Com. v. Jermyn

Decision Date25 February 1998
Citation709 A.2d 849,551 Pa. 96
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Frederic J. JERMYN, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Billy H. Nolas, Philadelphia, for F. Jermyn.

Jamie Keating; Robert A. Graci, Harrisburg, for the Com.

Before FLAHERTY, C.J., and ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN and SAYLOR, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT

CAPPY, Justice:

Before this court for review are Appellant Frederic J. Jermyn's challenges to the trial court's September 7, 1995 finding that he is competent to be executed and to the trial court's January 4, 1996 denial of his second petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). 1 For the reasons which follow, we affirm both orders. 2

This case has an extensive procedural and factual history in both the state and federal courts. A detailed factual history of the case is set forth in our opinion ruling on Jermyn's direct appeal of his judgment of sentence, Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 516 Pa. 460, 533 A.2d 74 (1987).

Jermyn is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He was convicted on August 16, 1985, by a jury, of first degree murder, arson, and aggravated assault in connection with the January 1, 1985 killing of his mother. At the sentencing hearing on August 17, 1985, the jury found the existence of one aggravating circumstance: that the defendant committed the killing while in the perpetration of a felony, arson. 3 The parties stipulated to the existence of the mitigating circumstance that the defendant had no significant history of prior criminal convictions. 4 In addition, the trial judge instructed the jury on all of the remaining potential mitigating circumstances, and left it to the jury to determine which mitigating circumstances existed. As mitigating circumstances, the jury found: the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance; 5 and "other" evidence in mitigation concerning the character and record of the defendant and the circumstances of his offense. 6 The jury did not find present the mitigating factor that the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was substantially impaired. 7 After weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the jury returned a verdict of death.

After Jermyn's post-verdict motions were denied, Jermyn was sentenced to death on the first degree murder conviction on April 15, 1986. 8 This court affirmed Jermyn's convictions and judgments of sentence on direct appeal. See Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 516 Pa. 460, 533 A.2d 74 (1987). We subsequently affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Jermyn's first PCRA petition. See Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 533 Pa. 194, 620 A.2d 1128 (1993).

Jermyn's execution was scheduled for the week of December 6, 1993. The trial court denied his petition for a stay of his execution. In an opinion issued January 18, 1995, we rejected Jermyn's appeal of this stay denial, concluding that there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court's finding that Jermyn is competent to be executed pursuant to Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986). 9 See Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 652 A.2d 821 (1995).

Subsequently, a Governor's Warrant for Jermyn's execution was issued on July 12, 1995, scheduling Jermyn's execution for the week of September 10, 1995. Jermyn sought a stay of his scheduled execution in the trial court; this petition was denied on August 16, 1995.

Jermyn then filed with this court his Application for Extraordinary Relief to Stay a Warrant of Execution. We granted Jermyn's request for extraordinary relief to the extent necessary to determine whether Jermyn suffers from a mental illness which prevents him from comprehending the reasons for the death penalty or its implications. In our order issued on August 31, 1995, we directed the trial court to hold a Ford v. Wainwright hearing, at which a court appointed psychiatrist was directed to testify as the court's witness; we further directed the trial court to make its finding on Jermyn's competence to be executed no later than September 8, 1995.

The trial court held a Ford v. Wainwright hearing on September 6, 1995, at which Jermyn was present and represented by his current appellate counsel. The trial court filed its finding that Jermyn is competent to be executed on September 7, 1995.

Jermyn also filed his second counseled PCRA petition (hereinafter "PCRA petition") on September 5, 1995. 10 This court, by an order issued September 12, 1995, granted Jermyn's Emergency Motion for Stay of Execution, and extended jurisdiction to the trial court to decide the issues raised in Jermyn's PCRA petition in an expedited fashion. Pursuant to our order, the trial court held evidentiary hearings on this PCRA petition October 17, 1995 and November 16, 1995. Subsequently, the trial court, by an order dated January 4, 1996, denied Jermyn's request for PCRA relief.

