State v. Strickland

Decision Date22 September 1948
Docket Number74
Citation49 S.E.2d 469,229 N.C. 201
PartiesSTATE v. STRICKLAND.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

The defendant was tried on a charge embodied in the following two-count bill of indictment:

'The Jurors for the State upon their oath present, That Robert Strickland, late of the County of Wilson, on the 29th day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and forty-seven, with force and arms, at and in the County aforesaid, feloniously and infamously, and in secrecy and malice, and with deceit and intent to defraud, did write and transmit a letter, note and writing without signing his true name thereto threatening personal injury, violence and death to one Everett Blake, and using language and threats of a nature calculated to intimidate and place in fear as to his personal safety the said Everett Blake; against the form of the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the State.

'And the Jurors for the State upon their oath do further present that Robert Strickland, late of the County of Wilson on the date and year aforesaid, and with force and arms at and in the County aforesaid, feloniously and infamously and in secrecy and malice, and with deceit and intent to defraud did knowingly send and deliver a letter and writing with menaces and without any reasonable or probable cause demanding of one Everett Blake the sum of $15,000 in cash money, with the intent to extort and gain $15,000 in cash money from the said Everett Blake, against the form of the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the State.'

The counts in the indictment are respectively based on G.S. s 14-118, denouncing blackmailing, and G.S. s 14-394 denouncing the mailing or transmitting of anonymous or threatening letters.

When the case was called for trial the defense counsel moved for a continuance of the case on the ground that time was essential for the preparation of the defense. The motion was declined and defendant excepted.

Motion was then made for a special venire of 50 jurors, which was declined and defendant excepted.

Defendant pleaded 'not guilty' and the trial proceeded.

A moderate number of exceptions were taken by defendant--36 in all. The record, however, is voluminous, and the statement is designed to present those challenges to the validity of the trial which seem to be most important to the appealing defendant.

THE EVIDENCE:

A narrative story of the case, as disclosed in the evidence presents the following facts in substantive summary:

On the night of December 29, at about 10:45 o'clock, Everett Blake received a telephone call from a then unidentified person whose voice he recognized as a man's, in consequence of which he went to his front door and found upon the mat an envelope containing a letter and a clipping from a newspaper. At the top of the letter was typewritten the words 'the spidder' and it reads as follows:

'Mr Blake if you wont to live you will do whot this noat says tomarrow at 9 oclock get $15000 ddollors in small bills $ 0 and 100 put this money in a large flower pot then put dirt on top of it then put flowers in it take this money and the flower pot to your wilson cemetary find the grave of luther barnes died oct 22 18 74 feb 17 19 41

'you will this grav at the lower end of the cemetary putthe money on the grave two oclock tomarrow get in your car drive back to town and dontcome back if you do whot i hav said you will get this money back on the 15th. day of january in the place if you dont you wont live long

'you see whot this man got igave him anote hecall the police now he is dead this is whot you will get if you call the police my men well watch every move you make so be careful watc youdo be wise blake and live a long time if you dont get this money you wont live to spend any more

'the place the grave of luther barnes

rember oct 22. 18.74

I5 000 dollors. feb 17.I9.4I

'i will be looking for you'

The enclosed clipping is a newspaper account of a murder and robbery recently committed in the nearby town of Smithfield.

The letter put Blake in great apprehension and fear, and he immediately called in the local police force, to whom he gave the letter and clipping, who thereafter took charge of the case; and cooperating with them in an effort to detect and apprehend the sender of the menacing letter, he made no immediate compliance with the letter.

