People v. Rooks

Decision Date24 September 1963
Citation40 Misc.2d 359,243 N.Y.S.2d 301
PartiesPEOPLE v. James ROOKS.
CourtNew York Supreme Court

Edward S. Silver, Dist. Atty., Kings County, for the People.

Albert C. Aronne, for defendant.


The defendant is a 15 year old boy charged in the indictment with Murder in the first degree. He is alleged to have 'thrown' the nine year old female deceased from the roof of a project building in downtown Brooklyn, and intentionally ('design' murder) to have caused her death.

The instant pre-trial motion is addressed to the indictment. It is requested that the Court permit an inspection of the grand jury minutes or in the alternative that the Court dismiss the indictment.

The short affidavit (2 pages) presented by defense counsel makes three points:

1) That the evidence before the grand jury is insufficient to warrant the indictment (Code of Criminal Procedure, § 251).

2) That there is insufficient corroboration, i. e. 'additional proof' to support the confession (C.C.P. § 395).

3) That the District Attorney failed and neglected to advise the grand jury of its authority or duty or right to transfer this case to the Juvenile Court (C.C.P. § 312-c).

The People merely submit the grand jury minutes for inspection by the Court.

All of the issues raised are substantial. Before I discuss them in detail, the issues should be briefly stated.

The indictment, although in common law form, charges either a 'design' murder (Penal Law, § 1044, subd. 1) or a 'felony' murder (Penal Law, § 1044, subd. 2). But a 15 year old defendant may only be convicted of 'design' murder. He is deemed incapable of committing a 'felony' murder. Therefore if only the latter is established before the grand jury, the indictment must be dismissed.

The foregoing issue complicates another more serious issue in the case. Whatever may be the tests with respect to confession corroboration in other jurisdictions, and there are a wide variety of such tests, we are commanded by our statute (C.C.P. § 395) to utilize the 'corpus delicti' test. Ordinarily in a motion addressed to the sufficiency of the grand jury evidence, I am not permitted to 'weigh' the 'additional proof.' But here since some 'additional proof' supports only the commission of the felony underlying the 'felony' murder--a crime of which this defendant cannot be convicted--I am required to examine into all the additional proof both qualitatively and quantitatively. In short, under the corpus delicti test, I must determine whether 'additional proof' which tends to establish the corpus of a crime of which this defendant - cannot be convicted suffices to establish the corpus of the only crime of which he can be convicted, to-wit, 'design' murder. This is the main issue in this case.

Lastly, I must determine whether the District Attorney must advise the Grand Jury of its right to recommend to the Court a transfer of the indictment to the Family Court (C.C.P. § 312-c).

Basic to a determination of all of the issues is the evidence before the grand jury.

The Evidence before the Grand Jury

There was read to the Grand Jury a detailed confession (37 pages) taken from the defendant both at the police station and during a re-enactment of the crime.

The crime was committed on December 4, 1962 at about 12:30 P.M. The defendant was taken into custody on December 5, 1962 at 3 P.M. The circumstances of this 'arrest' are peculiar. A person 'unknown' approached a police officer at a school crossing and pointed out the defendant, presumably as a 'suspect' of the 'crime' since the police officer immediately began questioning him, whether he was in the neighborhood of the project the previous afternoon. Not satisfied with defendant's 'denials,' the officer turned him over to detectives.

What occurred during the next six hours is not in the record. The district attorney arrived at 9:15 P.M. of December 5th. He commenced the taking of the written 'confession' at that time. The written statement and the defendant's statements during the re-enactment were painstakingly and fairly reported. The statement was completed on December 6 at 12:05 A.M., three hours after it was commenced. The defendant was then formally arrested. There is no evidence as to when he was arraigned.

The defendant relates that he had that morning an 'early excuse' pass from school (confirmed). He left school at 9 A.M. and wandered from place to place. At one friend's home he had some whiskey. He went to the 'project' to visit a friend. Not finding him home, he went to another building of the same project (190 York St.). There quite by accident he ran into the nine-year-old female decedent. The time is not specifically stated. He had never known or seen the girl before. He forced her into the elevator and took her to the 13th floor. He forced her to accompany him up one flight to the interior landing leading to the roof.

He states that his original purpose was to take some money from her but when they got to the 14th floor landing, he forced her to take off her clothes which included a coat, a blue sweater, a white blouse and underthings. He then 'tried' to have intercourse with her. He testified he was unsuccessful. 'I put it in her'; 'It wouldn't go all the way'; 'not even an inch'; 'and really, I wanted some money so I got up * * * and started going through her coat pockets and everything'; * * * 'she tried to go through the roof to get out the other exit'; 'I grabbed her and picked her up and she started saying she was going to call the cops'; 'So after she started telling she's going to tell the cops and everything I got scared so I picked her up and held her over the ledge like I was going to drop her. She said, 'I'm going to tell the cops' and I started shaking like I was going to fall but I didn't want to hurt her. She tried to run like that and I picked her up and shook again and she kept saying it and she fell. She slipped. * * *'

(Later:--[in the same statement])

'Then I held her over the ledge like I was going to drop her, trying to make her say she wasn't going to tell the cops because I wasn't going to hurt her or anything.' * * *

'She said she wasn't going to tell. [The defendant put her back on the roof.] 'Then she ran and said she was going to tell and I managed to get her.' [The defendant then held her over the ledge again] 'and shook her and she kept saying it--that she was going to tell the cops.' * * * 'She fell' * * * 'I didn't mean to but she dropped.'

