its own DNA test of that bloody T-shirt and they would prove Willie did not kill Kay Burns.
I doubt if anyone in town knew as much about this case as the Journal Star’s Phil Luciano. Old murder cases fade away rapidly, but he reported the results of appeals and followed the antics of the Chicago lawyers.
“DNA testing called for by the defense will point to the real killer. They
think it was the boyfriend, Proctor. Startling new evidence that never saw the light of day will be revealed.”
State’s Attorney Lyons, who was not in office at the time of the trial had a different idea about the DNA push.
“Much ado…desperate ado about nothing. They’re banging pots and pans that’s all.”
Mr. Lyons went on to remind us that these Chicago people have been Enoch’s lawyer since 1989 but did not use the DNA ploy until 1998.
1-19-2000: Willie is still alive, Armanda is still in her grave, and the DNA results came back, pointing the guilty finger at… you guessed it, Willie Enoch.
So Enoch’s demand for genetic testing DNA backfired. So now what?
The Attorney General of Illinois handled the DNA demand and now that the results are in one would think that all avenues have been sealed as far as appeals go.
“If the courts worked half as hard to oppose sentences as they do to prevent them the public would have more faith in the legal system”. That’s our favorite SA speaking again.
“The view I take is from Armanda Burns. I stand at her grave in the proverbial sense because she could not speak then and she cannot speak now. The clock ticks slowly.”
About the results of the DNA, Lyons said, “well the results are in,
Willie was there, no one else, just him. The results showed that Enoch was there so what does that tell you about his innocence?”
CLOSE THE BOOKS ON WILLIE ENOCH
A new date was set for the execution of the killer of Armanda Burns.
Willie told guards that he was looking forward to flying in the helicopter that would take him down to Southern Illinois for his lethal injection. But that would never be. He would not only never get his ride in a helicopter, he would never feel the needle from the injection.
On June 11, 2003 Willie Enoch suffered an apparent heart attack and died on a stretcher on the way to the prison infirmary.
“The Lord is going to take me if that is his wish.
This prison life is nothing but misery”.
I wonder what the people who loved Armanda Kay Burns would say to that?
Jed Stone the activist lawyer for Willie Enoch said ‘I guess Willie cheated
the hangman this morning. More importantly he cheated us out of the chance to provide compelling evidence for a court somewhere that Enoch was innocent.’
With that comment I think it is time to close the book on Willie Enoch.
NORMAN V. KELLY
It was Halloween Eve in Peoria, Illinois and the local kids could not wait until it got a little darker. They were in their homes all over town trying to make the time go by so they could get into their scary costumes. Tricks or treating was a big deal back there in 1983. Today, kids still do it, but now a lot of them head for the mall and more parties than they used to have.
Downtown, Marion T. Wood, a fifty-five year-old retired Caterpillar man was a happy man. Since his retirement he had been working at the Bi-Sel Novelty Store, 109 N.E. Glendale. You know the place, right next to the Blooming Balloons Store and not far from Jake’s Pour House down there by the YMCA building. You won’t find them today, and even the “Y” is virtually out of business. After years as a burr operator at CAT, Marion was doing something he liked to do. He loved novelties and having the store to pass the time made him happy.
Mr. Wood lived over on Montana, apartment 66, a widower he had a son and four daughters. A nice man, blessed by his family, Marion was liked by all the folks that came in contact with him. Marion was born 1-29-l928 in Peru and married Bonnie in 1955. He was devastated when she died, and needed desperately to keep busy, so he took the job. He retired from CAT in 198l after thirty-one years on a burr bench.
Halloween is a busy time for stores like Bi-Sel and Marion kept pretty busy the whole day, talking to the people that wandered inside his store. Well, it wasn’t his store but he treated it like it was. Oh, remember the Kickapoo Hotel? That was right there too, but now long gone. Attorney Dick Burgess had an office right in that area as well. Mr. Jacobs was the owner and he and Marion had become friends. In fact, around 3:30 that fateful day, Wood called over to Mr. Jacobs’ apartment, who at the time was taking a nap. The two talked for a few minutes, Wood telling the man that someone had offered $100.00 for the TV set, and Marion wanted to know if he should sell it. Mr. Jacobs told him that he wanted at least $150.00 for the TV set. That was the last time the two would ever speak.