On January 3 ensuing, while on his job as manager of J. C. Penny's local store, he was again called to the phone and the caller, being assured he was talking to Blake, inquired if he had gotten that letter. Blake told him he had; and the man said, 'you had best follow out those instructions. ' Blake told him it would be impossible for him to raise $15,000 in cash, and asked him if he would settle for $5,000. The reply was 'No. It is $15,000.' Blake replied that he could not get up $15,000 that quickly, whereupon the caller said, 'You have a child, haven't you? ' And Blake said, 'Yes.' The caller said, 'You had better get the $15,000 then,' and broke the connection. Blake's fears were enhanced by this message. He immediately communicated with the police and in pursuance of their instructions Blake took a flower pot, with flowers in it, which was supplied by them, found the grave of Luther Barnes as described in the letter, and placed the pot upon it. From that time for a considerable period officers were at his house every evening and all night.

The officers, Privette, Chief of Police, Hartis and Fulghum, kept the grave of Luther Barnes under close and secret observation after the pot of flowers was placed upon it, night and day; part of the time concealed in an undertaker's tent, of the kind used to cover newly made graves.

On Tuesday morning, January 6, while it was yet dark, Hartis was concealed in the tent. The defendant Strickland entered the cemetery through the park, driving a metal-bodied Chevrolet dump truck, and stopped opposite the grave, within 10 feet. The pot had been placed at one end of the grave and he was at the other. He stayed there approximately four or five minutes and drove off in the direction of Pine Street, one of four roads converging near the Barnes grave. About 35 minutes later he returned through Pine Street, 'pulled left handed' up to the curbing and stopped briefly; driving off to Hill Street. The same morning about 7:25 he came down Hill Street toward the city dump with a colored man in the car. He had passed through the cemetery.

The third time he appeared he stopped, got out of the truck, and had a conversation with the colored man behind the truck for three or four minutes. The colored boy went off behind the hedges out of sight. The truck turned behind the hedges, and Hartis said, 'I couldn't see him after he got past the corner of those hedges, and the boy who was with him went over and got some old wire and came back and threw it in the truck and sat down, and in a few minutes he came and got in the truck and they drove off. ' Hartis said that Strickland did not go to the flower pot or pick it up.

Arthur Miller and officer Little were concealed in the funeral tent on the night of January 6. Between 9 and 10 o'clock they observed an automobile drive into the cemetery. It did not stop on its first trip, but proceeded slowly on a right turn around the mound in the vicinity of the Barnes grave. It was gone five or ten minutes, came slowly past and to Pine Street. On a third trip the car came up Hill Street to the cemetery and on into the nearby city dump, stopping some 10 or 15 feet beyond the hedge.

Presently Miller saw some one with a flash light standing by the car and flashing down by its side. He then started making signals with the light, and Miller then heard a woman talking. They came past the tent walking, but did not at that time come into the tent. They opened one side of it and flashed the light into it. The parties were Strickland and his wife. Miller couldn't tell if they had been drinking. Strickland just stood there until told to go, and they went off in the car. This time it was a Hudson. Jack Little, who was also in the tent, asked Strickland what he was doing out there, and he replied that he was just 'walking his wife' to get her sobered. She had no appearance of being intoxicated.

The summary now turns to an expert examination of the alleged extortion letter in comparison with genuine writings on a typewriter which the evidence tends to show belonged to the defendant.

Strickland was arrested on January 18. There was found in a closet in his home a No. 10 Royal typewriter which he admitted was his but appears to have been the property of his wife when they were married. In the same place was a bundle of paid bills, amongst which was a bill to one Baltzegar, typewritten, and with the admitted signature of defendant, and concededly presented by him to Baltzegar. Also the defendant, at request of the officers, wrote at their dictation on the same typewriter, using the 'hunt and peck' system, sentences, or matter, containing words misspelled in the extortion letter in which the same peculiar misspelling was duplicated, although, on a later test the same words, in several instances, were properly spelled. Other writings were made on this typewriter, and the lot was sent to the office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, where an expert examination was made, and report returned.

C. W Brittain, special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, employed in the laboratory as a document examiner, was adjudged to be an expert, and testified in detail as to the writings above described, illustrated his testimony by photographic enlargements, pointing out similar and...

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