Com. v. Biebighauser

Decision Date19 January 1973
Citation450 Pa. 336,300 A.2d 70
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Daniel Roy BIEBIGHAUSER, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

T. Warren Jones, Erie, for appellant.

Gordon R. Kennedy, Dist. Atty., James R. Dailey, Asst. Dist. Atty. by Bernard L. Siegel, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Erie, for appellee.



POMEROY, Justice.

The appellant was convicted by a jury in 1963 of the first degree murder of one Mary Lynn Crotty. No post trial motions were filed at that time and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1970 appellant filed a petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1580, § 1; 19 P.S. § 1180--1 et seq., asserting that he had failed to appeal his conviction because of fear of the imposition of the death penalty on retrial. After a hearing appellant was permitted to file post trial motions Nunc pro tunc. See Commonwealth v. Littlejohn, 433 Pa. 336, 250 A.2d 811 (1969). Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment having been denied, the present direct appeal from the judgment of sentence was brought. Four issues are presented: (1) whether appellant's confession was voluntary; (2) whether several warrantless searches were proper under the Fourth Amendment; (3) whether voir dire examination was unduly restricted; and (4) whether the introduction into evidence of allegedly inflammatory photographs was so prejudicial as to warrant reversal. Concluding that all four challenges are without merit, we will affirm the judgment of sentence.

Voluntariness of the Confession

At trial the Commonwealth introduced into evidence appellant's nine-page signed confession. This statement described the circumstances surrounding the murder of Mary Lynn Crotty substantially as follows: On Saturday evening, January 19, 1963, appellant was introduced to the deceased by her college roommate, Paulette Cywinski. Miss Cywinski had a date with another person, and the two couples spent the evening drinking and dancing at various night spots in the City of Erie. In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 20, the couples went their separate ways. Miss Crotty asked appellant to take her home stating that she was feeling ill. Biebighauser drove, instead, to a point on East 38th Street in Erie where he stopped the car and proceeded to choke Miss Crotty into unconsciousness. He then placed here in the back seat, and raped her. When Mary Lynn began to regain consciousness, appellant strangled her once again, this time to death. Again he indulged in sexual congress with the now deceased victim. When this was completed, appellant placed the body in the trunk of his car, and returned home.

The following afternoon, according to the evidence, appellant visited the home of the victim's parents. Concerned over their daughter's failure to return home, they had spoken also with Paulette Cywinski and her escort. A friend and neighbor of the Crotty's, Detective Penman of the Pennsylvania State Police, was present when Biebighauser called. Biebighauser told Mr. and Mrs. Crotty that he had been with the deceased on Saturday night, had dropped her off near her home early Sunday morning and had not seen her since. After this visit, according to appellant's statement, he drove to a secluded wooded area where he left the body of the deceased in a snow bank and then scattered her clothing along the highway.

The record establishes the following circumstances surrounding the taking of the confession: At approximately 1:00 P.M. on Monday, January 21, 1963, Detective Penman, accompanied by another police officer, went to appellant's apartment to question him further about the disappearance of Mary Lynn Crotty. Appellant agreed to move the interview to the police station, wishing to have it out of the presence of his wife. At 3:00 P.M., after some forty-five minutes of questioning during which he repeated his account that he had left Miss Crotty near her home early Sunday morning, appellant suddenly changed his story. He stated that he knew the girl was dead; and that he had killed her. He led the police to the site where he had disposed of the body. From 3:00 P.M to 8:00 P.M., accompanied by several police officers, appellant retraced his steps of Saturday night and pointed out the location of the body and the clothing of the deceased. There was intermittent questioning of appellant during this period.

At 8:00 P.M., appellant was returned to the police station. He was given a chicken dinner shortly after 9:00 P.M. Starting at 9:30 P.M. and concluding at approximately 1:00 A.M. the next morning (Tuesday, Jan. 22), appellant gave the formal confession which he now challenges. 1

The trial of this case took place prior to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S.Ct. 1758, 12 L.Ed.2d 977 (1964) and Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 435, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Under the standards prevailing before those holdings, a confession to be admissible in evidence must have been voluntary under all the circumstances, i.e. must have been the product of the defendant's free will. See e.g. Com. ex rel. Butler v. Rundle, 429 Pa. 141, 149, 239 A.2d 426 (1968). Appellant contends that under this test his statement was involuntary.

