All courtroom theatrics and no sound legal argument makes for a happy defendant.
New Jersey’s highest court has overturned a bank robbery conviction because the case’s prosecutor compared the defendant to Jack Nicholson’s crazed axe-wielding character in the horror film, “The Shining.”
During closing arguments, the prosecutor showed jurors the classic photo of the fictional Jack Torrence telling his terrified family “Here’s Johnny” after breaking through a door with an axe.
The reference was meant to show that alleged bank robber Damon Williams’ actions spoke louder than words, and he should be convicted of a more serious charge.
Williams was not alleged to have said any threatening words to a Camden County bank teller during the 2014 robbery, but the jury agreed with the prosecutor and convicted him of second-degree robbery, which requires the use of force or the threat of force, instead of third-degree theft.
In an unanimous decision Tuesday, the NJ Supreme Court agreed to overturn the decision, writing that prosecutors “must walk a fine line” when comparing a defendant with “an individual whom the jury associates with violence or guilt.”
Williams, who was serving a 14 year sentence, will now be retried.
“The use of a sensational and provocative image in service of such a comparison, even when purportedly metaphorical, heightens the risk of an improper prejudicial effect on the jury,” Justice Lee Solomon wrote. “Such a risk was borne out here.”
Camden County prosecutors declined to comment on the high court’s ruling.
With Associated Press Wires
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