People v. Teale

Decision Date25 February 1969
Docket NumberCr. 11543
Citation70 Cal.2d 497,450 P.2d 564,75 Cal.Rptr. 172
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 450 P.2d 564 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Thomas Leroy TEALE, Defendant and Appellant.

Nels B. Fransen, Stockton, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., Edsel W. Haws and Michael H. Fabian, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

SULLIVAN, Justice.

In an indictment found on November 16, 1962, defendant Thomas Leroy Teale and Ruth Elizabeth Chapman were accused of robbery (Pen.Code, § 211), kidnaping for the purpose of robbery (Pen.Code, § 209), and murder (Pen.Code, § 187). After a joint trial by jury each was found guilty of robbery in the first degree, simple kidnaping (a lesser offense included within the offense charged), and murder in the first degree. As to the murder count the jury imposed the penalty of death upon defendant Teale and the penalty of life imprisonment upon Mrs. Chapman. On appeal this court affirmed the judgment as to defendant Teale; as to Mrs. Chapman, the judgment was reversed insofar as it imposed punishment for robbery and kidnaping and affirmed in all other respects. (People v. Teale (1965) 63 Cal.2d 178, 45 Cal.Rptr. 729, 404 P.2d 209.)

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari (383 U.S. 956--957, 86 S.Ct. 1228, 16 L.Ed.2d 300) and reversed the judgment, holding that error in the trial resulting from a violation of the rule in Griffin v. California (1965) 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106 required that a new trial be had because the state had failed to show that such error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. (Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705.) Pursuant to this mandate we recalled our remittitur, vacated our decision, and reversed the judgments.

On April 18, 1967, upon motion of the prosecutor, separate trials were granted, 1 and the kidnaping count was dismissed. The retrial of defendant Teale commenced on May 16, 1967, and on May 29 the jury found him guilty of robbery in the first degree and murder in the first degree. The penalty on the murder count was again fixed at death. This appeal is automatic. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)

Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the People (People v. Sweeney (1960) 55 Cal.2d 27, 33, 9 Cal.Rptr. 793, 357 P.2d 1049; People v. Caritativo (1956) 46 Cal.2d 68, 70, 292 P.2d 513, cert. den. 351 U.S. 972, 76 S.Ct. 1042, 100 L.Ed. 1490) as we are bound to do following a guilty verdict, it discloses that defendant and Mrs. Chapman, living as man and wife, were constant associates during more than a month preceding the date of the alleged crimes. On September 15, 1962, they rented a cabin in Lake County and remained there until October 10. Two days later they were in Reno, Nevada, where Mrs. Chapman purchased a .22 caliber revolver and a .32 caliber automatic pistol. Apparently they then travelled to Las Vegas and, returning to California on October 17, registered at a motel in Fresno as man and wife.

During the evening of October 17, defendant and Mrs. Chapman appeared at a tavern in Lodi known as Croce's. After they had remained there for some three hours and had consumed two or three beers apiece, a disagreement arose between them and Mrs. Chapman went out of the tavern. After a few minutes she returned and said to defendant 'Come on, let's go, we are not going to do anything here,' or 'Let's go, we can't do anything here.' Thereupon they left the tavern. It was then approximately 1 a.m. on October 18, 1962.

About 1:35 a.m. defendant and Mrs. Chapman arrived at the Spot Club, another tavern in Lodi. A few minutes before closing time they and two men, never produced as witnesses, were the only persons left in the tavern except for the bartender one Billy Dean Adcock. 2 Shortly thereafter Adcock was observed locking the door to the tavern, the lights of which had been turned off as was customary upon closing. With him were a man and a woman; the man had a coat draped over his right hand and stood behind Adcock.

About 9 a.m. on October 18, the owner of the Spot Club found Adcock's automobile parked at the front entrance. Upon entering he found that Adcock had not attended to his usual tasks before closing and that the tavern was in an unusual state of disorder. The drawers of the cash register had been removed and approximately $260 was missing.

Later that morning the body of Billy Dean Adcock was discovered in a roadside ditch north of Lodi. There was blood on his face and on the gravel alongside the road. Taken from the water near the body were personal papers of the victim, his wallet, a woman's lipstick, and a check for $2.00 signed by Ruth Elizabeth Chapman. The wallet contained no money, although Adcock had had between $50 and $65 on his person when he left for work on the previous day.

