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State v. Donohue

Decided: June 20, 1949.


On appeal from the Superior Court, Passaic County.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.


Early Sunday morning, March 28, 1948, the body of Margaret Donohue was found in a vacant lot on a deserted, unlighted and unpaved street in Paterson, New Jersey.

The body was clothed in a coat, blouse, skirt, stockings, brassiere and undergarments. Nearby was an open pocketbook and a short distance away, an umbrella the ribs of which were bent and others pushed into the ground.

The face was bruised and beaten. There were no cosmetics or lipstick. The hair was disheveled and uncombed. The coat was open and the blouse torn. The undergarments were ripped and the body exposed. Both stockings were pulled and torn along the rear seam, indicating the body had been dragged to the spot where it was found. There were no signs of a struggle, the only marks on the ground being a "drag

mark" leading from the heel of the left foot to a set of automobile tire prints on the sidewalk and unpaved road. The clothing was neither wet nor damp and there was no mud on the soles of the galoshes which were worn.

The autopsy disclosed that Mrs. Donohue had been beaten about the head and had died of cerebral concussion and hemorrhage. The stomach contents were removed and subjected to laboratory tests, showing they consisted of undigested particles of meat and potatoes. The stomach was two-thirds to three-quarters full and this together with the condition of the food, in the opinion of the medical examiner, indicated she had died about a half-hour after eating. From the temperature, the stage of rigor mortis and the examination of the stomach contents, it was estimated death occurred about nine o'clock the previous evening. The autopsy also revealed the presence of spermatozoa in the vagina, indicating recent intercourse.

The police visited the scene of the crime, roped off the area, took photographs, covered the body with a blanket and made casts of the tire prints, which were later found to match the tires of the appellant's car, which he admitted driving on the previous evening.

The victim's name was ascertained from a card in her handbag and a police officer was dispatched to her home in an endeavor to locate her husband, the appellant. This occurred at about seven A.M. He rang the bell and knocked on the door sufficiently loud to cause a dog inside to bark but otherwise there was no response. Later two other officers were sent to the house. They too rang the bell and knocked loudly and received no answer, whereupon they raised a window in the appellant's bedroom and thus aroused him. When the appellant opened the door of his house his eyes were clear, his face smooth and clean, his hair combed and in place, indicating that he was not in a heavy sleep as pretended. He was informed by the detectives that his wife had been murdered but he made no inquiry about where or how it had happened. He dressed carefully and leisurely, consuming nearly thirty minutes in the process.

Upon arriving at the scene where his wife's body was completely covered, the blanket was drawn back only far enough to permit him to see her face for identification purposes. At that time, although no one had accused him of the murder of his wife or intimated his guilt, he said, addressing a brother officer: "Joe, I know I have not been a good husband, but I certainly would never do a thing like this." He then walked to the police car, sat down and in the presence of two police officers remarked: "I would like to get the son-of-a-bitch that laid her," although, if innocent, he would not have known of the torn clothing and the other physical manifestations indicating recent sexual access.

Shortly thereafter the appellant was taken to the police headquarters, interrogated and later in the day booked as a material witness. Subsequently he was charged with murder and arrested pursuant to the warrant issued.

While he was held in custody as a material witness and before any complaint was made, detectives and police officers, using a key supplied by a neighbor, entered his house without a search warrant and without his knowledge or consent. They found the decedent's bed covered with a chenille bedspread, blankets and only one sheet, a soiled sheet being found in the clothes hamper. Broken pieces of china plate were discovered under the dining room rug, behind the kitchen stove and in the garbage pail. There appeared to be a fresh break in the wood of the bathroom door. In the attic a clean sheet was found lying alongside a trunk and on it were various articles apparently taken from the trunk, which was still about half full. A number of articles were seized and removed, including letters, a strong box, pillow cases, sheets, a compact and also the appellant's automobile, which was taken from the driveway alongside the home. The home was then padlocked by the police and no one was permitted to enter excepting police officials.

As a result a bill of complaint was filed in the Court of Chancery by the appellant against the chief of police and prosecutor of the county praying that the police authorities be ordered to remove the padlock so that the appellant's duly

authorized representative might enter. Such an order was signed by the Vice-Chancellor and the prosecutor and the police, in accordance with its mandate, removed the locks from the house. Thereafter a petition was filed in the Passaic County Court of Oyer and Terminer asking the return to the appellant of all articles seized from his home. The court, in dismissing the petition, decided that the application was collateral to the crime for which the defendant was ...

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