United States v. Lawrenson

Decision Date09 January 1962
Docket Number8354,8465.,No. 8144,8144
Citation298 F.2d 880
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Charles Edward LAWRENSON, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Jervis Spencer, Finney, Baltimore, Md. (Court-appointed counsel), for appellant.

Charles Edward Lawrenson, pro se.

John R. Hargrove, Asst. U. S. Atty., Baltimore, Md. (Joseph D. Tydings, U. S. Atty., Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellee.

Before SOBELOFF, Chief Judge, and BRYAN and BELL, Circuit Judges.

J. SPENCER BELL, Circuit Judge.

This case presents three separate appeals from final action of the District Court in a criminal proceeding which resulted in defendant's conviction on a charge of bank robbery. The first of these, No. 8144, is a direct appeal from the judgment order of conviction. The second, No. 8354, is an appeal from the Court's order denying defendant's motion for new trial on the grounds of newly discovered evidence. The last, No. 8465, is an appeal from the Court's order denying defendant's motion to vacate or correct illegal sentence, filed under Fed. R.Crim.P. 45, 18 U.S.C.A. We have adopted to a great extent the comprehensive statement of facts included in the opinion of the learned judge below.

The four count indictment in this case charged defendants Couch and Lawrenson with armed robbery of the County Trust Company of Maryland, Mechanicsville Branch, in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Couch plead guilty and testified at the trial of Lawrenson, who was found guilty by a jury on all four counts and sentenced to imprisonment for twenty years. Before sentence Lawrenson filed a motion for a new trial and renewed his motion for a judgment of acquittal. These motions were denied for reasons stated orally during and after the argument thereon.

The bank was robbed of some $28,037 on September 4, 1959. Couch was arrested the following day, and Lawrenson was arrested on September 6, 1959, in a hotel room at Miami Beach, Florida, which he was sharing with a woman generally referred to as Kay Merrick, having registered as Mr. and Mrs. Merrick. At the time he was arrested the agents seized $22,503 in suitcases and a shoe box, $213 in Lawrenson's wallet, an automatic pistol, some ammunition, a receipt from a Washington store showing payment for ammunition, credit cards, tickets, and driver's licenses in the name of Paul J. McCray, Virginia and South Carolina and U. S. Forces in Germany license plates, and various other items.

On the motion of Lawrenson, Judge Watkins suppressed this evidence. Prior to the trial, before Judge Thomsen, defendant made a motion for the return to him of the $22,503 taken from him. He also moved for a continuance in the criminal trial until the determination of the civil suit pending between defendant, on the one hand, and the United States Marshal and the bank's bonding company on the other, for the recovery of these funds. Both of these motions were denied.

At the trial Couch testified that on September 3, 1959, the day before the robbery, he drove a green Cadillac, procured by Lawrenson, and Lawrenson drove Couch's black Chevrolet to Hughesville, Maryland (a few miles from Mechanicsville), where they arranged to leave the Chevrolet in a hotel parking lot overnight and went in the Cadillac to the Mechanicsville Bank, which Couch entered, leaving Lawrenson outside. They did not rob the bank that day, but returned to Washington in the Cadillac. The next day, dressed in engineers' overalls and caps, wearing sunglasses, and armed with guns supplied by Lawrenson, they drove in the Cadillac to the bank. Couch entered first and assembled the three women employees into a group behind the counter; Lawrenson then entered, the women were forced to lie on the floor, Couch taped their mouths, and Lawrenson gathered the money into a shopping bag. Lawrenson and Couch then drove to Hughesville, changing into ordinary street clothes on the way. They stopped on the hotel parking lot, transferred the bags containing the money, overalls, etc., from the Cadillac to the Chevrolet and left for Washington with Lawrenson driving. Lawrenson dropped Couch off at the Greyhound Bus Station in Washington, promising to meet him at a certain corner in Washington at 10:00 that evening, to give Couch his share of the money, but Lawrenson did not appear.