Adcock had been shot in the head three times with a .22 caliber revolver. Two of the bullets had entered through a single wound on the left side of the head and powder burns indicated that the gun had been within two inches of the victim's head when these bullets were fired. The third bullet had entered at the back of the head and powder burns indicated that the gun was about 18 inches away when this bullet was fired. The time of death was estimated at 2 a.m. on October 18, 1962.

At 4:40 a.m. on October 18, a man and a woman registered at a motel in Woodland as Mr. and Mrs. T. L. Rosenthal of Eureka, California. They arrived in Mrs. Chapman's automobile but gave a false license number. The handwriting on the register was Mrs. Chapman's.

About November 2, 1962, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Orleans, Louisiana, received a teletype communication that defendant, whose parents live in New Orleans, was wanted in California for murder, kidnaping, and robbery. The communication also contained a description of Mrs. Chapman's automobile, in which the pair had been traveling on the night of the alleged crimes. The agents discovered the car in the vicinity of the residence of defendant's parents. They then observed defendant entering the vehicle and arrested him. While he was being fingerprinted at Bureau headquarters the agents told him that he was wanted in Stockton, California; he replied that they would have a hard time proving that he had been there. Defendant also mentioned Lodi although no reference had been made to that city by any of the agents.

When arrested defendant had on his person the .32 caliber automatic pistol which Mrs. Chapman had purchased in Reno on October 12. At the scene, the agents also made a perfunctory search for additional weapons of Mrs. Chapman's automobile in which defendant was sitting at the time of his arrest. The search yielded no weapons, and after defendant had been taken away for booking, an agent drove the car to a garage used for the storage of F.B.I. vehicles. There the agent parked the vehicle, locked it, and instructed the attendant to see that it was not tampered with. 3 The car remained in the garage until November 5, when California officers arrived to take possession of it. At that time the vehicle was sealed and placed in a sealed boxcar for transportation by rail to California. On November 12, after the automobile had arrived in California, the seals were broken and a criminalist undertook a scientific examination which produced real evidence indicating that Adcock was inside the automobile when he was shot. 4 At no time was a search warrant obtained.

While confined in the San Joaquin County jail awaiting trial defendant had several conversations with another inmate concerning the crime. In the first of these conversations he stated 'that he hoped Ruth wouldn't break down (because) they didn't have nothing on him.' On another occasion defendant stated to the other inmate that 'he hoped Ruth didn't break down, he said he knew he had it, but he said he hoped she didn't get in any trouble. * * *' Defendant also recounted to the inmate the circumstances of the killing. As the latter testified: 'Well, he said they stopped the car and Mr. Teale said he was just--he said he had no intending to murder him, said he was just going to run him up through the grape vineyard and give them a chance to get away. Q. Did he say anything else? A. He said when he got out of the car, he says Mrs. Chapman, he called her Ruth, said Ruth shot him and then when he run around there and opened the door, said she shot him two more times in the head. Q. Did he mention anything about the weapon itself that was used? A. He said nobody'd ever find it.'

Defendant presented no evidence in his own behalf either at the guilt phase or the penalty phase of the trial.

Defendant first contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the verdicts. He points out that the case against him was based upon circumstantial evidence and that there were no nonparticipant eyewitnesses to the robbery and murder of the victim, Billy Dean Adcock. It is clear, however, that the prosecution's reliance on circumstantial proof and the lack of eyewitnesses do not of themselves render adverse verdicts invalid for want of evidentiary support. 'The People, of course, may rely on circumstantial evidence to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime charged and to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the perpetrator thereof. (Citations.) Moreover, 'It is the trier of fact, not the appellate court, that must be convinced of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the circumstances reasonably justify the trier of fact's findings, the opinion of the reviewing court that the circumstances might also be reasonably reconciled with a contrary finding does not warrant a reversal of the judgment.' (People v. Robillard (1960) 55 Cal.2d 88, 93(1--2), 10 Cal.Rptr. 167, 169, 358 P.2d 295, 297, 83 A.L.R.2d 1086 * * *.)' (People v. Hillery (1965) 62...

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