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WRIGHT v. THE STATE.
18361.
Murder. Before Judge West. Walton Superior Court. July 25, 1953.
CANDLER, Justice.
1. Where a defendant, after his arrest, allows his pants or other wearing apparel to be removed by an officer, without objection, it is not error to allow such evidence to be introduced, nor is it in violation of any constitutional right of the defendant. In this case the record is completely silent as to any objection which the defendant interposed to the removal of his pants by the sheriff.
2. Whether a subsequent confession of guilt, of itself wholly unexceptionable, was made under previous improper influence still operating on the mind of the accused, is a question not of law for the court, to be resolved by the exclusion of such evidence, but is a question of fact for the jury to determine.
3. A ground of a motion for new trial, that "the court erred in failing to charge on the law of voluntary manslaughter," is too vague and indefinite an assignment of error to raise any question for determination by this court.
4. A confession of guilt, freely and voluntarily made by the accused, in direct evidence of the highest character and sufficient to authorize a verdict of guilty on a charge of murder, when corroborated by proof of the corpus delicti. Thus tested, the verdict in the instant case is amply supported by evidence. This being true, the general grounds of the motion for new trial are without merit.
Paul Wright was indicted in Walton County for the murder of Mrs. Sarah Belle Daniel. He was tried, convicted of the offense charged, and sentenced to be electrocuted. He excepts to the judgment denying his amended motion for new trial.
In substance, the State's evidence was as follows: Elmer Daniel, Mrs. Sarah Belle Daniel, and their fifteen-year-old son, Glendel Daniel, resided on a farm in Walton County. Mrs. Daniel was found dead in her home about 7:40 a.m. on April 20, 1953. She had been stabbed three times in the chest. These wounds caused her death. She also had bruises on her face and fingerprints on her throat, indicating she had been hit and choked. Her husband had left home that morning about daylight, going to Monroe, Georgia, for fertilizer. She was alone in the home after her son left for school that morning about 7.30. The accused, together with his mother and two brothers, lived on Mr. Daniel's farm--near his residence--and cultivated his land as share-croppers. The accused came to the Daniel home on the morning of the homicide, between 7 and 7:15, and asked Glendel Daniel for a shovel. He left with the shovel, going in the direction of his home. His brother, as a witness for the State, testified that the accused left the field, on the morning of the homicide, where they were working, to get a shovel, but did not come back. The accused was taken into custody on Tuesday night after the death of Mrs. Daniel on Monday, carried to State Patrol Headquarters in Atlanta, and was questioned that night, by Sheriff C. J. Sorrells of Walton County and by Arthur Hutchins and J. D. Haralson, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents, about the death of Mrs. Daniel. At that time he denied any connection with the killing of Mrs. Daniel, but said that he left the field on the morning of the homicide where he and his brothers were working, went to the Daniel home for a shovel, and then returned to the field with it. He was questioned again on Thursday after the killing at the same place and by the same officers. For some time during that interview he insisted that he had nothing to do with the killing of Mrs. Daniel, but finally stated to Agent Haralson, in the absence of Sheriff Sorrells and Agent Hutchins, that, if he would let him get a drink of water and "be excused," he would come back and tell just what happened. He got water, went to the toilet, returned, and told Haralson that he killed Mrs. Daniel by stabbing her with a knife, relating to him in detail and at length the manner and way in which he committed the act. Shortly afterwards, he voluntarily made a like statement in the presence of Dr. Herman Jones, Dr. Sharkley, Lt. Ragsdale, Agent Hutchins, and Sheriff Sorrells; and, by using pictures which had been taken at the Daniel home, he gave a detailed account of the killing and of his movements while in the Daniel home and during the commission of the act. His two oral confessions, according to the testimony of Sheriff Sorrells and Agents Haralson and Hutchins, were freely and voluntarily made; they were not induced by any hope of reward of by any fear of punishment or by the denial of food or water. A written statement which the accused voluntarily signed on April 29, 1953, and in substance the same as his two prior oral statements, reads as follows: "Georgia, Fulton County. I, Paul Wright, do make this statement of my own free will to Mr. George Williams, Marshall Pollock, Solicitor-General of the Su-
