State v. Harris, No. 16046.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtSTUKES
Citation46 S.E.2d 682
PartiesSTATE . v. HARRIS.
Decision Date18 February 1948
Docket NumberNo. 16046.

46 S.E.2d 682

STATE .
v.
HARRIS.

No. 16046.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Feb. 18, 1948.


[46 S.E.2d 683]

OXNER and TAYLOR, JJ., dissenting.

Appeal from General Sessions Court of Aiken County; J. Robert Martin, Jr., Judge.

L. D. Harris was convicted of murder, and he appeals.

Affirmed.

Julian B. Salley, Jr., Leonard A. Williamson and Dorcey Lybrand, all of Aiken, for appellant.

Solicitor B. D. Carter, of Bamberg, for respondent.

STUKES, Justice.

Edward L. Bennett and his wife operated a country store and filling station near the city of Aiken, with upstairs quarters in which they and their small children lived. He was found on the morning of April 28, 1946 slumped behind his store counter mortally wounded, and his wife lay a few feet away near the entrance to the adjoining kitchen, with a bullet wound from which she died upon removal to a hospital. The witness who first arrived spoke to Bennett who was still alive, shot through the mouth and bleeding profusely. He requested that he be rushed to a hospital, saying that he was dying and with the remark, "a big negro shot me and robbed me", he died. His little children were crying about him. The body was beside an open sack of potatoes and on the scale on the counter were some potatoes, and other articles lay there as if placed for a customer in the act of buying. No money was found on the person of the deceased and the open cash drawer was likewise empty.

Appellant was indicted and arraigned at the October 1946 term of the Court of General Sessions for Aiken County, charged with the murder, by shooting, of Bennett. He was without counsel and the court appointed Messrs. Salley, Jr., Williamson and Lybrand, Attorneys of the Aiken Bar, to represent him. This they have done with commendable energy and skill. The trial was not had at that term of court and there was a special term in January 1947, at which appellant was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. This appeal followed. Between the term of court at which appellant was indicted and that at which he was tried, he was imprisoned at the State Penitentiary in Columbia, where his counsel were permitted to, and did, consult with him concerning his defense of not guilty, which plea was entered in his behalf. The exceptions raise the questions which will be discussed. Chief of them imputes error in the admission in evidence of the confession of the crime by appellant, first orally to the examining officers, and then in writing, signed by the appellant. All of the record relating to it has been carefully considered and will be reviewed.

[46 S.E.2d 684]

The trial judge first heard testimony relevant to the admissibility of the confession in the absence of the jury, agreeable to motion of appellant's counsel. After hearing the testimony of the officers and of apellant, the latter elicited by the questions of his counsel and without cross-examination, the court concluded that insufficient evidence was adduced to render the confession incompetent for intimidation or inducement, by threat or offer of reward, in other words that it was free and voluntary within the rule.

The testimony of appellant anent the confession may be fairly summarized as follows: He was arrested in Nashville, Tenn., by local officers and there Sheriff Fallaw of Aiken County and State Constable Thompson took him from the jail and returned with him to Aiken by automobile in one day arriving there about 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, July 14, 1946, and placed him in jail. He was not questioned until the following Monday afternoon when he was taken by the sheriff and the jailor to the court house where he was told that the F.B.I, reported that he had killed the Bennetts with his pistol, which appellant denied. He was interviewed on that occasion for not over fifteen minutes. On Monday night at about seven or seven-thirty he was questioned by the officers, four in all including the jailor, at the jail, in the small office used for such interviews and for consultations between prisoners and their counsel. There were some six chairs and a desk and table in the room. This interview, he said, was a little over an hour, during which he was accused of the homicide and upon his denial the officers insisted upon his guilt. It appears that the questions and answers related to appellant's movements on the day of the crime but nothing was done at that time to influence his answers. Tuesday afternoon this procedure was repeated, there being present three officers. Appellant's references to one Medlock caused the officers to send for him and appellant was meanwhile returned to his cell. Questioned as to whether there were actions by the officers which influenced his statements, appellant said that upon his repeated denials of guilty knowledge, Constable Thompson said that he was lying. Tuesday night he was questioned again by four officers for two or three hours, he said by one of the officers at his side and the others behind him and that Constable Thompson, with the back of his hand struck him on the side of his face at the time that he accused him of lying, but the witness later said that the blow was with the palm of the officer's hand, and sufficiently hard to have staggered him had he been standing. After this incident Thompson retired from the room and appellant said he was not afterward there much. Appellant also said that Officer Sprawls struck him on the same side of the face as did Thompson, this at the time Sprawls was at a typewriter typing a statement which appellant later signed. Afterward Wylie Bennett was brought in and discussed the case with appellant. All of this occurred on Tuesday night. On the next afternoon, Wednesday, he was questioned at the jail again and he said that one large officer had a blackjack shaking it at him. The jailor was absent. Appellant sat with his back to the wall and facing the officers. He said one of the officers made this threat: "I will tell you one thing, if you don't say you did kill those people, we will get a rope and rubber hose and you know what we will do." The reference was to State Officer Dollard, whom appellant did not know but identified in the court room. Appellant further quoted this officer as saying that when he got through with the rubber hose and rope he would get something from appellant that the latter did not know he had; this in the presence of the sheriff and Chief State Officer Richardson and another officer. The officers whom appellant accused in testimony of having struck him at a previous interview were not present, but the officer who had got out his blackjack before, had it again, swinging it, appellant said. This occasion lasted from an hour and a half to two hours and a half during which appellant persisted in his denial and after which he was taken back to his cell. Then Wednesday night he was interviewed again by the officers, beginning about eight o'clock, but he was questioned only by the sheriff, the other officers standing in the hall, and appellant testified there were no threats on this final occasion ex-

