Rees v. Com., 5438-R

CourtSupreme Court of Virginia
Citation127 S.E.2d 406,203 Va. 850
Decision Date08 October 1962
Docket NumberNo. 5438-R,5438-R
PartiesMELVIN DAVIS REES, JR. v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA. Record

Page 406

127 S.E.2d 406
203 Va. 850
MELVIN DAVIS REES, JR.
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA.
Record No. 5438-R.
Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia
October 8, 1962.

Page 407

[203 Va. 851] T. Stokeley Coleman, Commonwealth's Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Per Curiam. [203 Va. 852]

Melvin Davis Rees, Jr., was found guilty by a jury of murder in the first degree for the slaying of Carroll Vernon Jackson, Jr., and his punishment fixed at death. His motion to set aside the verdict was overruled and judgment was entered on the verdict.

Page 408

To that judgment he seeks a writ of error upon the following assignments:

(1) The refusal of the court to order the transfer of the defendant from the State Penitentiary to the city jail in Fredericksburg, Virginia, so that he might be near his court-appointed attorneys.

(2) The refusal of the court to order a change of venue or change of venire, especially in view of the difficulty in obtaining a panel and of the fact that the jury deliberated less than an hour in arriving at a death sentence.

(3) The court erroneously admitted in evidence the .38 caliber pistol which was taken by unlawful search and seizure.

(4) The refusal of the court to sustain the motion to strike the Commonwealth's evidence at the conclusion of the Commonwealth's case and at the conclusion of the whole case;

The refusal of the court to rule that the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict; and

The refusal of the court to set aside the verdict as contrary to the law and evidence and award the defendant a new trial.

(5) The court erroneously admitted in evidence the testimony of many witnesses relative to the finding of the two bodies in Maryland.

(6) The court erroneously admitted in evidence the testimony of Thornton Shackelford.

In passing on the defendant's motion for a new trial the lower court, in an exhaustive written opinion, considered the sufficiency of the evidence and the other matters presented in the assignments of error. A careful review of the record convinces us that the judgment of the lower court is plainly right and that the writ prayed for should be denied. The written opinion of the lower court, which is a full and complete answer to the arguments advanced on behalf of the defendant on this appeal, is adopted as the opinion of this court.

'In the evening of January 11, 1959, Carroll Vernon Jackson, Jr., his wife, Mildred, and their two daughters, Janet and Susan, left the home of Mrs. Jackson's parents in Louisa County, Virginia, to drive fifteen miles to their own home. The next morning their empty car was found about half-way to their destination partly on the shoulder of the road. Skid marks of another vehicle were immediately in front of the Jackson car at an approximately forty-five degree angle to the highway. [203 Va. 853]

'On March 4, 1959, the bodies of Jackson and his daughter, Janet, were found in Spotsylvania County. Jackson had been fatally shot in the head. Dr. Geoffrey T. Mann, Medical Examiner of Virginia, testified that in his opinion the would was caused by a .38 caliber bullet. Jackson's head had been beaten severely. Dr. Mann testified that these wounds could have been caused by any number of objects including a pipe or a pistol butt.

'Near Jackson's body were found a pair of plastic gun grips (Com. Ex. 39 and 40), and Jackson's broken eyeglasses (Com. Ex. 41).

'On March 21, 1959, the bodies of Mrs. Jackson and Susan, were found near Gambrills, Maryland. Both Mrs. Jackson and her daughter had been beaten about their heads, which with aspiration of blood caused their deaths. A silk stocking was found knotted around Mrs. Jackson's neck. Marks on her neck indicated that she probably had been strangled by this stocking, although it is possible that she could have been hanged. The clothes on Mrs. Jackson and her daughter were found intact with the exception of Mrs. Jackson's coat which had been pulled over her head. A button from the coat was found in a shack not far from the bodies.

'In January 1959 the defendant, Melvin Davis Rees, Jr., was living in a beach house in Norfolk, Virginia, which he shared with

Page 409

a friend, Glenn Moser. Living with the defendant was a woman, Pat Rouett, who also was known as Pat Weidenhouse or Pat Rees. Rees left Norfolk in his car between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., January 11, 1959 for Washington where he was to play the vibraphone at Harrigan's Restaurant.

'Robert Engle, manager of Harrigan's, and Phillip Troup, who was in charge of the orchestra, testified that Rees had been engaged to play in the orchestra at the restaurant over a period of several months and that occasionally he had failed to appear, but they were not able specifically to state whether he played there on the night of January 11, 1959. Moser testified that Rees said he had someone else fill the engagement.

'Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Davis Rees, Sr., parents of the defendant, testified that at 10:30 on the morning of January 12, 1959 he came to their home in Hyattsville. He appeared normal, and he helped his father gather firewood. He gave lessons that day from 3:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Flynn's Music School, Washington. William Flynn, proprietor of the school, testified he was neat in appearance. Mrs. Ivy L. Johnson, testified that she was his first pupil and he was sloppy and unshaven. His clothes appeared to have been slept in. She believed [203 Va. 854] he had mud on his trousers, but of this observation she could not be certain.

'Moser testified that after the bodies of the Jacksons were found, he accused Rees of the crime, and that Rees made no denial and caused his car to collide with another car.

'The Commonwealth introduced evidence that Rees had been seen on December 28, 1958 -- about two weeks before the Jacksons' disappearance -- approximately 29 miles from the place where Jackson's car was found. Phillip Troup testified that on December 27, 1958 Rees played in his orchestra in Alexandria, Virginia. Troup last saw Rees in the company of Pat Weidenhouse about 1:20 a.m., December 28th. Pat Weidenhouse testified on behalf of the defendant, but she made no reference to this incident.

'Rees and Pat Weidenhouse moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There on June 24, 1960 Rees was arrested on a fugitive warrant for a crime not pertinent to this case.

'On June 24, 1960 agents of the F.B.I. searched the home of Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Davis Rees, Sr. In a crawl space in the attic, the agents found an accordion case which contained among other things a.38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver. (Com. Ex. 9)

'The revolver had been sold by Rich's Department Store, Atlanta, Georgia, to William D. Bage. Bage was dissatisfied with the plastic gun grips on the revolver. He purchased a pair of simulated-horn gun grips and fastened them to the revolver. He also purchased a leather holster. In 1957 Bage, advertised the gun for sale in the newspaper and sold it, together with the holster and extra pair of plastic grips, to Rees.

'Allison C. Simms of the F.B.I. laboratories testified that the gun contained minute traces of human blood. He was unable to type this blood or determine how long it had been on the gun. He also found blood on the left gun grip, but was unable to determine whether or not it was human blood.

'George A. Berley of the F.B.I. laboratories examined both the gun, which had been found in the home of the defendant's parents, and the grips, which were found near the body of Jackson. From his examination he concluded that the right grip had at one time been on the gun. He reached this conclusion because of marks or scratches on the interior surface of the grip, which in his opinion could have been caused only by the surface of the metal on the gun butt. He was unable to find identifying marks on the left grip. He also testified that the right grip had defects, which in his opinion could have been [203 Va. 855] caused by force exerted on the grip. This

Page 410

force could have been caused by using the revolver, with the grips attached, to strike a blow. In his opinion the screw attaching the grips to the butt had broken.

'The jury found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree and fixed his punishment at death. Counsel for the defendant moved to set aside the verdict as contrary to the law and the evidence assigning the following grounds:

Writ of error denied.

1. The refusal of the Court to order the transfer of the defendant from the State Penitentiary to the City Jail in Fredericksburg, Virginia, so that he might be near his court-appointed attorneys.

2. The refusal of the Court to order a change of venue or change of venire, especially in view of the difficulty in obtaining a panel and of the fact that the jury deliberated less than an hour in aarriving at a death sentence.

3. The Court erroneously admitted in evidence the testimony of many witnesses relative to the finding of the two bodies in Maryland.

4. The Court erroneously admitted in evidence the .38 caliber pistol which was taken by unlawful search and seizure.

5. The Court erroneously admitted in evidence the testimony of Thornton Shackelford.

6. The refusal of the Court to sustain the motion to strike the Commonwealth's evidence at the conclusion of the Commonwealth's case and at the conclusion of the whole case.

7. The action of the Court in giving and refusing certain instructions as set forth in detail in the record of the trial.

8. The evidence is insufficient to support the verdict.

9. Certain other and additional grounds which will be more fully set forth when the transcript of the trial is available. (No additional grounds were filed, however.)

'The Court overruled the motion and entered judgment on the verdict.

Motion To Transfer To The Fredericksburg Jail

'On May 26, 1961 the Court, at the request of the defendant, appointed counsel for him. The Court appointed Mr. Alfred W. Garnett, and Mr. Joseph L. Savage, Jr., of Fredericksburg, Virginia,...

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