Com. v. Heckathorn

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBELL; COHEN; EAGEN; O'BRIEN; ROBERTS
Citation429 Pa. 534,241 A.2d 97
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Herbert Charles HECKATHORN, Appellant.
Decision Date24 April 1968

Page 97

241 A.2d 97
429 Pa. 534
COMMONWEALTH

v.
Herbert Charles HECKATHORN, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
April 24, 1968.

[429 Pa. 536]

Page 98

M. L. McBride, Jr., Rocco L. Puntureri, Grove City, for appellant.

Edward M. Bell, Dist. Atty., Joseph J. Nelson, Asst. Dist. Atty., Mercer, for appellee.

OPINION OF THE COURT

BELL, Chief Justice.

On October 6, 1965, the body of Clair Heckathorn, a farmer and resident of Mercer County, was found shot to death in his home. Shortly thereafter, the defendant, aged 16 years, was arrested and committed to Mercer County jail. He submitted to questioning by the arresting officers for several two-hour periods, both on October 6th and 7th. On October 7, defendant

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was taken to his father's home and, with his father's permission, a search was conducted which uncovered a revolver later found to bear evidence of defendant's fingerprints.

On the morning of October 8, James Heckathorn, the brother of the defendant, 'voluntarily' appeared at the Mercer County stationhouse, and in the presence of police gave a statement confessing complicity of both himself and his brother in the homicide. Later that [429 Pa. 537] morning defendant was brought to the stationhouse and his brother's statement was read to him. He admitted that his brother's statement was true, and then gave a statement in which he admitted that he shot the deceased while he and his brother were robbing him. Up to the time of this confession, no charges had been filed against defendant, although the arresting officers had been previously advised to do so by Judge RODGERS.

Thereafter, a bill of indictment which included the count of murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter was found against defendant. Defendant was tried and found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has appealed from the judgment of sentence.

I.

Charge of Court on Voluntary Manslaughter

Appellant contends that the trial Court committed error by failing to charge the jury on the law of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Defendant particularly objects to this portion of the charge: '* * * At the present time, the only duty before the jury is to determine whether the defendant is not guilty or guilty of murder in the second degree, or guilty of murder in the first degree. That is all that you are required to do at this time.'

For over one hundred years it has been the well-settled rule in this Commonwealth that the jury has the right and power to decide the guilt or innocence of an accused and what crime or crimes, if any, he has been guilty of. Commonwealth v. Frazier, 411 Pa. 195, 202, 191 A.2d 369; Commonwealth v. Steele, 362 Pa. 427, 66 A.2d 825; Commonwealth v. Schmidt, 423 Pa. 432, 224 A.2d 625; Commonwealth v. Meas, 415 Pa. [429 Pa. 538] 41, 202 A.2d 74; Rhodes v. Commonwealth, 48 Pa. 396; Lane v. Commonwealth, 59 Pa. 371; see also, Act of June 24, 1939, P.L. 872, 18 P.S. § 4701. Relying thereon, defendant-appellant contends that the Court committed fatal and reversible error by its charge because it thereby took from the jury its power to find defendant guilty of only voluntary manslaughter.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid power of a jury to find a defendant charged with murder guilty of voluntary manslaughter only, the law is likewise well settled that A defendant is entitled to a charge on the law of manslaughter only when there is some evidence to support such a verdict. Commonwealth v. Pavillard, 421 Pa. 571, 220 A.2d 807; Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 112 A.2d 362; Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632; Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827; Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610; Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128; Commonwealth v. Crossmire, 156 Pa. 304, 27 A. 40; Commonwealth v. Buccieri, 153 Pa. 535, 26 A. 228.

