State v. Pruitt

Decision Date08 May 1972
Docket NumberNo. 56600,56600
Citation479 S.W.2d 785
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, (Plaintiff) Respondent, v. Jerome Joe PRUITT, (Defendant) Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

John C. Danforth, Atty. Gen., Neil MacFarlane, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondents.

Eugene K. Buckley, Jerry D. Perryman, Evans & Dixon, St. Louis, for appellant.

HOLMAN, Judge.

The indictment in this case charged defendant with the offense of murder in the first degree. It was alleged that he shot and killed Lynda Walker on February 6, 1970. A trial resulted in a verdict of guilty and the death penalty was assessed. See §§ 559.010 and 559.030. 1 Defendant has appealed.

Defendant does not question the sufficiency of the evidence to make a submissible case and hence a brief statement of facts will suffice. On the date of her death Lynda was 26 years old, had been married eight months, and was employed as a nurse at Desloge Hospital in St. Louis. She had driven to work that day in a new Oldsmobile 'Cutlass.' The events in question occurred shortly after 4 p.m. as she was leaving work. According to a verbal statement given by defendant, 'on Friday, February 6, he was in the company of Ronald Gunn, Melvin Vinson, and Calvin Burks, and they were in Melvin Vinson's car which is a white 1960 Chevrolet that Calvin Burks had mentioned that he formerly worked at Firmin Desloge Hospital and was familiar with the paydays and the habits of the nurses and other employees there, and they were going there to snatch some purses. When they got to the area of the hospital, he and Calvin Burks got out of the car; that Melvin Vinson and Ronald Gunn were to ride around the block and wait for them; and then they saw this lady getting into her automobile. They ran up and told her this was a stickup, and Burks got in (the car) first, pushing the lady to the right front passenger seat, Burks taking the middle front seat, and Pruitt getting behind the wheel; that as he drove off the lady started screaming and opened the door and tried to get out, and this is when Calvin Burks shot her. They then pushed her out of the car and they drove off. He gave Burks the purse, and Burks got out. He assumed that Burks was going to catch a cab, and he drove the car back to the area of Pendleton and North Market where he saw the police car coming and he got out of the car and left it at the curb. * * * He said that there was (in the car) a white box with a nightgown in it and a cigarette lighter that he had given to his girl friend, Dorothy Cardwell.'

After obtaining the statement the police secured a search warrant and went to the home of defendant's mother where they seized a pair of trousers from defendant's room. In a pocket of the trousers they found car keys which operated the ignition, trunk, and door locks of the car which deceased had been driving. The gown was also recovered from Dorothy Cardwell.

Ronald Gunn, an occupant of the Vinson car, testified for the State. He stated that after defendant and Burks left the Vinson car, they continued to drive around and about two minutes later he saw a lady fall out of a car; that the car was an Oldsmobile Cutlass and as it passed them he saw Burks driving it and that defendant was in the back seat; that at the time defendant left the Vinson car he saw a .22 caliber revolver under his belt; that later that night he heard defendant say he had some rings, and that after they were both arrested he saw defendant sell a ring to an inmate-clerk at the jail; that on Saturday, February 7, he called the police department and told them all he knew about the murder, including the names of those involved.

In connection with the foregoing it should be stated that the evidence indicated that Lynda was killed by a bullet from a .22 caliber weapon and that her wedding and diamond rings were missing. Other facts will be stated in connection with some of the points hereinafter discussed.

The first three points briefed by defendant are referred to generally in the contention that 'the court erred in overruling the defendant's motion to suppress evidence and to suppress those statements allegedly made by the defendant, and all evidence acquired as a result of the searches of the defendant's home for the reason that defendant's arrest was unlawful.' More specifically, it is said that defendant's arrest was without a warrant or probable cause and therefore all items thereafter seized, or statements obtained, were products of the unlawful arrest and should have been suppressed under the doctrine stated in Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441.

Defendant was arrested by Officer Adkins on February 7. At that time he was in a 1953 Chevrolet being driven by Willie Vinson. The arrest was for stealing the Walker automobile. The information possessed by Adkins at that time was (1) an unnamed lady informant had stated that she had seen that Chevrolet near the abandoned Walker car, (2) Booker Watson had called the police when he saw persons stripping the Walker car in front of his home (before the police arrived these persons left in a Chervolet which was similar to the one above mentioned), and (3) another unnamed person had advised the officer that he had seen defendant driving the Walker car.

The existence of probable cause for an arrest must necessarily depend upon the facts of each particular case. 'The existence of 'probable cause', justifying an arrest without a warrant, is determined by factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. It is a pragmatic question to be determined in each case in the light of the particular circumstances and the particular offense involved.' 5 Am.Jur.2d, Arrest, § 48, p. 740.' State v. Seymour, Mo.Supp., 438 S.W.2d 161, 163. Although the evidence need not be as substantial as that required to support a conviction, probable cause does require a reasonable ground for belief of guilt. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879. And, we are mindful that there is considerable doubt as to the weight that may be given to information received by the police from undisclosed or anonymous informants. See Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723, and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637.

It should be again mentioned that on the day defendant was arrested Ronald Gunn called the police and related all he knew about the Walker murder, which would have included the fact that defendant left the scene in her (deceased's) car. It does not appear that Officer Adkins had that information at the time of the arrest, but we note that in the recent case of United States v. Stratton, 8th Cir., 453 F.2d 36, the court stated: 'We think the knowledge of one officer is the knowledge of all and that in the operation of an investigative or police agency the collective knowledge and the available objective facts are the criteria to be used in assessing probable cause. The arresting officer himself need not possess all of the available information.'

We have concluded that the information obtained by the police was sufficient to constitute probable cause which warranted the arrest of defendant without a warrant. It is our view that this case may be distinguished from Aguilar and Spinelli upon the facts involved. While we do not desire to restate the facts, it is significant that two of the informants had seen defendant in the recently stolen car. That fact, together with the other information in the hands of the police, was, as stated, sufficient to justify the arrest.

Shortly after his arrest defendant was questioned by the police. At that time he denied any knowledge concerning Lynda's death. He stated, however, that on February 6, at about 5 p.m., 'he met some unknown Negro male, and he purchased some clothing, overnight bag, a long clothing bag, for fifteen dollars, I believe it was; and that this clothing bag contained several women's dresses, and he sold these dresses about taverns to several women.' Thereafter the officers went to the home of defendant's mother. After advising her that her son was in trouble they asked if they could 'look around' and she said 'Okay.' Mrs. Pruitt then took the officers to Jerome's room where they found a black leather glove which resembled one found in the Walker car. They also found two luggage tags with the name 'Lynda Scheppers' (deceased's maiden name) on them. Defendant contends that 'a valid, intelligent consent to search was not given and hence the items which the ensuing search revealed' should have been suppressed and excluded.

It is our view that Mrs. Pruitt had authority to consent to the search and that the trial court was warranted by the evidence in finding that such consent was intelligently and voluntarily given. See State v. Gailes, Mo.Sup., 428 S.W.2d 555, and State v. Anderson, Mo.Sup., 384 S.W.2d 591(12, 13). The case relied upon by defendant, State v. Witherspoon, Mo.Sup., 460 S.W.2d 281, is clearly distinguishable upon the facts. We accordingly rule that the trial court did not err in overruling the motion to suppress this evidence.

Defendant next contends that the court erred in overruling his motion to quash the search warrant and to suppress the evidence obtained by its use. It is said that the search warrant was invalid because the affidavits filed to obtain it were fatally defective because they contained a statement that was untrue. The statement said to be untrue is that defendant had told the affiants that when he abandoned the Walker car he 'took the items from the car to his home.' Defendant's basis for asserting that the statement is untrue is that the police report, which purports to contain an oral statement of defendant, says that defendant stated that he gave two items to Dorothy Cardwell and 'sold the other articles he took from the car to various women sitting in...

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