perior Court of Walton County, Sheriff C. J. Sorrells and Arthur Hutchins, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. I have been advised by the Solicitor-General that I do not have to make this statement and that it can be used against me in the trial of my case; and I have not been offered anything to make it and I have not been threatened in any way. This is my statement about the killing of Mrs. Sarah Malcom Daniel on April 20, 1953. I am eighteen years of age and was born in Morgan County, Georgia, and have lived on the farm of Mr. Elmer Daniel since the 1st of 1949 with my mother and two brothers. We farmed on halves with Mr. Daniel. On the day Mrs. Daniel was killed I left home about six-thirty o'clock in the morning with my brothers, D. C. Wright and J. W. Wright, and Barton Baccus and went to the field to burn some Bermuda grass. I helped burn six or seven piles of grass and then left and went by home and laid across the bed for a few minutes. My stomach and head hurt because I was hungry. The last meal that I had eaten was Sunday about nine or ten o'clock; I ate two pieces of pork chops then. I got off the bed and went to Mr. Elmer's house and asked Glen, son of Mr. Elmer Daniel, where was the shovel; and he told me it was in the garden. I got the shovel and cut through Mr. Elmer's yard and went by my house a short distance and turned around and came back to my house and set the shovel down. When I went by my house with the shovel I went down to the bridge. While I was there I saw the school bus go by; then I went to set the shovel down and went straight on to Mr. Daniel's house. My purpose was to go in the house of Mr. Daniel and get something to eat out of the refrigerator. I had seen Mr. Elmer Daniel leave to go to Monroe for fertilizer when I first left the field and I knew Mrs. Daniel rode to work in Monroe in a car that came by to pick her up about the same time as the school bus ran and that Glen went to school in Monroe on the school bus, and if these three had left home there would be no one left in the house. I had slipped in the house on other times before this time to get something to eat. I saw the school bus leave before I went into the house. I went in the back door and went into the house by turning the knob, since the door was shut but not locked. I went through the kitchen between the stove and the table. The door between the kitchen and the dining room was shut, but I opened it and got the refrigerator door about open when I saw Mrs. Daniel. I did not see her until she was right by my side and she caught hold of me. I swung her around and might have knocked her against the floor and against a table. The reason I am sure of this is the flower pot that was on the table was knocked across the dining table and fell on the floor; she got a knife and I grabbed her; I put my left arm around the back of her neck and I do not know whether I choked her with this hand or not. I put my right hand on her mouth and nose to keep her from screaming; she had screamed when she first got up off the floor and I did not want her to do it again. I threw her down on the floor and hit her twice in the face with my hand. I then took the knife and something came into my mind all at once to stab her and I stabbed her twice that I remember, it might have been three times. All that she did while I was hitting her on the floor was to try to catch my hand, and when I was stabbing her she was so weakened down that she just moved her leg and arm. At the time I was stabbing her both of my knees were on the floor and I had blood on my right hand. I do not know whether I got blood on my pants but it is possible as I was close to her when I was stabbing her and might have gotten some off on my hand. I do not know whether I touched the kitchen cabinet when I shut the door between the kitchen and dining room. I went straight through the kitchen and out the back door. I went back by my house and started back to the field and heard my brothers coming and I went to the toilet; I then went home; I washed my hands and got the blood off of them when I got home. I had not seen Mrs. Daniel before I went in her house that morning and when I stabbed her she had on a striped dress and a green coat, it was not a long coat and she did not have on a hat. I saw a red looking box sitting in a chair in the kitchen near the outside door on the right; I do not remember whether there were dishes on the table in the kitchen or not. I wish to sign this statement for the gentlemen named in the statement and it is true. This April 29, 1953. Paul Wright. Witnesses. G. C. Williams, D. M. Pollock, C. J. Sorrells, Arthur Wright."
With reference to the written statement which the accused signed on April 29, 1953, G. C. Williams testified that it was freely and voluntarily made by the accused; that Mr. Pollock wrote down exactly what he said; that the accused was advised by Mr. Pollock that a statement could be used as evidence against him on the trial of his case; and that the accused signed the statement after Mr. Pollock had read it over to him.
By laboratory analysis human blood was found on a pair of pants which Sheriff Sorrells took off the accused and which he was wearing at the time of his arrest. Human blood was also found on the hands of the accused by laboratory tests made from finger-nail washings.
The defendant offered no testimony, but in his statement to the jury said: "I did not kill her. I went over there and got the shovel and went on back home and stayed there at home. The reason I told them in Atlanta that I killed her was because I was scared; I didn't kill her. One of them told me if I didn't say it they would give me a pill and I would say it. If I had killed her I would have left the same day. They just scared me to death is the reason I told them that I killed her. I left the field and come home, and coming through the house I laid down across the bed. I got up and went over there to get the shovel, Glendel was on the porch, and he told me the shovel was in the garden and I got the shovel and went back home and stayed there until my brothers got home. That is all I know about it."