Couch's testimony was corroborated and supplemented in a number of ways. Lawrenson was identified as the man who rented the green Cadillac from Hertz in Boston on August 28, using an American Express credit card of Paul J. McCray. After much testimony had been introduced to prove these facts, they were admitted by Lawrenson's counsel, who also conceded that Lawrenson still had McCray's card at the time of the robbery. On September 3, a Maryland State trooper had noticed a green Cadillac and a black Chevrolet, each with only one license tag. He stopped the Chevrolet, the driver presented a driver's license in the name of McCray, but the trooper, who issued a summons, identified the defendant at the trial as Lawrenson. The witness Muller identified Lawrenson as the man he saw sitting in a Cadillac in front of the bank at the crucial time on September 4. One of the bank employees, Miss Davis, identified Lawrenson as the second robber. She also positively stated that about a week after the robbery, she had identified photographs of defendant as those of one of the men who entered the bank and robbed it. There was other evidence corroborating this. The witness Turner, whose job kept her near a window opposite the hotel parking lot in Hughesville, identified Lawrenson as the man who transferred two or three bags from the Cadillac to the Chevrolet on September 4, while Couch did something to the front license plate.

Lawrenson did not take the stand, nor did Mrs. Merrick, although she and Mrs. Lawrenson sat together in court throughout the trial. The defense was an alibi. McCray, who turned out to be a member of the Lawrenson-Merrick coterie, had been called by the government and had testified nervously that he had not used his credit card to obtain the Cadillac in Massachusetts. After spending the luncheon recess with Mrs. Merrick and Mrs. Lawrenson, he was called by the defense and testified even more nervously that at about the time of the robbery he had called at Mrs. Merrick's apartment and the door had been opened by Lawrenson in purple pajamas. The jury evidently did not believe this testimony.

Defendant's counsel also tried to suggest on cross-examination of government witnesses and in the closing argument, that Robert Cutler, who has been variously described as a son, foster son, or a nephew of Mrs. Merrick, was the other robber, although there was no evidence to that effect. There was evidence that Cutler was on parole from an Ohio prison, living in Mrs. Merrick's apartment in September 1959, that he had driven to Baltimore with Couch in Couch's car a few days before the robbery, and that he knew the Lawrensons, Kay Merrick, and McCray.

In the course of the trial, defendant's counsel put James E. Couch, father of Robert Couch, on the stand and attempted to elicit testimony that the witness had been told that his son had stolen a car for which he was arrested by the deputy sheriff. The Court, on objection by the government, struck out this testimony. Defendant also attempted to get the witness to testify that he had been questioned about the bank robbery. This also was stricken by the Court.

In his instructions to the jury, the Court below told the jury that Miss Davis had identified, shortly after the robbery, pictures of defendant as those of one of the robbers. He also said that there was no dispute but that Couch's Chevrolet and the green Cadillac rented by defendant were the same two cars that figured in the testimony right along. Both these statements are correct as the record shows. He also pointed out that Couch had testified that defendant had suggested to him that he plead guilty. In fact, Couch testified that defendant had urged him to plead not guilty, and offered to share some of the loot with him if he would do so.

The Court also stated that there was no evidence in the record connecting Robert Cutler with the robbery. A survey of the record shows this statement to be manifestly correct. In the course of the instructions the Court said that there was reference in the second count of the indictment to putting lives in jeopardy. In fact this reference is in count four of the indictment.

The Court also commented on defendant's failure to call Mrs. Merrick as a witness to corroborate McCray's testimony showing an alibi for defendant. The Court also stated that there was no evidence of any request to defendant to stand in a line-up or refusal by him to appear in a line-up. He said there was no evidence one way or the other on this point and that the jury could not speculate upon facts not in the record. These statements are correct, as the record shows. The prosecutor had commented on defendant's failure to request a lineup. The defendant asked the Court to instruct that defendant "* * * Had never refused to stand in a line-up". Instead the Court gave the above instruction.

The Court refused to instruct that the government's circumstantial evidence must exclude every reasonable hypothesis except guilt in order to support a verdict against defendant.

I. The Direct Appeal.

The defendant has contended on this appeal that there were fourteen separate instances of error in the conduct of the trial below. These may be divided into two main groups.

(A) Alleged Errors In The Instructions To The Jury.

In this area there are nine separate errors claimed by the defendant. He claims that the Court erred in: (1) instructing that Miss Davis had identified photos of the defendant soon after the robbery, (2) instructing that there was no dispute that the green Cadillac and black Chevrolet mentioned in the evidence are...

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