People v. Eddington

Citation387 Mich. 551,198 N.W.2d 297
Decision Date20 June 1972
Docket NumberNo. 13,13
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. William H. EDDINGTON, Jr., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

George E. Thick, II, Pros. Atty., Saginaw County, Saginaw, by Donald A. Kuebler, Sp. Asst. Pros. Atty., Saginaw, Paul G. Miller, Jr., Lansing, of counsel for plaintiff-appellant.

James A. Brisbois, Saginaw, by Philip R. Sturtz, Saginaw, Jerold H. Israel, Ann Arbor, of counsel for defendant-appellee.

Campbell, Lee Kurzman & Leitman, by Bruce T. Leitman, Bloomfield Hills, amicus curiae.

Before the Entire Bench.

ADAMS, Justice.

I. Statement of Facts

On February 4, 1967, Officer Shelby of the Saginaw Police Department was told by Howard McClain, an informer, that Ronald Johnson and William Eddington had been involved in the murder of Dr. and Mrs. Claytor on February 2, 1967, and in the armed robbery of Mrs. Goldie Caldwell and her tenant, Jack Prince, on January 25, 1967.

On February 5, 1967, the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Middeldorf were discovered and Shelby became involved in the investigation of those crimes. Mrs. Middeldorf was found drowned in the bathtub. Mr. Middeldorf was found bound at his hands and feet with plastic wrapped tightly around his head, several puncture wounds on his body, and a steak knife in his back. Shelby was shown a distinctive heel print left by the murderer in the bathroom near the bathtub where Mrs. Middeldorf was found. The print had been dusted with fingerprint powder to make it more readily visible. The print was distinctive because, even though from a man's shoe, it had a narrow heel. Shelby described the print as coming from a 'Stetson shoe.'

By the evening of February 5, Shelby felt that Eddington was involved in all three crimes because of the information from the informant concerning the Claytor murders and the Caldwell residence robberies and because Mr. Prince had identified Eddington as the man who robbed him. The Claytors and the Middeldorfs were both elderly couples, living alone. The men showed signs of having been tortured prior to death. The bound victims had been bound with items taken from the homes--ties, plastic rope, and lamp cords. The victims, other than those who were shot, were killed by the use of items in the homes--water, plastic, a hammer, and a steak knife. In several other robberies Eddington was suspected of committing, a back glass door had been broken as a means of gaining entry. In the Caldwell robbery, a gun had been placed behind Mrs. Caldwell's left ear. Both Dr. and Mrs. Claytor were shot behind the left ear. A small caliber pistol had been used in the Caldwell robbery and in the Claytor murders. McClain, the informant, had told Shelby that Ronald Johnson had a .22 caliber pistol and that in attempts to retrieve this gun, McClain learned that Eddington had possession of it.

After speaking with Mr. Prince around 9:00 p.m. on February 5, Shelby asked the Saginaw County prosecutor to issue warrants against Eddington and Johnson for the robberies and the murders. It was decided, however, that Shelby should arrest Eddington only for the Caldwell residence robberies. Accompanied by several officers, Shelby went to Eddington's apartment. The prosecutor had not yet requested a warrant for Eddington's arrest.

As the police approached the apartment, Shelby noticed Eddington's car parked nearby and shoe prints leading to the apartment, the heel of which was similar to the print at the home of the Middeldorfs. When Shelby first knocked at Eddington's apartment, no one answered. Then a female voice asked who was there. When Shelby identified himself and asked to see Eddington, the woman stated he had gone. As Shelby was about to leave, the woman called him back by name, opened the door, and allowed Shelby to look through the apartment. The woman was Johnetta Hawkins, Eddington's girl friend.

When Miss Hawkins let Shelby into the apartment, she was clad in a nightgown. Shelby had concluded she lived at the apartment because he had frequently seen her at Eddington's residence on previous occasions carrying packages in and out and driving Eddington's car to and from the apartment.

Previous to his entrance, Shelby had heard rustlings he believed to be made by two people. He did not believe Miss Hawkins when she stated that Eddington was not at home and proceeded to look through the apartment. While going from a large bedroom via a closet to a smaller room, he noticed a pair of men's shoes sitting upright on the closet floor. He picked up the shoes, examined them, and saw that the heels were similar to the heel prints he had seen outside the apartment. By shining a flashlight on the shoes he observed slivers of what appeared to be glass imbedded in the shoes. He replaced the shoes as he was not certain he had a legal right to take them. The officers left the apartment.

