On appeal from Middlesex County Court, Law Division.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Heher, Wachenfeld, Burling, Francis and Proctor. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J. Wachenfeld, J., concurring in result.
The defendants, William Butler, Eugene Williams and Bland Williams, the latter two being brothers, were separately indicted for the murder of James Quackenbush. Two other persons were also indicted, James Winbush, who was later committed as insane and did not stand trial, and John Coleman, who testified for the State. Butler and the Williams brothers were tried together, convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to death. Their appeal is before us under R.R. 1:2-1(c). The separate indictment against Coleman was not joined with the others for trial.
The trial was a long one. It began on March 18 and ended on April 12, 1957. The many problems presented on this
appeal can be best understood by a general outline of the evidence adduced by the respective parties.
During the early morning hours of July 20, 1956 a fire broke out on the premises of the Koppers Coke Company in Port Reading, Middlesex County, New Jersey. Two patrolling police officers in the neighboring Borough of Carteret noticed the blaze at about 2 A.M., and drove over to investigate it. When they arrived they found a burning Buick automobile, which was parked in the alleyway between the office and the "foam house" of the Koppers Company. While they were looking around, the officers discovered an out stretched corpse, head and upper chest soaked with blood, lying near a fire hydrant located about 92 feet from the office building. A ravelled fire hose was attached to the hydrant, and near the body lay a pack of cigarettes, two overturned drums, and the handle of a hammer. A fire alarm was turned in and the Woodbridge Police and the coroner were contacted.
An inspection of the area disclosed that the office safe was lying on its back against the side of the office building, directly below a window whose screen had been ripped to permit access to the office. The safe was on fire, and there was debris lying on the ground nearby. The police inspected the interior of the office and found marks indicating that the safe had been dragged across the floor out the rear door and then had been dragged or thrown down the back steps. In the office, drawers and lockers had been rifled and two electric razors belonging to company personnel were missing. Though the premises had been ransacked, no fingerprints were found except one "latent" print on a venetian blind which was later shown to be that of the office janitor. The dead man outside could not then be identified; his trouser pockets had been turned inside out and were empty. A hammer head and a man's cap were also found in the vicinity.
Subsequently, the deceased was identified as James Quackenbush, a 60-year-old "relief engineer" in the employ of the Koppers Coke Company. His job was to "keep steam up and keep the material steam during the course of his tour
of duty." The county medical examiner found the cause of his death to be a cerebral hemorrhage; before receiving the blows that fractured his skull, he had suffered 14 or 15 major body wounds, including nine open lacerations. The time of death was established at between 2 A.M. and 3 A.M., July 20.
Captain Krysko of the Woodbridge Police Department was assigned to conduct a preliminary investigation of the crime. He followed down several leads, all of which were fruitless. Then, on July 29, 1956, at about 1:30 A.M., he received a telephone call from a friend, a private detective named Farrell, who told him that he had information. Immediately after calling, Farrell came to Krysko's home, accompanied by one John "Pee Wee" Coleman, a Koppers employee. The three men talked for two hours; thereafter, Coleman voluntarily accompanied Krysko to police headquarters and made a statement. In the statement Coleman did not directly implicate himself in the crime but said that Willie Butler, a fellow worker at Koppers, had at various times asked him to assist in robbing a gas station, a bar, and "a few places in New Brunswick and Perth Amboy"; that Butler had also asked Coleman to help him to steal a safe from the Koppers office when he, Butler, returned from a vacation to Tennessee; that Butler had gone to Tennessee with two companions for about nine days, and had then returned and resumed working at Koppers; that Butler had "cased" the office and had made plans to rob it at about 2 A.M. some morning by going through a rear window, carrying the safe outside, and blowing it with an explosive which he intended to procure; that he told Coleman these plans, but Coleman "wouldn't go for that kind of stuff." The statement also mentioned "two strangers that Willie was hanging around with"; Coleman did not know them, but they had once given him a ride in a 1949 green Studebaker; the two strangers "also have" a 1950 Mercury, and their brother owned a 1956 Oldsmobile. Coleman's statement concluded with Captain Krysko asking if there was "anything else that you can tell me that might help?" to which Coleman replied, "No, that's about all."
The police finished taking Coleman's statement at 5:15 A.M. In both his two-hour conversation with Krysko and his statement, Coleman implicated no one except Butler. Detective Farrell's interest in the matter may have been motivated by the fact that the Koppers Company had offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers.
