The New Jersey Supreme Court vacated a robbery conviction after finding a prosecutor’s likening the defendant to Jack Torrance, the murderous main character in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” denied him a fair trial.
In 2014, Damon Williams entered a Merchantville Bank of America branch and handed a teller a note that said “please, all the money. 100, 50, 20, 10. Thank you.” He did not threaten the teller or brandish a weapon and was given about $4,600.
His attorney argued the incident amounted to theft, not robbery, but he was convicted of the latter after the prosecutor displayed an iconic image of Jack Nicholson, portraying Torrance, with his head through an axe-hewn hole in a door during closing arguments.
“This guy looks creepy and he’s saying some very unthreatening words, ‘Here’s Johnny.’ But if you have ever seen the movie ‘The Shining,’ you know how his face gets through that door. So, again, I just point that out to illustrate,” the prosecutor said then. “It’s not just the words; it’s what you do before and what you do after the words that matters. And that’s what makes this a robbery.”
The defendant’s counsel objected, though the matter was not stricken from the record and no curative instructions were issued to the jury after Williams’ attorney agreed it could do more harm than good by repeating the prosecutor’s argument.
On appeal, Williams charged the image — one synonymous with a film regularly rated among the best horror movies of all time — an inflammatory visual aid and not evidence.
The high court agreed, vacating Williams’ conviction and ordering a new trial.
“The prosecutor here, in an attempt to establish that Cervantes feared for her wellbeing because of defendant’s conduct, went far beyond the evidence at trial to draw a parallel between defendant’s conduct and that of a horror-movie villain,” Associate Justice Lee Solomon wrote in the court’s opinion.