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United States v. Stone

decided: November 29, 1972.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ERVIN W. STONE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Swygert, Chief Judge, and Cummings and Sprecher, Circuit Judges. Swygert, Chief Judge (dissenting).

Author: Sprecher

SPRECHER, Circuit Judge.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of the robbery of the State Bank of Latham, Illinois.*fn1 Numerous alleged errors are raised in this appeal, each of which is considered below. We affirm the judgment of conviction.

The bank robbery occurred at approximately 3:00 P.M. on March 11, 1970. Witnesses to the robbery testified that the robber wore a gray cloth mask, gloves and a hat, and carried a gun having a barrel approximately six inches long. The robber was identified as being a man with a fair complexion, dark reddish hair and over six feet tall. The defendant was arrested and charged with the crime eleven months later.

At the trial, the four bank employees who had witnessed the crime testified as to the events of the day in question. None of them was able to make an unequivocal positive identification of the defendant, but two employees thought the defendant was the man who had robbed the bank.

The principal evidence indicating that Stone was the bank robber came from the testimony of two acquaintances of his and from testimony which showed that he was suddenly in possession of large sums of money. Linda Hudspeth, who had known Stone since September, 1969, testified that the defendant told her he was planning to rob the Latham bank and asked her to purchase a gray scarf for him, which she did in February, 1970. She also testified that Stone called her late in the afternoon of March 11, 1970, and told her he had just robbed the bank. The following day Stone reportedly gave her three hundred dollars and told her that he had buried the gun and clothing used in the robbery. Somewhat later an altercation apparently developed between the witness and the defendant. Mrs. Hudspeth stated that she threatened to report the crime and that Stone told her if she did he would kill her. Stone showed her a small pistol which he carried.

A second acquaintance of the defendant, Andrew Skelton, testified that he had gone to school with Stone and been a friend of his for twelve years. According to his testimony, Stone called him on February 13, 1970, and told him he was going to rob a small bank because he needed money for support payments. Skelton testified that he next saw Stone on May 5, 1970, when the defendant drove Skelton to a bank in Greenview, Illinois, where he had previously rented a safe deposit box, and showed the witness a green tackle box containing white envelopes filled with money. The witness stated that he told Stone he did not wish to become involved but that Stone threatened him with a. 22 caliber pistol. Subsequently, Skelton traveled with Stone to various cities in Iowa and Illinois where the defendant converted the allegedly stolen money into cashier's checks. Testimony from other persons substantiated much of Skelton's testimony. A green tackle box taken from the defendant's home when he was arrested was identified by Skelton as the box containing the money.

The government produced numerous witnesses who testified to substantial deposits made to the defendant's bank account during May of 1970, to expenditures of $4,250 for a truck and $725 for a boat in May, 1970, and to the fact that Stone's name appeared on money orders and drafts purchased at various banks. Thus, even without the positive identification of the defendant by the bank employees, the evidence was substantial that Stone was the bank robber.

I.

Stone's first complaint relates to the introduction of a. 22 caliber pistol into evidence which was apparently unconnected with the robbery of the Latham State Bank. The revolver was taken from underneath the mattress in the defendant's home at the time of his arrest. Although a gun was used by the bank robber, testimony indicated that it was unlikely that the gun introduced at trial could have been the firearm used in the robbery.*fn2 Government counsel, in his closing argument, conceded as much, stating: "Now, I'm not suggesting, ladies and gentlemen, that this was the gun in which the bank robbery was completed. In fact the barrel isn't long enough . . ." In the remainder of his argument, the prosecutor indicated that the purpose for which the gun had been introduced was to corroborate the testimony of Mrs. Hudspeth and Skelton as well as to promote an image of the defendant as a dangerous and generally disreputable person.*fn3

Stone argues that the introduction of this gun for these purposes was improper and prejudicial to his case. In Moore v. Illinois, 408 U.S. 786, 798-800, 92 S. Ct. 2562, 33 L. Ed. 2d 706 (1972), the Supreme Court held that the introduction of a 16-gauge shotgun into evidence in a murder trial in which the victim had been killed by a 12-gauge shotgun was permissible under the due process clause. The prosecutor in that case stated that his purpose in introducing the weapon was to show that the defendant and his companion were "the type of people that use shotguns." Under this ruling, there can be no question but that the introduction of the gun in this case did not violate the defendant's right to a fair trial under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Defendant nevertheless argues that under federal evidentiary standards, the introduction of the gun was an abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge. The trial judge has wide discretion in the admission or exclusion of collateral evidence. There can be no doubt that the gun had probative value in substantiating the statements of Mrs. Hudspeth and Skelton. Defendant argues that evidence of threats against these witnesses was inadmissible, and that even if admissible, there was no showing that the gun introduced into evidence was the weapon with which they were threatened. These arguments ignore the circumstances present in this case. Mrs. Hudspeth and Skelton were both subjected to rigorous cross-examination designed to discredit their testimony and to show that Mrs. Hudspeth was a disappointed girl friend who in fact threatened to kill the defendant. Both witnesses were cross-examined as to why they had waited so long to tell authorities their stories. Stone did not object at the trial to testimony as to threats. Once the threats were in evidence, and the credibility of the witnesses was attacked, the. 22 caliber pistol became highly relevant as tending to prove that the defendant could in fact have carried out the alleged threats.*fn4 We cannot say that any possible prejudicial effect outweighed the probative value of the pistol under these circumstances.

II.

Defendant also alleges error in admission into evidence of the fruits of a search of his home made pursuant to his wife's consent shortly after Stone's arrest. Stone insists, first, that his wife could not legally give consent to such a search unless an "agency" relationship is established; and second, that even if a spouse's consent were otherwise sufficient, the consent in this case was the product of coercion. The first part of this argument is without merit. In United States v. Sferas, 210 F.2d 69, 74 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 347 U.S. 935, 74 S. Ct. 630, 98 L. Ed. 1086 (1954), this court held that "where two persons have equal rights to the use or occupation of premises, either may give consent to a search, and the evidence thus disclosed can be used against either." This holding is applicable here and the wife's consent, unless given under coercion, is ...


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