289 S.W.2d 849 (Tenn. 1956), Nichols v. State

Citation:289 S.W.2d 849, 200 Tenn. 65
Opinion Judge:[3] [200 TENN 68] PREWITT, Justice.
Party Name:Claude W. NICHOLS v. STATE of Tennessee.
Attorney:[1] [200 TENN 67] T. G. Pappas and William J. Peeler, Waverly, Pride Tomlinson, Jr., Columbia, William C. Sugg, Nashville, for plaintiff in error.
Case Date:April 05, 1956
Court:Supreme Court of Tennessee
 
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Page 849

289 S.W.2d 849 (Tenn. 1956)

200 Tenn. 65

Claude W. NICHOLS

v.

STATE of Tennessee.

Supreme Court of Tennessee.

April 5, 1956.

Page 850

[200 Tenn. 67] T. G. Pappas and William J. Peeler, Waverly, Pride Tomlinson, Jr., Columbia, William C. Sugg, Nashville, for plaintiff in error.

Knox Bigham, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the State, defendant in error.

[200 Tenn. 68] PREWITT, Justice.

The plaintiff in error, Claude W. Nichols, will be hereafter referred to as the defendant, as designated in the trial court.

He was convicted of the unlawful killing of the deceased Sailer Anderson, the jury finding him guilty of murder in the first degree, with a sentence of 99 years in the State Prison.

Nichols was arrested on October 14, 1954, on a warrant charging him with the murder of William Sailer Anderson in October, 1953.

It is the contention of the State that on October 9, 1953, the deceased gave the defendant a written option to purchase a farm, restaurant and tourist courts which the deceased owned in Maury County, Tennessee, for the sum of $200,000 cash; that the defendant fraudulently changed the option into a deed whereby the deceased conveyed his property to the defendant in exchange for the conveyance to him of three separate pieces of property owned by the defendant in Davidson, Maury, and Bedford Counties, which were much less in value than the property of the deceased and which were heavily encumbered; that the option was changed into a deed by the defendant by removing the first page of the instrument and inserting another page, which had the effect of changing the instrument from an option to an absolute conveyance. It is further insisted by the State that after the execution of the option, a change was made by the defendant into an absolute conveyance, and that he killed the deceased so that he could carry out his fraudulent plan.

The body of the deceased, Anderson, was discovered [200 Tenn. 69] on October 13, 1953, in Kentucky Lake in Humphreys County, Tennessee, at what is known as Trotter's Landing. His car was found later on the same day, submerged in the lake, in about nine feet of water, near the point where his body was found--that is, out in the lake from the point where the ferry landed. Three separate unrecorded deeds signed by defendant and his wife, conveying the three parcels of real estate to the deceased, were found in the glove compartment of the car, along with a promissory note for $2,000, payable to the deceased, signed by the defendant and a memorandum of the transaction had between deceased and defendant.

Page 851

Before the body of the deceased was buried, a bill was filed in the Chancery Court at Columbia by deceased's mother, seeking to set aside the conveyance by the deceased of his Maury County property to the defendant and wife, on the ground that at the time he executed the instrument be was mentally disturbed, and that the consideration was grossly inadequate. This bill was sustained by the Chancellor holding that said purported conveyance by deceased Anderson to Nichols was fraudulent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, Anderson v. Nichols, 286 S.W.2d 96, this Court recently denied certiorari.

From the day of the discovery of his body, the mysterious death of Sailer Anderson, the real estate transaction with defendant has received wide spread publicity.

The trial below lasted a period of fourteen days and the jury, after having deliberated for over three hours, brought in a verdict of conviction.

Following the defendant's arrest he was indicted in Humphreys County jointly with one William Otho Farrington. On defendant's motion for a severance, he was [200 Tenn. 70] granted a separate trial on the ground that his co-defendant, Farrington, had signed a written statement, out of the presence of the defendant, in which Farrington stated that this defendant participated in the commission of the crime charged.

Defendant has filed numerous assignments of error in this Court, but these may well be grouped so that the following errors are insisted upon by the defendant.

He contends that the conviction is not supported by the evidence and that the preponderance of the evidence is against the verdict of the jury. It is further insisted that the court below erred in the admission and exclusion of certain testimony, and in permitting the State to reopen the case by introducing proof which should have been offered by the State as part of its case in chief.

