Parker v. State

Decision Date16 November 1949
Docket Number28472.
Citation88 N.E.2d 556,228 Ind. 1
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Winfield M. Fox, Terre Haute, N. George Nasser, Terre Haute, Craig & Craig, Brazil, of counsel, for appellant.

J. Emmett McManamon, Atty. Gen., Merl M. Wall, Deputy Atty. Gen., John R. Jett, Pros. Atty., 43 Jud. Circuit, Terre Haute, Thomas P Gallagher, Deputy Pros. Atty., 43 Jud. Circuit, Terre Haute for appellee.

YOUNG, Judge.

The appellant was charged by indictment in four counts with first degree murder. He was tried before a jury, which returned a verdict of murder in the second degree and he was sentenced to serve a life term in the Indiana State Prison. He urges on appeal to this court, among other grounds for reversal that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the verdict and that there was error in admitting a written confession which he contends was obtained by physical mistreatment and persistent questioning over a period of several days.

On April 7, 1943 Lillian Johnson disappeared from the home which she owned in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she and appellant had been living together for about two years. Accepting the testimony most favorable to the State, as we must, it may be said that she has never been seen again, although there were witnesses who testified they had seen her in Indianapolis with appellant after she is said to have disappeared from Terre Haute, and appellant's daughters testified they visited her for two weeks at her home in Terre Haute in June, 1943. She and appellant were together on the date of her disappearance and subsequently appellant removed household goods from her home and wrote a letter in her name to a daughter of Mrs. Johnson in Terre Haute. There was also a telegram to Mrs. Johnson's employer, which was received on April 11, four days after Mrs. Johnson's disappearance, which read, 'Have decided to go to Laramie, Wyoming. Will send for clothes later. Sorry Lillian.' The author of this telegram was not identified other than by its signature, and the Western Union records had been destroyed.

Appellant likewise disappeared from Terre Haute on or about April 7, 1943, and for a time thereafter worked in Indianapolis, and later served a term in Federal prison and then reappeared in Terre Haute in September, 1947. On September 18, 1947, he was arrested for alleged assault upon a girl and was taken to the police station, where he was questioned. The charge upon which he was arrested does not seem to have materialized, but the police continued to hold him and question him about his relations with Mrs. Johnson and her disappearance. As a result of this questioning, he signed a written confession on September 20, 1947, in which he admitted the killing of Mrs. Johnson. The police checked the details of this confession and reached the conclusion that he had not told the truth and proceeded to question him further and, on September 22, 1947, he signed another confession in which he told in detail how he killed Mrs. Johnson and that he had dismembered her body and disposed of parts in three different places. The police found a skull and the upper part of a skeleton near the place designated by appellant. The flesh and tendons had entirely disappeared and only bare bones were found at the places where appellant said he had disposed of the other parts of the body. There was absolutely no evidence of any probative value to identify the bones found as part of the skeleton of Mrs. Johnson, except as stated by appellant in his confession, and there was no direct evidence of Mrs. Johnson's death, except as stated in the confessions. Appellant repudiated his confessions and claimed he had signed them as a result of threats and violence and prolonged questioning by the police without rest. The police denied all threats and violence, but admitted frequent questioning, and that they had taken appellant from the jail to the different places appellant had said he had buried parts of the body of Mrs. Johnson. After hearing evidence of the circumstances under which the confessions were obtained, the court admitted them and this is urged as error.

Appellant's counsel contend that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the verdict because, among other things, there was no evidence of the corpus delicti, except as contained in the confession, and in this connection they urge also that without independent proof of the corpus delicti a confession is not admissible and is not sufficient to sustain a verdict. As we view the case these are the only questions we need consider. Proof of the 'corpus delicti' means proof that the specific crime charged has actually been committed by some one. Hawkins v. State, 1941, 219 Ind. 116, 129, 37 N.E.2d 79; Hunt v. State, 1939, 216 Ind. 171, 178, 23 N.E.2d 681; Wharton's Criminal Law, 12th Ed., Vol. 1, § 347, p. 450; 14 Am.Jur., Criminal Law, § 6, p. 58, 23 C.J.S., Criminal Law, § 916, p. 181.

The rule seems to be well established generally that an extra judicial confession will not be admitted in evidence and a conviction will not be upheld until and unless the corpus delicti has been established by clear proof independent of the confession. Gaines v. State, 1921, 191 Ind. 262, 268, 269, 132 N.E. 580; Hunt v. State, supra; Messel v. State, 1911, 176 Ind. 214, 219, 95 N.E. 565; Griffiths v. State, 1904, 163 Ind. 555, 558, 559, 72 N.E. 563; Wharton's Criminal Law, 12th Ed., Vol. 1, §§ 359, 360; 20 Am.Jur., Evidence, § 484; 22 C.J.S., Criminal Law, § 839, pp. 1471-1472; 23 C.J.S., Criminal Law, § 916b, p. 183; Underhill's Criminal Law Evidence, 4th Ed., § 36; Annotation 127 A.L.R. 1130, 1134.

In Wharton's Criminal Law, supra, it is said: 'Where a person is charged with the commission of a particular crime, before he can be found guilty thereof, it is essential that the existence of the corpus delicti be established, which cannot be done by mere extrajudicial confession of the accused; it must be done by direct and positive proof aliunde, and beyond a reasonable doubt. Facts ascertained by reason of the confession may be used for the purpose of establishing the corpus delicti; but this will not dispose of the rule requiring that the corpus delicti must be proved independently of the confession, and beyond a reasonable doubt, before evidence of the confession is admissible.' (§ 359.)

In Gaines v. State, supra, [191 Ind. 262, 132 N.E. 581], the force of a confession not made in open court before the corpus delicti had been proved was under discussion, and this court said:

'A naked confession is one which is not corroborated by independent proof of the corpus delicti. Upon such a confession made in open court, as, for example, by a plea of guilty, a conviction of any crime and sentence may be had. But in the case of all extrajudicial confessions it is the rule that the corpus delicti must be proved by additional evidence before a conviction upon the naked confession alone will be upheld. Underhill on Criminal Evidence (2d ed.) § 147.

'In Gillett on Indirect and Collateral Evidence § 117, it is stated that: 'In the United States the doctrine is thoroughly established that an extrajudicial confession will not be received as plenary evidence and further that there must be also proof in such cases of the corpus delicti.' (Citing many cases.)'

In reversing the case, this court said: '* * * If the 'confession' of the appellant is eliminated from the evidence, there is no evidence at all tending to show that any burglary was committed. The verdict is therefore not supported by the evidence, in one of the essential elements of...

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2 cases
  • State v. Cope
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 5, 1954
    ...111, 94 F.2d 236, 127 A.L.R. 1120; People v. Rupp, 41 Cal.2d 371, 260 P.2d 1; Grimes v. State, 204 Ga. 854, 51 S.E.2d 797; Parker v. State, 228 Ind. 1, 88 N.E.2d 556, 89 N.E.2d 442; People v. Franklin, 415 Ill. 514, 114 N.E.2d 661; Vanderheiden v. State, 156 Neb. 735, 57 N.W.2d 761; State v......
  • Williams v. State, 1171S335
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1973
    ...The authorities, however, are to the contrary. The order of proof is within the sound discretion of the trial judge. Parker v. State (1949), 228 Ind. 1, 88 N.E.2d 556, 89 N.E.2d Appellant next claims the trial court erred in admitting into evidence State's Exhibits 2, 7, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,......

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