People v. Watson

Decision Date03 July 1956
Docket NumberCr. 5813
Citation46 Cal.2d 818,299 P.2d 243
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Philip J. WATSON, Defendant and Appellant.

Leslie C. Gillen, Gregory S. Stout and William F. Cleary, San Francisco, for appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Atty. Gen., Clarence A. Linn, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Victor Griffith and John S. McInerny, Deputy Attys. Gen., Thomas C. Lynch, Dist. Atty., and Cecil F. Poole, Asst. Dist. Atty., San Francisco, for respondent.

SPENCE, Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction of second degree murder. His wife, Arlys Watson, was killed on February 15, 1953, in their San Francisco apartment. Defendant's conviction rests on circumstantial evidence. He does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction, but he argues these points as grounds for reversal: (1) the restriction of the defense's cross-examination of one of the prosecution witnesses, Officer Mullen; (2) the giving of an instruction that neither the prosecution nor the defense was required to call as witnesses all persons present 'at the events involved in the evidence'; (3) the refusal of an instruction requiring, in substance, that each essential fact in a chain of circumstantial evidence must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the overruling of the objection to certain cross-examination of defendant. Only points (3) and (4) raise any serious question, but a review of the record leads us to the conclusion that there was no prejudicial error resulting in a 'miscarriage of justice,' and the judgment of conviction should therefore be affirmed. Cal.Const. art. VI, § 4 1/2.

In February, 1953, defendant was 26 and his wife was 22. He was then an Army corporal, stationed in San Francisco, and was due to be discharged on March 19, 1953. The couple had married in June, 1952, and lived in an upstairs furnished apartment. Apparently there was no particular friction between them.

February 15, 1953, was a Sunday. At 7:00 that evening defendant telephoned to the police that he had just found his wife dead in their apartment. Officer Mullen was the first official at the scene. Defendant met him there and took him to the bathroom, where he found Arlys lying in the bathtub, with her legs bent in a jack-knife position and with her head partially submerged, although neither the nose nor mouth was under water. Officer Mullen noted a red-brown stain about 4 or 5 inches wide that ran down the back of the tub (from the top of Arlys' head into the water) and the water was bloody. The bathroom walls were clean and the floor was dry. He noticed that the body was rigid, and he made no effort to remove it from the tub. He saw black and blue marks on the deceased's fingers but no wounds on the body. He noted that the bed was unmade but that everything else in the bedroom seemed to be in order. Defendant appeared nervous

Shortly after Officer Mullen's arrival, Inspectors Flynn and Thompson reached the scene, followed by ambulance driver Hynes and ambulance steward Zielinsky. The latter two, after removing the deceased from the tub to a mat on the bathroom floor, made a brief examination of the body. Zielinsky testified that the body was very stiff and rigid; that there was some bleeding from a matted mass of hair in the back of deceased's head but no wounds were visible; and that her hands were bruised. He removed a sheet from the bed and covered the body. At that time there was a rose-colored bedspread on the unmade bed. The landlady of the apartment testified that the rosecolored bedspread was hers, but that when the Watsons rented the apartment, Arlys had stated that they had a bedspread of their own and would use the rose-colored one on the divan in the living room; and that as recently as February 9, 1953, she had seen a white bedspread on the bed. Defendant professed not to know what had become of this white bedspread. He stated that some 2 or 3 months before, he had burned a hole in it and not wanting the landlady to know of such incident, either he or his wife threw it in the garbage can. It was the theory of the prosecution that defendant had killed his wife in the bedroom; that the white bedspread had become bloodstained; and that defendant disposed of it before he called the police. The white bedspread was not produced.

Two coroner's deputies next arrived at the apartment, and the ambulance men departed. After cleaning up the bathroom, the coroner's men left with the body. Defendant testified that he then notified the military authorities, but neither then nor later did he attempt to communicate with his or his wife's parents. He further testified that Officer Mullen told him that all there was left for him to do was to appear at the coroner's inquest in about six weeks, advised him against remaining in the apartment that night, and left.