On the following day, July 30, Butler was arrested as a material witness. He maintained complete innocence of having had anything to do with the crime. His fingerprints were compared with the one print found at the scene of the crime but did not match. Coleman, who was also held as a material witness, was placed on $1,000 bail and released, but he was picked up again a day later. Butler's bail was set as $50,000.
On August 16 or 17, 1956 Coleman, while in custody, implicated the Williams brothers for the first time. They were later arrested and denied all guilt. Subsequently, Coleman also told the police that James Winbush had been a participant, and he was apprehended. After the arrest of the Williams brothers a 1949 green Buick automobile registered in the name of Clarence Williams, another brother, was taken by the police from a parking garage. It was minutely examined by an expert toxologist, who later testified that samples of soil taken from the Koppers property matched specimens taken from the floorboards of the car. However, it was further established that the automobile was very dirty and had not been cleaned in some time. When the police impounded it, the car contained some clothing, tools, a knife, a flashlight, and other articles. These were examined, and none of them could be connected with the crime. In fact, except for the soil specimens, there was no other tangible demonstrative evidence linking any of the defendants with the charge against them. After Butler's arrest all of his clothing and shoes had been taken from his room for testing and although "quite a volume" of blood was found to be soaked into one pair of shoes, the blood was "dispersed" and there was not enough to get a type reaction and to match it up against the victim's blood type; and there was
no way of telling how long the blood had been on the shoes. There was also a tiny speck of blood at the bottom of a pair of trousers belonging to Coleman, but this was not enough for a test. Otherwise, no loot was found in defendants' possession, and there were no fingerprints, or anything else, to establish them as the criminals. There was no direct physical evidence against them except the soil specimens.
As has been noted, the trial of the three defendants commenced on March 18, 1957. From August 24, 1956, when Coleman was transferred to the Middlesex County jail, until after he had finished testifying at the trial, he was often visited by the police, the prosecutor's men, and county detectives in his cell. A certified Visitor List, reproduced in the appendix, shows that these officers spent a great deal of time with him. Coleman himself, although he emphatically denied at the trial that his testimony was founded on fear or favor, admitted that over a period of approximately seven months, policemen and detectives had visited him at three-day intervale in groups of three or four. He also admitted that he used to lie down and scream during these sessions, but denied that he had been beaten, attributing his agonies to the intellectual efforts involved ("it was hard to tell"). He said that he had been taken to the scene of the crime twice by the police. At first he denied having been shown any maps or photographs, but later stated that he had gone over a map with the prosecutor. He said that in the county jail he had told other inmates that the police had beaten him, but that this was only to shut them up, as it was none of their business and he did not like them asking questions. He accounted for marks observed on his head and body while he was in jail by testifying that, at the suggestion of other prisoners and with their help, he had embarked on a course of self-injury so that he could come into court beaten up, say the police did it, and sue them for $100,000. But he was talked out of this by a preacher who came to see him. Detective Panconi of the Woodbridge Police, who was in charge of the investigation, testified that he personally visited Coleman in his cell eight or nine times, including two occasions
while Coleman was testifying. Panconi said that on August 27, 1956 he and other officers spent "practically all day" with Coleman. The police denied that Coleman had been threatened, beaten or promised anything.
During the investigation a question arose as to Coleman's mental competency. The Woodbridge police chief sent a letter to the Crownsville State Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and received this reply:
Mr. Coleman was admitted to Crownsville on July 9, 1954 upon certification of Doctors Carl P. Restling and Louis C. Garis of Baltimore. The patient was given a mental status examination on July 27, 1954, and was given a diagnosis of: Chronic Brain Syndrome associated with Convulsive Disorder, with Behavior Reaction.
Psychological examinations performed on August 5, 1954 revealed that 'Mr. Coleman was functioning within a moderate defective range of intelligence, that he is an anxious and insecure individual who tries to avoid all difficult life situations, that when confronted with unavoidable difficulties he may try to bluff through them or become panic striken and respond with a gross emotional outburst resembling a temper tantrum.' There was no evidence on the test that Mr. Coleman was psychotic.
Mr. Coleman was released from the hospital on September 5, 1954, at which time, it was felt that he was not psychotic. He was seen at our Out-Patient Clinic by Dr. Arthur Mandel, on September 27, 1954. Dr. Mandel gave the diagnosis of Mental Deficiency of a Moderate Degree, Without Psychosis.
We hope that this information will be of some help to you.
