Stalnaker v. State

Decision Date28 July 1938
Citation183 So. 294,133 Fla. 671
PartiesSTALNAKER et al. v. STATE.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied Sept. 30, 1938.

BROWN J., dissents.

Error to Circuit Court, Hamilton County; R. H. Rowe, Judge.

Wilson Stalnaker and J. T. Hammock, Sr., were convicted of murder in the first degree with a recommendation to mercy, and Nathan Prayther was convicted of manslaughter, and they bring error.

Judgment against Nathan Prayther reversed, and judgments against Wilson Stalnaker and J. T. Hammock, Sr., affirmed.

COUNSEL Martin & Martin, of Plant City, for plaintiffs in error.

George Couper Gibbs, Atty. Gen., and Tyrus A. Norwood, Asst. Atty Gen., for the State.


CHAPMAN Justice.

On September 16, 1936, a Grand Jury of Hamilton County, Florida presented an indictment against Wilson Stalnaker, Nathan Prayther, and J. T. Hammock, Sr., in three separate counts for the killing of W. C. Harris in Hamilton County, Florida, on the 28th day of July, 1936. The first count of the indictment charged Wilson Stalnaker, J. T Hammock, Sr., and Nathan Prayther with murder in the first degree of W. C. Harris. The second count of the indictment charged Wilson Stalnaker and J. T. Hammock, Sr., with murder in the first degree of W. C. Harris, and Nathan Prayther as an accessory before the fact. The third count of the indictment charged Wilson Stalnaker and Nathan Prayther with murder in the first degree of W. C. Harris and J. T. Hammock, Sr., as an accessory before the fact. The defendants upon arraignment each filed pleas of not guilty to each count of the said indictment.

The defendants were placed on trial and on September 25th, 1936, a jury by its verdict found Wilson Stalnaker and J. T. Hammock, Sr., guilty of murder in the first degree with a recommendation to mercy, while the defendant Nathan Prayther was found guilty of manslaughter. Judgments were entered on the said verdict and they are here for review on a number of assignments of error, based largely on the grounds of the motion for a new trial, which was seasonably presented, and overruled and denied by the lower court. The grounds of the motion for a new trial in behalf of Wilson Stalnaker comprise ten separate grounds; eleven different grounds for the defendant J. T. Hammock, Sr., and twelve grounds for the defendant Nathan Prayther. The transcript shows an exception to the order overruling and denying the joint and several motions for a new trial made on the part of the defendants and are duly presented for a ruling here. The grounds of the motion in behalf of each defendant are substantially the same. Counsel for the defendants made no application for a severance and the three defendants were tried at one time by the same jury.

Plaintiffs in error contend that the lower court erred in withholding from them or their attorney a list containing the names of the proposed jurors appearing both on the regular and special venire until shortly prior to the hour set for the trial of the defendants and that they were deprived of the right and privilege of a thorough and comprehensive examination into the validity thereof. We are at a loss to understand the exact point to be developed by this assignment. The brief filed in the cause fails to submit authorities in support thereof. An affidavit made by the Hon. W. A. Lewis, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Florida, shows that 'immediately after the Sheriff made his return he made available a list of said venire to any and all persons applying for the same and that he delivered a copy of said venire to defendants' attorney.' We fail to find error in this assignment.

It is next contended that the lower court erred in denying defendant Stalnaker's challenge to the proposed juror, J. R. Harrison, who it is alleged had formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of Stalnaker; that it would require evidence to remove the opinion to defendant Stalnaker's injury, and was forced to use one of his peremptory challenges to exclude the proposed juror after the ten challenges allowed by law had been exhausted. The record does not contain any stenographic report of the voir dire examination of this juror; so we would not be justified in holding the trial judge in error. Furthermore the lower court, when passing upon the motion for a new trial, had before it certificates made by the Hon. J. R. Kelley, State Attorney, and Hon. O. O. Edwards, Assistant State Attorney, to the effect that the juror J. R. Hamilton's testimony as to opinion of the guilt or innocence of Stalnaker was based on rumors or talk and not upon the evidence of the cause, and that such opinion would readily yield to the sworn testimony and the law of the case; that the peremptory challenges of the defendant Stalnaker had not been exhausted, but at the time he had three challenges unexercised. The lower court held these facts to be true, and the assignment is without merit.

