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State v. Green

Decided: December 23, 1965.


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


[46 NJ Page 193] The appellant, Billy Green, and five codefendants, Clayton Anderson, Carlton Blanchard, Percy Edmonds, Clyde Hightower and Jesse Williams, were jointly tried in the Essex County Court for first degree murder. The jury acquitted three, Edmonds, Hightower and Williams. The jury found Anderson guilty without a recommendation of life imprisonment, and he was sentenced to death. Green and

Blanchard were found guilty with a recommendation of life imprisonment. In a prior appeal arising from the same trial, Anderson's conviction was reversed on the ground that the introduction into evidence of the out-of-court statements of his codefendants was prejudicial. State v. Blanchard, 44 N.J. 195 (1965). Green, the sole appellant here, appeals to this court as of right pursuant to R.R. 1:2-1(c).

On the night of May 9, 1963, the body of James Dodd was found in the hallway at 405 Hunterdon Street, Newark. The autopsy showed that he had been stabbed to death. All six defendants were indicted for this crime on July 23, 1963, but Green was not arrested until March 5, 1964. The State's theory at the trial was that Dodd had been killed while all six defendants were acting in concert to rob him.


Shortly after each defendant was arrested he signed a detailed typewritten statement, in question and answer form, describing the events leading up to and after the stabbing of Dodd. At the trial the State introduced these statements into evidence, and police officers also testified to oral admissions which several of the defendants had made at the time of their arrests and interrogations. When the State offered into evidence the statements of Green's codefendants, his counsel objected to their admission because the statements implicated his client.*fn1 The trial court overruled the objection. It held that the statement of each declarant was admissible against him alone and that a proper instruction to the jury to that effect was all that was required. Each statement was subsequently read to the jury by the prosecutor and the trial

court cautioned the jury that the statement was evidentiary only against the defendant who made the statement. In its charge the trial court again cautioned the jury as to the restricted use of each defendant's statement. The written statements were submitted to the jury as exhibits for their consideration during deliberation.

It is beyond doubt that the out-of-court statements of the other defendants were inadmissible against Green. State v. Young, 46 N.J. 152 (1965); State v. Blanchard, supra. In Blanchard, Anderson's conviction was reversed because we found the statements of his codefendants so honeycombed with references to his participation in the crime that it would have been psychologically impossible for the jury to follow the judge's instructions and ignore these statements when determining Anderson's guilt and punishment. Green claims, and we agree, that the reasoning which compelled our ruling on that appeal applies equally here.

Since all six defendants admitted being together in Anderson's automobile on the night of the crime, the acquittal of Edmonds, Hightower and Williams clearly establishes that the jury did not consider that fact to be sufficient evidence of guilt. Green, like the three acquitted defendants, claims that he did not knowingly participate in the crime, and he maintained this position both in his written statement to the police and in his testimony at the trial. However, the statements of Green's five codefendants all agree that, far from being an innocent bystander, Green knowingly joined Anderson in the robbery and killing of Dodd.

Blanchard's statement contained the following description of the crime:

"While we [the six defendants] was riding around we drove up West Kinney St. to 16th. Ave. and went up 16th. Ave. and while we was riding we saw a man wearing a white apron dragging a man [Dodd] across the street on 16th. Ave. and put the man on park bench, and the man that put him on the bench walked back across the street and went into a tavern or a restaurant. Calvin [Anderson] stopped the car on 16th. Ave. right by ...

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