For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None.
[45 NJ Page 201] Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment upon a conviction in Burlington County of first-degree
murder of John Short. He appeals to us as of right under R.R. 1:2-1(c).
Two issues are raised. One is the sufficiency of the evidence, and the other arises from the introduction of testimony concerning defendant's refusal to discuss the charge with a police officer.
As to the adequacy of the evidence, we are satisfied the proofs in their aggregate establish a circumstantial case sufficient to lead reasonable men to a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. We see no point in a detailed discussion of the proofs and hence we will not elaborate upon our conclusion.
The other issue requires a new trial. Defendant was apprehended in California by federal authorities with respect to a stolen automobile. While in their custody he was interrogated by the Chief of the Burlington County Detective Bureau. At first defendant denied knowing a John Short, and after admitting he knew him, said he last saw Short some months prior to the date when according to other testimony defendant and deceased were seen together. That testimony was admissible. However, the Chief of Detectives then said he told defendant "we suspected that you had something to do with his disappearance," and asked him what he had to say. Defendant answered that he would not say anything. The record continues:
"I said, do you realize that if you refuse to deny that you killed this man that this could be used in a Courtroom against you?
He said, 'I refuse to say anything.'"
Later the Chief of Detectives testified that defendant "did mention at that time that he was not going to say anything until he had counsel."
This subject was pursued at considerable length in cross-examination, in the course of which, in ruling on an objection by the State, the trial court said of this testimony that "It has to do with an admission. It has to do with the failure
of the defendant to answer questions and his reply: 'I refuse to say anything.'"
In summation the prosecutor stressed this testimony of the Chief of ...