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To render both defendants in a joint trial guilty of a crime it is essential that they share in the intent which is the crime's basic element, and at least indirectly participate in the commission of the criminal act. Mere presence at the scene of the crime, however, is insufficient to render a defendant guilty.
John B. Lynn (Lynn) and Dollie Fair (Fair) were charged in a single indictment with the murder of Aaron R. Rudesel. After a joint trial the jury returned a verdict of second degree murder against Lynn and manslaughter against Fair. Defendants appealed their convictions. They challenged the evidence obtained in a warrantless search and the inadequacy of jury charges on the defense of another, the admissibility of certain statements, and the elements of shared intent and participation by both defendants.
Were the judgments of conviction proper?
The court held that the entry into Lynn’s apartment without prior oral demand for admission for purpose of arrest was lawful and that the police search conducted incidental to the arrest was equally lawful. Admission of codefendant's accusative statement without adequate and timely instructions to the jury was prejudicial and constituted error. The trial court's failure to give proper limiting instructions in its jury charge which, coupled with the charge as given as to the reliance which should be placed on codefendant's confession, contributed to an unjust result and constituted plain error. The trial judge's failure to charge sua sponte on the essential elements of defendant's right to intervene in defense of codefendant was plain error. Because the jury charge was fatally deficient in failing to instruct the jury as to the essential elements of intent and participation as to the degrees of crime of which each defendant could be found guilty, it had the capacity to mislead the jury and constituted plain error.