David Knowles Charged with Robbery in Redondo Beach

At about 6:30 p.m., David Knowles and Caryl Chessman entered a clothing store in Redondo Beach. There was no one in the store except the owner Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher, a clerk. David Knowles asked to look at overcoats and Joe Lesher showed him several while Caryl Chessman sat nearby and Melvin Waisler walked around the store. The accused stood in a well-lighted area, and Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher testified that they were able to get a good look at them. Shortly thereafter, David Knowles and Caryl Chessman displayed guns, saying “this is a stick-up, put up your hands.” They compelled Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher to enter a stockroom in the rear of the store and face the wall, and then took their wallets. David Knowles held them at gunpoint in the stockroom while Caryl Chessman took some clothes and attempted to open the cash register. He returned to the stockroom, forced Joe Lesher to come back and open the register for him, and took money therefrom, after which he returned Joe Lesher to the stockroom. David Knowles struck Melvin Waisler on the head with the barrel of his gun, and then left with Caryl Chessman. Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher ran to the front of the store in time to see David Knowles and Caryl Chessman escaping in a gray 1946 Ford coupe. They then notified the police.

About an hour later, two police officers in a radio car observed the gray Ford proceeding in a northerly direction on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, about half a block south of Hollywood Boulevard. They pursued the Ford and saw Caryl Chessman, who was driving, turn into a service station, circle it and drive out. The Ford proceeded south at high speed for about a mile, and when Caryl Chessman then attempted a U-turn the officers drove their car into the side of the Ford. Both men ran from the car but were quickly caught. The officers found the stolen clothing and a .45 automatic in the rear of the Ford. Caryl Chessman had about $150 on his person and David Knowles $8.00.

David Knowles and Caryl Chessman were jointly charged by information with two counts of armed robbery, two counts of kidnapping for the purpose of robbery, and one count of grand theft. David Knowles waived a jury and was tried separately.

To establish an alibi, David Knowles produced Miss Ann Stanfield who testified that he visited her at her residence in Hollywood at about 6 p.m. on the evening of the robbery and that he remained there for about 15 or 20 minutes. If her testimony were true, appellant could not have been in Redondo Beach, 23 miles distant, at the time of the robbery. David Knowles testified that he met Caryl Chessman by appointment at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard at about 7 p.m. on the evening of the robbery. He testified that there was a man in the car at the time introduced to him by Caryl Chessman as Joe, and that Joe rode with them when the police pursuit began, but got out of the car at the service station and ran into the rest room while Caryl Chessman and appellant drove off. Caryl Chessman corroborated David Knowles’s story.

The foregoing testimony was contradicted in every material detail by witnesses for the prosecution. Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher positively identified David Knowles as a participant in the robbery. The officers testified that they had the car in plain view at all times, that there were only two occupants, and that they saw none leave it at the station. The direct conflict in the evidence was resolved by the trial court in favor of the prosecution.

David Knowles contends that Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher’s identification of him does not establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, because the identification was not by means of a standard police line-up, and because they made the identification after being informed by the police that the robbers had been caught and after they saw defendant’s picture in the newspapers upon his arrest in company with Caryl Chessman, “a famous bandit.” It is for the trier of facts to weigh the evidence relating to identification and to resolve the conflicts therein.

The trial court found him guilty on both counts of robbery and both counts of kidnapping, but not guilty on the count of grand theft. It determined that one kidnapping involved bodily harm to the victim and sentenced appellant to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The sentences on the other offenses were to run concurrently. David Knowles appeals from the judgment of conviction and the order denying his motion for a new trial, contending that the evidence is insufficient to establish his guilt and that armed robbery is not punishable as kidnapping.

On appeal the order denying the motion for a new trial was affirmed. The judgments of conviction of kidnapping for the purpose of robbery was affirmed, and the judgments of conviction of armed robbery was reversed.

The facts summarized above are excerpted from what was written by the Supreme Court of California. More information is available from the source documents: 4992, Supreme Court of California, April 21, 1950, opinion of Traynor with Shenk, Schauer, and Spence concurring.