Thereafter, the prosecutor and the officers went to the home of a local Justice of the Peace. Shelby obtained an arrest warrant based on the Caldwell robbery charge and a search warrant authorizing a search of Eddington's apartment for the shoes and a .22 caliber pistol. The police re-entered Eddington's apartment and seized the shoes.

Eddington was arrested on the armed robbery charge on February 8, 1967. A warrant for his arrest on the Middeldorf murders was issued February 14, 1967.

The robbery charge was dismissed at the preliminary examination. Separate preliminary examinations were held on the charges of first degree homicide of Mr. and Mrs. Middeldorf. At both hearings the State introduced into evidence, and relied heavily upon, the shoes found by Shelby. Defendant was subsequently bound over for trial on the homicide charges. Upon an order for change of venue, the trial took place in the Wayne County Circuit Court.

Prior to trial, defense counsel made a motion to suppress the shoes from evidence. The motion was granted, but the People subsequently asked for and were granted reconsideration. Following an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court set aside its prior order and substituted an order denying defense counsel's motion. The Court concluded: 1) Shelby had probable cause to arrest Eddington for both the Caldwell robberies and the Middeldorf murders prior to entering the apartment; 2) he had been invited to look through the apartment for Eddington by 'a woman clad in a night dress'; and 3) he had made a Reasonable examination of the apartment and shoes.

At the trial the shoes were again introduced into evidence. The prints at the Middeldorf home were shown to be similar to the prints made by the shoes. The refractive index of glass particles found imbedded in the shoes was shown to be identical to that of the broken glass window from the back door of the Middeldorf home.

Five colored pictures of the bodies of the Middeldorfs were allowed in evidence over objection. The witnesses who verified the pictures testified that the bindings, plastic and knife had not been changed. Neither body had been touched by any autopsies.

The defense called two witnesses to testify as to Eddington's reputation in the community for truth and veracity. Eddington, himself, took the stand. He testified as to a conviction during service and a $15.00 misdemeanor conviction. Defendant further stated that he had 'four or five charges pending' against him, one of which had been dismissed prior to the date of the present trial.

On cross-examination, Eddington was asked about the nature of the charges. Objection to this question by defense counsel was overruled. Eddington thereupon revealed that the pending charges included another double murder, an entering without breaking, and a breaking and entering.

Defendant was found guilty by the jury of the first degree murders of Mr. and Mrs. Middeldorf.

Upon appeal to the Court of Appeals, after oral argument, defendant's attorney submitted an affidavit which stated that during the trial, in a conference with the trial judge concerning the scope of cross-examination of Eddington's pending charges, '(T)he Court advised the Prosecutor that he considered him to be on risky ground in pursuing the cross-examination in that area; * * * that the Prosecutor could proceed in that area at his own risk.' The People filed a letter opposing the Court's consideration of the Ex parte affidavit.

The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for new trial, holding the trial judge improperly allowed cross-examination by the prosecutor as to the pending charges. (23 Mich.App. 210, 178 N.W.2d 686). We granted the People leave to appeal. (384 Mich. 755). Defendant cross-appeals.

II. Issues Raised

A. Did the admission into evidence of the five pictures of the two corpses constitute reversible error as being prejudicial and inflammatory and as being nonessential to prove a matter 'in issue'?

The Court of Appeals held the photographs were properly admissible to show 'the malice with which the crimes were committed,' and to clarify and illustrate 'testimony relating to the victims' appearance and condition.' Since 'the gruesome nature of the photographs' depicted the bodies as left by the assailant and not by intervening medical examiners, the admission of the photographs could not be said to be an abuse of the trial judge's discretion.

In this case, it is claimed that because several witnesses could have testified with regard to the crime and the defense admitted it was committed with malice, the judge abused his discretion in admitting the pictures. In People v. Rogers, 14 Mich.App. 207, 217, 165 N.W.2d 337, 342 (1968), Judge (now Justice) T. G. Kavanagh wrote:

'Having failed to require exhaustion of alternative proofs prior to admitting the photographs, the trial court abused its discretion.'

We are unable to agree with such an evidentiary rule. The People are not required to present their case on any theory of alternative proofs.

In a...

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