Williams v. State

Decision Date25 March 1959
Docket NumberNo. 29,29
Citation110 So.2d 654
PartiesRalph WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. 613.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Fred G. Minnis, St. Petersburg, for appellant.

Richard W. Ervin, Atty. Gen., and Edward S. Jaffry, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

THORNAL, Justice.

Appellant Ralph Williams, who was defendant below, seeks reversal of a judgment of conviction and sentence to death in the electric chair pursuant to a jury verdict finding him guilty of the crime of rape.

Several points for reversal are assigned but the principal question which challenges our datailed consideration is the alleged error of the trial judge in the allowance of certain similar factual evidence which tended to establish a collateral crime.

On December 18, 1957, the 17-year old prosecutrix parked her family automobile on a parking lot known as 'the second parking space' in the vicinity of Webb's City in St. Petersburg. She did some shopping and returned to her car between 9 and 9:30 p. m. She testified that after she had driven the car a short distance the appellant suddenly reached over from the back seat of the car and stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick. He next leaped over into the driver's seat. She stated that he then forced her to keep her head down on the front seat as he drove. the sum of the gruesome details, according to her testimony, was that appellant drove her around the City of St. Petersburg, threatening to kill her if she did not submit to his wishes. Consistent with the threats he criminally assaulted her sexually on two separate occasions. The testimony is that appellant finally stopped the car and departed. The prosecutrix reached her home in a hysterical condition around 11 p. m. She was taken to a hospital where medical examination confirmed the sexual assault as well as the severe ice pick wound in her chest.

Appellant, who testified in his own behalf, did not deny having had sexual relations with the prosecutrix. His sole defense was that his relationship with her was attained with her consent. He related in sum that he had made her acquaintance in July, 1957. He stated that from time to time he had had conversations with the prosecutrix; that he had a date with her the early part of December, 1957, and again on December 17, 1957, during all of which time, he testified, he was employed by Webb's City. During these prior dates, according to appellant's testimony, he had sexual relations with the prosecutrix with her consent. According to his version, the gruesome details of the fatal night related by the prosecutrix did not occur. He defends his position by testifying that he met the prosecutrix pursuant to prior arrangement and that his sexual relationships with her on that night were accomplished with her consent and without threat. The ice pick incident is explained away by his statement that he stopped the car suddenly while the prosecutrix had the ice pick in her hand threatening to do him harm in the event that he fulfilled a previously announced intention of severing his relationship with her.

The State completely devastated most of the defensive contentions offered by the appellant. It was established by representatives of Webb's City that he had not worked for that business since August of 1957. Williams had testified that he regularly met the prosecutrix at Webb's City while he was employed there during November and December of that year. On the particular occasions when he was supposed to have had prior dates with the prosecutrix in December, the testimony, without dispute, establishes that she could not have been where he said she was. The opinion of the doctor who examined her was unequivocal to the effect that the young woman had never had sexual relations prior to the night when the jury found that she was abused by the appellant. In the ultimate, the jury chose to believe the witnesses who testified for the State and rendered a verdict of guilty without a recommendation of mercy.

The trial judge entered a judgment of guilt. As required by law the supreme penalty was prescribed. Reversal of this judgment is now sought.

The appellant contends that error was committed in admitting into evidence a pocketbook of the prosecutrix found in his room, and in allowing testimony regarding the finding of the ice pick in the automobile of the prosecutrix. He further contends that the verdict and judgment are contrary to law in that Sections 794.01 and 919.23, Florida Statutes, F.S.A., authorizing trial juries to recommend mercy in rape cases are unconstitutional. He says that the evidence does not sustain the verdict. His primary hope for reversal appears to be his contention that the trial judge committed error in permitting evidence of a separate instance revealing a similar factual situation involving the appellant and another.

The State, of course, contends that no error was committed by the trial judge in permitting the jury to receive the evidence to which appellant objects; that the statutes mentioned have already been sustained by this court, and that, in the ultimate, the evidence was abundantly adequate to sustain the verdict.

We find no merit whatsoever in the contention that error was committed in admitting evidence of the finding of the pocketbook and the ice pick. The pocketbook of the prosecutrix was found in the bedroom of the appellant several days after his arrest. Even though the witness who allegedly found the pocketbook was a supposedly incompetent landlady of the appellant, it appears from the record that there is no question whatever that the item was found on the premises occupied by Williams. It was certainly admissible to connect appellant with the crime and to establish the fact that he was in the company of the prosecutrix on the night in question. The objection to the testimony of the finding of the ice pick has even less merit. This item was found in the family automobile which the prosecutrix was driving on the night in question. She says he stabbed her with it. He said she was injured by accident. The instrument which both asserted produced the injury certainly was a proper item of evidence.

This appellant repeats a contention which has been examined by this court several times recently when he asserts the unconstitutionality of Sections 794.01 and 919.23, Florida Statutes, F.S.A., prescribing the penalty of death for the crime of rape unless a majority of the jury recommended mercy. He submits the view that since 1925, when the electric chair was authorized, juries in Florida have prescribed the death penalty for 33 Negroes in rape cases. He says that only one white man has been electrocuted for this crime during the same period. He doesn't point out the number who have been tried for the crime. Appellant's position simply is that, as applied by juries in this state, the statute produces a discrimination among those similarly conditioned and therefore a denial of equal protection of the law. We can add nothing to that which we have previously stated in Thomas v. State, Fla.1957, 92 So.2d 621, and State ex rel. Copeland v. Mayo, Fla.1956, 87 So.2d 501. The contention as to the alleged unconstitutionality of the cited statutes is once again found to be without merit.

We are finally confronted with a problem which has required more comprehensive analysis and research. It will be recalled that the prosecutrix testified that she left her automobile on the 'second parking space' near Webb's City at about 7:30 p. m. on the night in question. To this we should add the testimony of a deputy sheriff who arrested the appellant the following day. He stated that Williams advised him on this occasion that when he saw the automobile he thought it was his brother's and crawled in the back to take a nap. At the time of his arrest, appellant did not relate to the officer his subsequent story of extensive sexual relations with the prosecutrix. He did this from the witness stand later and then denied having made the statement with reference to climbing in the back of the car under the erroneous impression that it was his brother's automobile. As a part of its case in chief, the State offered, and the trial judge allowed, the testimony of one Judy Baker, aged 16, and one Kirk, a law enforcement officer, regarding an incident which occurred on November 5, 1957, approximately six weeks prior to the attack on the prosecutrix. The testimony of these two witnesses simply was that on the earlier date Miss Baker had parked her car at approximately the same hour and on the same parking lot as did the prosecutrix on the night of December 18, 1957. Upon returning to her car sometime later with parcels purchased in Webb's City, Judy Baker opened the door and saw the head of a man on the floor in the back of the car. Fortunately for her she screamed and two auxiliary policemen came to the rescue. The occupant of the back of the car ran. Immediate pursuit resulted in the apprehension of the appellant Ralph Williams, who was identified as the occupant of the back of Miss Baker's automobile. He later testified at police headquarters that he had mistaken the car for his brother's automobile and had crawled into the back of it to take a nap. The Baker automobile was a black Plymouth of a model several years earlier than the green Buick which was driven by prosecutrix.

As pointed out above the trial judge permitted this testimony but at the time admonished the jury that it was to be taken as bearing upon the question of identity, intent, 'the plan or design only' and was limited to that. The appellant takes the position that error was committed in admitting into evidence this testimony regarding the involvement of appellant in a similar factual situation which had occurred six weeks before the matter in issue but which had a tendency to reveal the commission of a collateral criminal act involving another person and unrelated by parties,...

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