Moore v. United States - 150 U.S. 57 (1893)
U.S. Supreme Court
Moore v. United States, 150 U.S. 57 (1893)
Moore v. United States
Submitted October 20, 1893
Decided October 30, 1893
150 U.S. 57
When the tendency of testimony offered in a criminal case is to throw light upon a particular fact, or to explain the conduct of a particular person, there is a certain discretion on the part of the trial judge which a court of errors will not interfere with unless it manifestly appears that the testimony has no legitimate bearing upon the question at issue and is calculated to prejudice the accused in the minds of the jurors.
When a necessity arises for a resort to circumstantial evidence in a criminal trial, objections on the ground of relevancy are not favored, as the effect of circumstantial facts depends upon their connection with each other, and considerable latitude is allowed on the question of motive.
The fact that such testimony also has a tendency to show that the defendant was guilty of the alleged offence is not sufficient reason for its exclusion, if otherwise competent.
Acting on these principles, the court sustains tire ruling of the court below admitting testimony stated at length in the opinion, to show a motive for the alleged murder.
An exception to the denial of a motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was not supported by the evidence is untenable under repeated rulings of this Court.
This was a writ of error upon the conviction of the plaintiff in error for the murder of Charles Palmer on July 25, 1889, in Blue County, Indian Territory. Nelson Moore, defendant's brother, was indicted with him, but was not tried.
Upon the trial of the case, after the witnesses of the government had shown that Charles Palmer, the person alleged to have been murdered by the defendant, was found on the 25th day of May, 1889, the evidence further showing that he had been murdered by some person or persons, the United States attorney proposed to prove that one Camp had disappeared from the same neighborhood during the month of November, 1888, and had not been heard from since; that he was last seen in company with defendant and his brother, Nelson Moore; that Palmer had been trying to find Camp's body, and that defendant knew that he had been investigating Camp's disappearance, concerning which the testimony of the proposed witness, Kitty Young, formerly Mrs. Palmer, relative to said Camp was substantially as follows:
"Tom Moore, Nelse Moore, and Mr. Camp kept batch and lived together about 1/4 of a mile from my husband, Charles Palmer. About 9 o'clock at night during the month of November, 1888, Nelse Moore and Mr. Camp was at our house to borrow a horse from my husband to drive the next day to a wagon, stating they were going to Caddo. They did not get the horse. Mr. Palmer and myself promised Mr. Camp we would go down to the house and milk his cows while he was gone. Soon after they left on foot that night, I heard a gun in the direction of their house. About 1 o'clock A.M., I saw Mr. Camp's wagon and horses pass our house, coming from the direction of where they lived. Immediately after breakfast, Mr. Palmer and myself went down to the Moores' house to milk the cows. There was no one there. We saw blood in the house, and everything torn up around in the house. We saw a fresh horse wagon tracks which led down into the bottom. We followed it some distance, and noticed where it returned by a different road, and came into the road which passes our house. About five days after this, Nelse Moore returned alone with the team and wagon that belonged to Camp. He was wearing Camp's boots. The defendant and Nelse claimed Camp's clothes, horses, watch, wagon, cows, and all the property which Camp had. I have never seen or heard of Camp since the night referred to. "
"Mr. Palmer was down in the woods hog hunting on Thursday before he was killed. When he returned that evening, Tom Moore asked him where he had been. Mr. Palmer stated that he had been in the bottom hog hunting. Tom Moore said, 'Yes, I know the kind of hogs you were looking for.'"
"Tom and Nelse Moore owned no stock or property. Tom had no money. Mr. Palmer had been furnishing him provisions. Tom had been hired to Mr. Palmer; was familiar with the premises. Had been clearing land for Mr. Palmer on the place we lived on. The defendants claimed to have bought all Camp's property."
The court admitted this testimony to show not that Camp had been killed by defendant, but as a motive for his alleged murder of Palmer. To this the defendant excepted upon the ground that the testimony had a direct tendency to prejudice the minds of the jurors.
The only other error alleged was to the refusal of the court to grant a new trial upon the ground that the verdict "was not supported by that amount and character of evidence that is required by law."