State v. Dillon, 10215

Citation471 P.2d 553,93 Idaho 698
Decision Date25 June 1970
Docket NumberNo. 10215,10215
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Michael DILLON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho

May, May & Bennett, Twin Falls, for defendant-appellant.

Robert M. Robson, Atty. Gen., and Howard F. Manly, Asst. Atty. Gen., Boise, and R. H. Seeley, former Pros. Attorney, Jerome County, Jerome, for plaintiff-respondent.

McQUADE, Justice.

In January, 1968, defendant-appellant, Michael Dillon, was tried for the murder of Alta Simerly, age 65. A jury found him guilty of murder in the second degree, and judgment was entered accordingly. Dillon has brought this appeal from that judgment.

The deceased, Alta Simerly, was last known to have been alive on Tuesday, March 14, 1967. The fact that she was missing had become apparent to her sister, Mrs. Virginia Deck, by late afternoon of Thursday, March 16, 1967, and Mrs. Deck then went to her sister's home to determine whether anything was amiss. There Mrs. Deck was confronted by an extraordinary scene. The walls, ceiling, and floor of her sister's kitchen were splattered with blood, and her sister and her sister's car were missing. She immediately left the victim's house to obtain help from friends and with them returned. The police were then called, and a fairly thorough investigation of the premises was conducted that evening. Further examinations of the Simerly residence were made on subsequent days.

Officer Elza Hall of the Jerome police department testified at trial as follows concerning the condition of Mrs. Simerly's house as it was originally discovered. Several sticks of wood of various sizes were found with blood on them in the kitchen. Also, several unfired, but ejected, 45 caliber bullets and a weight with a leather strap attached to it were found in the kitchen and on the back porch of the house. The testimony of officer Hall corroborated by other witnesses, established that a pair of bloody slippers were found. One slipper was in the kitchen, and the other in the living room of the house. There were orange peelings, a knife, and two coffee cups in the living room, and a third cup on the table in the kitchen. And, although Mrs. Deck testified that her sister did not smoke, the police found a pipe, tobacco, and cigarette butts in ash trays in the living room and bedroom of the house.

In the early hours of the morning of March 18, the decedent's automobile was discovered on Jackson Street, two blocks from Dillon's grandmother's home, in Twin Falls. A substantial quantity of blood, but no fingerprints of value, were discovered on the car. On Sunday, March 19, 1967, Alta Simerly's badly beaten body was discovered in a sandpit near the Jerome golf course. Although she had been partially disrobed, subsequent investigations idnicated that she had not been sexually molested.

Mrs. Simerly's body was then transported to Twin Falls, where an autopsy was performed on it by a pathologist, Dr. Carle. The following is a summary of his testimony concerning the condition of the victim's corpse. Mrs. Simerly had suffered a terrible beating about the head and neck. Some of the blows had actually detached skin from her skull. She also had bruises around the neck indicating that she had been manually strangled, and there were a number of bruises which were round with hexagonal marks, indicating that she had been beaten with something resembling a tire iron or lug wrench. She had eaten only a few hours before she was attacked. Her blood type was O-RHD-Positive, and her blood contained 0.036 grams per hundred ML alcohol. She had suffered substantial brain damage but it was not as extensive as the external damage to her head had indicated. She had also lost a great deal of blood, but probably not enough to have killed her very quickly. It was the doctor's opinion, therefore, that she had probably been killed as a result of manual strangulation. At no time throughout Dillon's statements does it appear that appellant mentioned manual strangulation.

