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Pierce v. State

Decided: December 14, 1961.

PIERCE
v.
STATE



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Garrett County; Fraley, J.

Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Prescott, Horney and Marbury, JJ. Prescott, J., delivered the opinion of the Court. Horney, J., concurs.

Prescott

Claiming that he was erroneously convicted of manslaughter by automobile, by a judge in the Circuit Court for Garrett

County, sitting without a jury, on the uncorroborated oral and written statements he had made before he was charged with the offense, the defendant, Gene Russell Pierce, seeks a reversal of the conviction.

The accident out of which the prosecution arose occurred at about two o'clock in the early morning of September 18, 1960, at the "T" intersection of Route 495 with Route 135 in Garrett County, when the operator of the automobile, in which only the defendant and the deceased, one Alvin Luther Roderick, were riding, failed to heed the stop sign at the intersection before making a right angle turn from Route 495 on to Route 135. As a result of not stopping, the automobile continued across the intersection, through a steel guard rail, down a ravine and struck a tree approximately eighty feet from the side of the highway. When it finally came to rest, the automobile was headed in the direction from which it had come and was lying on its left side with the top against the tree. The deceased was killed on impact, and the defendant hospitalized.

Both occupants of the automobile, which belonged to the appellant's mother, had been drinking. The autopsy on the deceased disclosed that his blood contained .06% ethyl alcohol. The defendant admitted that, during a period of two and one-half hours prior to the accident, he had consumed six to eight bottles of beer. After the accident, the state trooper found a half-pint of gin in the vehicle. At the trial, another motorist on Route 495 estimated that the automobile involved in the accident had passed him at a distance of "a couple of thousand feet" from the intersection going between 90 and 100 m.p.h., and also observed -- because he had seen no brake lights -- that the speeding automobile did not slow down as it approached the intersection. Another motorist, who arrived at the scene after the accident had happened, assisted the defendant in extricating himself from the wrecked automobile through a hole. And a nearby resident, who had also gone to the scene of the accident before the automobile had been righted, observed a leg of the deceased "sticking out of the door there." After the wrecked automobile had been put "on its wheels," a photograph taken by a state trooper (Corporal Robert D. Henline)

substantiated the fact that the left leg of the deceased was protruding through the open window in the door on the right or passenger side of the automobile.

About two hours after the accident, the defendant orally admitted to his physician (Dr. James H. Feaster) that he was driving the automobile at the time of the accident. And, in the afternoon of the same day, Corporal Henline and another state trooper took a written statement from the defendant at the hospital after first consulting the attending physician. In this signed statement the defendant again admitted that he was operating the automobile at the time of the accident. Both statements were admitted into evidence without objection. However, the written statement was not admitted until after the State had shown that the defendant had been advised of his constitutional rights and that the statement had been given willingly, freely and voluntarily and without any threats or promises of reward.

The exact question posed by the defendant is: "Can a conviction of manslaughter by automobile be sustained on the uncorroborated extra judicial confession and oral admission of the defendant?" Stated in slightly different terms, he concludes his brief by saying: "Because the State failed to prove a crime was committed independent of the written and oral statements of the defendant, the appellant respectfully asks that the verdict and judgment of the trial court thereon be reversed."

It may be conceded that in this State an extra-judicial confession of guilt by a person accused of crime, uncorroborated by other evidence, is not sufficient to warrant his conviction. Weller v. State, 150 Md. 278; Markley v. State, 173 Md. 309; Jones v. State, 188 Md. 263. And it may also be conceded in the case at bar that it was incumbent upon the State to prove the corpus delicti, but the appellant claims "there was no independent evidence establishing the corpus delicti, either direct or circumstantial." The nub of his argument boils down simply to this: that the State could ...


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