At the trial the State's case depended almost entirely on Coleman's testimony. The prosecutor established the physical circumstances attending the homicide, and then called Coleman to the stand. His testimony was as follows:
He is 25 years of age, was born in East Spencer, North Carolina, and had no schooling after the first grade. When he was eight years old he moved to Maryland, and thereafter
lived in Pennsylvania and New York. He moved to Carteret, New Jersey, on March 6, 1956. He is married; his wife is in Maryland, and he had not communicated with her after his arrest. They had one child, which died. When Coleman came to Carteret he got a job at a fertilizer factory, where he met and worked with Butler. They became friendly during the next few months, seeing each other both at work and socially during the evenings. Coleman also met the Williams brothers in March 1956.
He was laid off from his job on May 17, 1956. He got another job, which lasted for only two weeks, and then went to work for the Koppers Coke Company, where he was reunited with Butler. The two worked together, unloading crossties and cleaning up the yard. One day Butler was told to work inside the office. He did so, and when he returned to the yard he told Coleman that he had been moving desks and had stolen some keys from a drawer. He said that he was going to come out to the office some night and see if the keys would fit any of the office doors. According to Coleman, Butler said that he "believed $3,000 was in the safe and he want me to help him to pull that job." Subsequently, Butler said he was going on a "vacation" to Tennessee, and that he had arranged to send himself a telegram giving an excuse that he could show his boss. He went away for two weeks and returned and went back to work.
On July 19, 1956, Coleman, who now worked the 12 noon-9 P.M. shift, went to the plant shortly before noon. When he arrived, he met Butler, who asked him "would I help him to pull the job." Coleman refused. At 9 P.M., after his working day was over, he cleaned up and went home. Then he went to the Little Cotton Club, a tavern on the corner of Salem Avenue and Sussex Street in Carteret, which he, the Williams brothers, and Butler frequented. He arrived at about 9:45 P.M. and met Butler; they sat together at the bar. Butler again asked him to help with the theft, and again he refused. Butler got up and left him, going over to talk to a man known to Coleman as "Bill Red." After a few minutes Butler rejoined Coleman and threatened to
"do him in" if he would not help with the theft. Coleman took this to be a threat on his life and became frightened. He got up and walked out of the tavern; Butler followed him and continued his urgings, which Coleman kept resisting. Then Coleman went back into the tavern, with Butler following; Coleman sat at the front of the bar, while Butler went to the back.
Coleman first saw the Williams brothers in the tavern at 11 or 11:30 P.M., with James Winbush. Butler went over and talked to them for a while, and then walked over to Coleman and again solicited his aid with the theft. Coleman refused and once more left the tavern. Butler, the Williams brothers, and (apparently) Winbush followed him out, and Bland Williams pulled a yellow-handled switchblade knife on him. He was told that he had to come with them or he would be killed. (At this point in Coleman's testimony he identified a knife as the one pulled by Bland Williams, and it was received into evidence. He said that the identifying feature was a red spot on the handle of the knife; he had first identified it before trial when the police showed it to him. Although Williams was holding it by the handle when he threatened Coleman, he kept tossing it in the air, which is how Coleman noticed the red spot.) They made him walk to a 1949 green Buick (which he identified from pictures at the trial, and which he had inspected and been inside when the police showed it to him before the trial), and forced him inside, into the front seat between the Williams brothers. He could not get away because Bland Williams had his knife in a position of use at all times. He recognized the Buick because he had ridden in it once before with the Williamses in June 1956, when they went to see some girls.
The party drove off with Bland Williams at the wheel (although he was the person with the knife), Coleman next to him, and Eugene Williams on the other side. Willie Butler and James Winbush were in the back seat. Enroute to Koppers, the car was stopped and Butler got out. Coleman did not know where he went, but he was back in five
minutes. Then they drove off again, and Bland Williams stopped the car in the neighborhood of Koppers while Butler, the leader, gave each man his assignment. He designated Coleman as lookout, and told Winbush to keep him covered. Then they drove up to the loading platform near the Koppers office, and all five men got out of the car. Here is Coleman's verbatim description of the theft and the killing:
"Q. You drove where? A. He gives to all of us the order what to do -- Butler did -- and he tells me what I must do and he told the other guy to keep me covered, he told Bland and Eugene what they have to do.
Q. I think you said you drove somewhere. A. Well, the car pulled off and he drove into the platform.
Q. After you drove to the platform, what happened next? A. Well, they go out there.
Q. Then what did you do? A. Then Willie gets out, the driver gets out, Bland, myself and Eugene and Winbush gets out and goes on the left-hand side of the back. That is where to take, where he is going to take the window from the back.
Q. I am sorry. After you got out of the car, where did you go? I couldn't hear you. A. We got out of the car and went to the office.
