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Opinion of the Court.
244 U. S.
life imprisonment. Two of the judges dissented, one thinking that the "accused,” not designating him (presumably Valdez), was entitled “to an acquittal under the facts presented”; the other being of opinion that the prosecution had not proved the guilt of the appellants of the crime of which they were convicted."
The case is here upon a writ of error sued out by Valdez and the questions presented are, to quote counsel: (1) Whether the absence of the accused during a part of the proceedings in the trial constitutes an error requiring reversal, and (2) whether there was any evidence adequate to warrant the conviction.
The second question may be disposed of first. A negative answer is urged upon a consideration of the credibility of the witnesses, the relative probative strength of their testimonies, their mental and moral defects, the various statements of Gatmaitan, being a witness for the prosecution, first testifying to the guilt of Valdez and by subsequent statement retracting the accusation, and later retracting the retraction, and an asserted absence of motive for the crime.
The elements of these contentions were passed upon by the lower courts and the guilt of Valdez and Gatmaitan determined. It ordinarily would be enough to say that there was justification for the determination; but lest it may
be supposed that the guilt of Valdez depended alone upon the testimony of Gatmaitan, he having been an active accomplice in the homicide, some comment becomes necessary and at least a characterization of the evidence.
Gatmaitan's testimony was, of course, an important factor, but it had substantial corroboration. He was shown, it is true, to be a low type of man. One who becomes for hire as he did the criminal executor of another's malice is usually such. No other would accept the shameful service. But it is not reserved for this case to make a
244 U. S.
Opinion of the Court.
novel contribution to the criminal experience of the country or to demonstrate that there are such hirers and hirelings, and when the hireling turns state's evidence, as he sometimes does, or his weakness, awed by the penalties of his crime, breaks down and confesses, as it sometimes does, or he changes or qualifies or retracts, as he sometimes does, as hope or interest or fear sways him, his testimony or confession is not to be summarily discarded but to be judged of by confirming or opposing circumstances as well as by his character and the influences that may invest him. And it was such judgment the two lower courts exercised; it is such judgment in our turn that we are required to exercise. This record, indeed, shows that the character and characteristics of Gatmaitan, his mental and social inferiority to Valdez, made him facile to Valdez' solicitation and a purchasable agent for Valdez' purpose. And Valdez was shown, independently of Gatmaitan's testimony, to have had a purpose a fixed enmity to Yuson, engendered in a controversy over certain water rights. In gratification of it he carefully planned the crime, set its time and place, procured its weapon, gave the weapon to Gatmaitan, and hired a scout to observe the movements of Yuson and report his approach. The service was exactly performed, and upon his approach occurred the tragedy.
Yuson was shot in the back and instantly killed as he was entering his home, and the crowning horror of it was that it was done in the hearing and almost in the presence of his wife, even as she was speaking to him and moving to meet him.
Such is the outline of the crime. And crime it was. There is no dispute about that or the manner of execution. Valdez as a witness in his own behalf denied participation in it or precedent knowledge and attempted to prove an alibi. His denial was not believed, his alibi decided not to have been established. It cannot be held, therefore,
that his conviction was not sustained by the evidence and the sentence imposed upon him not justified, even though its doom be death.
Upon the other question the record shows this: Gatmaitan was a witness for the prosecution. He related that he was employed by Valdez to kill Yuson for 900 pesos, given him, Gatmaitan, for that purpose, and that he shot Yuson as Yuson was approaching his (Yuson's) houseValdez assisting him, Gatmaitan. Indeed, Gatmaitan testified that Valdez ordered him to shoot but that the gun would not go off, and Valdez showed him how to shoot—"and right at that moment the gun went off.” Gatmaitan further testified that he and Valdez located themselves "in a fence near the staircase" of Yuson's house, and from that location fired the shot.
There was other testimony, as we have indicated, and distances of objects from one another were testified to.
At the close of the testimony the prosecuting attorney asked the court to visit “the place of the occurrence in order to make there an inspection so that the court may judge of the distances.” One of the counsel for the defense assented, saying, "Yes; we do not object, so that the court may see.” Another counsel for the defense called for the “motive” of the prosecution in asking "for the ocular inspection.” It was replied that its object was to enable the court to obtain a correct idea "of all the distances in connection with the assassination of the deceased, as well also of the places where the witnesses for the prosecution found themselves and where they talked together.” And further, “We want that done in order that everything may be clear.” To which counsel for the defense replied that he had on occasions been present at ocular inspections and that testimony was taken which produced confusion, and, further: "What I wish, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, is that an inspection be made there, but that no testimony be taken
because it produces great confusion when one tries to examine witnesses at the place of the occurrence.”
The prosecuting attorney, however, thought it advisable not to dispense with such testimony or take from the court its discretion, so that when the court arrives there it may ask of unknown persons where the deceased fell, where the wad was found, where Gatmaitan was, and where Mateo Arcilla was.” All of which opposing counsel thought had been already proved.
The court expressed its willingness to make the inspection, as the result would be evidence for both parties after the defense had produced its rebuttal testimony, and upon the defense announcing that it had no rebuttal testimony, the case was closed.
The court made the inspection; Valdez was not present, but his counsel were. There is an opposition of affidavits submitted upon a motion for new trial. Those submitted by defendant (three of which were in almost exactly the same words) averred that the persons making them were present at the inspection by the court and saw the judge examine the various points at the scene of the crime and the point where Gatmaitan stood when he fired the murderous shot. That they also saw the widow of the deceased show the manner in which her husband fell-she illustrating-and that she also told the judge “certain facts which happened at the time of the murder.” That they also saw Captain Crockett, of the constabulary, point out to the judge the places in the stairway and in the house where the shot had penetrated, and saw him walk with the judge and point out to him certain streets and houses connected with the case, and also saw the judge and such officer and the attorneys in the case and other persons examine other places.
One of the counsel for the defense also filed an affidavit. It averred that the judge went to the scene of the killing, accompanied by the attorneys for both sides, but that
neither Valdez nor his attorneys were consulted by the judge as to whether or not Valdez desired to accompany the court. That the widow of the deceased “explained to the judge many occurrences which she claimed had taken place on the night of the killing,
what she claimed to have said to the deceased just prior to the killing, and illustrated how and where the deceased had fallen, and discussed many other matters in connection with the case, during all of which time she was crying and wringing her hands in grief.” That Captain Crockett was charged by at least one witness as being an official “of a body which had forced and intimidated" the witness to give false testimony against Valdez. That Captain Crockett pointed out bullet marks to the judge, pointed out where the shot was fired as indicated by Gatmaitan, and made other statements to the judge that Gatmaitan had made to him “as to other circumstances of the case.' That Captain Crockett walked through the streets with the judge and pointed out to him various objects which had been referred to during the trial, part of the time being alone with the judge. That Captain Crockett discussed distances between objects, giving his opinion of the same, and particularly the distance from the house of the deceased to the house of Valdez, and told the judge in that connection that he had measured such distance with a “speedometer' on his motorcycle.” That during the inspection the affiant made objections as attorney for Valdez as to the conduct of the widow and Crockett but they were allowed to continue their conversations with the judge.
These affidavits were distinctly and circumstantially contradicted by affidavits accompanied by photographs of the positions of the judge and the persons involved. One of the affidavits was by Captain Crockett and two of them were by the attorneys who prosecuted the case, both of whom were present at the inspection and in such relation to it as to know what occurred.