For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.
The defendant Alonzo Walker was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. He appeals under R.R. 1:2-1(c).
The defendant was indicted for the murder of Mary Johnson on September 9, 1956. He entered a plea of non vult and was sentenced to 25 to 30 years in prison. After serving several months of this sentence, he applied for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that he did not understand
the nature of his plea. The County Court denied his application, but on appeal the Appellate Division reversed and a trial was held at which the defendant pleaded not guilty. He was convicted of murder in the first degree with a recommendation of life imprisonment. On his appeal we reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial because of error in the court's charge to the jury. State v. Walker, 33 N.J. 580 (1960). The trial giving rise to the present appeal resulted.
Mary Johnson was fatally shot in the early evening on Sunday, September 9, 1956, while sitting at the kitchen table in the house of her friend, Mary Brooks, at 30 Eagle Street, Bridgeton. The State called several witnesses and introduced two signed statements given by the defendant to the police to prove that he was the murderer. It was established that the defendant and Mary Johnson had lived together in Philadelphia prior to the shooting. According to the defendant's first statement made after he was apprehended on the night of the homicide the following occurred: On Friday night, two days before the shooting, he and Mary Johnson had a fight during which he slapped her; the following day she went to the Brooks house in Bridgeton. On Sunday, September 9, the defendant drove there with his son, Alonzo Walker, Jr., "to talk with her about coming back." In addition to Mary Johnson, he found Alonzo Williams, Mary Williams (Brooks) and Rosella Campbell there. During the course of the day he continually sought to persuade Mary Johnson to return with him to Philadelphia, but she refused. At one point he left the house and bought a skirt and blouse for her. When he returned with the clothes he also brought with him a loaded revolver which he had in his automobile. He said he took the gun with him to give it to Mary Johnson so she could "take it and get rid of it" because "when I get mad she is scared of it." However, he wanted her to promise to return with him to Philadelphia before he would give up the gun. He sat at the kitchen table across from
her and continued his efforts to persuade her, but she was adamant. While they were talking he took the gun out of his pocket and when she again refused him, he "reared back in the chair and said 'you gotta go' and the gun went off." After the shooting he ran out of the front door and dropped the gun in a neighboring yard. The defendant signed this statement. However, after it was noticed that he could not read, the statement was read aloud to him and, in the presence of Detectives Fletcher and Westcott, he again signed it. These officers testified the written statement was in complete accord with the story told by the defendant.
Mary Brooks testified Mary Johnson's throat "was swollen, and you could see the fingernails and dark appearance" when she came to the Brooks house on Saturday, September 8. She said the defendant came to her home the next day and continually begged Mary Johnson to return with him to Philadelphia. Mary Johnson refused. Mary Brooks further testified that immediately prior to the shooting Mary Johnson was seated at the table in the kitchen; that the defendant was standing on the opposite side of the table and that she was standing alongside him. He was insisting that Mary Johnson return with him to Philadelphia that night, but she again refused. Then, in Mary Brooks' words: "I said, 'Let her stay' * * * he said, 'No, she is going back to Philly with me.' I said, 'Let her stay.' He said, 'If she don't go back to Philly with me, she is not going back with anybody else' * * * 'She is going back with me, because nobody else is going to have her,' and that is when the report [gun shot] went off." After the shooting she pushed the defendant, he pushed her in return and ran out of the house. She testified she never saw the gun.
On cross-examination the defendant sought to impeach Mary Brooks' testimony by the use of a signed statement she gave to a private investigator, Anthony Fiorella, on December 3, 1958. Her description there of the conversation
which she had with the defendant was not identical with her testimony quoted above in that the statement contained no reference to the defendant's ever having said "nobody else is going to have her."
Alonzo Williams corroborated Mary Brooks' description of Mary Johnson's physical condition when she came to the Brooks house. He too testified the defendant came there on Sunday, September 9, and sought to persuade Mary Johnson to return with him to Philadelphia. Since Williams was in the living room playing records at the time of the shooting, he did not witness the homicide or hear the shot. However, he saw the ...