On the 24th of March, 1967, appellant, then a member of a sheepshearing crew, was picked up by the authorities at a Breckenridge ranch in Twin Falls County and taken to the Twin Falls police station to be fingerprinted. The police stated that this was done only in order to eliminate fingerprints which had been found in the decedent's automobile, because they knew that the defendant had ridden in the car some weeks prior to the murder. Testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated, however, that there was no useable fingerprints recovered from Mrs. Simerly's automobile. It was at one point suggested that the police had picked up Dillon on the 24th because the weight found in the victim's house and suspected to have been a murder weapon was a device thought to be used by sheepshearing crews of the sort with which appellant worked. The authorities also had information that Dillon had appeared at his grandmother's house in Twin Falls on Wednesday, March 15, 1967, wearing shoes and socks which were covered with blood. When the police asked appellant about this occurrence while at the Twin Falls police station on the 24th, Dillon responded that the blood was the result of his having been assigned to 'tromp wool.' Thus, he claimed, the blood was sheep blood. Although the socks had already been washed, the shoes were still stained, and the police asked Dillon if they might have the shoes for examination. Appellant, in his testimony at a preliminary hearing, indicated that he was well aware of why the police wanted the shoes and that he freely agreed to supply the shoes to the police. The authorities and Dillon then returned to the ranch where the shoes were produced and taken by the police.

These shoes were sent off to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C. where it was determined that the blood on them was human blood of the same major blood type as that of appellant and his alleged victim. A telegram to this effect was received by the police in Twin Falls on March 29, 1967. A variety of policemen and sheriffs from Twin Falls, Jerome and Blaine Counties then proceeded to where the sheepshearing crew was working near Bellevue, Idaho, and there they arrested appellant late that evening. Appellant and the police, excepting the sheriff of Blaine County, then returned to Jerome. There appellant, a seventeen year old boy, with an I.Q. in the dull-normal range, was given a formal Miranda warning. 1 He was also then confronted with the fact that the blood on his shoes was human blood.

At this time appellant gave the first of several statements all of which were more or less inculpatory and which ultimately led up to a confession. The first statement involved a strange man in a long dark car who committed the murder and then, several hours later, coerced appellant into helping him load the body into the victim's car whereupon the two of them drove about the Twin Falls and Jerome areas, finally dropping the body in a sandpit after which appellant was let out at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Twin Falls. After telling his story, Dillon was put into an adult cell in the Jerome County jail.

The following morning appellant's mother (who, according to the police, the preceding evening they had tried to notify, but had been unable to locate) and the appellant were brought to the Jerome County Courthouse where they were both advised in great detail by the probate judge concerning appellant's rights to have counsel and to refuse to speak. The probate judge particularly stressed the gravity of the charge against appellant and the consequential importance of a decision to have or not to have counsel. Appellant and his mother there rejected, as they did several times thereafter, the offer of counsel. Appellant was then interrogated by the Jerome County prosecutor, Mr. R. H. Seeley, Jerome chief of police Yingst, Jerome County sheriff Burns, and Twin Falls detective Tim Qualls. This interview was recorded on tape. The story recounted therein appears to have been approximately the same as the one told the preceding evening. Later that day Dillon was again questioned by Chief Yingst and another officer, this time without a parent accompanying him.

The following day, approximately at noon, appellant's grandmother, aunt and uncle arrived from Twin Falls and asked to be allowed to see Dillon and to talk to him. They were told that an interview would not be possible unless Chief Yingst was present. When the chief arrived, they were allowed to see Dillon. Although this interview was not taped, it is apparent that appellant repeated substantially the same story with only minor deviations. Later that same day, March 31, 1967, in the presence of his mother and stepfather, appellant told yet another story, which was also taped. In this instance, as in all the preceding interrogations, Dillon was given a formal Miranda warning. The story this time had changed. Appellant did not assert that he was coerced into putting the body into the trunk of the car and into dumping it into the sandpit, but he claimed that he transported the corpse and disposed of it when he panicked upon discovering it in the kitchen.

At the end of this interview, while putting away the tape recorder, detective Qualls indicated to Dillon that he did not believe the story. Qualls suggested that it would do appellant no good to continue to tell conflicting stories and that he should either tell the truth or say nothing. Dillon responded that he would tell the truth this time. He then launched into another account which differed from the preceding stories primarily in that appellant stated that he had killed Mrs. Simerly himself. At that time Dillon's family chose to obtain an attorney for him. Dillon had not had an opportunity to communicate confidentially with a parent or other relative from the time he had been brought in from Bellevue to the end of this final confession.

In May, 1967, appellant's mother and...

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