United States v. Brown – (Deliberate & Premeditated)
General Overview of Facts of Case:
- Defendant Robert Lee Brown, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary at Terra Haute, Indiana, was charged with first-degree murder for “willfully, deliberately, and premeditatively” attacking and killing another inmate.
- According to the evidence, defendant stabbed the victim in the corridor of the penitentiary.
- The jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder.
- On appeal, defendant asserted that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation, and asked the Court to reduce his conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
Timeline of Facts of Event:
- On May 9, 1974 Brown stabbed Atkinson several times.
- They were both in D-Unit and were both residents of D-Unit.
- Brown’s cell was searched by Officer Smith and a small radio piece was found.
- Brown asked Smith who the snitch was and said he would send a snitch to him in a “pine box”.
- The supply room and the mop closet were about 20-25 feet apart.
- Atkinson spilled water later and Officer Zink asked Atkinson to go to the mop closet to cleanup the water so nobody would slip. Atkinson went to the mop closet.
- Another inmate asked Officer Zink to go to the Supply Room for him for some supplies.
- As Zink was walking to the supply room Brown passed him headed the direction of the mop closet.
- Zink heard screaming and buckets being kicked while he was in the supply closet.
- Zink ran to the mop closet and saw Brown stabbing Atkinson with a long pointed object.
- Zink yelled at Brown to stop.
- Brown stabbed for another minute and a half.
- Atkinson crawled out of the doorway of the mop closet, but only as far as his upper torso sticking out.
- Brown followed Atkinson to the doorway, stood over him and then stabbed him 4 to 6 more times.
- There were several inmates who recounted similar details from the above details.
Defendant-Appellant Robert Lee Brown’s Version of the incident:
- Brown said he went to make coffee with hot water from the common area fountain and since the hot water fountain was being used he went to the mop closet.
- Brown said Atkinson accused him of having broken into his locker and said he would “fix where I wouldn’t break in nobody else’s locker”.
- Brown said Atkinson raised the weapon and then the two wrestled.
- Brown testified that the two of them were in the mop closet a few times.
- The weapon was said to be a screwdriver.
- Defense Witness Mumford, an Inmate, said he saw Atkinson come from his cell with a shank and then a hand from the mop closet grab Atkinson’s hand.
Interesting 2 Paragraphs from the Opinion:
As to the weapon, Officer Zink testified that as Atkinson proceeded ahead of him on the way to the mop room, Zink did not see anything in Atkinson’s hand. At the time Atkinson was clad only in undershorts and blue athletic shorts. Brown admitted that at the time he was still angry about his cell being searched. On cross-examination he admitted most of the stab wounds were in Atkinson’s back. There is no evidence in the record that Brown sustained any injury. After the stabbing Brown started walking toward the rear of D-Unit and threw the weapon into cell D-31. Zink immediately locked the cell and asked Brown to return to the front of the unit, which he did. The weapon, variously described as a long, pointed weapon, “shank,” screwdriver and knife, was recovered from the cell and admitted in evidence.
Atkinson was pronounced dead shortly after 8 P.M. in the prison hospital. He had suffered 21 stab wounds on his face, neck, sides, chest and back. Brown was questioned in the captain’s office and later taken to another cell. On the way another inmate asked Brown what had happened and a guard testified that Brown said, “I just got rid of a punk who’s been bothering me”. Another guard heard a similar statement.
a 3rd 4th and 5th:
A jury has the responsibility of weighing the evidence. The jurors heard and saw Brown testify. They heard and saw the other witnesses testify. In evaluating credibility and determining the facts, it was for the jury to consider any variations in the testimony and any inconsistencies. As we pointed out in United States v. Esquer, supra, at 433, the reviewing court cannot substitute its judgment as to the credibility of witnesses for that of the jury.
The jury was given an instruction on murder in the first and second degree and found Brown guilty of first degree murder and not of the lesser crime. We believe there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of murder in the first degree.
It is well settled that the question of whether or not reflection and consideration amounting to deliberation required for first degree murder actually occurred must be determined by the jury, properly instructed by the court, from the facts and circumstances of the case.
- Defendant-Appellant Robert Lee Brown appealed his murder one conviction.
- Defendant-Appellant was an Indiana State Prisoner at Terre Haute.
- Defendant-Appellant was convicted of the murder of another inmate while incarcerated.
- Defendant-Appellant was appealing based on insufficient evidence of premeditation.
- Defendant-Appellant was asking the Court to reduce his conviction from First Degree Murder to Second Degree Murder and also to remand the case to the trial court for sentencing.