Thus, the important question for us in this appeal is whether there was any evidence which was sufficient to reduce this killing to voluntary manslaughter. In this appeal, defendant contends that he was innocent of any crime, and that at the most the killing amounted to voluntary manslaughter. These contentions, and particularly the latter one, are based upon the theory or contention that defendant spent the night in the home of his uncle and that his uncle was killed the following day as the result of an altercation during which defendant's gun went off. We note, incidentally, that defendant did not testify that

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his gun went off accidentally or unintentionally, or exactly how it went off. This contention was not presented in the lower Court. The only evidence cited to support it in this [429 Pa. 539] appeal is the testimony of a witness for the Commonwealth that there was an indentation in the bed in the room of defendant's uncle roughly conforming to the shape of a body, which defendant's counsel now contends was the body shape of defendant. Defendant's confession, which he now seeks to repudiate because allegedly made under duress, was to the effect that he entered his uncle's house with the intention of stealing checks, and that in the process of obtaining them he had a short struggle with his uncle. He now seeks to combine the statement in his repudiated confession of his alleged struggle with his uncle with the aforesaid testimony about the Impression of a body on the bed; obviously, there is no connection between these two bits of evidence. Furthermore, this evidence is clearly and without the slightest doubt insufficient to prove a crime of provocation or passion--namely, voluntary manslaughter.

In Commonwealth v. Pavillard, 421 Pa. pages 575--576, 220 A.2d pages 809--810, supra, this Court said:

'Defendant's second allegation of an error in the Court's charge raises a serious problem. The problem, concisely stated, is whether the trial Court, in a murder case, must charge on the issue of voluntary manslaughter where no proof of a killing under the influence of legal passion or provocation exists.

'In Commonwealth v. Nelson, 396 Pa. 359, 364, 152 A.2d 913, the Court, citing many authorities, thus defined voluntary manslaughter (page 364, 152 A.2d page 915): 'In Commonwealth v. Donough, 377 Pa. 46, at page 52, 103 A.2d 694, at page 698, supra, the Court quoting from Commonwealth v. Palermo, 368 Pa. 28, 81 A.2d 540, supra, said: "'Voluntary manslaughter is a homicide intentionally committed under the influence of passion.' Commonwealth v. Colandro, 1911, 231 Pa. 343, 350, 80 A. 571, 574; Commonwealth v. Cargill, 1947, 357 Pa. 510, 513, 55 A.2d 373. * * *"

[429 Pa. 540] "'In Commonwealth v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, at page 350, 80 A. 571, at page 574, the Court said: * * * ''The term 'passion' as here used includes both anger and terror provided they reach a degree of intensity sufficient to obscure temporarily the reason of the person affected:' 21 Am. & Eng.Ency. of Law (2d ed.) 173. 'Passion, as used in a charge defining manslaughter * * * means any of the emotions of the mind known as anger, rage, sudden resentment or terror, rendering the mind incapable of cool reflection'. 6 Words & Phrases, p. 5227."'

'In the instant case there was absolutely No evidence of legal passion or provocation 1 such as to reduce the crime from murder to voluntary manslaughter. That being so, this Court has consistently and wisely held that the trial Judge is not required to charge the jury on the issue of voluntary manslaughter. Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 112 A.2d 362; Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827; Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128. A charge on a point or issue which is unsupported by any evidence is likely to confuse the jury and obstruct Justice.

'In Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. pages 121--122, 112 A.2d page 367, supra, in a case very similar to the one at bar, the Court said: 'Failure of te trial Judge to submit to the jury voluntary manslaughter as a possible verdict was not error. Where there is some evidence which would reduce the crime to voluntary manslaughter, defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed upon the subject: Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632. But where there is no evidence of manslaughter, it is proper for the court to refuse to submit

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to the jury the issue of manslaughter. In Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 85, 196 A. 827, 830, Justice[429 Pa. 541] (later Chief Justice) MAXEY said: 'It is well settled that on a trial for murder where there is no evidence which in the remotest degree points to the offense of manslaughter, the court commits no error in instructing the jury that a verdict of guilty of manslaughter would not be warranted. See Com. v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610; Com. v. Crossmire, 156 Pa. 304, 27 A. 40; and Com. v. Buccieri, 153 Pa. 535, 26 A. 228."'