David and William Wilson, brothers, were pretty good pals as well. They lived over on Wayne Street in adjacent apartments. On this Halloween Day they had spent some time drinking over at The Pour House. Just before leaving home, David had been handed an $80.00 check by his girlfriend to deposit in the bank. Well, it never made it to the bank, and according to David he had lost it. This seems insignificant on the surface, but later it would prove to be much more important. Once they left The Pour House the two men wandered into the store to see Marion T. Woods. Actually, Marion was a distant relative of these two young men, and they even called him ‘Uncle Marion.’ They exchanged pleasantries, walked around the store for a few moments. William bought a buck knife, and Marion handed him a receipt for the weapon, another significant act, as we shall find out later.
On the way over to the store the two brothers had talked about the missing check and David expressed concern over the hell he would get from his girlfriend, Linda, for losing it. Keep in mind, according to testimony the two had been over at the bar from eleven until just after three that afternoon. Were they drunk? They also smoked a considerable amount of weed, which testimony later attempts to verify. So what was their frame of mind, and what kind of mental condition were they in at that time? Later on the Wilson brothers will tell you.
They were the ones that had talked to Marion about the TV set, offering a $100.00 that they certainly did not have. Suddenly David came up behind his ‘Uncle,’ brandishing a large knife. He got Wood in a one-arm strangle hold and threatened to cut Marion’s throat. Perhaps Marion thought he was just kidding, but once the knife sliced his throat, he knew he was in for the battle for his very life. Marion was no pansy, a large man he fought like hell with David Wilson. In fact he damn near won the battle according to William, because William was watching the struggle and was certain that Marion was about to get his hands on the knife. At the point William rushed over whipping the newly purchased buck knife from his belt as he ran. William stabbed Marion Wood in the back, not once, but five times. That turned the tide of battle and soon the clerk was on the floor, dying.
ITS OVER FOR MARION
Just before the slaughter of Marion T. Wood, Herman Capshaw was inside the store talking to Mr. Wood. He walked around talking as he looked. David and William were actually in the store when he came in but they were off to the side. As Herman walked about he overheard the conversation between the Wilsons and Marion concerning the TV set. Mr. Capshaw left the store not realizing the information he had about the Wilsons was soon going to be significant news indeed. He walked back over to his apartment at the Towers to get ready for Halloween.
Mr. Jacob walked over to the novelty store, opened the door and expected to be greeted by the smiling face of Marion Wood. Instead what he saw stopped him cold in his tracks. Marion was on the floor, covered in his own blood. Mr. Jacob gasped and raced to the telephone to call police. Marion Wood, murdered, it was simply impossible to believe. Marion’s boss looked at the clock, it was close to 4:30 that Halloween Eve, certainly a day that he would never forget as long as he lived. Mr. Jacob stood waiting for the police thinking about his friend Marion. He was such an easy going, mild-mannered Marion Wood. Funny, he remembered how Marion liked the lottery and the day that he’d won $5,000.00. He shook his head, Marion Wood murdered it was incomprehensible.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
Officer Richard Gamma got the call about a body and raced over to the novelty store. He saw a man, later identified as William Swearinger, waving at him from the front door of the store. The officer pulled up and hurried over to Swearinger, who told him that there was a man on the floor inside the store. The officer went in and saw the body of Marion Wood. He was immediately on his radio and within a short time the store would be crowded with investigators and crime scene people.
Crime scenes look chaotic but they are rigidly controlled, and each investigator has a purpose or he wouldn’t be there. The forensic team is a methodical bunch, and they rarely if ever overlook anything. Once the coroner or the assistant finishes with the body the real search begins. The police gathered more than sixty items from the store, took hundreds of photographs and dusted the place for fingerprints, and of course the blood stains for lab samples. By the time they left the store they had enough material to keep them busy for months.