Both the trial court's September 7, 1995 finding that Jermyn is competent to be executed and the trial court's January 4, 1996 denial of his PCRA petition are presently before this court for review. The parties submitted their briefs on January 2, 1997. 11

In his challenge to the trial court's finding that he is competent to be executed, Jermyn first argues that there is insufficient evidence in the record from the Ford v. Wainwright hearing to support this finding.

The trial court heard the testimony of three board certified psychiatrists at Jermyn's Ford v. Wainwright hearing on September 6, 1995. Abram M. Hostetter, M.D., testified as the court's witness. Kate Erwin, M.D., testified on behalf of the defense. Stefan P. Kruszewski, M.D., testified on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Dr. Hostetter examined Jermyn in November of 1993. He later examined Jermyn on July 22, 1995. During Dr. Hostetter's July 1995 examination, Jermyn was uncooperative and vulgar, and refused to answer many of Dr. Hostetter's questions, but he was aware of the order setting the date of his execution and the date thereof. Jermyn had delusions about the intentions of the physicians who are treating his medical condition. During Dr. Hostetter's July 1995 examination, however, Jermyn was oriented as to time and place and was able to recount where he had been in the past few months. When asked about the reason for his execution, Jermyn refused to answer Dr. Hostetter. Dr. Hostetter opined at the Ford v. Wainwright hearing that Jermyn understands that the death penalty has been ordered in his case; that Jermyn has an understanding of the reason for the order for his execution; and that Jermyn understands that, after his execution, he will be dead.

Dr. Hostetter testified on cross examination by the defense that paranoid schizophrenia has periods of exacerbation and remission, so Jermyn's thought processes can range from actively psychotic and disorganized, to close to normal; there is no way of predicting Jermyn's mental state on the day of execution.

Dr. Kruszewski examined Jermyn in the fall of 1993. Dr. Kruszewski also examined Jermyn on August 6, 1995, at which time Jermyn was extremely uncooperative because he knew that Dr. Kruszewski was conducting his examination on behalf of the Commonwealth. It is Dr. Kruszewski's expert opinion that, although Jermyn has a mental illness, he understands the death penalty and the reasons for its imposition in his case.

Dr. Erwin examined Jermyn in the fall of 1993. She did not conduct an examination of Jermyn in the summer of 1995. Dr. Erwin explained in her testimony that Jermyn's chronic paranoid schizophrenia is marked by delusions which have remained fairly constant over time. She also testified that Jermyn experiences auditory hallucinations, lives in a state of denial, and refuses treatment. Dr. Erwin further indicated in her testimony that Jermyn stated to her during her examination in the fall of 1993 that his mother was still alive, and that, although he understood that a warrant for his execution could be signed, he believed executions are illegal in this Commonwealth.

Dr. Erwin further testified concerning a summary for Jermyn prepared by a psychiatrist at the mental health unit at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in July of 1995 upon Jermyn's discharge from that facility after the issuance of Jermyn's death warrant. Dr. Erwin testified that the discharge summary indicates Jermyn is delusional and practices denial. She further indicated that the discharge summary states that Jermyn believes his mother is still alive, refuses to believe he has a death sentence, and refuses to take his antipsychotic medications. It is Dr. Erwin's expert psychiatric opinion that, because of his mental illness, Jermyn does not understand the reasons for his execution.

The trial court recognized the expert psychiatric testimony of all three psychiatrists and noted that, although Jermyn impeded the examinations conducted by Dr. Hostetter and Dr. Kruzsewski, they had a full knowledge of Jermyn's mental health history. The trial court indicated that Jermyn had appeared calm before the court and had answered the court's questions in a cooperative manner. Based on all of the testimony and evidence, the trial court found that Jermyn's mental illness does not prevent him from comprehending the reasons for the death penalty or its implications.

The record shows that the trial court's finding that Jermyn is competent to be executed pursuant to Ford v. Wainwright is supported by the expert testimony of both Dr. Hostetter and Dr. Kruszewski. There is thus, sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court's finding.

Next, Jermyn asserts that the trial court made several rulings which unconstitutionally prevented him from presenting evidence, contrary to the guarantees set forth in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the...

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