The statutory definition of murder is found in Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 38, para. 9 -- 1(a) (1977) and reads that a person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death: (1) he either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knows that such acts will cause death to that individual or another; or (2) he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another; or (3) he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than voluntary manslaughter. The crime of murder is thus committed not only when a person intends to kill another individual, but also when he intends to do great bodily harm, or when he knows that his acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm, or when he is attempting or committing a forcible felony.
Two cases of attempted murder were consolidated for appeal. The first defendant sought review of the judgment of the Appellate Court for the Fourth District (Illinois), which determined that the jury instructions given in that attempted murder action were proper. The State sought review of a decision of the Appellate Court for the Third District, which reversed the second defendant's conviction for attempted murder and held that the jury instructions were improper.
Were the jury instructions proper?
The court determined that the jury instructions in both actions permitted the jury to have returned a verdict of guilty upon evidence that defendants intended only to have caused great bodily harm short of death and the instructions should have made it clear that in order to have convicted defendants for attempted murder, nothing less than a criminal intent to kill must have been shown. The offense of attempt required an intent to commit a specific offense. The court determined that even though the first defendant did not renew his objection to the jury instruction in his written post-trial motion, it would consider the adequacy of the jury instruction on appeal.