A lot of criticism is aimed at the media, some rightly so, but it is the media that informs the community of each day’s tragedy. As soon as the public heard of Mr. Wood’s death, scores of people began calling in tips to the police department. Some of them were ridiculous, even funny, but many of them helped considerably. Take this tip from a lady that told police she was having a drink over at The Pour House the day after the murder. She said she overheard a lady telling a man that her son had come home “covered in blood.” Well, the police got on that tip immediately and soon were talking to the woman with the bloody son. To their astonishment, that woman turned out to be the mother of the Wilson brothers. They left that interview shaking their heads, wondering how in the hell they could have gotten that lucky. Quickly they pulled up the criminal records of David and William Wilson. Experts then matched the prints from the murder scene with those of the Wilson brothers and they had a match. The officers were jubilant with their success, and plans were soon made by the commanding officer for arrangements to arrest David and William Wilson. They found both brothers over there on Wayne Street and both were taken into custody with very little effort. Police got permission to search the apartments, read the two their rights, and moved on with their investigation.
THE NOOSE TIGHTENS
Once the two brothers were in jail and the police had names and photographs to show around, other witnesses were quickly found that aided in the investigation. The search over at the apartments revealed bloody clothing, the knife receipt, wrappers from the toys, and a cigarette lighter. Down in the basement in the blower of the furnace the police found David’s knife. The Wilson brothers, certain they had just committed ‘the perfect crime,’ lay over in their jail cells certain that they had been much too clever for the police. Once they had sobered up they soon discovered how pathetic they really were.
Three times the police read the brothers the Miranda Card and now they were ready for the final attempt to get from the brothers the ‘true story.’
Armed with the evidence I just told you about, the brothers were questioned separately. David told the police “it was William’s idea to rob the place, not mine.” William told the police “David had the idea to rob Marion, it wasn’t my idea.” Ah, brotherly love, how deep it runs. The brothers confessed to the murder, and of course, blamed it all on alcohol and pot.
“We were out of our heads,” David told detectives “we probably drank a case of beer and smoked at least 32 cigarettes.” That was pot folks not Marlboros, by the way.
Police took their statements to the state’s attorney, handed over what they had as evidence and went back out into the street for more. The SA had all the papers drawn up, presented the matter to the grand jury, and got the indictments. The brothers were held in jail without bail.
The sad job of burying Mr. Wood was conducted by the family and about all anyone could ask was WHY? Who would want to kill a nice guy like Marion Wood? Hell, the police knew how it was done, they had the killers as well and they could probably tell you why. But…that was up to the courts to determine; they had done their job and done it well.
The coroner held his inquest over the body of Mr. Wood, an agonizing ordeal for the family members. The coroner calls family members to establish some facts about the deceased for the record. Many family members leave the hearing room before the coroner’s physician testifies. No wonder, listen to what Dr. Immesote had to say about the body of Marion T. Wood.
“Mr. Wood was a man of about 5’ 8 inches tall weighing approximately 240 pounds, and at the stated age of 55. The body suffered multiple wounds, including stabbing and slashing wounds all over the body. Multiple stab wounds to the back, one of them nicking the heart. The throat was slashed and numerous other cuts and stabbing wounds were noted. There were over 35 stab wounds plus slashes and scratches over the body and over the left orbit. There were deep stab-wounds to both eyes, as well as stab wounds to the cheeks. There was one large, six-inch slashing wound to the right neck. There were twelve additional slashing wounds to the throat.
There were two stab wounds to the left clavicular area and nine stab wounds to the stomach. Multiple slashes to the stomach and cuts on the thumbs and fingers. Stab wounds to the left flank and penetrating stab wounds to the left lung and liver. There were multiple stab-wounds to his head, as well as the neck, back, liver and spleen. The victim’s birth date was noted as 1-29-1928.”