It is next contended that the jury failed to comprehend and have full knowledge of the different rulings of the trial court during the progress of the trial when some evidence offered should be considered by the jury as to one defendant and not as to the others, and that particularly was this true as to statements or admissions of one of the said defendants. Counsel for the defendants had an opportunity to avoid this predicament by applying to the trial court for a severance and reciting these facts for the reason, or reasons, for separate trials for each defendant. Counsel was familiar with the evidence against his clients as a hearing was had before the coroner's jury and before the Circuit Court when bail was sought. Counsel should not have been permitted to take advantage of his own error. We have examined the assignment and hold that it is without merit.

It is argued that the rulings of the lower court confused the jury when the admission of alleged statements by the defendants after the time of the homicide and at a subsequent time during the progress of the trial by appropriate instructions the court directed the jury to disregard his former rulings. We have considered this assignment and hold that it is without merit.

The record shows that the defendants, through counsel at the completion of the State's case and again after all the evidence had been adduced, moved the court on a number of grounds to direct the jury to find the defendants not guilty. The principal ground of that motion being that the evidence adduced would not support a verdict of guilty of any crime embraced in either count of the indictment. The motions as made were by the lower court overruled. We do not think there was error in this ruling. This Court has by an unbroken line of decisions held that it was error to direct a verdict on any question submitted as evidence that should have been considered by the jury. See Folsom v. Hoffman, 100 Fla. 1369, 131 So. 318. A verdict should be directed for one party only when the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain a verdict for the opposite party. Aberson v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 68 Fla. 196, 67 So. 44. If the evidence is conflicting or will admit of different reasonable inferences, or if there is evidence tending to prove the issue, it should be submitted to the jury as a question of fact to be determined by them, and not taken from the jury and passed upon by the court as a question of law. Cameron & Barkley Co. v. Law-Engle Co., 98 Fla. 920, 124 So. 814; McKinnon v. Johnson, 57 Fla. 120, 48 So. 910; Starks v. Sawyer, 56 Fla. 596, 47 So. 513; Florida Cent. & P. R. Co. v. Williams, 37 Fla. 406, 20 So. 558; Southern Exp. Co. v. Williamson, 66 Fla. 286, 63 So. 433, L.R.A.1916C, 1208; Bass v. Ramos, 58 Fla. 161, 50 So. 945, 138 Am.St.Rep. 105; Wood Lumber Co. v. Gipson, 63 Fla. 316, 58 So. 364; Paul v. Commercial Bank, 69 Fla. 62, 68 So. 68; Johnson v. Louisville & N. R. Co., 59 Fla. 305, 52 So. 195; Williams v. Sherry, 94 Fla. 998, 114 So. 849; German-American Lumber Co. v. Brock, 55 Fla. 577, 46 So. 740; Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Pelot, 62 Fla. 121, 56 So. 496. See King v. Cooney-Eckstein Co., 66 Fla. 246, 63 So. 659, Ann.Cas.1916C, 163; Gunn v. Jacksonville, 67 Fla. 40, 64 So. 435; Davis v. Ivey, 93 Fla. 387, 112 So. 264; Florida East Coast R. Co. v. Hayes, 66 Fla. 589, 64 So. 274; Jacksonville v. Glover, 69 Fla. 701, 69 So. 20; Gravette v. Turner, 77 Fla. 311, 81 So. 476; Gulf Refining Co. v. Ankeny, 102 Fla. 151, 135 So. 521.

The motion for a new trial in behalf of each defendant raised the question of the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict as found by the jury. The evidence shows that W. C Harris was killed about 11 o'clock A. M. on Tuesday, July 28, 1936, on the farm of J. T. Hammock, Sr., near Marion Station in Hamilton County, Florida. When killed had for several months prior thereto, he had lived in one of the houses on the farm and worked for the defendant Hammock as a 'wage hand', and some of the witnesses stated that under the terms of his employment he was to receive in addition to his wages a one-tenth interest in the flue cured tobacco grown on the place for the year 1936. It seems that two tobacco barns were in operation when he was killed and the tobacco acreage approximated seven to twelve acres. Friction arose between the deceased and the defendant Hammock when terms of settlement were being negotiated whereby the deceased would move from the farm, and during this period the defendant Stalnaker was by Hammock given employment on the farm and his family placed in another house not a great distance from where the deceased and his family were living and on the same farm. On Saturday preceding the fatal altercation on the following Tuesday, the defendant Hammock placed the defendant Stalnaker in the control of...

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