Pressley v. State, 15554.

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Citation39 S.E.2d 478,201 Ga. 267
Docket Number15554.
Decision Date06 September 1946

39 S.E.2d 478

201 Ga. 267


No. 15554.

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 6, 1946

[39 S.E.2d 479]

Syllabus by the Court.

1. A confession of guilt is a statement freely and voluntarily made by a person charged with the commission of a crime, wherein he acknowledges himself to be guilty of the offense charged. A statement which admits the commission of an act, but which also states circumstances of legal excuse or justification, is not a confession, and it is reversible error to charge on the law relating to confessions of guilt in such a case.

2. Where it was shown that a defendant charged with the offense of murder had made incriminating admissions not amounting to a confession of guilt, it was error to charge the law relating to confessions. The treatment of such admissions as a confession of guilt tended to prejudice the case of the defendant.

3. The law presumes every homicide to be malicious until the contrary appears from circumstances of excuse, alleviation, or justification; and it is incumbent upon the defendant to make out such circumstances to the jury, unless they appear from the evidence produced against him. Where the State relies both upon admissions by the defendant, admitting the homicide but stating circumstances of excuse or justification, and other evidence tending to show that the defendant was the actual [201 Ga. 268] perpetrator of the offense charged, it is proper to charge this principle of law.

4. In a case, as here, where the State relies for a conviction both upon direct and indirect or circumstantial evidence, a charge using this expression, 'In this case, gentlemen, the State relies in part upon circumstantial evidence,' does not violate that principle of law which prohibits the trial judge from expressing or intimating an opinion as to what has or has not been proven in the case.

Roy Pressley was convicted of the murder of Ever Lee Hollis and sentenced to life imprisonment. He made a motion for new trial on the usual general grounds, and by amendment added seven special grounds. The motion as amended was overruled, and he excepted.

The evidence for the State disclosed that about 5 o'clock, Sunday evening, October 14, 1945, the deceased was found dead in a corn field near a path that runs between Big Springs Road and Ogletree Street, in LaGrange, Troup County, Georgia. Ralph Hollis, husband of the deceased, testified that she left home about 10 o'clock in the morning to visit her mother, who lived on [39 S.E.2d 480] Big Springs Road, and beyond the place where her body was found. The undertaker and investigating officers, who examined the body about 5 o'clock that evening, testified that death was caused by a shotgun wound in the back. The shot entered the body just to the left of the backbone and below the shoulder blade, and so nearly passed through that blood was on the front part of the body. The small surface covered by the shot and powder burns on clothing of the deceased indicated that the shot was fired at close range. She had been dead for some time. There was some discoloration and the joints were stiff. From where the body fell it appeared to have been moved and turned face up. The lower part of the body was uncovered and her 'step-ins' were partly torn off. There were indications of knee impressions between the legs. The body was scratched in several places and appeared to have been rubbed. A fired 12-gauge shotgun shell was found near the body.

T. J. Bates testified: The defendant came to his home Sunday morning between 8 and 9 o'clock. He was carrying a single barrel 12-gauge shotgun. The defendant told him that he had been hunting and had an accident; that he had shot a negro. The witness [201 Ga. 269] said to the defendant: 'You never done it,' and the defendant replied, 'Yes, he did.' The defendant left the gun and some shells with him, and asked that they be given to his father. They were later picked up by the investigating officers.

Addie Lee Johnson testified: She saw the defendant between 11 and 12 o'clock, the morning of October 14, about one half or one mile from the place where the body was found. She and a small boy were walking along the railroad when the defendant came up behind her walking fast. She waited and asked what he was doing there, and the defendant said that he was running from the police. She asked if he was drunk, and the defendant said, 'No, he had killed a negro.' The defendant had blood about the pocket of his vest.

