R T was charged with three counts of robbery in the first degree and three counts of robbery in the third degree for his alleged participation in an event that occurred on October 9, 1977. Mr. T’s brother George was also charged for his alleged role in the crime.
Early in the morning on the day in question, Nathaniel S, Magdelena H and Mildred L were at a Manhattan bar known as “Location 40”, located at 1624 Amsterdam Avenue. H owned the bar and her sister M worked as a barmaid. S was a patron of the establishment. Shortly before 2:00 in the morning, Harris went outside to take out the garbage. While outside, she noticed two men standing a telephone booth across the street. One man was wearing a green parka while the other wore an orange rain suit. At approximately 2:15 a.m., the man in the green parka, whom Harris recognized as a customer named R T, came into the bar carrying an open can or either beer or soda inside a paper bag. H informed Mr. T that he could not bring the drink in with him. Mr. T then said he wanted to use the phone and proceeded to the rear of the bar. Apparently, he was not successful in completing the call and three witnesses stated that the coin he deposited was returned.
The outer door of the bar had an automatic lock and L had to press a buzzer located behind the bar to unlock the door so Mr. T could leave. As he was leaving, his brother George T entered the bar wearing an orange rain suit. The two men exchanged words and Robert T left, leaving the door slightly open.
George T then walked to the rear of the bar, pulled out a gun and announced a robbery. He ordered L to give him all the money in the cash register as well as a bottle of champagne. He also threatened to shoot S before forcing him to hand over his money.
According to Ms. H, George T then commanded her to open the office door,
threatening to kill her sister M if she did not cooperate. At trial, H testified that once inside the office, George bumped into a table, knocking it over onto a box of fluorescent light bulbs that was on the floor. H further stated that underneath the box was a stash of $1,800 in cash that became visible once the box was knocked over. George T took the money and left the office. L pressed the buzzer to unlock the front door and George left, telling the three victims not to look at him as he made his way out.
Immediately after George T left, H noticed two people walking away from the bar. She testified that she did not recognize the two individuals and that they could have been strangers. She went on to say that during the robbery, she glanced out the window several times and saw Robert Turner standing outside the bar, looking up and down the street.
The jury found both brothers not guilty of the robbery of H in the office but convicted them of robbery in the first degree for the theft of Singleton’s money and Lucas’s cash till. Robert T chose to appeal this decision.
The Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department was charged with determining whether the conviction should be upheld based on the evidence. The court unanimously agreed that the evidence used to convict Robert T of robbery was entirely circumstantial; this was never in dispute. However, the court disagreed as to whether the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to have warranted a conviction.
In the concurring opinion, the appellate court found that although the evidence was indeed purely circumstantial, it was sufficient to support a conviction in the jury’s eyes. Generally, a conviction based on circumstantial evidence can be sustained if the determination of guilt is consistent with the facts of the case. The appellate court found that the based on witness testimony and other evidence, the jury could reasonably conclude that Robert Turner had acted in concert with his brother in the robbery of the bar. Specifically, the court points to Ms. H’s testimony that she had observed the two men shortly before the robbery and could identify their clothing.
The court went on to say that the Robert T’s entrance into the bar on the premise of using the telephone could have been construed by the jury as a signal to his brother George. The two then met at the door, spoke briefly and Robert left, leaving the door slightly ajar. The testimony of Ms. Harris that she saw Robert T outside the bar during the robbery was not disputed and also points to the likelihood that the two brothers were working in concert. Based on the totality of the evidence, the appellate court supported the jury’s basis for conviction. Had the two brothers attempted to forcibly enter the building after the bar had closed, they may have faced charges of burglary, rather than the first degree robbery counts.
Robert T’s attorney argued on appeal for a reversal of the conviction, arguing insufficient evidence. The appellate court opted to reverse the conviction but based their decision on the trial judge’s instructions to the jury. The judge gave a detailed charge on the subject of reasonable doubt but failed to instruct the jury regarding circumstantial evidence. The appellate court held that this omission warranted a reversal of Robert’s conviction in the interest of justice. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the New York Supreme Court for retrial.
In a dissenting opinion, two of the appellate court justices held that the evidence used to convict Robert Turner was insufficient. As such, it was also their belief that Mr. T’s robbery conviction should be overturned and the indictment against him dismissed.
As evidenced by this case, the aid of an experienced criminal defense lawyer was necessary both during the trial and the appellate process. In seeking the aid of professional legal counsel, Mr. T was able to ensure that his rights would be protected and aggressively defended.
If you’ve been charged with robbery or another property crime such as grand larceny, you need to speak with an experienced New York Criminal Defense Attorney. The law offices of Stephen Bilkis and Associates provides expert legal representation to individuals who have been charged with crimes in New York City and surrounding areas. Call us today at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW or visit one of our New York area offices for your initial case consultation. We are dedicated to helping clients like you get the justice you deserve.