[46 S.E.2d 685]

cept that the sheriff told appellant that if he did not confess, his mother would be arrested or that a warrant would be issued therefor. Appellant then admitted his confession but testified that it was given because the officers would not believe his claims of innocence and that the sheriff dictated the written confession, which he merely repeated under the influence of fear of the former threats. On further questioning he was asked whether the threat of the arrest of his mother induced the confession and he replied in the negative.

The testimony of the officers relating to the confession was taken immediately before that of appellant, also in the absence of the jury, under questioning by the Solicitor and cross-examination by appellant's counsel. They were subjected to sequestration in the giving of their separate testimony. The agreed transcript of record recites that it was substantially the same as that of the officers later in the presence of the jury. From the transcript of the latter the following is taken:

First it may be said that all of the officers testified in such manner as to carry conviction that the confession was not the result of fear, intimidation, physical force or punishment or under the influence of any promise of immunity, leniency or other reward. The sheriff said appellant's confession was made in the jail office or consultation room, small but sufficient to accommodate six or seven people in comfort, and there were several chairs in one of which appellant sat during all of the questioning. Appellant was placed in the Aiken jail on Sunday, July 14, 1946, and was not questioned until Monday afternoon when he was taken to the court house for a few minutes for that purpose. Then on Tuesday afternoon he was again questioned for a short time; and similarly Tuesday night. However, the sheriff was not present on the last stated occasion. Besides the sheriff, except when he was absent, the questioning was by the Chief of the State Constabulary, Mr. Richardson, Aiken City Police Chief Sprawls, and State officers (or constables) Thompson and Long. They did not attend appellant together at one time, but were in and out during the questioning. Jailor Baker also occasionally took part. However, his "day off" was Wednesday and the sheriff took his place at the jail. The sheriff did not question appellant during the afternoon and was sitting at the jail desk at about 6:30 or 7:00 o'clock when Baker returned and the sheriff questioned appellant again. The sheriff's testimony at this point is quoted, as follows:

"Q. Now after these officers left, did you or not, late in the afternoon talk to him again? A. I didn't talk to him that afternoon. I just sat up on the desk and I locked him back up in the cell and came on out to the office and about 6:30 or 7:00, Mr. Baker came in and I went out there to talk to him again. No one was...

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13 practice notes
  • State v. Torrence, No. 23403
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • May 1, 1989
    ...doubt to have been given freely and voluntarily under the totality of the circumstances." Id., citing State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682 (1948), rev'd on other grounds, 338 U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (1949). In addition, when the defendant is in custody at the time of t......
  • State v. Santiago, No. 4127.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 19, 2006
    ...State v. Miller, 211 S.C. 306, 45 S.E.2d 23 [1947]; State v. Gardner, 219 S.C. 97, 64 S.E.2d 130. Cf. State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682 [1948]. Similarly, even though a jury accepts a written confession as having been voluntarily made, it is not thereby bound to accept every stat......
  • Davis v. State, 1 Div. 937
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Appeals
    • April 7, 1964
    ...S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810 (358 Pa. 350, 58 A.2d 61). Harris v. South Carolina, 338 U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682). Johnson v. Pennsylvania, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 (365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144). Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 9......
  • State v. Waitus, No. 16767
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 28, 1953
    ...23; State v. Brown, 212 S.C. 237, 47 S.E.2d 521. The facts here are readily distinguishable from those in State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682, where a majority of this Court held that the issue of the voluntariness of the confession was properly submitted to the jury, but the Unite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • State v. Torrence, No. 23403
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • May 1, 1989
    ...doubt to have been given freely and voluntarily under the totality of the circumstances." Id., citing State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682 (1948), rev'd on other grounds, 338 U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (1949). In addition, when the defendant is in custody at the time of t......
  • State v. Santiago, No. 4127.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 19, 2006
    ...State v. Miller, 211 S.C. 306, 45 S.E.2d 23 [1947]; State v. Gardner, 219 S.C. 97, 64 S.E.2d 130. Cf. State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682 [1948]. Similarly, even though a jury accepts a written confession as having been voluntarily made, it is not thereby bound to accept every stat......
  • Davis v. State, 1 Div. 937
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Appeals
    • April 7, 1964
    ...S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810 (358 Pa. 350, 58 A.2d 61). Harris v. South Carolina, 338 U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682). Johnson v. Pennsylvania, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 (365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144). Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 9......
  • State v. Waitus, No. 16767
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 28, 1953
    ...23; State v. Brown, 212 S.C. 237, 47 S.E.2d 521. The facts here are readily distinguishable from those in State v. Harris, 212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682, where a majority of this Court held that the issue of the voluntariness of the confession was properly submitted to the jury, but the Unite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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