27 Cal.2d 478, 4622, People v. Adamson

Docket Nº:4622
Citation:27 Cal.2d 478, 165 P.2d 3
Opinion Judge:[10] Traynor
Party Name:People v. Adamson
Attorney:[7] Morris Lavine and Milton B. Safier for Appellant. [8] Robert W. Kenny, Attorney General, Walter L. Bowers, Assistant Attorney General, and Frank Richards, Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent.
Case Date:January 04, 1946
Court:Supreme Court of California

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27 Cal.2d 478

165 P.2d 3

THE PEOPLE, Respondent,



Crim. No. 4622.

Supreme Court of California

Jan. 4, 1946

In Bank.

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[165 P.2d 4] Morris Lavine and Milton B. Safier for Appellant. Robert W. Kenny, Attorney General, Walter L. Bowers, Assistant Attorney General, and Frank Richards, Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent


[165 P.2d 5] TRAYNOR, J.

Defendant was charged with murder in count I of an information by the district attorney of Los Angeles County, and in counts II, III, IV and V, with four separate crimes of burglary. He pleaded not guilty and was tried before a jury on counts I and II. He was tried in a separate consolidated case on Counts III, IV and V. He admitted two prior felony convictions and was adjudged an habitual criminal. The defendant did not testify and produced no witnesses. He was found guilty on count I of murder in the first degree, without recommendation, and guilty on count II of burglary in the first degree. This appeal is automatic from the judgment on count I (Pen. Code, section 1239).

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Defendant also appeals from the judgment on the burglary count and from an order denying his motion for new trial.

The body of Stella Blauvelt, a widow 64 years of age, was found on the floor of her Los Angeles apartment on July 25, 1944. The evidence indicated that she died on the afternoon of the preceding day. The body was found with the face upward covered with two bloodstained pillows. A lamp cord was wrapped tightly around the [165 P.2d 6] neck three times and tied in a knot. The medical testimony was that death was caused by strangulation. Bruises on the face and hands indicated that the deceased had been severely beaten before her death.

The defendant does not contend that the evidence does not justify a finding that murder in the first degree had been committed. (Pen. Code, section 189.) The sole contention of fact that he makes is that the evidence is not sufficient to identify him as the perpetrator. The strongest circumstance tending to so identify the defendant was the finding of six fingerprints, each identified by expert testimony as that of the defendant, spread over the surface of the inner door to the garbage compartment of the kitchen of the deceased's apartment. (See 2 Wigmore, Evidence, 3d ed., 389.) After the murder, this door was found unhinged, leaning against the kitchen sink. Counsel for defendant questioned witnesses as to the possibility of defendant's fingerprints being forged, but the record does not indicate that any evidence to that effect was uncovered. The theory of the prosecution was that the murderer gained his entrance through the garbage compartment, found the inner door thereof latched from the kitchen side, and forced the door from its hinges. It was established that defendant could have entered through the garbage compartment by having a man about his size do so. The fact that the key to the apartment could not be found after search and the testimony of a neighboring tenant as to sounds heard indicate that the murderer left the apartment through the door thereof and made his exit from the building down a rear stairway.

The tops of three women's stockings identified as having been taken from defendant's room were admitted in evidence. One of the stocking tops was found on a dresser, the other two in a drawer of the dresser among other articles of apparel. The stockings parts were not all of the same color. At the end of each part, away from what was formerly the top of the stocking, a knot or knots were tied. When the body of the

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deceased was found, it did not have on any shoes or stockings. There was evidence that on the day of the murder deceased had been wearing stockings. The lower part of a silk stocking with the top part torn off was found lying on the floor under the body. No part of the other stocking was found. There were other stockings in the apartment, some hanging in the kitchen and some in drawers in a dressing alcove, but no other parts of stockings were found. None of the stocking tops from defendant's room matched with the bottom part of the stocking found under the body.

In reply to questions by the police, defendant denied that he resided or had ever been at the apartment house identified by testimony as his residence. At different times he gave two other addresses as his residence. When shown a picture of the murdered victim, he refused to look at it, stating that he did not like to look at dead people.

The theory of the prosecution was that the motive of the murder was burglary. Testimony revealed that the deceased was in the habit of wearing rings with large-sized diamonds and that she was wearing them on the day of the murder. The rings were not on the body and search has failed to uncover them. A witness, positively identifying the defendant, testified that at some time between the 10th and 14th of August, 1944, she overheard defendant ask an unidentified person whether he was interested in buying a diamond ring.

From the foregoing evidence a reasonable jury could conclude that beyond a reasonable doubt defendant committed the murder and burglary. (See People v. Ramirez, 113 Cal.App. 204 ; 2 Wigmore, supra, 389.) Testimony that the screws were still in the hinges of the door when it was found and that fragments of wood that appeared to have come from the screw holes were clinging to them, indicating a forced removal, served to discount the possibilities that at some previous date the door had been taken from the apartment for some unknown reason and at that time handled by the defendant, or that defendant had handled the door during some earlier visit to the deceased's apartment. Testimony to the effect that the garbage pail was not in its customary place when found after the murder further tended to substantiate the prosecution's theory as to time and mode of entrance.

Defendant contends that error was committed in the admission of the testimony of part of a conversation in which

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he asked an unidentified person whether the latter was interested in purchasing a diamond ring. Conceding that this evidence, though hearsay, was admissible in so far as t he hearsay rule is concerned as an admission [165 P.2d 7] (People v. Ferdinand, 194 Cal. 555, 568 ; People v. Britton, 6 Cal.2d 10, 13 ; People v. Chan Chaun, 41 Cal.App.2d 586, 593 ), defendant contends that it was irrelevant. The rule is well settled that a witness may testify to part of a conversation if that is all that he heard and it appears to be intelligible. (People v. Luis, 158 Cal. 185, 194 ; People v. Ramos, 3 Cal.2d 269, 272 ; People v. Tarbox, 115 Cal. 57, 64 ; People v. Daniels, 105 Cal. 262, 285 ; People v. Montgomery, 47 Cal.App.2d 1, 19 .) People v. Rabalete, 28 Cal.App.2d 480, 485 , is not contrary to this rule. The fragment of the sentence there held inadmissible, "242 to show," was held to create merely a suspicion of the meaning of the entire sentence. (People v. Jacquaino, 63 Cal.App.2d 390, 393-4 .) The part of the conversation here admitted, however, in view of the evidence indicating that the motive of the murderer was the theft of diamonds, tended to identify defendant as the perpetrator.

To be admissible, evidence must tend to prove a material issue in the light of human experience. (See 1 Wigmore, supra, 407.) The stocking tops found in defendant's room were relevant to identify defendant because their presence on his dresser and in a drawer thereof among other articles of wearing apparel with a knot or knots tied in the end away from what was formerly the top of the stocking indicates that defendant had some use for women's stocking tops. This...

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