People v. Duncan, Cr. 6287

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation51 Cal.2d 523,334 P.2d 858
Decision Date03 February 1959
Docket NumberCr. 6287
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of California, Respondent, v. Vender Lee DUNCAN, Appellant.

Edward T. Mancuso, Public Defender, and Waldo F. Postel, Jr., Asst. Public Defender, San Francisco, for appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Atty. Gen., Clarence A. Linn, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., John S. McInerny, Deputy Atty. Gen., Thomas C. Lynch, Dist. Atty., and Walter H. Giubbini, Asst. Dist. Atty., San Francisco, for respondent.

GIBSON, Chief Justice.

A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first degree murder. In separate proceedings the penalty was fixed at death for each count, and defendant was found to have been sane when the offenses were committed. Pen.Code, § 190.1. His motions for a new trial and modification of the verdicts were denied, and he was sentenced to death. This appeal comes before us automatically. Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).

Two police officers found the dead body of Elizabeth Manning on September 4, 1955, in her apartment on Webster Street near Fulton Street in San Francisco. About $65 in currency and some silver were missing. Mrs. Manning, who was about 75 years old, had been beaten about the head, face, neck and chest, a number of bones had beeni fractured, there were injuries to her genitalia, and spermatozoa were present in her vagina. The autopsy surgeon testified that Mrs. Manning's death was due to strangulation.

Mrs. Ada Romig, an elderly woman, was found on April 5, 1957, in a vacant lot which ran from Fulton to Grove Street between Fillmore and Webster Streets in San Francisco. She had been attacked at the Grove Street end of the lot and dragged through it to where she was found near Fulton. There were extensive injuries about her head, face and neck. A small abrasion was found on the inside of the left thigh, and the opening to the vagina was badly bruised and bleeding. She died on May 9, 1957, as a result of the injuries. Officers searched the lot and found articles of her clothing in several places, but they did not find her purse.

Approximately three weeks after the attack on Mrs. Romig, police officers observed defendant and another man some time after midnight on the corner of Octavia and McAllister Streets, four and a half blocks from the lot where the attack occurred. Defendant and the other man made a number of starts in different directions but each time went back to the corner. When defendant saw the officers he turned around and started to walk in another direction. The officers approached defendant, saw the blade of a table knife protruding from his pocket, and took the knife from him. They questioned him as to his reason for being in the area, and he gave several conflicting stories. He was placed under arrest as a vagrant, and, when he was searched, the officers found a 12-inch pipe with an elbow on it inside the front of his trousers.

In November 1957, while serving a county jail sentence for another offense, defendant asked to speak to members of the homicide department. He told the officers that in the early part of September 1955 he had killed a woman with whom he had been having an 'affair' and that he had taken two watches and $35 from her.

The police officers asked defendant to show them where the crime had taken place, and he directed them to 804 Webster Street, the location of Mrs. Manning's apartment. Upon arriving there he said that his earlier statement was false in some respects, that he wanted to correct it, that he had never seen Mrs. Manning before he entered her apartment, that she awoke and started to scream as he was taking about $200 from a drawer, that he hit her numerous times and started to choke her, that he then took about $30 from her purse, and that after she again cried out he raped and choked her. At the time the police officers discovered Mrs. Manning's body the front and rear doors of the apartment were locked, and the only apparent method of entry was through an unlatched window. When asked how he entered the apartment, defendant led the officers to a garbage pail, which was under the steps of the adjoining home and not visible from the street, and showed them how he had placed it under the window and climbed into the room. He also said that he had wrapped his hands in handkerchiefs so that he would leave no fingerprints.

A few days later defendant told police officers he had killed another woman in a lot on Fillmore Street, and he directed them to the place where Mrs. Romig had been attacked. He told the officers that he accosted Mrs. Romig at the corner of Grove and Webster Streets and, after threatening her with a knife, forced her into the lot where he shoved her to the ground, choked her with a piece of wire, struck her repeatedly over the head with a piece of pipe, a cement brick and other things, and then began an act of intercourse. Due to light in the area and the sound of voices he became afraid that someone might see or hear him, and he dragged her to an opening between a wall and a shed. Mrs. Romig began to moan, so he dragged her farther into the lot and again had an act of intercourse but stopped when he was frightened by some noise. He moved her to another portion of the lot and took fifty cents and some codeine from her purse.

Defendant repeated his confessions the next day, and his statements, which were recorded and which the jury heard, were substantially the same as those he had previously given to the police at the scenes of the crimes.

At the trial defendant admitted making the confessions but denied that he had committed either of the crimes and said that he made the confessions because he wanted to die and that he had attempted suicide three times previously. He explained his knowledge of the crimes by stating that he learned some of the details from newspaper accounts and some from seeing police reports on an occasion when he was arrested in 1956, and that with respect to others he had been prompted by the police when he was taken to the scenes of the crimes. On cross-examination he admitted prior convictions of rape and assault to commit murder.

There is no claim that the evidence is insufficient to support defendant's conviction of the murder of Mrs. Manning.

With respect to the Romig homicide, defendant contends that every element of the corpus delicti, including the degree of the crime, must be established without reference to his extrajudicial statements, and he asserts that any question of the homicide occurring during the commission of a robbery or rape was raised by his confession and that the People, as a matter of law, established only a murder in the second degree. It is settled, however, that the corpus delicti in a case involving first degree murder consists of two elements, namely, the death of the victim and the existence of some criminal agency as the cause. People v. Cullen, 37 Cal.2d 614, 624-625, 234 P.2d 1; People v. Ives, 17 Cal.2d 459,...

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18 cases
  • People v. Ainsworth
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • June 30, 1988
    ...have upheld the unitary jury concept in analogous settings involving guilt/penalty and sanity determinations. (See People v. Duncan (1959) 51 Cal.2d 523, 529-530, 334 P.2d 858; People v. Wein (1958) 50 Cal.2d 383, 408, 326 P.2d 457.) Further, in both Duncan and Wein we held that the trial c......
  • People v. Hill
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • April 27, 1967
    ...54 Cal.Rptr. 745, 420 P.2d 217; see also People v. Shipp (1963) 59 Cal.2d 845, 853, 31 Cal.Rptr. 457, 382 P.2d 577; People v. Duncan (1959) 51 Cal.2d 523, 529, 334 P.2d 858.) Hill finally claims that it was error to sustain objections, at the penalty phase, to the introduction of (1) a gram......
  • People v. Brown
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • December 22, 1960
    ...standing alone that 'he had it and he was on his way back but the police rousted him and he had to get rid of it.' See People v. Duncan, 51 Cal.2d 523, 528, 334 P.2d 858; People v. McMonigle, 29 Cal.2d 730, 738, 177 P.2d Both defendant's and his counsel's contentions are consistent with the......
  • Michael v., In re
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • January 21, 1974
    ...than was shown here, to justify an honest and strong suspicion that they had committed the offense. (Contrast People v. Duncan (1959) 51 Cal.2d 523, 526--528, 334 P.2d 858). The officer who testified at the hearing seems to have relied heavily on the fact that the parking lot was enclosed b......
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