117 So.2d 473 (Fla. 1960), Williams v. State

Citation:117 So.2d 473
Opinion Judge:Author: Thomas
Party Name:James A. WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Attorney:Paul Lake, Tampa, for appellant.
Case Date:January 27, 1960
Court:Supreme Court of Florida
 
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Page 473

117 So.2d 473 (Fla. 1960)

James A. WILLIAMS, Appellant,

v.

STATE of Florida, Appellee.

Supreme Court of Florida.

January 27, 1960

Rehearing Denied Feb. 22, 1960.

Page 474

Paul Lake, Tampa, for appellant.

Richard W. Ervin, Atty. Gen., and Odis M. Henderson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

THOMAS, Chief Justice.

The evidence in this case which led to a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree and the ultimate sentence of death in the electric chair was circumstantial and we will, therefore, judge it carefully by the rule lately announced in Davis v. State, Fla., 90 So.2d 629, and in the cases cited in that opinion.

The contention of the appellant that the judgment should be reversed poses two questions for decision by this court, namely, the sufficiency of proof to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant committed the crime charged in the indictment and the propriety of the trial judge's ruling permitting witnesses for the state to testify about an incident, in which appellant was an actor, that occurred about a month after the homicide.

The murder for which the appellant was condemned was committed in the H & K Market, 26 April 1958; the later crime, robbery, was perpetrated at the Blue Grass Market the 24th of the following month. Both places of business were located in St. Petersburg. In the former, Herman Kaplan was shot to death; in the latter, a man was wounded but not fatally.

Kaplan was shot six times with a .25 calibre automatic pistol as he was closing his store about 8:15 in the evening. No one actually witnessed the killing but a man working nearby heard the shots, saw the flashes and watched a Negro flee from the building. The body of the victim of the assault, which is not denied to have culminated in murder in the first degree, was found on the floor by the cash register. The drawer in the register was open and it contained no money except 'change,' although a day's trading had just ended.

There was testimony that at the time of the shooting the defendant was in the vicinity but witnesses called by him tended to establish an alibi. Their stories were conflicting and obviously were discarded by the jury.

Were we to stop here we would be compelled to conclude that the appellant's guilt had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But we go from the H & K Market to the Blue Grass Market to describe the action there, in which the appellant assumed a leading role, and then we will turn to the links claimed by the State to couple the two events and, therefore, to connect the appellant with the earlier one.

The Blue Grass was robbed at closing time, about 8:15 P.M., by two Negroes, appellant and an accomplice named Isiah Cole. The butcher in the store was wounded by a pistol in the hands of appellant. The robbers fled to Tampa in a Pontiac automobile and there got into difficulties with the police. They were halted by two officers for minor infraction of a traffic regulation. Cole became very belligerent and appeared to the officers to be drunk so they arrested him. Appellant drove away in the car and shortly afterward returned afoot and undertook to convince the patrolmen they should release Cole. He, too, became threatening and was placed under arrest. Meanwhile the officers had searched Cole and found a large amount of money. When the appellant and Cole had been sent to the police station in the patrol wagon the policemen began a search for the car that lasted four hours. They found it parked several blocks away. Near the front door were two one-dollar bills and a short distance

Page 475

away a twenty-dollar bill. In the trunk were a sizeable sum of money and two revolvers. One of the weapons was later identified as the property of the...

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