Brown v. State, 29661

Citation239 Ind. 184,154 N.E.2d 720
Decision Date17 December 1958
Docket NumberNo. 29661,29661
PartiesGeorge Robert BROWN, Appellant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

John N. Stanton, East Chicago, T. Cleve Stenhouse, Crown Point, for appellant.

Edwin K. Steers, Atty. Gen., of Indiana Owen S. Boling, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.


This is an appeal from a criminal prosecution in which the defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree and given a death sentence. The charge alleged death by strangulation in the perpetration of a robbery on August 18, 1956. The errors assigned are first, the overruling of appellant's motion for a new trial and secondly, that 'Appellant's trial was without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to The Constitution of the United States of America.'

The latter assignment sets out no particulars concerning any such violation. The portion of appellant's brief devoted to that specification deals with alleged errors which properly belong in a motion for a new trial. Appellant further fails to point out that any timely objections were made in the trial court in order to save the alleged error for consideration on appeal. It is a fundamental principle that a party may not sit by during a trial and make no objection or complaint, await the outcome of the trial, and if unfavorable, then claim error which could have at the time been promptly called to the attention of the trial court. A trial court should be given the opportunity to correct its own mistakes before asking a review from a court of appeals.

The appellant filed a special plea of not quilty by reason of his insanity at the time of the offense charged. Most of the alleged 'fundamental unfairness to defendant' deals with the evidence under this issue. The evidence showed that at one time he was confined in the Dr. Norman N. Beatty Hospital, and although the medical and mental experts in their testimony recognized his sexual deviations, regrettable to say, he was released on such an expert's recommendation from the Beatty Hospital on October 10, 1955. One of the complaints made by the appellant was the introduction of certain evidence by certain witnesses with reference to rape and attempted rape by appellant upon girls walking home at night from work, which occurred after this release. There was also other testimony offered by medical and mental experts with reference to his sexual proclivities and mental condition. All such evidence was competent under the issue of insanity. The evidence was conflicting upon this issue and it was ample to support the jury's finding that he was a person of sound mind. We have no right to disturb a jury's finding when supported by evidence. Burton v. State, Ind.1958, 148 N.E.2d 838; Jackson v. State, Ind.1958, 151 N.E.2d 141.

Items 1 and 2 of the motion for a new trial contend that the verdict of the jury is not sustained by sufficient evidence and is contrary to law. Item 3 claims error on the ground that the court permitted the admissions and confessions of the appellant to be introduced in evidence before there was any independent proof made of the corpus delicti. It is well settled the order of proof is within the sound discretion of the trial court. Sometimes, because of the nature of the testimony, it cannot be easily separated and presented in strictly logical sequence. There appears to be no abuse of such discretion here. 8 I.L.E. Criminal Law § 185, p. 281; Shively v. State, Ind.1957, 141 N.E.2d 921, certiorari denied, 355 U.S. 898, 78 S.Ct. 273, 2 L.Ed. 195.

Item 4 claims error on the ground that State's Exhibit No. 16 (the defendant's signed confession) was admitted in evidence over the objection of the appellant. There is no evidence or contention made that the confession was coerced, or obtained in violation of due process. It is, however, urged that the corpus delicti was not proved and therefore, since the confession was not properly corroborated, it was not admissible evidence against the appellant.

The confession of the appellant, if competent evidence, amply sustains the verdict; but because of the extremity of the penalty inflicted we are constrained to review the evidence particularly as to whether or not the extrajudicial confession is adequately corroborated by independent evidence. The rule requiring proof of the corpus delicti of a crime has its origin and basis in the hesitancy of the law to accept without adequate corroboration, the confession of a defendant (extrajudicial) unless it be one made in open court--as a plea of guilty. Corpus delicti has been defined as 'The body of a crime. * * * In a derivative sense, the substance or foundation of a crime; the substantial fact that a crime has been committed.'

Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Ed., p. 413.

'In Indiana the independent evidence alone need not be sufficient to establish the corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt, but there must be some evidence of probative value aside from the confession to prove that the crime charged was committed.' Parker v. State, 1949, 228 Ind. 1, 7, 88 N.E.2d 556, 558, 89 N.E.2d 442.

