Commonwealth v. Sturtivant

Decision Date23 January 1875
Citation117 Mass. 122
PartiesCommonwealth v. William E. Sturtivant
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Argued November 23, 1874 [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material] [Syllabus Material]

Plymouth. Indictment for the murder of Simeon Sturtivant, at Halifax, in the county of Plymouth, on February 15, 1874. Trial before Wells and Ames, JJ., who allowed a bill of exceptions in substance as follows:

1. There was evidence tending to show that Simeon Sturtivant and Mary Buckley, his housekeeper, were last seen alive about half past six o'clock on Sunday evening, February 15, 1874, and that Thomas Sturtivant was last seen alive about half past four o'clock on the afternoon of the same day; that about half past seven o'clock on the morning of the 16th, Mary Buckley was found lying dead in a field about thirty-five rods from the dwelling-house of the Sturtivants, and soon afterwards the dead body of Thomas was found lying in one room of the house, and that of Simeon in another room; that between these rooms was another large room, all the doors of which were closed.

The only evidence tending to show who was the murderer of either of these persons was circumstantial. The government contended that the evidence tended to show that the three persons were killed by the same person, with the same weapon, at the same time. Two other indictments against the defendant had been found, and were pending in this court, for the murder of Thomas Sturtivant and Mary Buckley; but the defendant had not been arraigned upon these indictments at the time of the trial although he was under arrest for the murder of all; and the defendant had offered to the government to go to trial upon all the indictments at the present term, and at one and the same time, which offer was declined. The government offered the testimony of a physician who had made an autopsy at the same time of the three bodies. The defendant objected to the autopsy of Mary Buckley, but it was admitted by the court. The testimony of the physician tended to show that the wounds were caused by a similar instrument, some blunt instrument.

2. A chemist having stated that he was accustomed to make chemical and microscopic examination of blood and blood-stains, for the purpose of determining whether they were human blood or the blood of other animals, was admitted as a witness for the government, and testified in regard to the tests which he had applied to certain stains upon articles of clothing belonging to the defendant. He was then asked to give an opinion as to the direction from which a certain stain upon the defendant's overcoat had come. The defendant's counsel objected, contending that the limit to which the witness could go was a full description of the stain as it appeared under the microscope or otherwise and illustrations before the jury, (which the witness made.) The objection was overruled, and the witness stated that the blood came from below upward. It was not shown that he had made or witnessed any experiments with blood or other fluids in regard to this matter. The examination of the witness and the rulings of the court upon this point were as follows:

Qu. "I wish to inquire what the stains upon the coat would indicate as to the direction from which the blood came?" The defendant's counsel objected that this was not chemistry or any other branch of science.

Wells, J. "Is the coat in the same condition now as then in that respect? Did it show anything then that it does not show now?"

Ans. "It did. The natural rubbing from being handled has removed a portion. It could only be noticed, also, by the use of a lens."

Qu. "The natural rubbing of the coat has partially obliterated the blood?"

Ans. "It has obliterated a portion of it; it can't be seen as distinctly."

Wells, J. "I think your first inquiry would be, whether there was anything discovered that indicated anything of that sort."

Qu. "At the time you made your first examination, was there anything discoverable that indicated the direction from which the stains had come that you found upon the coat?"

Ans. "Yes, sir."

Qu. "What?"

Ans. "The appearance of the stains."

Qu. "Will you tell us what direction they had come from?"

Defendant's counsel. "So far as the stains are concerned that are upon the coat, the jury can judge as well as he can."

Wells, J. "I think the witness can describe what it was that he saw that indicated the direction, and show what it was, rather than to give a general opinion as to what the direction was."

Defendant's counsel. "I wish to reserve an exception, so far as the stains that are now upon the coat are concerned, and which the witness says are the same now that they were then, excepting the change resulting from the natural handling of the coat."

Wells, J. "I understand, also, that he says that there were indications then that are not apparent now; that he examined it with a lens, and that that aided his examination. It is in that view that he is allowed to describe what the indications were which indicated the direction."

Defendant's counsel. "What is not there now, we do not object to the witness describing; but so far as anything now visible, indicating in which direction the blood came, is concerned, we object to that. We think the distinction should be observed by the witness; and unless your Honors are of a different opinion, we ask that he may be confined to that."

Wells, J. "We think he may give the whole description, as it was found."

Ans. "It is an oval stain between one eighth and one fourth of an inch long, and one inch from the edge of the coat, on the right-hand side, front, and three and three fourths inches below the last button-hole, the bottom button-hole. The direction of the stain is diagonal. Using my own coat as an illustration, the stain lay in this direction, (illustrating.) The upper portion of the stain contained more blood than the lower, which it does not contain now, on account of its having been rubbed off."

Qu. "What does that indicate as to the direction?"

Defendant's counsel. "One moment. If it is chemistry, we do not object; if it is anything else, we do."

