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State v. Jackson

Decided: July 31, 1964.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, J.


The defendants were found guilty of murder in the first degree and were sentenced to death. They appealed to this Court as of right. R.R. 1:2-1(c).

On June 5, 1962 the deceased Karl Teitelbaum was brutally murdered in Elizabeth. On July 20, 1962 Barbara Jean Jeter reported to the Elizabeth police that she knew who had committed the murder. She signed a verified statement implicating the defendants Jackson and Ravenell as well as Wallace Solomon Odom. During the early morning hours of July 21, 1962 Jackson, Ravenell and Odom were taken into custody and were then questioned. Jackson and Odom signed statements which implicated Ravenell as well as themselves. Ravenell did not sign any statement and denied all knowledge.

On July 23, 1962 a municipal court complaint was issued charging Jackson, Ravenell and Odom with having willfully, feloniously and with malice aforethought, killed and murdered Karl Teitelbaum, contrary to N.J.S. 2A:113-1. A preliminary hearing in the municipal court was adjourned to August 9, 1962 to afford the defendants an opportunity to retain counsel. On July 24, 1962 the Union County Grand Jury returned a murder indictment against Jackson, Ravenell and Odom and thereafter they appeared before county court judges. They requested that counsel be assigned to them and this was done by order dated August 21, 1962. In the meantime, pleas of not guilty were entered on their behalf.

Thereafter their counsel made various motions including motions for change of venue or foreign jury and motions for severance which were denied.

At the commencement of the trial certain jurors were sworn and permitted to remain despite objections by the defendants. The State then introduced its testimony in support of its charge that the three defendants had participated in the robbery of Teitelbaum during the course of which he was killed. Its primary witness was Barbara Jean Jeter who testified on direct examination that she knew the three defendants and Jackson had been her boyfriend; on June 5, 1962 she was in Teitelbaum's office when she and Teitelbaum heard noises and she followed him downstairs when he went there to investigate; she saw Jackson and heard Teitelbaum ask him to leave; she saw Teitelbaum grab his stomach and stoop over and run out the door with Jackson and Ravenell running after him; she also ran out the door and saw Jackson and Ravenell leaping on Teitelbaum; and then Odom grabbed and punched her and took her to Ravenell's car. Barbara also testified on direct examination that she was with the three defendants when one of them told her she was in this as deep as they were and Jackson gave her $15 saying that Teitelbaum was a hard man to kill and he had gotten about a hundred dollars from him. She was examined and cross-examined at great length and counsel for the defendants, though recognizing that her credibility was for the jury to determine, point to conflicts in her testimony and attack her reliability as a witness.

There was extensive testimony with respect to the voluntariness of the statements signed by Jackson and Odom. Detective Lynes testified that he along with Detective Schlauch interrogated Jackson while Detective Martel did the typing. Detective Lynes denied that Jackson was at any time threatened or coerced or that Jackson was handcuffed while he was being questioned. Jackson testified to the contrary, stating that he was handcuffed and that he signed the statement because of threats that he would be strapped to the

chair and beaten. The trial court disbelieved Jackson's assertions and found that his statement was voluntary and admissible in evidence as against him. At that point counsel for Ravenell unsuccessfully moved for a severance on the ground that since Jackson's statement had named Ravenell as the one who repeatedly stabbed Teitelbaum, no limiting instructions could efface the prejudice to Ravenell resulting from the admission of the statement as against Jackson. Odom's statement was also found by the trial court to be voluntary and was admitted in evidence as against him. In it he stated that Barbara, Jackson, Ravenell and he had talked about robbing Teitelbaum; he saw Jackson and Ravenell go into the building; and later he saw Barbara when she came running out and Ravenell and Jackson when they struck at Teitelbaum.

At the close of the State's case the three defendants moved for acquittal and their motions were denied. Ravenell did not testify on his own behalf but did introduce testimony by other witnesses to establish that he was elsewhere and not at the scene of the crime on June 5, 1962. Jackson did testify and denied any participation in or knowledge of the crime; he and others, including members of his family, testified that he was at home at the time it was committed. Odom testified that Barbara had suggested to Jackson, Ravenell and him that they rob Teitelbaum and that later he went with Ravenell and Jackson to the premises. He testified further that he then "got a bad feeling inside," "didn't want to have nothing to do with trying to take the man's money" and "went across the street to the tavern."

