It might be essentially the most terrifying scene in “The Shining,” the 1980 horror basic starring Jack Nicholson as a violent psychopath bent on killing his household to fulfill the ghouls inhabiting a haunted mountain resort.
Mr. Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, has simply used an ax to cut by means of a rest room door separating him from his spouse and the bloody carnage he plans to inflict on her. Leering by means of the opening, he utters two chilling phrases, the primary one elongated: “Right here’s Johnny.”
The scene has certainly brought about its share of nightmares. Now, in an uncommon authorized twist, it has received a brand new trial for a person convicted of robbing a financial institution.
On Tuesday, New Jersey’s Supreme Court docket put aside the conviction of the person, Damon Williams, after discovering that he had been disadvantaged of a good trial when a prosecutor likened him to a would-be ax assassin by exhibiting a jury a nonetheless picture from the “Right here’s Johnny” scene.
The prosecutor, the courtroom stated in a unanimous opinion, had “gone far past the proof at trial to attract a parallel between defendant’s conduct and that of a horror-movie villain.”
Mr. Williams, 42, was convicted of stealing $4,600 from a South Jersey financial institution department in 2014, state information present. He didn’t flash a weapon or make an specific verbal menace, the Supreme Court docket famous. As a substitute, he handed a notice to a teller.
“Please, all the cash, 100, 50, 20, 10,” it stated. “Thanks.”
The central concern at trial, the courtroom wrote, was whether or not Mr. Williams’s actions justified a second-degree theft cost.
To convict him of that, the jury needed to discover he had used power or the specter of it to make the teller really feel that bodily hurt was imminent, the judges wrote. The jury additionally had the choice of convicting him of theft, a lesser crime that doesn’t embrace the ingredient of power.
At Mr. Williams’s trial, the prosecutor argued that “actions converse louder than phrases.” The theft cost was legitimate, she stated, due to what Mr. Williams had carried out earlier than and after passing the notice to the teller — regardless that, the Supreme Court docket wrote, there was no proof that he had been violent earlier than presenting the notice or after the cash was handed over.
The prosecutor hammered on the theme in her summation to the jury, together with “The Shining” picture in an accompanying slide present below the all-caps heading “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.”
“This man appears to be like creepy and he’s saying some very unthreatening phrases, ‘Right here’s Johnny,’” the prosecutor stated in reference to the picture of Mr. Nicholson’s character, which had not been shared with the protection or in any other case supplied at trial earlier than, because it was proven to jurors. “However when you’ve got ever seen the film ‘The Shining,’ you know the way his face will get by means of that door.”
(The Supreme Court docket opinion defined in a footnote that the “unthreatening phrases” had been used to introduce the star of “The Tonight Present Starring Johnny Carson” for 30 years.)
“So once more, I simply level that out for example,” the prosecutor continued in summing up her case towards Mr. Williams. “It’s not simply the phrases; it’s what you do earlier than and what you do after the phrases that issues. And that’s what makes this a theft.”
Mr. Williams’s trial lawyer objected, telling the decide that what “The Shining” picture depicted was “actually way over what occurred on this case.”
The decide supplied to primarily instruct the jury to ignore the picture, however famous that doing so would underscore the prosecutor’s argument. Mr. Williams’s lawyer agreed that “it might be greatest left alone,” the Supreme Court docket wrote, and so it was. The jury convicted Mr. Williams of the extra critical cost, and he was sentenced to 14 years in jail.
Mr. Williams appealed the conviction, and although the Camden County Prosecutor’s Workplace, which introduced the case, ultimately conceded that the picture’s use had been improper, it insisted that the error was innocent. An appeals courtroom upheld the conviction, paving the way in which for the Supreme Court docket to take up the case and, finally, for its ruling on Tuesday.
“Prosecutors should stroll a nice line when making comparisons, whether or not implicit or specific, between a defendant and a person whom the jury associates with violence or guilt,” the courtroom stated within the ruling. “The usage of a sensational and provocative picture in service of such a comparability, even when purportedly metaphorical, heightens the chance of an improper prejudicial impact on the jury.”
The judges added: “Such a threat was borne out right here.”
Alison Gifford, assistant deputy public defender in New Jersey’s Workplace of the Public Defender, stated Mr. Williams and his attorneys had been “very gratified” by the ruling.
“By recognizing that the prosecutor’s comparability of Mr. Williams to a horror-movie villain tainted the equity of the trial,” she stated, “the courtroom did the fitting factor in reversing Mr. Williams’s conviction.”
A spokeswoman for the Camden County prosecutor’s workplace declined to remark.