People v. Graham

Decision Date25 April 1961
Docket NumberCr. 7171
Citation12 Cal.Rptr. 893,191 Cal.App.2d 521
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Darrell Lee GRAHAM, Defendant and Appellant.

Bradford A. Arthur, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Stanley Mosk, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ernest E. Sanchez, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent.

FOURT, Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of conviction of murder in the second degree.

In an information filed in Los Angeles County the defendant was charged with willfully, feloniously and maliciously murdering Michele Bechtel on or about October 24, 1959. It was further charged that prior to the offense in question the defendant had been convicted of and served a term in prison for robbery and that he had been convicted of and served a term in prison for escape. The defendant admitted the prior convictions and pleaded not guilty. A jury found him guilty of murder in the second degree. Defendant waived any right to apply for probation and was sentenced to the state prison. This appeal is not taken from the judgment.

A resume of the facts is as follows:

Harriette Graham (hereinafter referred to as Harriette) met defendant in or near Las Vegas, Nevada, approximately nine years ago when she was 16 years of age. She left Nevada and came to California with defendant where they lived together. The defendant was arrested for armed robbery and Harriette was taken into custody, released to the juvenile authorities and ultimately sent home. In 1951 she met and married a man named Pierce. Three children were born as the issue of that marriage, namely: Theresa in 1953, Doran in 1954 and Michael in 1956. That marriage terminated in 1957 and Harriette married Michael Bechtel on March 28, 1958. Michele Lee Bechtel, the victim in this case, was born as the issue of that marriage on April 14, 1958. Another child named Carey was born as the issue of the last mentioned marriage.

Starting in 1956 Harriette wrote several letters a week to the defendant while he was in Folsom Prison. In June of 1959 she and her five children went to Riverside and lived in the same house with Mr. Pierce and shortly thereafter she received a letter from the defendant and left for Santa Monica to see him.

In 1959 she made an agreement with Mr. Pierce that he could take custody of their three children. She took an apartment in August, 1959 and defendant moved in with her in approximately a week. She worked at a restaurant in Westwood Village because she and the defendant could not live on his earnings. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays she worked from 6:00 p. m. to 2:00 a. m. and sometimes longer on Fridays and Saturdays. Each Sunday and Monday she went to work at 11:30 p. m. and left at 7:30 a. m. The defendant worked at a machine shop from 8:00 a. m. until 4:00 p. m. He got home at approximately 5:00 p. m. and she would leave for work shortly after he arrived. He usually took her to work and called for her in the mornings. The children were cared for by him at night and by her during the day. Harriette and defendant were married on October 20, 1959, she having discovered that her marriage to Bechtel was bigamous.

On September 29, 1959, defendant brought Michele Lee and Carey to the restaurant to pick up Harriette after her work. Michele Lee had a cut on her forehead and the defendant told Harriette that they had been involved in an automobile accident which had caused the cut. The cut was bloody. The child was taken home and bandaged but was not taken to a doctor.

A day or so later Harriette noticed that the child was 'getting dark spots on her.' Defendant told Harriette that he had taken the child to a doctor and had been told that 'it was bad circulation of the blood.' Compresses were applied and the discoloration disappeared. On October 6th Harriette noted that the child had a cut near one of her eyes, a swollen lip, cut mouth, general bruises and that one eye was very swollen. Defendant told Harriette that a mirror had fallen and had struck the child. When it was suggested by Harriette that they should take the child to a doctor, the defendant answered in the negative, giving as a reason, 'because they would think something else was wrong with her, that he had hit her or something' and that he would have to go back to prison. Harriette indicated that she would not take the child to see a doctor but on the next day she did so.

