24 N.Y.2d 666, People v. Gates

Citation:24 N.Y.2d 666, 301 N.Y.S.2d 597
Party Name:People v. Gates
Case Date:May 14, 1969
Court:New York Court of Appeals

Page 666

24 N.Y.2d 666

301 N.Y.S.2d 597

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,

v.

Arthur Richard GATES, Appellant.

New York Court of Appeals

Decided May 14, 1969.

[301 N.Y.S.2d 598] Edward R. Korman and Gerald D. Stern, New York City, for appellant.

Page 667

Robert R. Meehan, Dist. Atty. (Harold A. Seidenberg, New City, of counsel), for respondent.

FOLD, Chief Judge.

Patricia Gates was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of September 7, 1966, in her apartment in the Village of Spring Valley. The defendant, her estranged husband, was charged with the killing and convicted of murder in the first degree. Of the several questions raised on this appeal, we are, primarily, concerned with that involving the sufficiency of the evidence of the defendant's guilt.

[301 N.Y.S.2d 599] Mrs. Gates had, in June of 1966, obtained a decree of separation from her husband which awarded her custody of their four children. As they left the courthouse, Gates told his wife, in the presence of her lawyer, 'You will never live to enjoy the children. I will see to it myself.' During his periodic visits with the children, there were further bitter interchanges and disputes over the custody of the children and, on one occasion, he confided to a neighbor that, '(i)f he could get rid of his wife, he would have his children and he wouldn't have any more problems.' On September 4, 1966, the day after a Mexican divorce decree had been entered giving the mother permanent custody, Gates threatened her again, saying, '(y)ou better enjoy the kids while you have them. You won't have them for long. I will.'

Three days later, Patricia Gates was dead, the victim of a brutal attack.

Page 668

Shortly before 1:00 a.m. on September 7, a neighbor and a police officer, who had both been attracted to the scene bye screams, forced open the door of Mrs. Gates' apartment and found her in her bed lying in a pool of blood from several knife wounds. The victim, who was still conscious, stated that she did not know who had attacked her and, when specifically asked if it was her husband, replied, 'I don't know, but he wore glasses.' 1 She died from her wounds a short time later.

About a half hour after his wife was stabbed, the defendant appeared at a neighbor's house, approximately a half mile from Mrs. Gates' apartment, and, after unsuccessfully urging his neighbor to join him, drove into the business district of Spring Valley. There, at about a quarter to two, he was stopped by a police officer for failing to dim his headlights. The officer took his license and registration and, noting his name, placed him under arrest on a charge of assault. 2 Gates was taken to police headquarters and, without protest, he was fingerprinted.

The investigation conducted by the police at the scene of the crime revealed that the bathroom window, overlooking the backyard, had been opened and the screen removed. A set of fingerprints, apparently fresh, were found on the screen positioned in such a manner that they could only have been made by someone standing on the outside and pulling the screen from its place. A palmprint, with the fingers pointing into the room, was also found on the bathroom windowsill. The palmprint and one of the fingerprints matched those taken from Gates at the time of his arrest.

It was the People's theory that the defendant had entered the house through the bathroom window, taken a knife from the kitchen and attacked [301 N.Y.S.2d 600] his former wife while she was asleep; that he fled the scene when she screamed for help and ran through the woods to his house, a half mile away, where he showered, changed and disposed of his bloody clothes; and that he finally

Page 669

went to the neighbor's home and engaged in conversation in order to establish an alibi. 3

As already stated, the jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder and the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the resulting judgment of conviction. In our view, the evidence adduced was sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When, in a criminal case, the sole evidence of guilt is circumstantial, 'its sufficiency', we wrote in People v....

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