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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Know Who Killed Me: Illinois Court Finds Victim's Statements Are Admissible As Dying Declarations

The trial of Brandon Crabb in an Illinois court is likely to end today, with the chances of his conviction greatly increased after the judge ruled that the victim's dying declarations could be introduced into evidence.  Crabb is charged with first degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of Anthony Hart.  In April, several police officers reportedly saw Crabb stop his car near Hart's car, walk over to Crabb's car, and start a conversation.  At some point, Crabb appeared to punch Hart through the open window of the car and then drive off.

Hart then stumbled away while covered with blood and collapsed on a front porch.  A bystander thereafter called the police and began to apply pressure to a wound near Hart's neck.  A firefighter who responded minutes later indicated that it appeared that Hart was going into shock.  His application of pressure was not stopping the blood flow, so the firefighter stuck his finger into the wound, hoping to stop the artery from gushing blood.

While the firefighter was attending to Hart, Hart allegedly told him that Crabb stabbed him without provocation.  (Crabb has apparently admitted to the stabbing but has claimed that he acted in self-defense.).  The prosecution sought to have the firefighter testify to these statements, but defense counsel vehemently objected that these statements constituted hearsay.  The prosecution countered that they constituted dying declarations, exceptions to the rule against hearsay, and the court eventually agreed after the lawyers wrangled for several minutes.

WIthout knowing all of the facts, the court appears to have made th right decision.  In order for a statement to constitute a dying declaration in a homicide case, (1) the declaration must pertain to the cause or circumstances of the homicide; (2) the declarant must possess the fixed belief and moral conviction that death is impending and almost certain to follow almost immediately; and (3) the declarant must possess mental faculties sufficient to give an accurate statement about the cause or circumstances of the homicide. People v. Gilmore, 828 N.E.2d 293, 303 (Ill. App. 2 Dist. 2005).  Furthermore, the proponent of the evidence must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. See id.

It seems clear to me that the first two elements were satisfied.  Hart's statements described how and by whom he was stabbed, satisfying element one, and from the testimony about his unstoppable blood flow, it seems clear that Hart would have believed his death was impending, satisfying element two.  If, however, the firefighter was correct that Hart was going into shock, it seems less clear that he had the requisite mental faculties to satisfy element three.  Assuming, however, that the firefighter testified that Hart appeared rational, element three was likely satisfied as well.

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