Defendant further insists that he should be awarded a new trial because he was blamelessly deprived of the testimony of a material witness, who was under subpoena, but who failed to appear and testify.

The body of Anderson was found on October 13, 1953, but the defendant was not arrested until October, 1954. Between these two dates many investigations were made by representatives of the State, including the District Attorney General and special counsel.

The place where the body was found near Trotter's Landing was about 90 miles west of Nashville on U. S. Highway No. 70, which is the main highway between Nashville and Memphis. This place is also about 90 miles northwest of Columbia, and Trotter's Landing and Columbia are connected by hard surface highways.

The dead body of Anderson was found on Tuesday morning, October 13, 1953, about 6:30 A. M. at the end of a levee extending approximately a quarter of a mile [200 Tenn. 71] into the water, just south of the bridge that crosses the Tennessee River on Highway 70. A paved road runs the length of the levee and the original ferry landing was at the extreme end. There was a barrier across the paved road to prevent traffic from going to the end of the levee. From about July 7, 1953, to September 24, 1953, repairs were being made on the bridge on Highway 70, and the traffic was taken care of by a ferry in operation during that time. However, the ferry was not in operation at the time the body was found and in fact, not in operation after September 24, 1953.

The deceased resided in Memphis and was the owner of Brookwood Farm and Brookwood Restaurant in Maury County. The restaurant was located on a small tract of some two or three acres adjoining the farm of approximately 253 acres. It appears that the restaurant building was a very fine structure and elaborately and modernly equipped. Sometime in the middle of 1953 defendant learned that deceased's property was for sale, and became interested in acquiring it. Thereafter Nichols, the defendant, and his secretary of several years, Mrs. Jeanelle Brown, went to Memphis to see the deceased. Mrs. Brown testified that she heard Anderson

Page 852

say that he was disposing of his interests outside of Memphis. As a result of the conference in Memphis, it appears that Anderson agreed to go to Nashville for the purpose of further discussion. It seems that in September, 1953, Anderson did go to Nashville, and he and Nichols went to Columbia so that Nichols might see the Brookwood property.

It appears that Mrs. Brown and Otho Farrington, above referred to, and an employee of Nichols also, went [200 Tenn. 72] to Columbia and were present during part of the inspection of the Anderson property.

Mrs. Brown states that Nichols had told her and Farrington to make it appear to Anderson that Nichols was a man of considerable means. Farrington had been employed by Nichols for some 16 or 17 years as a carpenter, plumber, electrician, and as a man to whom Nichols looked to take care of his property.

After this visit to the Brookwood Farm and restaurant, Anderson returned to his home in Memphis, and the other three went back to Nashville to their respective homes.

Some two weeks before his death Anderson had declared to a sister that he wanted to sell his property for cash and had listed the Maury County property with real estate agents at a price of $200,000. Anderson further stated that he wanted to sell the property for cash and have all of his investments in Memphis. Anderson's mother was old and he felt that he needed to be in Memphis, and expressed the wish to numerous friends during the summer of 1953, to sell out for cash. About the 6th or 7th of October, 1953, Anderson stopped at the home of Mrs. S. T. Ingram in Camden, and told her that he was on his way from Memphis to Columbia, and he told Mrs. Ingram that he was going to sell his property to defendant for $200,000 cash. In this conversation with Mrs. Ingram he stated the bridge over the Tennessee River was open. It appears that Anderson made similar statements about his plans to sell his property to Milton Milner in Jackson on October 6th, and to a group of friends in Nashville on October 7th.

On Thursday, October 8, 1953, Anderson went to Maury County from Nashville, with defendant, Mrs. [200 Tenn. 73] Brown, and Farrington. According to Mrs. Brown's testimony, Nichols suggested they go by his Woodland Street property in Nashville, which the group did, then at Nichols's suggestion, they went by Shelbyville to look at some property there. From Shelbyville the group went to the Brookwood property, where it was again looked over by Nichols and the others. Mrs. Brown testified that before returning to Nashville, they stopped at an apartment house owned by Nichols in Columbia, but this witness testified that she and Anderson remained in the car while Nichols and Farrington went in.

On Saturday, October 10th, about 11:30 A. M. Anderson went to a poultry and egg dealer in Columbia, and purchased some dressed chickens and about 4:30 or 5:00 P. M. the same day he went by and picked them up. According to the State's...

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