Appellant's first assault on the confession is that the above circumstances are substantially the same as in Butler, supra, where we held that a defendant from whom a confession was taken in 1940 'has indeed been overreached, that his will has been overborne, and that his confession is not voluntary'. The surrounding circumstances in Butler clearly showed such overreaching. These are summarized thus in our opinion: 'Where an individual has been subjected to virtually continuous interrogation by several officers for a period of 10 hours; where he was not warned of his right to counsel and his privilege to remain silent; where he was not taken before a magistrate until a week after he was taken into custody; and where his ability to a resist questioning is limited both by his ninth grade education and the wounds he received during his capture, then he has been deprived of the 'free and rational choice' necessary to make a confession voluntary'. 429 Pa. at 151, 239 A.2d at 431.

While the eleven-hour time span from the start to conclusion of police interrogation in this case approximates the ten-hour period in Butler, supra, the similarity ends there. The instant circumstances are more analogous to those in Commonwealth v. Graham, 408 Pa. 155, 161, 182 A.2d 727, 730 (1962) where 'there were no long and protracted periods of constant and continuous questioning. On the contrary, there were long and ample periods of rest.' (Emphasis in original). It should be emphasized, moreover, that Biebighauser made his initial and crucial confession after not more than 45 minutes of questioning. The taking of a formal statement was put off for some six hours until after the police had located the body of Miss Crotty, and to allow appellant a rest period of over an hour, and a complete meal. Appellant himself testified at his PCHA hearing that the police made no promises, exerted no physical force, 'didn't do anything'.

Appellant contends, nevertheless, that the confession was invalid because he was of questionable mental capacity, and because he had not been warned of his right to counsel and to remain silent. The record fails to bear out these lines of attack. Appellant had attended high school, was fully literate, was 21 years of age and married, and able to manage his own affairs. His two psychiatric expert witnesses, while giving it as their opinion that he had a 'personality disorder', stated that Biebighauser was a period of average intelligence. In short, there was no showing either at trial or at the PCHA hearing that the confession resulted from any lack of understanding on appellant's part.

As to warnings, there was testimony by the Commonwealth that defendant refused counsel at the time he was being interrogated. But even if no warnings were given as to the right to counsel or to remain silent, their absence would not of themselves vitiate this 1963 confession. Com. ex rel. Joyner v. Brierly, 429 Pa. 156, 160, 239 A.2d 434 (1968).

We are of the opinion, in summary, that in light of all the evidence the challenged confession was voluntary.


Pursuant to their investigation into the disappearance of Mary Lynn Crotty, the police conducted warrantless searches of appellant's car, wallet, and apartment. Arguing that the Commonwealth proved neither exigent circumstances nor his consent for the various searches, appellant urges us to reverse his conviction.

The following items were seized from the car--a comb, a hairpin, and two pencil sketches of nude women; from the wallet--a pistol application; from the apartment--a navy pea jacket and a pair of blood-stained jockey shorts. An examination of the record convinces us that whether or not the searches of the automobile and the wallet were valid is irrelevant. 2 Neither the comb nor the hairpin was offered in evidence and the pistol application, though received, seems to have been irrelevant or, at the most, of minimal probative value. Moreover, it was not objected to. As to the nude sketches, defense counsel specifically stated that he had no objection to their introduction. Clearly, this was deliberate trial strategy aimed at bolstering the defense of a psychosis amounting to legal insanity. Appellant thus failed to demonstrate any prejudice from the searches resulting in the seizure of these items.

The apartment search took place on Thursday, January 24, 1963, by Detective Penman and another police officer. Appellant was then in custody, but his wife was at home. Both officers testified that Mrs. Biebighauser...

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  • Com. v. Trill
    • United States
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    ...or their potential prejudice against the defense will not constitute palpable error warranting a reversal. Commonwealth v. Biebighauser, 450 Pa. 336, 300 A.2d 70 (1973); Commonwealth v. Hathaway, 347 Pa.Super. 134, 500 A.2d 443 (1985). Applying this well established case law, we find that J......
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