558 F.2d 330 (6th Cir. 1977), 76-1979, Watson v. Jago

Docket Nº:76-1979.
Citation:558 F.2d 330
Party Name:Michael O. WATSON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. A. R. JAGO, Superintendent, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:June 14, 1977
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 330

558 F.2d 330 (6th Cir. 1977)

Michael O. WATSON, Petitioner-Appellant,


A. R. JAGO, Superintendent, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 76-1979.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 14, 1977

Argued Dec. 3, 1976.

James R. Willis, Stephen O. Walker, Cleveland, Ohio, Michael O. Watson, for petitioner-appellant.

William J. Brown, Atty. Gen. of Ohio, Allen P. Adler, Columbus, Ohio, for respondent-appellee.

Before WEICK, PECK and LIVELY, Circuit Judges.

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JOHN W. PECK, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Michael Watson was indicted by a Cuyahoga County, Ohio, grand jury for deliberate and premeditated murder in the first degree, in violation of former section 2901.01 of the Ohio Revised Code. At trial, appellant claimed self-defense. The jury found appellant guilty of the lesser included offense of murder in the second degree, and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment. After appealing to the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals and to the Ohio Supreme Court, appellant sought collateral review of his conviction in the federal district court by petition for writ of habeas corpus. The district court, however, denied the petition.

Appellant has brought this appeal, making several arguments in support of his petition. 1 We reach only one, 2 that appellant was denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment when he was forced during the state court trial to defend against a charge of felony-murder, which was not contained in the indictment. Because we agree with appellant on this issue, we reverse and remand the case to the district court with instructions to grant the writ of habeas corpus.


On February 6, 1973, in the late afternoon, appellant and a friend, John Bell, entered the store of a Cleveland, Ohio grocer, William Dallas. Bell asked the grocer's wife, who was working in the store along with her husband, for a six-pack of beer. Mrs. Dallas got the beer from the cooler and set it on the counter. William Dallas then came over and asked Bell for some identification to show that he was of age to buy the beer. A conversation concerning credentials followed. The conversation ended when appellant drew a pistol and shot Mr. Dallas twice. One bullet struck Dallas in his left arm. The other bullet struck Dallas in the head, killing him. Mrs. Dallas witnessed the shooting.

According to Mrs. Dallas, immediately before the shooting, appellant had said to Mr. Dallas that he had credentials and had asked whether Mr. Dallas wanted to see them. According to appellant and Bell, however, Mr. Dallas had pulled a gun, and appellant claimed that he had fired in self-defense. Most of the store owners in the area were armed, and on that day, Mr. Dallas had carried a gun in the pocket of his white butcher-type apron. The police later found the gun owned by Mr. Dallas on the floor, under the victim's body. That gun had not been fired.

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Immediately after the shooting, appellant and Bell fled the scene without the beer in a red 1964 Cadillac, which had transported appellant and Bell to the store and which had carried two other friends. A description and the license plate number of the automobile were given to the police by a witness in the vicinity of the store. A couple of hours later, the automobile was stopped. Three males were arrested, but appellant escaped on foot. Six days later, on February 12, 1973, appellant surrendered to the police.

Appellant was indicted for deliberate and premeditated first degree murder only. Nevertheless, at the state court trial, the prosecutor in his opening statement, after reading the indictment for deliberate and premeditated murder, asserted that:

" . . . the evidence . . . will convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that this man Watson (appellant) did in fact maliciously, premeditatively and while in the act of a robbery murder Willie Dallas."

Defense counsel, before making his opening statement, moved to dismiss the indictment. He argued that it was an infringement of a defendant's right to notice of criminal charges to be brought against him by the State for the prosecutor to present a case on the basis of felony-murder when the indictment specified only a charge of first degree murder with deliberate and premeditated malice and did not include a charge of felony-murder. The prosecutor, when asked by the Court to reply to this argument, stated that premeditated murder and felony-murder were both first degree murder and that the indictment, by charging first degree murder, did not have to include a statement that the indictment was for felony-murder for a defendant to be prosecuted on that charge. The trial court overruled the motion to dismiss, and the trial proceeded with the presentation of the State's case.