A dead body alone is not proof of the corpus delicti in a homicide case; but an identified dead body with marks of violence thereon or surrounding circumstances that would indicate the deceased did not die from natural causes establishes prima facie that a homicide has been committed and the corpus delicti. Wahl v. State, 1951, 229 Ind. 521, 98 N.E.2d 671; Hunt v. State, 1939, 216 Ind. 171, 23 N.E.2d 681; Commonwealth v. Lettrich, 1943, 346 Pa. 497, 31 A.2d 155; McVeigh v. State, 205 Ga. 326, 53 S.E.2d 462; Osborn v. State, 86 Okl.Cr. 259, 194 P.2d 176.

Likewise, the corpus delicti in an arson case is not established by the burning of a building alone, but additional independent evidence is necessary to show it was intentionally set afire in violation of the law. Simmons v. State, 1955, 234 Ind. 489, 129 N.E.2d 121.

In other words, the independent evidence must be of such a character that reasonable inferences may be drawn to support a conclusion that a crime of the nature and character charged has been committed by someone.

A review of the evidence for this purpose shows that prior to the introduction of the confession the State offered evidence of George Grigonis, the husband of the victim alleged to have been murdered, which showed that on August 17, 1956, his wife had left her home about 9:00 o'clock in the morning in the family car to go to her beauty parlor which she operated between 44th and 45th Street on Broadway in Gary, Indiana; that about 7:00 o'clock in the evening she called her husband and said to get their ten year old son ready to go out to dinner and a movie. She was 29 years of age, in good health and at the time she left home was wearing a white uniform and a western style leather purse with shoulder straps. Upon her failure to return home that evening her husband called his brother and they together made a search for her. They found the beauty shop locked and later found her car on U. S. Highway 6. It was eight months later that her body was found near a roadside under a pile of stone and trash. The body was positively identified by reason of the clothing, dentures, a brooch pin and other personal effects found with it. The husband further identified certain personal items of his wife, including the remains of the leather purse, First Federal Savings and Loan account book and the remanants of a small money wallet and other personal possessions buried on the premises where the appellant was living at the time of the disappearance of Mrs. Grigonis.

The deputy sheriff stated that on April 29, 1957, the appellant Brown, while confined in jail on other charges, admitted that he had picked up a woman on Road 6 who was having car trouble on a rainy evening of August 17, 1956. He told the sheriff that he grabbed the shoulder straps on the purse she was carrying to take it and she hit him and started screaming; that he heard some one coming. He choked and strangled her until blood ran out of her nose and mouth and she stopped breathing. He then dragged her body out of the car and pushed it under the embankment and covered it with pieces of concrete. He later returned and dumped trash over the spot to conceal the body. He told the sheriff that he found about $250 in the pocket book and that he bought a car with the money the next day. Of course, the confession to the deputy sheriff does not go to prove the corpus delicti.

However, one of the savings account books of Mrs. Grigonis revealed she had withdrawn $203.55 on August 14, 1956. A car salesman testified that the appellant paid $200 cash for a 1950 Oldsmobile on August 18, 1956.

Appellant showed the sheriff where he had attempted to destroy by burning and burying the bank book, pocket book and a pair of his own shorts, which were stained. The officers discovered these items buried in the yard at the place appellant was living at the time of the disappearance of Mrs. Grigonis.

The body was found at the spot he described under a pile of stone a few feet from a dirt road with other trash dumped thereon.

We have, therefore, the following independent evidence relating to the proof of the corpus delicti: The finding and identification of the body of the alleged victim about eight months after she disappeared. It was not buried in the customary manner but was decomposed and under a pile of stone and trash, obviously concealed by some person. Any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that she had been killed or murdered by some one who had concealed the body. To say otherwise would incur ridicule from the average person. A strong inference that a homicide had been committed was raised by these facts alone.

The argument that the appellant led officers to the discovery of other evidence and therefore that other evidence so discovered is part of the...

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