Convicted financial institution robber beneficial properties new trial after prosecutors use ‘improper’ reference from ‘The Shining’
A convicted Camden County bank robber is brought to trial again thanks to one of Jack Nicholson’s most iconic movie moments, in part.
The prosecution’s use of a photo showing Nicholson’s character from “The Shining” during Damon Williams’ original trial was “inappropriate,” the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Williams was convicted of robbing $ 4,600 from a Bank of America branch in Merchantville in the summer of 2014, according to NJ Advance Media.
“Please, all the money, 100, 50, 20, 10,” Williams reportedly wrote in a note to the bank clerk. “Many Thanks.”
The central debate in the process was whether Williams was guilty of robbery or theft. To be convicted of robbery, one must use force or threaten to take over property, while theft does not.
To claim Williams deserved the harsher sentence, prosecutors used a photo of Nicholson showing his icon, “Here’s Johnny!” Line in “The Shining”.
In the 1980 horror film, Nicholson’s character says the line when he breaks a door and threatens his frightened family with an ax.
“This guy looks creepy and says some very threatening words, ‘This is Johnny,'” the prosecutor said during the Williams trial, arguing that actions speak louder than words. “But if you’ve ever seen The Shining, you know how his face comes through that door.”
Williams’ attorney declined use of the photo, but the trial judge allowed it. The Camden County prosecutor who brought the case admitted the use of the Nicholson photo was unnecessary, but called it harmless.
Williams was convicted of second degree robbery and given a 14-year prison term, according to the Associated Press. He has been in prison since 2017 and did not have to be paroled until 2026.
Had he been convicted of third-degree theft, Williams would likely have faced a maximum sentence of five years.
An appeals court upheld Williams’ conviction, but the state supreme court ruled it was excessive.
“Prosecutors have to walk a fine line in making implicit or explicit comparisons between a defendant and someone who the jury associates with violence or guilt,” Supreme Court Justice Lee Solomon wrote in the statement.
“Using a sensational and provocative image in the service of such comparison, even if it is purportedly metaphorical, increases the risk of undue adverse effects on the jury,” he continued.
Alison Gifford, assistant attorney at law, who represented Williams on the Supreme Court case, said Tuesday’s ruling had “reaffirmed a prosecutor’s duty to seek justice rather than obtain convictions at all costs.”
“By realizing that the prosecution’s settlement of Mr. Williams to a horror movie villain undermined the fairness of the trial, it did the right thing to break Mr. Williams’ conviction,” said Gifford.