(After stating the foregoing facts.) 1. It is alleged in special ground 1 of the motion for new trial that the court erred in admitting, over the defendant's objection, certain clothing of the accused, namely, a pair of blue denim work pants. Concerning this, Sheriff Sorrells testified: "These clothes here belong to Paul, they were the ones he had on at the time. I delivered them to Mr. Shoffeitt to analyse at their laboratory. I came home and got him some more clothes and carried them back to Fulton Tower and took these off him and carried them over to the laboratory." It does not appear from the record that the accused objected to the removal of his clothing by the sheriff. "Where a defendant, after his arrest, allows his shoes or other apparel to be removed by the officers, without objection, or voluntarily removes the same, it is not error to allow such evidence to be introduced, nor is it in violation of any constitutional right of the defendant." Johns v. State, 178 Ga. 676 (1) (173 S. E. 917). For like holdings, see Franklin v. State, 69 Ga. 36 (3) (47 Am. R. 748); Drake v. State, 75 Ga. 413; Myers v. State, 97 Ga. 76 (6) (25 S. E. 252); Johns v. State, 180 Ga. 187 (9) (178 S. E. 707); Shepherd v. State, 203 Ga. 635 (3) (47 S. E. 2d 860). There is no merit in this ground of the motion.
2. Special ground 2 of the motion complains about the allowance in evidence of a written confession which the accused signed on April 29, 1953. It was timely objected to by counsel for the defendant, as the record reveals, upon the following ground: "We object on the ground that it was not freely and voluntarily made. It was made at Fulton Tower in the presence of the solicitor, a G. B. I. officer, and the sheriff. It is simply a follow-up of a statement made earlier to Mr. Haralson when he [the accused] asked to get a drink of water." It is not insisted or argued that the written confession was improperly induced at the time it was obtained, but its inadmissibility is based upon a contention that prior improper influence had been exerted by certain officers in obtaining from the accused an oral confession, and that such improper influence was still operating on his mind at the time he signed the written confession. This contention is untenable. The question as to whether a confession, unexceptionable in itself, was made under previous undue influence still operating on the mind of the defendant, is not a question of law for the court, to be resolved by excluding such evidence, but is a question of fact for the jury. Pines v. State, 21 Ga. 227; Valentine v. State, 77 Ga. 470 (3), 480; Milner v. State, 124 Ga. 86 (52 S. E. 302); Jackson v. State, 172 Ga. 575 (158 S. E. 289); Bryant v. State, 191 Ga. 686 (13 S. E. 820); Jones v. State, 204 Ga. 761 (51 S. E. 2d 831). But in this ruling we make no intimation about the voluntary or involuntary character of the oral confession referred to, as that question is not before us; it became, as the record shows, a part of the evidence without any objection.
3. In special ground 3 it is alleged that "the court erred in failing to charge on the law of voluntary manslaughter." The movant incorporated in this ground of his motion certain portions of the evidence which he insists support him in the position taken. Code 6-901, provides that exceptions "shall specify plainly the decision complained of and the alleged error." This ground of the motion is too vague and indefinite to meet the requirement. "A ground in a motion for new trial, in a conviction for murder, that 'the court erred in not giving in charge to the jury the law of voluntary manslaughter' is 'too vague and indefinite an assignment of error to raise any question for determination by this Court.' Smith v. State, 125 Ga. 300 (54 S. E. 124); Wilson v. State, 156 Ga. 42 (118 S. E. 427), and cit.; Burley v. State, 158 Ga. 849 (3) (124 S. E. 532); Harris v. State, 178 Ga. 746 (3) (174 S. E. 240); Parham v. State, 180 Ga. 233 (2) (178 S. E. 648); Bryant v. State, 180 Ga. 238 (178 S. E. 651)." Harris v. State, 184 Ga. 165 (190 S. E. 554). For such a ground to be sufficiently definite it should plainly specify wherein voluntary manslaughter was involved, whether by reason of an assault, other equivalent circumstances, or by mutual combat. Pitts v. State, 197 Ga. 317 (28 S. E. 2d 864), and citations.
4. There is no merit in the general grounds of the motion for new trial. The State's evidence, as it appears from our statement of the facts, proved the crime of murder as charged in the indictment; and this is true because a confession of guilt, which freely and voluntarily made, is direct evidence of the highest character ( Eberhart v. State, 47 Ga. 598; Pressley v. State, 201 Ga. 267, 39 S. E. 2d 478); and when corroborated by proof of the corpus delicti, as in this case, it is sufficient to authorize a conviction. Code 38-420; Burns v. State, 188 Ga. 22 (3) (2 S. E. 2d 627); Moore v. State, 193 Ga. 877 (20 S. E. 2d 403); Reddick v. State, 202 Ga. 209 (42 S. E. 2d 742), and cases there cited.
For the reasons stated in the preceding divisions of this opinion, the judgment complained of is not erroneous.
D. M. Pollock, Solicitor-General, Eugene Cook, Attorney-General, Rubye G. Jackson, contra.
A. M. Kelly, Jere Field, J. E. Briscoe, Jr., William L. Preston, H. O. Godwin, for plaintiff in error.
SUBMITTED SEPTEMBER 15, 1953 -- DECIDED OCTOBER 13, 1953 -- REHEARING DENIED NOVEMBER 12, 1953.
Saturday May 23 04:30 EDT


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