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State v. Beard

Decided: June 21, 1954.


On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J. Heher, J., concurring in result.


The body of the defendant's mother was found lying in high bushes about 25 feet from the edge of Hampton Road in Delaware Township on the morning of July 3, 1953. She was still alive but died shortly after being taken to Cooper Hospital, where emergency treatments were unsuccessfully attempted.

Death was caused by multiple fractures of the skull, multiple fractures of the mandible, subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain, and shock. The wounds were estimated to have been inflicted approximately between 10:49 P.M. on July 2, 1953 and 12:49 A.M. on July 3, 1953. They were caused by a relatively sharp and heavy instrument.

No suspicion was lodged against the deceased's son, the defendant, but he was initially questioned in a routine manner concerning his mother's activities. In response to questions as to when he had seen his mother last, he replied on Wednesday night, July 1, about 9:30 P.M. He made the same statement to his fiancee, Marion Boyd, in whose home he had been residing. Beard told another witness he did not see his mother on Thursday, the day of the felonious assault.

When those in authority investigating the case came upon corroborated information to the contrary, that the defendant had been seen with his mother on the day she was fatally beaten, the finger of suspicion moved in his direction.

Marion Boyd, the defendant's fiancee, whom he had arranged to marry on July 11, 1953, was questioned several times by the police and informed them the defendant had used her mother's car on Thursday, July 2, returning home about 11:30 P.M. A tire iron, ordinarily used to open the trunk because the lock was faulty and which was usually on the back or front seat of the car, was missing, its absence first being noticed when Miss Boyd was interrogated. The iron was 24 inches long, 2 inches wide and a quarter of an inch thick.

The defendant was detained in custody and during his interrogation inquired about Marion Boyd, asserting she had nothing to do with the alleged offense. He wanted to see her, which request was granted, and she pleaded with him to tell the truth if he knew anything about the matter. After a court stenographer was summoned, he was examined further, the questions and answers being taken down stenographically.

In this statement the defendant admitted he was with his mother on Thursday, July 2. He stopped for gas; he drove to Swedesboro; he was going to borrow money from her. She nagged him about his girl. He returned from Swedesboro to Camden and then drove to Merchantville. Further on he stopped the car, got out, as did his mother, who stood outside the car while he was in the fields. Beard walked back to the car, picked up a piece of iron lying on the seat, walked around to the side where his mother was standing, and hit her about three times. He had made up his mind after a few drinks to strike her. He admitted knowing his mother would not be at the hospital when he inquired for her earlier Friday morning prior to her admittance in a critical condition. He acknowledged having reported her missing to the detective bureau when he knew she was not.

After this statement was taken, the defendant again saw his fiancee alone, when she said to him, "Why on earth would you do a thing like this?" He replied, "I am sorry it had to be this way." This conversation was not contradicted.

The defendant was then taken to the scene of the crime, together with Captain Dube, Sergeant McDonald, Captain McKeone and the stenographer, where he revealed the location of the offense. Another statement was taken stenographically, in which the defendant identified the spot at which he had stopped the car, pointing out that when he hit his mother she was "out where the car is parked." He indicated where he threw the iron after he had used it, and covered a number of other details of no considerable importance except as they confirmed his original statement in the over-all legitimate inferences to be drawn therefrom.

When further questioning was attempted on Sunday, Beard refused to answer, saying, "There ain't nothing I can say to you that can help me * * * Take me out and shoot me, kill me * * * I ain't going to say any more."

The pants, shoes and glasses which the defendant wore on the evening in question had blood stains on them. An expert chemist and toxicologist testified the blood stain on the pants was Type O, the blood in the soil at the scene of the crime being the same type, as was the blood of the deceased, although about 46% of the people have that type blood, O. A comparison made between the soil on the defendant's shoes and the soil at the scene of the crime showed them to be identical.

The trial consumed seven days and the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree. From the death sentence imposed by reason of the verdict, the defendant appeals.

The court erred, it is said, in admitting over objection two statements made by the defendant on July 4, 1953.

The record evidenced that Marion Boyd's mother's car had been used by the defendant at the time of the crime. His apprehension and concern about his fiancee by reason of this fact, plus the promise made by the police officer "to turn her loose," it is urged, "nullifies the voluntariness of the statements made" because they were induced by the promise and thus rendered unreliable.

The contention is this "promise" was made "to encourage a fabricated and synthetic confession," ...

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