H. V. Hilyer testified: After searching in Troup County for the defendant, he found him in custody of the sheriff at Kingston, Tennessee. He had been there about three weeks. While returning to LaGrange he asked the defendant why he had killed this woman. The defendant said 'he was coming up the branch and shot at a rabbit and hit the woman.' The defendant was asked if he knew the woman, and he said, 'Yes, I knew her, she used to wash for us.'

The fired shell, which was found near the body of the deceased, and the shotgun left with T. J. Bates by the defendant, were sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Washington, D. C., for examination.

G. A. Berley testified: He was employed as special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the laboratory at Washington, D. C., to examine firearms. To prepare for that work he had received a degree of science from Fordham University, and had studied identification of firearms in the FBI laboratory. He had been engaged in that work for three years. He received the shotgun and fired shell for examination. By firing another shell in that gun and by using the comparative photographic microscope to compare the indentations made by the firing pin in the cap of both shells, and the marks made by the breech-bock base on the base of both shells, he was able to identify the fired shell which he had received for examination as having been fired from that shotgun. He further testified that the breech-bock base of any two shotguns will not make the same marks on the head [201 Ga. 270] of a shell. There would always be a difference somewhat as finger prints differ on different people.

The defendant made no statement to the jury, and without entering a special plea, relied on the defense of not guilty. There was evidence that he had worked at some of the local mills and at other odd jobs. He had quit school after the fifth grade because of inability to learn, and had been rejected for military service because of mental deficiency. He was abnormal mentally but had never been adjudged a lunatic. As to whether he knew right from wrong, the evidence was conflicting. Several witnesses testified that he did not know the distinction between right and wrong; [39 S.E.2d 481] others testified that he knew right from wrong in so far as a small child would know it, and others for the State and for the defense testified that he knew the distinction between right and wrong.

Duke Davis, of La Grange, for plaintiff in error.

L. M. Wyatt, Sol. Gen., of La Grange, Eugene Cook, Atty. Gen., and Rubye G. Jackson, of Atlanta, for defendant in error.

CANDLER, Justice (after stating the foregoing facts).

1. In special grounds 1, 2, 3, and 4, error is assigned on the charge as it related to the law of confessions. In each separate ground it is urged that the charge on the subject of confessions was unauthorized by the evidence, since no statement attributable to the defendant amounted to a confession, but at most was only an incriminating admission. A confession is an admission freely and...

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43 cases
  • City of Easley v. Portman, 2698
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 4, 1997
    ...which guilt may be inferred, tending only to prove the offense charged, but not amounting to a confession of guilt. Pressley v. State, 201 Ga. 267, 39 S.E.2d 478 (1946). An "admission against interest" is any statement made by or attributable to a party to an action which constitutes an adm......
  • Carruthers v. State, S99P1418.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • March 6, 2000
    ...254 Ga. 45, 48(2)(b), 326 S.E.2d 454 (1985); Cunningham v. State, 248 Ga. 835, 836(2), 286 S.E.2d 427 (1982). 28. See Pressley v. State, 201 Ga. 267, 270(1), 39 S.E.2d 478 (1946); Coates v. State, 192 Ga. 130, 135(1), 15 S.E.2d 240 (1941); Allen v. State, 187 Ga. 178, 180-181(3), 200 S.E. 1......
  • Johnson v. State, 30223
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 21, 1975
    ...his wife amounted to a confession and constituted direct evidence of his guilt. In doing so, the state relies on Pressley v. State, 201 Ga. 267, 271, 39 S.E.2d 478, 481. 'Where there is evidence showing that the defendant admitted the homicide of which he is accused, and he states in connec......
  • Edwards v. State, s. 19845
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 11, 1957
    ...decisions are cited in Fields v. State, 211 Ga. 335(1), 85 S.E.2d 753, Harris v. State, 207 Ga. 287, 61 S.E.2d 135, and Pressley v. State, 201 Ga. 267, 39 S.E.2d 478. We think there is unanimous agreement that it is reversible error to charge on confession when there was no confession. With......
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