Think about it for just one moment and put your loved one in the situation that Mr. Wood found himself in that Halloween evening in 1983. Want to volunteer to be on the jury that tries these two brothers?
ARRAIGNMENT AND SUCH
The brothers were appointed a Public Defender, and on the day of their
Arraignment hearing they were charged with three separate counts of murder, armed robbery and capital murder. That last charge can carry the death penalty with it and authorities refer to it as a capital murder trial. The brothers soon had their own lawyers, Mr. Holman for David and Mr. Picl represented William. Marcia Straub and Larry Paluska from the SA’s office would represent the People. The brothers entered a not guilty plea and the matter was set down for trial.
The first bit of business for the defense was to get the trial held somewhere else, a change of venue. Also, the defense lawyers wanted the brother’s trials severed. To add to that list, the defense wanted not only the evidence suppressed, they wanted the confessions quashed as well. No evidence, no confessions, no fingerprints, no bloody clothing, no knife, you get the idea?
Oh, they also asked the judge to quash any evidence that might come from the police lineup the police held. Judge Charles Wilson listened to all these motions, heard all the arguments, battled with the lawyers and finally decided to overrule all of them, allowing the evidence and confession to be used in the trial. On February 22, 1984, after one of those heated hearings, David Wilson married his girlfriend, Linda.
YOUR TRIAL AWAITS
It was a beautiful spring day, that April 23, 1984 when the murder trial for the Wilson Brothers got under way. High school kids from Bergen and ICC filled the back rows of Judge Donald Courson’s courtroom. The struggle to seat a jury in a well-publicized murder like this one is never easy. Both sides have an idea what they are looking for in the ‘perfect juror,’ and the process is long and tedious. Finally they seated six men and six women with two alternates.
Both men were buffed up from the appearances they had the day of their arrests. Beards were gone, and well-trimmed mustaches took their place. David wore a light tan sport coat and William sported a nice pin-stripped suit. They had family in the audience and sat looking rather confident there at the defendant’s table with their two damn good lawyers.
The opening argument or statement is the first chance for the lawyer to strut his/her stuff. This is not evidence although the lawyers would like to have the jury believe it is. They tell the jury what they think the evidence will show. The burden of proof is on the prosecution and they too try to do a convincing job. The evidence comes from the witnesses and the judge tells the jury what the law is. The lawyers, based on their skill levels try to finagle this theory the best way they can for their respective clients. With the lives of two men on the line this can all become very dramatic indeed. So cases 83 CF 46l3 and 83 CF 46l6, the People vs. David and William Wilson got underway. The opening statements over, the State called its first witness. The young assistants were eager to prove their case, and one by one, the witnesses and police officers were called. For every exhibit they wanted to put into evidence they had to lay the legal groundwork. This is tedious work, and during the process, the defense will try to object. Bitter arguments erupt and the judge in some cases is more like a referee than a judge. The battle here in open court is to sway the jury, period.
The trial heated up and so did the weather. During the trial the courthouse became almost unbearable, Judge Steve Covey, not part of the trial ordered some windows opened up. The man in charge of the building, Robert Pomeroy told the judge he could not do that “because of insurance reasons.” Well, Judge Covey was not going to buy that and told Pomeroy to open the windows. “If you order me to do it, judge, I will,” Steve smiled at him, “well, then I order you to open the windows.” Pomeroy, not too happy said “there is a danger of people falling out.” The judge countered “I believe it will keep them from passing out rather than falling out.”
The State called Detective Dale Whitlege to read the confessions the brothers had given to the police, and the objections flew. Overruled, the devastating statements were made part of the record. The State’s witnesses then began to parade in front of the jury. Forensic people testified as to the authenticity of each exhibit, the knife used to kill Mr. Wood, the fingerprints, the bloody clothing and all the other evidence found at the scene and the apartments of the defendants.
The People’s case was presented and the objections from the defendant’s lawyers proved to be basically useless. Finally, the State rested its case and now it was up to the defense.