- Trial Court: Indiana State Court.
- Appellate Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Issue: Sole issue raised on appeal “is whether there was sufficient evidence of premeditation to support the jury’s verdict of guilty of first degree murder under 18 United States Code Section 1111”.
Conclusion: The Court held that sufficient evidence of premeditation existed to support the jury’s verdict of guilty of first degree murder under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1111. The facts and circumstances surrounding defendant’s resumption of the stabbing of the victim in the corridor established premeditation and justified the jury’s finding that the killing was willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated, with malice aforethought. According to the Court, no basis existed for reducing the conviction to one of lesser degree or for setting aside a verdict which so manifestly might have been reached by a jury upon the evidence before it.
The motions were again overruled. The trial court properly submitted the charge of first degree murder to the jury.
There was sufficient evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict of murder in the first degree, and we find no basis here for reducing the conviction to one of lesser degree or for setting aside a verdict which so manifestly might have been reached by a jury upon the evidence before it. Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment for first degree murder. If his sentence were reduced to second degree murder, he could receive the same sentence for second degree murder as he did for murder in the first degree. 18 U.S.C. § 1111.
We see no reason to disturb the judgment of conviction of the District Court and it is affirmed.
Rule: There must be deliberation and premeditation for murder, but the amount of time is not particular.
Rule Proof: Although it is clear that deliberation and premeditation involve a prior design to commit murder, the authorities are in accord that no particular period of time is necessary for such deliberation and premeditation.3 Although there is some conflict among the courts as to whether there need be any appreciable time for reflection and consideration between the formation and execution of the design, the courts which have held that some appreciable time must elapse have not attempted to measure the time period. For example, in Bostic v. United States, 68 App.D.C. 167, 94 F.2d 636 (1937), cert. denied 303 U.S. 635, 58 S. Ct. 523, 82 L. Ed. 1095 (1938), the court held that some appreciable time must elapse but that the period of time “does not require the lapse of days or hours, or even minutes”.
Application to these Facts: The Jury weighed the testimony as a Credible Jury and it is their deliberation with proper jury instructions that matters and not the credibility per se of the witnesses who were inmates except for the Prison Guard. The issue that causes the court to affirm the lower court judgment is the existence of reasonable amount of time for there to have been deliberation and premeditation. However short, the breaks of time between primary, secondary, tertiary incidents etc. were sufficient for the formation of deliberation and premeditation.
Counterargument: Appellant argues that there is no affirmative proof of premeditation on his part. Despite the difficulties in adducing proof as to a state of mind, premeditation and deliberation are susceptible of proof. Of course the mental processes of Brown are wholly subjective and cannot be proved directly, but premeditation may be established by adducing evidence from the facts and circumstances surrounding the killing. Although Brown testified he acted in self-defense, the jury did not believe him.
Conclusion: The evidence shows that Zink saw Brown stabbing Atkinson in the rear of the mop room estimated to be 10 to 15 feet in length. Zink yelled at Brown to stop the stabbing. He didn’t stop. Zink testified the stabbing went on for about a minute or a minute and a half after he told him to stop. Atkinson then crawled from the mop room part-way into the corridor, a distance of several feet, and was in no position to defend himself. Yet Brown followed him, stepped over him, stopped and then continued to stab him repeatedly.4 This was a vicious and prolonged attack. Brown stabbed Atkinson not once but 21 times. The stabbings in the corridor were deliberate and not committed on impulse. Atkinson was by then in a helpless position and offering no resistance, and certainly at this point Brown was not acting in fear of injury or in self-defense. The jury was entitled to make reasonable deductions and inferences from the proven facts. It could have concluded from the evidence that there was ample opportunity for premeditation, before and during the repeated stabbings in the mop room, and certainly during the time which elapsed between the stabbings in the mop room and the time it took for Atkinson to crawl out of the mop room into the corridor, where the stabbings were resumed. The jury was not compelled to draw such a conclusion, but it properly could so do. We believe the facts and circumstances surrounding the resumption of the stabbings in the corridor are the strongest in establishing premeditation and, standing alone, justified the jury’s finding that the killing was willful, deliberate, malicious and premeditated, with malice aforethought.
Application and Influence of Counterargument/Conclusion in Law System: The defense refers to the time between the stopping of the stabbings in the mop room and their resumption in the corridor as only a “pause,” and contends it was not proved that the intervening time constituted a legitimate opportunity for premeditation. We have found the evidence showed an interval for reflection and that this killing was not a mere persistence of an initial impulse or passion.