About 9:30 o'clock that evening the coroner's office reported the death to Inspector Nelder of the homicide detail, and shortly thereafter he and Inspector VanDervoort went to the Watson apartment. The door was locked, and the landlady admitted them. The apartment appeared to be in order, and there was no evidence of breakage or a forced entry. Money was found in the deceased's purse, standing on the bureau, and there was no evidence of robbery. Nelder learned from the Army authorities that defendant was staying at a certain downtown hotel, and the two inspectors went there. Defendant was not in his room but after searching the neighborhood, they found him on the street about 10:30 o'clock that evening, and they took him to the Hall of Justice for questioning. The story defendant then told the police and during subsequent interrogation, as well as at the trial, was substantially the same. He admitted that Saturday night, February 14, 1953, he and wife had a disagreement over the fact that she had sent him a Valentine and he had failed to remember her, but he denied that they had a serious argument then or at any other time.

Defendant stated that on the morning of February 15, 1953, while waiting for his wife to prepare breakfast, he went to the store, purchased a newspaper and six cans of beer, which he brought home; that while he was in the bathroom, his wife, without had failed to remember her, but he denied beer; that when he came into the kitchen reading the newspaper, he attempted, without looking, to open the same can, and cut his finger, causing it to bleed. They ate breakfast about 11:00 a.m., each having half of two waffles. In the garbage pail in the kitchen there was found a small part of a waffle and other remnants from the breakfast meal as described by defendant, as well as one empty and bloody beer can; the other five cans were found in the refrigerator.

According to defendant, after breakfast he asked his wife if she wanted to take a ride, but she declined stating that she wanted to clean the house in preparation for an expected house guest who was coming the next week. He stated that he then went to make the bed, that as he grasped the bedspread his finger started to bleed again, and he went to get a fresh bandage; that his wife told him that she would take care of the bed; and that he then decided to go out for awhile. He left the apartment about 12:30 p.m., first taking two laundry bags to a nearby laundromat. He then drove to Half Moon Bay, sunned himself on the beach for about half an hour, but left when it became windy. After his arrest, sand was discovered in defendant's shoes and socks. Defendant stated that he then went to Sutro's Baths for a swim, using his own swimming suit. After leaving Sutro's defendant stated that he started toward home, stopping first about 6:00 p.m. at a drugstore to buy his wife a heart-shaped box of candy in view of his Valentine Day oversight; next going to a bar where he had a couple of beers, then proceeding to a nearby store to purchase a pint of ice cream, and finally arriving home about 7:00 p.m. The Watsons' normal dinner hour was about 8:00 p.m. on Sundays. The box of candy and carton of ice cream were found in the kitchen by the police. Defendant stated that upon entering his apartment he searched for his wife and found her in the bathtub; that he started to lift her, realized that she was dead, desisted, and then telephoned the police. The clothing that defendant stated he was wearing that Sunday a civilian sports suit when he undertook to remove his wife from the bathtub was found at the hotel where he later registered that night; and all the clothing, including the jacket, was dry. Defendant stated that he did not get any of his clothing wet at that time.

In attacking defendant's alibi, the prosecution produced the testimony of a cab driver that he had seen defendant sometime between 12 noon and 1 p.m. that Sunday near a certain bar in Daly City. This was on an entirely different route from the one defendant stated that he had taken. Another cab driver and also the wife of the bartender testified that they had seen defendant near or in the bar at about 1:30 p.m. that day. Defendant at all times denied that he had been in Daly City on that Sunday.

It was the theory of the prosecution that defendant had killed his wife in the bedroom before leaving the apartment that Sunday morning; that he then went out to build up an elaborate alibi, and hid or made some disposition of the bloody bedclothes the previously mentioned white bedspread and a certain yellow blanket which the police learned had been in the apartment but which, like the white bedspread, was never found; that defendant returned home before 7:00 p.m., cleaned up the apartment to hide the evidence of any struggle, and placed his wife in the bathtub to make the death look like an accident.

The building in which the Watsons occupied an upstairs apartment was so constructed that the tenant below could hear any noises...

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