I WAS NOT IN MY RIGHT MIND
The defense was pretty much summed up in the above captioned phrase. The brothers testified that they had been drinking most of that day, consumed a case of beer, smoked all those cigarettes I told you about and simply did not know what they were doing. I suppose that is all they could do considering the fact that the confessions were now part of the exhibits for the jury to study. I’ll give you some specific quotes from these two defendants in the sentencing stage of the trial. In most capital cases, the defendant does not testify, so at least here the jury got to hear what these two had to say for themselves…it wasn’t much.
The boys’ mother walked slowly to the stand, the burden of what she was going through evident on her face. “Their father left home when the boys were three and one,” she said, a tissue dabbing at her eyes. “Vern Wilson, their stepfather, neglected them and didn’t want them. Once he tried to run over David with his car.” She went on to tell the jury that she had to kick William out of her house because he tried to break in after she had locked the house for the night.
The defense called the officers from the jail. They told the jury that the Wilsons were model prisoners and that they read the bible all day. Officer Livengood told the jury that David told him he was going to write a book about a Halloween massacre. The guards said that neither man seemed to have any withdrawal symptoms from drugs or alcohol. The defense then put on a doctor that told the jury that was common among people that were used to abusive drug use. And so it went. The defense tried to show the jury that the Wilson brothers were just nice young men who happened to make a mistake. Was the jury buying any of this?
The trial was running its course, and with Dr. Immesote’s graphic description of the condition of Marion’s body in the jury’s mind, the State was confident. Along with all the exhibits the horrific photographs were included as well. Finally, the defense rested, and the only bit of work to be completed was the closing statements. Like the opening arguments the closing statements were not evidence. This phase is the lawyer’s interpretation of the evidence that has been presented. The other side has a right to object, and they do, but in most cases, the lawyers are pretty much allowed to say what they want. It can get pretty dramatic, even ridiculous, but hey…they’re lawyers.
So, after 80 items of evidence, marked by exhibit numbers and admitted into evidence, the trial was over. The judge now had to charge the jury and read to them what the law was in this case. Believe me he does not do this on his own. For hours the judge and the lawyers battle this phase of the trial out in the judge’s chambers. A lot of experienced court spectators get out of the courtroom before the judge reads the law to the jury. I was guilty of this myself over the years.
THE JURY DECIDES
The jury got the case at 1:35 that afternoon and at 3:40 they let the judge know that they had reached a verdict. This was a solemn time as the courtroom filled up, the lawyers were summoned and the judge walked in.
“Call the jury,” said the judge. The judge looked over at the jury, “I understand you have reached a verdict.” The foreman stood “we have your honor.” The bailiff walked over and took the verdict, handing it to the judge. The judge looked at the paper then asked the foreman what the verdict was. “Guilty as to all counts, your honor.”
It was over. There was little to no emotion on the part of the defendants. Surely they could not have imagined that this jury was going to set them free. Actually, it was not over. This very jury had to reconvene and decide the death penalty phase of the trial. Would they sentence these two young defendants to death row and execution or would they just give them life? I asked you once if you wanted to be on this jury. Well, here is your chance, execution or life? Before we get to that final phase, I wanted you to hear what the two defense lawyers said, among other things, in their closing arguments. These statements are important because they came at the end of the trial when the jury is more apt to remember.
David’s lawyer said to the jury “these young men did not plan on killing Mr. Wood. They were in all honesty drunk and high as a kite.” Mr. Holman continued: “This murder was drug and beer induced. If they wanted to kill Mr. Wood they could have done it more easily. I mean sixty some odd wounds is a frenzy induced by beer and marijuana”
William’s lawyer, Mr. Picl, said “William is not eligible for the death penalty because he did not inflict the most damaging wounds. The slash wound to the neck was caused by David’s larger knife.”
LIFE OR DEATH?
It was May 3, 1983, one of those beautiful spring days that make us think of lying on a hammock day dreaming, not stuck in a hot courtroom. The courtroom was packed again with some people waiting in line to get in. This was the last chance for the defense to save these two young men, and the gloves would be off. There was excitement in the air when the judge called his court to order. The young defendant’s families were in attendance as well as relatives from Marion Wood’s family.