II.

Constitutional Right to Counsel

Appellant next contends that the statement or confession of his brother, which he admitted was true and correct, was obtained in violation of his Constitutional right to counsel, and consequently was inadmissible. Johnson v. State of New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 86 S.Ct. 1772, 16 L.Ed.2d 882, upon which defendant relies, aptly states the recent tests which are applicable. In Johnson v. New Jersey, the Court, speaking through Chief Justice WARREN, reiterated the prior law that 'coerced confessions are, of course, inadmissible regardless of their alleged truth or falsity. See Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760 (1961)'; and, more importantly, said (page 721, page 1775 of 86 S.Ct.): 'We hold that Escobedo affects only those cases in which the trial began after June 22, 1964, the date of that decision. We hold further that Miranda 2 applies only [429 Pa. 542] to cases in which the trial began after the date of our decision (on June 13, 1966).'

In this trial, which commenced on March 28, 1966, defendant-appellant is entitled (1) to the Escobedo warnings but...

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13 practice notes
  • Com. v. Hilliard
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 28, 1977
    ...finding of voluntariness by a suppression court. Commonwealth v. Joyner, 441 Pa. 242, 272 A.2d 454 (1971); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968); Commonwealth v. McLean, 213 Pa.Super. 297, 247 A.2d 640 (1968). The jury must find the statement voluntary before they may ......
  • Com. v. McGrogan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 30, 1972
    ...J. and Pomeroy, J. dissented on other grounds); Commonwealth v. Corbin, 432 Pa. 551, 247 A.2d 584 (1968); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968); Commonwealth v. Pavillard, 421 Pa. 571, 220 A.2d 807 (1966); Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632 (1938); Commonwea......
  • Commonwealth v. Sanchez
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 17, 2013
    ...the jury on the issue of manslaughter.” Id. ( citing Commonwealth v. Corbin, 432 Pa. 551, 247 A.2d 584 (1968); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968)). In the case sub judice, we hold that no voluntary manslaughter instruction was warranted because Appellant denied that......
  • Com. v. Cannon
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 19, 1973
    ...jury may not consider the statement regardless of its belief in the trustworthiness thereof.' Appellant cites Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968) and Commonwealth v. McLean, 213 Pa.Super. 297, 247 A.2d 640 (1968) for the proposition that the [453 Pa. 398] court commi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Com. v. Hilliard
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 28, 1977
    ...finding of voluntariness by a suppression court. Commonwealth v. Joyner, 441 Pa. 242, 272 A.2d 454 (1971); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968); Commonwealth v. McLean, 213 Pa.Super. 297, 247 A.2d 640 (1968). The jury must find the statement voluntary before they may ......
  • Com. v. McGrogan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 30, 1972
    ...J. and Pomeroy, J. dissented on other grounds); Commonwealth v. Corbin, 432 Pa. 551, 247 A.2d 584 (1968); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968); Commonwealth v. Pavillard, 421 Pa. 571, 220 A.2d 807 (1966); Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632 (1938); Commonwea......
  • Commonwealth v. Sanchez
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 17, 2013
    ...the jury on the issue of manslaughter.” Id. ( citing Commonwealth v. Corbin, 432 Pa. 551, 247 A.2d 584 (1968); Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968)). In the case sub judice, we hold that no voluntary manslaughter instruction was warranted because Appellant denied that......
  • Com. v. Cannon
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 19, 1973
    ...jury may not consider the statement regardless of its belief in the trustworthiness thereof.' Appellant cites Commonwealth v. Heckathorn, 429 Pa. 534, 241 A.2d 97 (1968) and Commonwealth v. McLean, 213 Pa.Super. 297, 247 A.2d 640 (1968) for the proposition that the [453 Pa. 398] court commi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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