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November 16, 1981


V. J. Brennan, P.j., and N. J. Kaufman and E. E. Borradaile,* JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brennan

Defendant Lewis Thompson was convicted by a Recorder's Court jury in 1976 of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, MCL 750.84; MSA 28.279. We granted defendant's application for delayed appeal.

Defendant was accused of assaulting his wife with a knife because she refused to smuggle drugs to him while he was incarcerated in Jackson prison. During trial, three eyewitnesses, Mrs. Bussle, Miss Monroe, and the victim's son, testified that the defendant was the assailant who stabbed the complainant in the face, slashed her in the stomach, and repeatedly hit her on the head with a table leg. The complainant-wife also testified about the attack and her wounds. She further was allowed to testify, over defense objection, that defendant had threatened, by letter and by phone, to kill her two to four months before the assault because she would not smuggle drugs into the prison. She also testified, over defense objection, that defendant escaped from Jackson prison the day before he assaulted her. Defendant's letters containing the threats were not produced during trial because complainant had destroyed them.

Defendant, testifying in his own behalf, stated that he hit the complainant with a table leg, cut her face with a knife, and stabbed her in the abdomen.

Numerous errors are alleged on appeal. Defendant objected at trial to the admission into evidence of a telegram without proper authentication and to testimony regarding defendant's attempts to convince his wife, the complainant, to smuggle drugs into Jackson prison, his subsequent death threats upon her refusal, and his escapee status at the time of his assault on her. Defendant also contends that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecution to impeach him with evidence of three prior convictions, that the prosecution's questioning of defendant about his drug use unduly prejudiced him, and that the trial court erred by not specifically mentioning the alleged drug smuggling scheme when giving a limiting instruction regarding use of testimony of other uncharged offenses.

We find that none of these alleged errors, individually or collectively, warrants reversal.

Defendant first asserts that error was committed which requires reversal when the trial court admitted, over defense objection, a telegram purportedly sent by defendant to the victim the day after the attack.

It read as follows:

"Brenda, miss you this time but will see you as soon as you recover. Brenda, use your head and get in touch about with me just as soon as you get out of the hospital. If not I will be waiting for you the day you come home.


The telegram contained the typed name "Lewis" and the defendant's mother's telephone number.

Before evidence may be admitted during trial, it must be authenticated by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter is what its proponent claims. MRE 901. Telegrams are not accepted as self-authenticating. However, a telegram may be authenticated if its contents and the surrounding circumstances indicate that the information it discloses is uniquely within the purported sender's knowledge or in reply to duly authenticated communications. MRE 901(4), People v Adams, 162 Mich 371, 385; 127 NW 354 (1910), People v Rabin, 317 Mich 654; 27 NW2d 126 (1947).

We find that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the telegram without proper authentication. Champion v Champion, 368 Mich 84; 117 NW2d 107 (1962). However, since identification of the assailant was not an issue and three people had witnessed the attack on the complainant, reversal is not required because the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Robinson, 386 Mich 551; 194 NW2d 709 (1972).

Defendant argues that testimony concerning the alleged drug scheme, the death threats, and his escapee status should have been barred by the "similar acts" statute, MCL 768.27; MSA 28.1050. Although the drug scheme and subsequent threats undoubtedly qualified for admission under the "similar acts" statute or MRE 404(b) as prior bad acts tending to establish motive, we agree that defendant's escapee status was not properly admitted under the "similar acts" statute. However, even granting that the admission of the latter testimony was error, in the light of the strength of the overwhelming evidence, we find no reasonable possibility that exclusion of such testimony would have altered the jury's verdict. Robinson, supra, 563, People v ...

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