David took the stand and his lawyer guided him through his life of alcohol and drug addiction. He told the jury about all of his time in jail as well. David sobbed, the court allowed a brief moment, and testimony continued.
“David what would you say to these people to
keep you alive? Would you beg?”
David leaned his head on to his arm and sobbed. A few minutes later, composed, David again blamed his brother William for planning the robbery. Later, David said this about the actual slashing of Marion’s throat.
“As far as I know I did it.”
This sentencing phase of the trial would continue for close to eight hours. The two authorities on drug abuse told the jury that these two men were “brain-damaged, and burned out on drugs”.
Ms. Straub from the SA’s office countered that with this: “Blaming the brother’s action on alcohol and marijuana is self-serving. They try to minimize their actions and somehow absolve themselves.” She then walked over and looked at the jurors “this was a brutal, merciless killing and from the first step they took until the last they were acting together.”
Linda, now the wife of David Wilson, told the jury that David often hit her and threw things around in a fit of rage. She also told the jury that they had lost the custody of the two children because of ‘spanking them with a belt.’
The reason for her testimony was to show the jury how drugs had controlled her husband’s life for years.
The state put on the two bartenders and they testified that in their opinion the brothers were not drunk when they left the tavern. The State also went through all the planning and actions the two brothers took after the murder to show that the killers were not acting like they were ‘out of their heads,’ as the defense contended. Mr. Picl for William said “as I told you in the opening statement my client is not guilty of murder and the State has done nothing to prove it.” Later Mr. Picl would say to the jury “a death penalty might even be a reward, sending William to a better existence.”
The State countered. “They are using their addiction to blame someone else for their predicament. Their life was not made by someone else, it was a life they created and reveled in.”
And so it went, back and forth, the defense blaming everything but their clients, and the State reminding the jury of the facts in the case. “On the day this event occurred they could function…and they did.”
HOW WILL THIS JURY FIND?
The jury came back and in open court informed the judge that they could not agree on the death sentence. Oh, they agreed that the Wilson brothers were eligible for the death penalty, but they could not agree on passing that sentence. So…they left it up to Judge Donald Courson. Here is what the foreman said in the formal verdict.
“We are unable to conclude unanimously that there is no mitigating circumstances, factors or factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. We cannot unanimously find that the court shall sentence the defendants to death.”
JUNE 21, 1983
It was in the very capable hands of Judge Courson now and the emotional aspect of the case was over. The judge considered the evidence, the defendants and the law. He would now pass sentence on David and William Wilson.
‘A long life of drugs and alcohol are not mitigating factors, I consider them factors in aggravation. The maximum term is warranted here, the nature of the wounds on Mr. Wood’s body and the Wilson’s attitude. They were ready to party after the crime with the pitiful amount they had to gain.”
The judge continued “Mr. Holman said the act was mindless, that is one way to look at it. I look at it as callus.”
The judge then went on to sentence the Wilson brothers to life without the possibility of parole. He then tacked on 60 years for armed robbery. So on April 30, the defendants were found guilty and here in June they were sentenced to life without parole. The sixty years would be served concurrently. So that was the end of the trial for the brothers. What was next of course was the appeal to the higher court.
Later on the appeal would be handled by the public defender’s office and a direct appeal to the Appellate Court in Ottawa was made. They did change the sentence and that surprised quite a few folks. The court dropped the armed robbery charge: however it confirmed the conviction of Felony Murder. The matter was then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and on l0-2-1985 denied the appeal and affirmed the judgement of the Circuit Court.
That brought to a close the Wilson matter. Of course there was always the United States Supreme Court in some cases, but apparently not this one. As the years go by the Wilson brothers will surely try whatever is left for them to obtain a parole. The judge said there was no possibility of parole, however, so there it is. Of course none of it will ever bring back Marion Wood to his family.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian and author of 12 books and hundreds of short stories. firstname.lastname@example.org