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State v. Hale

Decided: July 7, 1965.


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 Schettino, J.


Defendant, Matthew James Hale, Jr., was charged and tried for the murder of his wife on or about midnight May 28, 1961. The jury returned a verdict of guilty in the first degree with a recommendation of life imprisonment. In addition to the brief filed in this Court by his counsel, defendant has filed a brief pro se.

The facts surrounding the murder are deduced from defendant's oral testimony at trial, his written confession (no objection to which was raised at trial) and the testimony of others to whom he stated the circumstances of the murder. No other person witnessed the incident.

On the morning of May 28, 1961 defendant had an argument with his wife about her manner of keeping house and his drinking. At lunch they apparently resolved their differences

and made up. According to defendant there were no hostile feelings at dinner.

While they were eating dinner a neighbor called Hale and asked if he had any beer to spare. Hale replied that he did not, but that he would see if his brother, Pressley, did. He called Pressley, who informed him that he had some beer. Hale went to Pressley's home, got the beer, then went to the neighbor's house where he had three or four cans of beer and double shots of gin. Sometime later Hale received a call from his wife asking him to return home in order to watch television with the children.

Hale returned home between 9:30 and 9:40 P.M. and read a nursery rhyme to their three children and then they were taken to bed. He thereafter began working on a rifle which he had been converting into a sporting gun, had some more beer and watched television. Meantime his wife was out in the kitchen cleaning up. She then went in to bathe.

Hale testified that he became quite depressed, wrote some letters and had the feeling he was going to commit suicide. The letters he wrote spoke of caring for the children in the future but made no mention of his wife's part in the future care of the children.

Defendant then left the living room, went into the bedroom, got a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle, loaded it with 8 to 10 bullets and returned to the living room where he saw his wife lying on the couch. He walked over to his wife and told her he was going to shoot her. She replied: "I think you will" or "I know you will." She then asked to see the children, but defendant said "no." She started walking toward the bedroom and defendant started shooting. Hale claimed he felt as if he were shooting at the wall and ceiling, and that he could only feel the gun going off but could not hear the shots. His wife reached the bedroom and shut the door. He stated that he tried to go into the bedroom but had to exert some force to push the door open, as his wife was lying on the floor and against the door. Hale lifted her onto the bed and covered her up.

Thereafter, defendant went to the kitchen, had another beer, washed up, changed his clothing, awakened the children and put them into the car. He took the youngest boy to the home of his brother, David, and the other boys to David's inlaws. He asked them to care for the children while he went to look for his wife who, he said, had left after an argument.

Hale went to Pressley's home where he had a beer. He then went upstairs, got his mother and told his mother and brother that he had killed his wife. Pressley thereupon called Ernest Sever, an attorney and friend, and asked him to come over at once. When Sever arrived he was told of the crime. Pressley testified that they called Sever for "legal advice." He advised them to have a doctor go to the Hale residence. Sever said that after talking about 40-45 minutes, he accompanied defendant and David to the Edgewater Park State Police Barracks, where defendant turned himself in to the police.

Sever also testified that when he first saw defendant, defendant seemed to be somewhat under the influence of alcoholic beverages but defendant was not in a condition which would meet the definition of "drunk" as required for a conviction for drunken driving. Sever also stated that while he was at Pressley's home, defendant consumed "one bottle of beer and an undetermined amount of blended whiskey." During the trip to the State Police Barracks Hale was upset, crying and at times rather incoherent, but according to Sever, "there was no doubt that defendant knew that he killed his wife."

After surrendering himself to the State Police, defendant was interviewed in David's presence by the chief of the Burlington County detectives. The chief testified that Hale readily admitted his guilt. The chief suggested that he call defendant's pastor who was also the chief's pastor. Defendant told the chief that he would like to talk to the pastor. When they were unable to reach the pastor by telephone, David was sent to get him. Meanwhile defendant was taken to Burlington City Police Headquarters in Burlington. Sandwiches and

coffee were brought for defendant, but he declined them. The pastor arrived at the headquarters and talked with defendant for a short period of time.

Thereafter, defendant was taken to the county detective office where a formal statement was taken in the presence of two other detectives and a female stenographer. Before the interrogation was started defendant was formally warned by the chief of his constitutional right to remain silent. The statement was begun at 5:45 A.M. and completed at 6:20 A.M. The statement was later transcribed and defendant signed it at 2:00 P.M.

After giving the statement, defendant was taken back to the Burlington City Police Headquarters. At 5:00 P.M. a preliminary hearing was held in the Burlington City Magistrate's Court. Defendant was held over for action of the grand jury which ...

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