Q. To what office? A. To the office at the tie yard.
Q. The office at the tie yard? A. Right.
Q. After you got to the office at the tie yard, what happened? A. Well, after we got to the office of the tie yard, I walked up to a telegraph post -- me and Winbush, he was beside me -- and Willie, he walks up to the first window, him and Bland and Eugene.
Q. Yes. A. And he ripped the screen loose down the bottom of the window and he couldn't get in that way, he tried a second window and he couldn't get in that window.
Q. Then what happened? A. Well, he took a pair of wire clips, clips and started to cut the screen. I could hear him clipping when he was cutting.
Q. All right. Then what happened? A. He took his screw driver out of his pocket, put it on the bottom of the window and tried to push up on it, but it was latched.
Q. Then what did he do? A. Well, Bland he gave him a lift.
Q. What was that? A. Bland gave him a lift to the top of the window. He couldn't reach the top of the window. He took a screw driver and turned the latch to the top of the window, and then he let him down and take his screw driver and put it underneath the window and pulls it up like and goes in.
Q. Who went in? A. Willie Butler went in.
Q. How did Willie get into the window? A. Well, Bland give him a lift into the window.
Q. Bland gave him a lift? A. Bland and Eugene.
Q. Did anybody else go in the window? A. Just three.
Q. Who went into the window? A. Butler, Eugene and Bland.
Q. How did Bland get into the window? A. Well, his brother gave him a lift and Butler pulled him.
Q. How did Eugene get into the window? A. Willie gave him a lift into the window.
Q. Where were you standing when they went into the window? A. Well, Butler told me and Winbush to move up. We walked up.
Q. How close were you standing to the window? A. It was about 10 feet I reckon, I am not positive.
Q. After they got inside the building, what did they do? A. After they got inside the building, it is drawers and chairs was moving and making lots of noise, drawers were slamming and opening. I can hear it from the outside.
Q. Did you hear anything being said by anyone in there? A. Butler said, 'Hurry up, we will do this job quick.'
Q. Did you hear any other noises? A. Well, I heard him fooling with the safe. He say, 'The safe over there,' and I heard him messing with that.
Q. Who said, 'The safe over there'? A. Butler said the safe was over there.
Q. Did you hear any other noises? A. Yes, they was arguing in there.
Q. Who was arguing? A. Butler was arguing with the two, Bland and Eugene. He said they weren't working fast enough.
Q. Did Butler say anything else? A. That's all I heard him say.
Q. Did Bland say anything? A. I heard them talking, but they was talking in such a low voice I couldn't hear him too good. They was talking low.
Q. Did you hear anything else? A. Well, I heard something heavy jarring on the floor back and forth. That was the safe.
Q. After you heard that, what happened? A. After I heard that, I heard a dog bark.
Q. Yes. What happened next? A. Next I heard the night watchman holler and say, 'Who is that?'.
Q. When the night watchman hollered, 'Who is there?', what did Willie do? A. Willie, he went out the back door.
Q. What did Bland and Eugene Williams do? A. Bland went out the back door too.
Q. The back door of what? A. The back door of the office.
Q. Could you see where the watchman was coming from? A. Yes, I could see.
Q. Could you see where he was headed? A. He was headed from the -- he was coming from the boiler room to the office.
Q. All right. Willie went out one door and Bland and Eugene went out another door. A. They went out the same door.
Q. They went out the same door. A. Yes.
Q. Now tell the Court and jury exactly what you saw when they went out. A. Well, when Bland come out the door, Eugene --
they grabbed Mr. Quackenbush; they gets around him, tried to trip him up, tried to throw him down, but they couldn't throw him down; and Mr. Quackenbush, he was hitting back; they was hitting him with hard punches, it looked like to me was hurting Mr. Quackenbush; he was giving in; I see him weaken; Butler walks around Mr. Quackenbush; Mr. Quackenbush couldn't see him; he walks around on the left hand side, even with the door, and comes around and he takes that club right there and he catch him on the left side.
Q. What did Mr. Quackenbush do then? A. After he was hit, this blow took him down; he went down to his knees, but he kept fighting gamely, and he kept hitting him.
Q. Who kept hitting him? A. Butler kept hitting him.
Q. With what? A. With that stick. And I heard something pound -- you know, it goes like that -- I heard -- I don't know what it was, and --
Q. What did Mr. Quackenbush do then? A. He fell. I should say he fell to the ground; about the second blow take him to the ground, and he just kept beating on him.
Q. Who kept beating on him? A. Butler kept beating on him. I say, 'Stop, don't hit him no more.'
And he say, 'What you got to do with it? You don't have ...