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The People v. Stanton





WRIT OF ERROR to the Circuit Court of Clinton County; the Hon. WARD P. HOLT, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied May 19, 1959.

Defendants, Robert L. Stanton and William C. Corbin, were convicted by a jury in the circuit court of Clinton County of the crime of burglary. Their post-trial motions were denied and each defendant was sentenced to serve a term of not less than one nor more than ten years in the penitentiary. They prosecuted a writ of error to review the judgment of the circuit court and contend that there was prejudicial error in the admission and exclusion of certain evidence and that the evidence was not sufficient to support a conviction of the crime charged. These assignments of error necessitate a detailed review of the evidence.

The V.F.W. Club, a corporation, owned and occupied a clubhouse located on the north side of U.S. Highway 50, about three-quarters of a mile east of Trenton in Clinton County which was a one-story building of concrete block and brick construction, with doors on the north, south and east sides. The south or front door was about 50 feet north of the highway. The east door, referred to as the warehouse door, was situated about 15 feet south of the northeast corner of the building. The rear door was located near the center of the north side of the clubhouse. It was equipped with a snap lock which could be activated by inserting and turning a proper key in the door knob. Windows were located in the north, west, and east walls of the building. A baseball field equipped with large flood lights, was adjacent to and east of the clubhouse. These lights illuminated the baseball grounds and the east side of the building. A public roadway extended from route 50 to a cemetery located north of the club.

Charles Satterfield, club manager, closed the club about midnight on June 29, 1957. He took the money out of the cash register, except for 50 or 60 cents in change which consisted of a quarter, dime, nickel and some pennies, and locked and barred the inside of the east or warehouse door, which had beer and soda cases stacked against it to a height of four to six feet. He locked and barred the front door from the inside and left the club by the rear door, which he locked with the regular lock. In addition, he placed a bar across the outside of the door, fitted it into the door casing and secured it with a padlock.

These unusual precautions were taken since the club had been burglarized on several prior occasions. In addition, the members had organized a protective committee and set up a plan whereby they could be alerted in event of further trouble. At about 2:30 or 3:00 A.M. on the 30th, Williard Therion, a police officer of the city of Trenton, received a telephone call advising him that a suspicious car had been seen on the road leading to the cemetery, north of the club. He called Herbert W. Faitz, a State police officer residing in Trenton, and several other persons. As a result, a number of members drove to and surrounded the club.

Therion, apparently the first to arrive, drove to a light pole located at the rear of the building and pulled a switch which turned on the flood lights. He then ran toward the building and, when in a position from which he could see the illuminated east side of the clubhouse, he saw two men come out of its east door. They were running and continued to run despite the fact that he ordered them to halt. One of the men, later identified as the defendant Corbin, ran south to route 50 and then into a cornfield.

Officer Faitz, who had been stationed at the south side of the building, gave chase, fired his pistol in the air, and commanded him to halt. After a second shot had been fired, Corbin dropped to the ground, and Faitz ordered him to stand with raised hands. Corbin, who was then wearing gloves, surrendered and was placed in the custody of Dan Bryson, a deputy sheriff.

Meanwhile, the man later identified as the defendant Stanton, had run in a southeasterly direction. William Alexander, one of the club members, while riding in a car in an easterly direction on Highway 50, saw the lights come one and then saw both men come out of the east door of the clubhouse. As Stanton ran away, both Alexander and Therion pursued him into a cornfield east of the building where he dropped to the ground. After warning shots were fired, Stanton got up with his hands raised and was taken into custody by officer Faitz and Sylvester Spihlman, a deputy sheriff. As they were taking Stanton to the club, deputy Spihlman accidentally discharged the gun which he had been carrying at his side. The bullet passed through the fleshy portion of both of Stanton's legs and Faitz immediately took him to the hospital at Breese.

Satterfield arrived in time to see the two men run from the clubhouse. On examining the building, he found that the bar which he had placed on the back door the night before had been torn off and the padlock broken; and that the inside bar had been removed from the warehouse door which was open, and the merchandise, which had been stacked in front of it, had been moved. He observed that the cash register was open, the coins he had left in it the night before were missing, and he found a sledge hammer and pry bar inside the building near the front door.

After apprehension, Corbin was taken into the clubhouse by deputy Bryson who searched him and found fifty-four cents in his pocket. Bryson asked him where he got the money and Corbin replied, "Out of the register." Eugene Abernathy, another State police officer, and sheriff Henry Klutho arrived at the club at about 3:30 A.M., after Stanton had been taken to the hospital, and found Corbin in the custody of Bryson. Abernathy asked Corbin what he was doing in the clubhouse and Corbin replied that he needed the money.

Klutho examined the rear door. He testified that it had been pried open; that he found several pry marks on the door and casing; and that the marks could have been made by a tool of the type of the pry bar found inside the building. He also testified that it would have been possible to spring the latch so that the door would open and thereafter latch normally because it was a snap or catch lock. Officer Therion was of the same opinion.

Therion made a further investigation after daylight. The ground was damp and the corn which was about a foot high had recently been cultivated. He easily traced the footprints in the cornfield to the point where Stanton dropped before he was apprehended. Nearby he found a pair of gloves, a .38 caliber pistol, which was cocked, and various tools including a punch. Later the same day Therion followed Corbin's tracks into the cornfield and found a .45 caliber automatic pistol fully loaded and cocked near the place where Corbin dropped to the ground. All of these items were turned over to sheriff Klutho and were introduced in evidence at the trial. Klutho testified that Corbin admitted ownership of the .45 caliber pistol.

Therion also investigated an automobile which was parked and unattended on the cemetery road. It bore Missouri license plates, but a set of Illinois plates was found in its trunk. Inquiry revealed that the car was registered in Stanton's name, and that the Illinois plates rightfully ...

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