After the defendants had rested their case the State introduced testimony from several rebuttal witnesses including Detective Lynes. His testimony reiterated his earlier denial that he had threatened Jackson. Counsel for Jackson moved to strike this testimony on the ground that it was improper to select this particular testimony for emphasis shortly before summations. His motion was denied by the trial court. After the State had completed its rebuttal testimony the defendants moved for acquittal and their motions were denied. Following

summations, the trial court charged the jury which later returned verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree against Jackson and Ravenell and a verdict of not guilty in favor of Odom. In support of their appeals to this Court, Jackson and Ravenell assert that there were serious legal errors which call for a new trial. In addition, Ravenell urges that he was entitled to an acquittal at the end of the State's case and Jackson urges that the verdict as to him was against the weight of the evidence. We agree that there were serious trial errors, particularly in the selection of the jury, and that they call for a new trial; they are dealt with later in this opinion. We find no basis for the contention that acquittal should have been directed either at the end of the State's case or the entire case, or that either of the guilty verdicts was against the weight of the evidence.

Under the cases, Ravenell's motion for acquittal at the end of the State's case is to be tested in the light of the evidence at that time without reference to any corroborative evidence introduced during the defendants' case; but the testing is to be done in conformity with the rule that the State is entitled to the benefit of all of its favorable testimony and the favorable inferences which a jury might reasonably draw therefrom. See State v. Fiorello, 36 N.J. 80, 86-87 (1961), cert. denied 368 U.S. 967, 82 S. Ct. 439, 7 L. Ed. 2 d 396 (1962). Barbara's testimony, when coupled with the death and the attendant circumstances, was clearly enough to compel denial of the motion for acquittal. A jury could readily find that Ravenell and Jackson had attacked and robbed Teitelbaum and that during the course of the robbery Teitelbaum was repeatedly stabbed by a knife or other sharp instrument and died as a result. Barbara identified Ravenell and Jackson as the attackers and testified that after the attack she was in a car with Ravenell, Jackson and Odom when Jackson said he had gotten about $100 from Teitelbaum. Ravenell's counsel contends that the statement as to the $100 was inadmissible as against Ravenell but we consider it evidential against him as well as Jackson. It was part of the continuing

transaction in which, according to Barbara's testimony, both Jackson and Ravenell were participating and as such was substantive evidence in support of the State's contention that they were jointly engaged in a robbery. Cf. 2 Wharton, Criminal Evidence ยง 431, p. 205 (12 th ed. 1955). Jackson's counsel attacks the truth of Barbara's testimony and urges that the jury's finding that Jackson was guilty was against the weight of the evidence. Jackson's confession gives support to her testimony but, even apart from it, the credibility of Barbara's testimony was a matter for the jury rather than this Court. See State v. Landeros, 20 N.J. 76, 84 (1955); State v. Walker, 37 N.J. 208, 219, cert. denied 371 U.S. 850, 83 S. Ct. 89, 9 L. Ed. 2 d 86 (1962).

Though the evidence for conviction may be deemed legally sufficient, the defendants were nonetheless entitled to a trial which was fair and free from prejudicial error. See State v. Orecchio, 16 N.J. 125, 129 (1954); cf. Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S. Ct. 1417, 10 L. Ed. 2 d 663 (1963). As we said in Orecchio, the sound administration of justice dictates that the means as well as the ends be just; where serious trial error has undermined the proceeding, there must be reversal without regard to our own views as to guilt. 16 N.J., at p. 129; Weiler v. United States, 323 U.S. 606, 611, 65 S. Ct. 548, 89 L. Ed. 495, 499 (1945). This is particularly true where, as here, lives are at stake and stricter appellate approaches are warranted. See State v. Mount, 30 N.J. 195, 213 (1959); State v. Wynn, 21 N.J. 264, 271 (1956).

During the selection of the jury, Mr. Yoemans, a prospective juror, was challenged for cause on the ground that he was related to a captain in the Elizabeth police department and to the Sheriff of Union County. The challenge was first overruled, Mr. Yoemans was sworn as a juror, and since he was the fourteenth juror chosen, the jury was then sequestered in accordance with R.R. 3:7-2(f). Upon the sequestration, the trial court adjourned for the day and during the evening reconsidered its ruling and concluded that Mr. Yoemans

should be excused. It so announced on the following morning and thereafter Mr. Carolan was called as a prospective juror to replace Mr. Yoemans. When the trial court asked Mr. Carolan whether he was personally acquainted with or had any relatives who are law enforcement officers such as policemen he answered in the negative. On further interrogation he stated that he knew Deputy Chief Mulkeen, Captain Brugger, Detective Lynes and others in the Elizabeth police department. Indeed it then appeared that some of them were neighbors and friends with whom he had grown up and gone to church. Insofar as Detective Lynes was concerned, Mr. Carolan testified that he had known him for about twenty years and regarded him "as a close friend." ...

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