A doctor at a clinic examined the child and determined that she had multiple bruises; was in great pain; the right eye was swollen shut; her throat, chest and mouth were bruised; she had lacerated arms, legs, and trunk, and bruises generally over the entire body. A collar bone was fractured. It was the doctor's opinion that the marks on the throat were caused by someone's squeezing the neck or holding the child by the throat, that the child had been beaten, and that the bruises ranged from twelve hours to one week in age. The fracture came from a hard blow and the doctor indicated that it could have been caused by a human fist. The doctor told Harriette that the child was in critical condition and should be hospitalized at once, and told her to take the child to the U.C.L.A. Hospital, where he had made arrangements for the admission of the child. The doctor made out a report of the examination and retained one copy thereof.

Harriette took the child and went to see the defendant at his place of business. She informed defendant of what the doctor had said and showed defendant the report. Defendant denied hitting the child and became angry and directed Harriette not to take the child to the hospital. She was directed to the house of a friend of the defendant's and told to stay there until the defendant got off work. Harriette was frightened and thought that the police would not believe the defendant and would cause him to be sent back to prison. The defendant joined Harriette about 5:30 p. m. and they registered in a motel under the name of Logan Kent, where they remained with Michele Lee and Carey to October 13th. They then returned to their old address. Michele Lee seemed to improve and the bruises cleared up. Harriette continued to work during this period of time.

About 5:00 p. m. October 23, 1959, Harriette left for work and at that time Michele Lee appeared to be all right. She had no bruises or cuts on her face and no marks or injuries to her head. Harriette returned home about 5:45 a. m. When she entered the apartment she saw defendant standing by a curtain near the couch upon which Michele Lee was sleeping. The child was covered with a blanket, except for a part of her face. Harriette glanced at Michele Lee and her other child and then went into the bedroom. Michele Lee started to cry and defendant picked her up. Defendant told Harriette that Michele Lee was probably having a nightmare and for her, Harriette, to get ready for bed. Harriette went to bed and awakened about 7:00 a. m., at which time she noticed that Michele Lee was gone. She found a note on the kitchen table in defendant's handwriting which set forth that he had taken Michele Lee with him to work. Upon reading the note Harriette went back to bed and later was awakened by the defendant who said, 'I have done a terrible thing'--'I have killed Michele.' When asked how he had killed Michele the defendant said, 'I threw her.' Defendant prevented Harriette from getting up out of the bed and told her that it would be of no use to take the child to a doctor--that she was beyond help. Defendant told Harriette to shoot him, that he would be better off dead. Carey started to cry and defendant then permitted Harriette to get up. Harriette told defendant that they should call the police but the defendant said no to that, and talked of ways and means of burying Michele Lee. He suggested that he could tell everybody that his mother had the child and that they could go along as though nothing had occurred. He further stated that if the police saw the body he would go back to prison and would die for it.

While defendant and Harriette were in the apartment a man named Alo, who worked with defendant, inquired as to why he, the defendant, was not at work and defendant told his friend to go away, that he would not be at work that day. Defendant said he was going to go to Las Vegas and told Harriette not to call the police for a couple of hours, thereby giving him a head start. Defendant wrote a note to his employer directing him to give his check to Harriette. Harriette left the house with Carey and went to a neighbor's where she was admitted. Harriette asked the neighbor to call the police. The neighbor suggested that Harriette do the calling and she then did call the police. Within a short time the police arrived and Harriette left with them, leaving Carey with the neighbor.

In the meantime defendant went to the house of a co-worker, Pete Stewart. Defendant had Michele Lee covered with a blanket in the back seat of the car. At Stewart's house defendant saw Stewart and Mike Stanton. Defendant asked and received permission to use Stanton's car. Stewart and Stanton drove defendant into the Hollywood hills and there defendant buried Michele Lee. The shovel which was used to dig the grave was thrown away in a bean field along the route. Defendant then went to his mother's house and talked with her. After this he went to his own apartment, where he was arrested. The police searched for and found the body of Michele Lee. Blood was found on the sole of the left shoe of a pair of shoes found in defendant's apartment.

After defendant's arrest he wrote to Harriette:

'You can't just forget, Midge, because as you know, I'll return, and as you know, you're the first one I will see if I have to walk from here to New York barefooted. I'll find you. That's a promise.'

A Mr. Johnson testified that in September,...

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