The prosecutor called several witnesses: Mrs. Dallas, the wife of the victim; a witness who was near the scene of the crime; Willie Waldon and Gerald Ford, friends of appellant who waited in the Cadillac when the killing took place; Peter Becker, a police detective who interrogated Ford after the shooting; and a police officer who arrived at the scene of the crime shortly after the killing. Much of the questioning focused on the possible robbery.

When the prosecution stated that it would rest its case, defense counsel, out of the jury's hearing, moved to withdraw the charge of first degree murder from the jury's consideration. Defense counsel argued that there was no evidence to support a possible jury verdict of first degree murder, first, because there was no evidence of premeditation or deliberation on appellant's part and secondly, because there was no evidence to show the commission of a robbery. The prosecutor disagreed, responding that the evidence did show a premeditated killing and that he had proven a prima facie case of robbery. The Court denied the defense motion.

After a short recess, the prosecutor in proceedings between the Court and counsel in the Court's chambers, requested the Court not to charge the jury on first degree felony-murder. The prosecutor stated that the proof showed that some of the elements of armed robbery were present and that such facts were relevant with respect to the complete circumstances of the case.

Defense counsel immediately protested. He reminded the Court that at the start of the trial he had moved for the exclusion of any reference to a felony-murder because the indictment did not mention felony-murder. He further argued that because the Court allowed the trial to proceed with the inclusion of the felony-murder charge and because the defense had patterned its cross-examination in large part on the refutation of inferences supporting a charge of felony-murder, to drop the felony-murder charge would be prejudicial since it would preclude the defense counsel from talking about what he had tried to establish on cross-examination.

The prosecutor replied that the effect of not charging the jury on felony-murder was "simply to remove what basically and normally

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would (have) be(en) one count of the indictment." (State Court Trial Transcript 171.) The prosecutor denied that there could be prejudice in removing that one count since there was evidence to support a verdict of deliberate and premeditated first degree murder. The evidence of a robbery was characterized as "ancillary" to the deliberate and premeditated murder.

The Court agreed with the prosecution and made a tentative ruling that the jury would be charged only on deliberate and premeditated first degree murder. Defense counsel stated for the record that it was a strange situation for the State to start out by saying that it would prove felony-murder along with premeditated murder, to deny that there had to be a separate indictment for felony-murder from premeditated murder, to spend a great part of its case trying to prove felony-murder, and then, after resting its case, to seek withdrawal of the felony-murder charge and admit that a separate indictment was needed for felony-murder. Nevertheless, the Court adhered to its tentative decision to charge only deliberate and premeditated first degree murder.

The trial proceeded with the defense calling appellant and John Bell and the prosecution calling Mrs. Dallas in rebuttal. After the Court denied certain defense motions, the Court charged the jury on deliberate and premeditated first degree murder as charged in the indictment. The jury found appellant not guilty of deliberate and premeditated first degree murder but guilty of the lesser included offense of second degree murder.

Appellant appealed unsuccessfully to the Cuyahoga County, Ohio Court of Appeals and to the Ohio Supreme Court. His case is now before us because the district court denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The question which we reach deals with the fact that appellant was forced to defend against a charge of felony-murder that was not brought by the grand jury in the indictment. There are two main issues with respect to this question: (1) whether there was a constructive amendment to the indictment, and (2) whether, if there was a constructive amendment, it violated appellant's constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in this state court, as opposed to federal court, trial.


Under the Fifth Amendment's provision that no person shall be held to answer for a capital crime unless on the indictment of a grand jury, it has been the rule that after an indictment has been returned its charges may not be broadened except by the grand jury itself. Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 80 S.Ct. 270, 4 L.Ed.2d 252 (1960); Ex Parte Bain, 121 U.S. 1, 7 S.Ct. 781, 30 L.Ed. 849 (1887). See Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 770, 82 S.Ct. 1038, 8 L.Ed.2d 240 (1962); United States v...

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