Wells, J. "I think if the witness explains the reasons at the same time that he gives the result, he may do so."

Ans. "If the force of a stream of fluid, whatever it may be, and especially blood, be from below upward, the heaviest portion of the drop will stop at the further end of the stain; if from above downward, it will stop below."

Defendant's counsel. "That is pure opinion as to a matter of mechanics, not chemistry. Any butcher is just as good an expert on that as this witness."

Wells, J. "The evidence is admitted subject to exception."

Ans. "It can only be seen with a lens in a small stain."

Qu. "Now, you have described one, the direction of which was upward and diagonal. Is there any other?"

Ans. "Not upon the coat."

3. A pair of shoes was taken from the defendant's house on the second day after the homicides, one of which, as the government contended, fitted a track supposed to have been made by the retreating murderer. No blood-stains were found upon the shoes. The witness who took them testified, under objection, that they appeared as if they had been wet, and partly, not quite dried, still moist a little; should say they had been quite wet. The witness also stated that they looked as if they had been washed. The witness had been familiar with the cutting of leather and the making of shoes, and had worked at the business some fifteen years before, from the age of thirteen until he was twenty-one. The defendant did not object to testimony as to the condition of the shoes in respect to dampness, &c., but objected to the officer giving an opinion as to the condition in which the shoes had been before he saw them. It was in evidence that the prisoner denied having recently worn the shoes. The Attorney General argued to the jury that this statement was false, and that the shoes had been washed to remove the mud.

4. The government contended that between $ 300 and $ 400, in possession of the prisoner on the day of the arrest, was stolen by him from the Sturtivants, or from their dwelling-house, on the night of the homicides, and was evidence that he was the murderer. The defendant offered to show by the administrator of Simeon and Thomas, that he had made careful investigation of their affairs, and found that all the money that could be traced to their possession had either been disposed of in their lifetime, or had been found in the house by the administrator after the homicides. Upon objection by the government the court excluded the testimony. The examination of the witness and the rulings of the court upon this point were as follows:

Defendant's counsel. "I will ask you whether you had in fact made endeavors to ascertain what moneys could be traced to the possession of the Sturtivants, and what money they had paid out."

Attorney General. "The duty of administrators has nothing to do with the case."

Defendant's counsel. "I want to know whether the fact is not ascertained that this theory of the government is not supported, and I wish to show that investigation has been made, and it has been shown that there was no such fact. They have not put in any refutation of it; yet they have opened a line of testimony from which they propose to show that these people were in the habit of keeping money, and that this prisoner knew it, and that that was the motive for the attempt upon their lives; and then they undertake to say that between $ 300 and $ 400 were stolen in that house by this party and taken away. We shall show the contrary of that. We shall show what...

To continue reading

Request your trial
274 cases
  • Com. v. Connolly
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 17, 2009
    ...distance, all of which require judgment. See Commonwealth v. Moore, 323 Mass. 70, 76-77, 80 N.E.2d 24 (1948), citing Commonwealth v. Sturtivant, 117 Mass. 122, 123 (1875) ("Every person is competent to express an opinion on a question of ... weight of objects ..."). Jurors can make the same......
  • Battles v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
    • November 30, 1910
    ...Rex v. Ellis, 6 B. & Cr. 139, 145; Reg. v. Roden, 10 Moak. 511; Commonwealth v. Call, 21 Pick. (Mass.) 515, 522; Commonwealth v. Sturtivant, 117 Mass. 122, 132, 19 Am. Rep. 401; Commonwealth v. Corkin, 136 Mass. 429; State v. Valwell, 66 Vt. 558, 562, 29 Atl. 1018; People v. Bidleman, 104 C......
  • Mortimore v. State
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • December 23, 1916
    ... ... 791; Monroe v ... State, 5 Ga. 85; Sneed v. Territory, 16 Okla ... 641; State v. Foster, 49 S.W. 747; Campbell v ... Commonwealth, 88 Ky. 403; 6 Ency. of Evi. 766; State ... v. Felker, 27 Mont. 451; Enlow v. State, 154 ... Ind, 664; Roger v. State, 8 Okla. Cr. Rp. 226.) ... (McCleary v ... State, supra; State v. Gorham, 67 Vt. 365, 31 A ... 845; State v. Patterson, 68 N.C. 292; ... Commonwealth v. Sturtivant, 117 Mass. 122, 19 Am ... Rep. 401.) ... The ... statements do not appear to have been made under any promise ... or threat, or any ... ...
  • Com. v. Vitello
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 26, 1978
    ...on Commonwealth v. Nassar, 351 Mass. 37, 41-42, 218 N.E.2d 72 (1966), in which we stated the rule, quoting from Commonwealth v. Sturtivant, 117 Mass. 122, 137 (1875): "The competency of . . . (the opinion evidence of a nonexpert) rests upon two necessary conditions: first, that the subject ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT