State v. Stapleton, No. 57228

CourtMissouri Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBARDGETT; PER CURIAM; The foregoing opinion of BARDGETT; DONNELLY; SEILER; SEILER
Citation518 S.W.2d 292
Decision Date13 January 1975
Docket NumberNo. 57228
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Thomas R. STAPLETON, Appellant.

Page 292

518 S.W.2d 292
STATE of Missouri, Respondent,
v.
Thomas R. STAPLETON, Appellant.
No. 57228.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
Jan. 13, 1975.

Page 293

John C. Donforth, Atty. Gen., Karen I. Harper, Philip M. Koppe, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.

Alan G. Kimbrell, St. Louis, for appellant.

BARDGETT, Presiding Judge.

Thomas R. Stapleton was charged with murder in the second degree and convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter, a felony, Sec. 559.070, RSMo 1969, V.A.M.S. The jury could not agree on punishment and the court sentenced defendant to ten years' imprisonment. Notice of appeal was filed prior to January 1, 1972. This court has jurisdiction. Mo.Const., Art. V, Sec. 31(4), V.A.M.S.

Appellant's first point is that the evidence is insufficient to support the submission of murder in the second degree and to support a conviction of voluntary manslaughter.

Appellant and deceased, a 19-year-old girl named Donna Watts, first met on June 27, 1970, when Donna went to an automobile dealership where appellant was a salesman. Donna became interested in buying a certain car. Appellant, aged forty, had a date with Donna on the evening of June 30, 1970. After having dinner in downtown St. Louis and stopping at another place, appellant and Donna proceeded in appellant's car west on I--70 into St. Louis County. Appellant was taking Donna to the apartment of a girlfriend of Donna's where she was going to spend the night. Appellant asked Donna if she would like to stop at the Gaslight Inn, a cocktail lounge in the vicinity of the St. Louis Metropolitan Airport, and she agreed. They arrived at the Gaslight about 1:00 a.m., July 1, 1970, and were seated at a table with Larry Duncan, Paula Bailey, who lived with Duncan, and Rozena Hanlon, friends of appellant. Appellant ordered a drink but Donna did not do so. Appellant made a few sarcastic remarks to Donna and within a few minutes Donna asked to be taken home to her friend's apartment. Appellant and Donna left together at about 1:25 a.m. Although both of them had a few drinks earlier in the evening, neither was intoxicated. Larry Duncan and Paula Bailey left a few minutes later and walked to their apartment which was about a block away.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, appellant came to Larry and Paula's apartment and asked to use the bathroom. Appellant ordinarily dressed very well, but when he arrived at the apartment his hair was messed up, his tie undone, and he was not wearing his jacket. He wanted to and did speak to Larry outside. Appellant told Larry that Donna was dead, that she had grabbed a gun and shot herself. Appellant wanted Larry to go along with a story that he was going to tell the police which was that when Larry and Paula left the Gaslight, appellant and Donna were still outside the bar and that another boy was

Page 294

there with whom Donna left. Duncan testified appellant was very incoherent and scared stiff. Duncan kept asking appellant where the gun was and where everything else was and appellant kept saying, 'in the car, in the car.'

Appellant was very nervous. He was at Duncan's only about five minutes and left. Duncan told Paula Bailey what was going on and the two of them went downstairs looking for appellant and Donna but did not see them so they returned to their apartment and called the police. Officer Crank came to Duncan's apartment. Larry and Paula made a report of the matter to him after which the officer left.

About fifteen minutes later appellant returned to the Duncan apartment. He had a man's handkerchief with blood on it and asked Paula to flush it down the commode, but she did not do so, and later gave it to the police. Duncan told appellant the police had been there and that he, Duncan, was going to call them back. Appellant agreed that he had to talk with the police and waited for them to arrive. While waiting for the police to arrive, Paula testified that she kept asking appellant what happened; that appellant didn't really make much sense; he was upset and hard to talk to and incoherent. When she asked where the girl was, appellant could not answer. Paula asked him, 'Where is her body at or her purse?' Appellant said, 'Well, I don't know, haven't you seen her.' Paula asked where the gun was. Appellant said, 'I don't know--I guess she shot herself, and I guess it's in the parking lot laying there somewhere.' Appellant said that Donna got in the car, picked up the gun, and 'shot herself'.

Officers Crank and Martin returned to the apartment, advised appellant of his rights and placed him under arrest. Officer Martin told appellant to direct him to the girl (Donna) and appellant did so. Officer Combs learned from a passerby that there was a lady lying in the alleyway at the Lambert Park apartments. He went to the area and found Donna sitting in a pool of blood and bleeding from the head. She was incoherent and taken to St. Louis County Hospital where she died July 6, 1970, from the gunshot wound. A .38 caliber bullet had entered near the left eye and exited over the right ear.

Appellant was taken to Woodson Terrace Police Department where he gave a statement to officer McGrath, who testified that appellant told him that he picked Donna up about 8:00 p.m. the previous evening; that they had dinner together and then arrived at the Gaslight Inn around 12:30 a.m. and left about 1:30 a.m. According to McGrath, appellant and Donna 'got to the parking lot in front of the Gaslight, the girl told him to wait a minute--there was someone she wanted to talk to, and that the girl left him and went over and talked to this other gentleman. Then she came back to his car again. . . . Then Donna Watts left the car again and returned to this unknown man's car, and at this time she got in the car with this other man and then left the Gaslight Inn area. . . . (H)e sat around there for just a few minutes, . . . and he left the Gaslight and drove to Donna Watt's apartment where she was staying with a girl friend. . . . (A)s he arrived at the rear of the apartment he saw Donna Watts standing in this street or alleyway talking to this same gentleman again, and . . . she left this other man's car and came back to his car, got in the front seat, sat down, and as she turned to face the windshield of the car, she told him she couldn't take it any more, and she pulled out a gun and shot herself.' Later Larry and Paula told him 'to contact the police. . . . He then left the apartment and drove around for a while, and came back to the Duncan apartment again and told them to go ahead and contact the police.'

Officer McGrath testified that Tom said he did not know where the gun was. Officer Crank and Scott Henderson took Tom to the St. Louis County jail. Crank testified

Page 295

that on the way Tom 'made the statement, 'Well, I guess I really got my tit in a wringer this time for supposedly killing a bitch. '' Henderson testified that the statement was, "Boy I have really got myself in a jam now.' The best way I can say it come out, that 'I am really in a jam and I am sucking the hind tit,' or 'My tit is is a wringer for supposedly shooting that bitch."

The police searched for the gun but to no avail. Paula Bailey testified that several months later she asked appellant what had happened to the gun and he said it was in the Missouri River. Donna's purse was found on the Gaslight Inn parking lot. The deceased died from being shot with a .38 caliber bullet which entered near the left eye and exited over the right ear. There was evidence that appellant owned a .38 caliber pistol.

The state rested. Appellant testified in his own defense. The following is a summary of his testimony as set forth in appellant's brief. He testified that he first met Donna when she came into the auto dealership on a Saturday. She was interested in a Mustang which needed some body work, and Tom gave her his card and told her 'it would be a while before the car was fixed.' She called once on Monday and twice on Tuesday. On the last call Tom made a date with her. Tom picked her up at her home and they went to Al's Steak House for dinner. They had two drinks each at the bar. Donna was drinking whiskey sours. They did not have any drinks at dinner. After dinner they went to the Robert E. Lee where they had two more drinks apiece. They next stopped at the Palace Bar but had no drinks there. On the way back out Highway 70, Tom had to brake suddenly, and a .38 caliber revolver which he carried in a brown paper sack slid out from under the seat and touched Donna on the foot. 'She said, 'What is this for?' And I said 'Don't fool around with it. Put it under the seat.' And she reached on down and put it there, and we continued on where we were going.' Tom had purchased this gun over a year earlier when he was working nights as a bartender at the Tenderloin Room of the Chase-Park Plaza.

They stopped at the Gaslight where Tom ordered a drink and Donna had a coke. After leaving there, Donna directed him to her girlfriend's apartment where she was staying. They stopped in the alley behind the apartments at about 1:35 a.m. and sat there talking for about ten or fifteen minutes with the doors open and the motor running. Tom 'bent over to light a cigarette with the cigarette lighter. . . . When I lit the cigarette, I came back up, and she had this pistol in her hand.' She was holding the gun in her right hand. Tom said, "Put that damn thing down." He 'reached across her' to pick up the paper bag which was under her seat. As he did so, he 'heard the mechanism--the click that operates the hammer of a revolver.' She said, "Is this how they work?" and Tom said, "Jesus Christ." 'I reached across and I slapped the pistol, and when I slapped the pistol she had the gun in her hands--like in both hands, . . . and when I reached up she had the gun pointed . . . up in the air, and this is when I said, 'Put that damn thing down,' and when I hit the gun it...

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76 practice notes
  • State v. Mallett, No. 68030
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 16, 1987
    ...for a lengthy period of incarceration. The presence of motive is a factor consistent with defendant's guilt, see State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292, 296 (Mo. banc 1975), and inconsistent with defendant's story that the shooting of Trooper Froemsdorf was an accidental and motiveless Consider......
  • State v. Handley, No. 60590
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 17, 1979
    ...one definition of manslaughter in this state, and that is contained in § 559.070, supra." And we recognized in State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292, 301 (Mo. banc 1975), "If the jury (does) not find the element of intent to kill, then the defendant (can) still be guilty of manslaugh......
  • State v. Sager, No. KCD
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • May 5, 1980
    ...15.18 and the giving of same was mandatory upon the trial court, see Paragraph (2), Notes on Use, MAI-CR 15.18; State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292 (Mo.banc 1975); State v. King, 577 S.W.2d 621, 623 (Mo.banc 1979) (reaffirming State v. Stapleton, supra This court is bound to follow the manda......
  • State v. Howell, Nos. 58283
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 9, 1975
    ...on Use, as amended by order of Page 21 January 13, 1975, effective March 1, 1975, MAI-CR 6.02, 6.06, and 6.08, and State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292 (Mo. banc In the assault case appeal, defendant contends the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on assault with intent to kill or do......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
76 cases
  • State v. Mallett, No. 68030
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 16, 1987
    ...for a lengthy period of incarceration. The presence of motive is a factor consistent with defendant's guilt, see State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292, 296 (Mo. banc 1975), and inconsistent with defendant's story that the shooting of Trooper Froemsdorf was an accidental and motiveless Consider......
  • State v. Handley, No. 60590
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 17, 1979
    ...is but one definition of manslaughter in this state, and that is contained in § 559.070, supra." And we recognized in State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292, 301 (Mo. banc 1975), "If the jury (does) not find the element of intent to kill, then the defendant (can) still be guilty of manslaughter......
  • State v. Sager, No. KCD
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • May 5, 1980
    ...15.18 and the giving of same was mandatory upon the trial court, see Paragraph (2), Notes on Use, MAI-CR 15.18; State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292 (Mo.banc 1975); State v. King, 577 S.W.2d 621, 623 (Mo.banc 1979) (reaffirming State v. Stapleton, supra This court is bound to follow the manda......
  • State v. Howell, Nos. 58283
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 9, 1975
    ...on Use, as amended by order of Page 21 January 13, 1975, effective March 1, 1975, MAI-CR 6.02, 6.06, and 6.08, and State v. Stapleton, 518 S.W.2d 292 (Mo. banc In the assault case appeal, defendant contends the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on assault with intent to kill or do......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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