He relates that the next morning he met a man on a bus who questioned him. 'The man said he saw me on the bus before but I was never on the bus before.' * * * 'This cop called me' * * *. He said: 'Some of my friends want to talk to you.' He was taken to the police precinct and questioned in the squad room. 'Yes, I was lying at first but then I couldn't keep on lying because I wasn't getting no place so I just told them the truth.'

In the repeated questioning and during the re-enactment we find also the following:

'I picked her up and she kept saying I am going to tell the cops. I picked her up and tried to scare her and held her over the ledge. I was kind of shaking, like, so she would think she'll fall. She said she won't tell and started running. She yelled, 'I'm going to tell' and I caught her and held her and brought her back and held her up again. I had her like this and was shaking her and she went off.

* * *

* * *

'I had her so she couldn't fall and I was shaking her and she slipped but I didn't want to do nothing though.'

This is essentially the total contents of the confession.

I comment, although it is not relevant to my decision, that we have here no substantial internal evidence of either the truth or falsity of the confession. Often we find within the confession, evidence which the accused could not possibly know unless he had committed the crime and which therefore supports internally the truth of the confession. We have no such evidence here. Often we find within the accused's statements evidence which is inconsistent with the known facts and which tend to establish internally the falsity of the statements. We have none here.

Externally we have absolutely nothing. No one testifies that the deceased was wearing on that day the clothes which the defendant describes in detail in the statement. Nor is there any evidence externally that such clothes or any clothes were found on the 14th floor landing. There was other physical evidence (not mentioned in the foregoing summary of the statement) which could have been, but was not, found on the 14th floor landing.

However the 'external' or 'internal' evidence to support the truth of the 'confession' is for the grand jury as the sole arbiter of the 'weight' to be given the confession. It is not for this Court on this pre-trial motion. (See my decision in People v. D'Andrea, 26 Misc.2d 95, 96-98, 207 N.Y.S.2d 215.) But before a trial court, the 'confession' must be thrown on the scale and the narrative examined and reconciled with other evidence produced. The coherence of the confession internally and externally are mentioned only for that reason. On this motion these factors count for nothing--not for, not against, the defendant. And I surely do not intend to convey any opinion concerning the truth or falsity of the confession.

I now examine the 'additional proof' (C.C.P. § 395).

We have before the Grand Jury which can serve as 'additional proof' of the corpus delicti, external to and independent of the confession (which the statute requires) the testimony of the medical examiner.

I have scrupulously examined his testimony. All of the injuries which he found could be attributed to an 'accidental' fall from the roof as well as a fall caused by 'criminal agency,' (discussed infra) except the following:

'Inside the vagina there are two small linea lacerations extending only through the nicosa (sic) with petechial (sic) hemorrhage....

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8 cases
  • People v. Pendleton
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • July 6, 1973
    ...People v. Jennings, 40 A.D.2d 357, 340 N.Y.S.2d 25; People v. Greenwood, 20 A.D.2d 272, 246 N.Y.S.2d 880; People v. Rooks, 40 Misc.2d 359, 367--373, 243 N.Y.S.2d 301, 310--316). The district attorney argues that the evidence in this case, apart from the confession, was sufficient to create ......
  • People v. Eaton
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • March 28, 1966
    ...54 N.E.2d 20, 23--26; People v. Shanks, 201 Misc. 511, 108 N.Y.S.2d 504, affd. 279 App.Div. 1082, 113 N.Y.S.2d 447; People v. Rooks, 40 Misc.2d 359, 243 N.Y.S.2d 301.) The only medical expert to testify as to the cause of death was asked by the District Attorney whether the skull fracture c......
  • People v. Crimmins
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • May 7, 1973
    ...from a criminal act (People v. Deacons, 109 N.Y. 374, 16 N.E. 676; People v. Cuozzo, 292 N.Y. 85, 54 N.E.2d 20; People v. Rooks, 40 Misc.2d 359, 243 N.Y.S.2d 301; see, also, People v. Cleague, 22 N.Y.2d 363, 365--366, 292 N.Y.S.2d 861, 862--863, 239 N.E.2d 617, 618). Hence, that count of th......
  • Riffin, In re
    • United States
    • New York Family Court
    • April 19, 1972
    ...not held to this strict standard, and there must be proof he Intended to kill (People v. Porter, Co.Ct., 54 N.Y.S.2d 3; People v. Rooks, 40 Misc.2d 359, 243 N.Y.S.2d 301). As regards the standard relative to a child's capacity to be held contributorily negligent or to have assumed the risk ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The substance of false confessions.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 62 No. 4, April - April 2010
    • April 1, 2010
    ...People v. Robson, 80 P.3d 912, 913 (Colo. App. 2003) (quoting Dougherty v. People, 1 Colo. 514, 524 (1872)). (222.) People v. Rooks, 243 N.Y.S.2d 301, 311 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. (223.) See Leo et al., supra note 43, at 510-11. (224.) Godschalk Trial Transcript, supra note 145, at 236-37 (May 27, 19......

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