Com. v. Travaglia

Decision Date29 September 1983
Citation502 Pa. 474,467 A.2d 288
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Michael J. TRAVAGLIA, Appellant. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. John Charles LESKO, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Rabe F. Marsh, III, Greensburg (Court-appointed), Welsh S. White, Pittsburgh, for appellant at No. 26.

Dante G. Bertani, Public Defender, Timothy J. McCormick, Asst. Public Defender, Greensburg, for appellant at No. 37.

John J. Driscoll, Dist. Atty., Timothy J. Geary, Asst. Dist. Atty., Greensburg, for appellee at No. 37.

Marion MacIntyre, Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee at No. 26.



ZAPPALA, Justice.

We are called upon to review convictions of first degree murder, for which the Appellants were sentenced to death. Pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h), we examine the record for errors at trial, and to determine whether the sentence of death should be affirmed or vacated.


In the early morning hours of January 3, 1980, Apollo Police Officer Leonard Miller was killed by two bullets from a .38 caliber hand gun, after having stopped a silver-colored Lancia sports car, containing three men, which had several times sped past his position at the Apollo Stop-and-Go convenience store. Officer Miller was found lying on the highway by police officers who were responding to his radio request for assistance. His service revolver had been drawn, and all six rounds had been fired. Police investigation turned up the Lancia, abandoned, with the windows shattered and bullet holes in it. It was established that the automobile was registered to one William Nicholls of Pittsburgh who had recently disappeared.

Prior to the Miller homicide, state police had received evidence indicating that Appellant Travaglia may have been involved in a number of armed robberies and killings which had taken place in Pittsburgh and surrounding counties. Pursuant to their investigation, the state police had found a vehicle, owned by a homicide victim, abandoned near a motel where Travaglia and a man named Daniel Keith Montgomery had been staying.

Pittsburgh police located Montgomery in the early evening hours of January 3, 1980 in the downtown area of Pittsburgh. While questioning him, they discovered a .38 caliber revolver on his person. Montgomery told the police that Travaglia had given him the weapon and that he (Travaglia) and Appellant Lesko had at that time talked about "wasting a policeman." Montgomery then told police that both Appellants Lesko and Travaglia were staying in a room at the Edison Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. The police proceeded immediately to the Edison where they arrested Lesko and Travaglia. Appellants were taken to the Public Safety Building and, after being given the standard Miranda warnings, were individually interrogated. Both gave statements implicating themselves in the killing of Officer Miller, and in the killings of William Nicholls, Peter Levato, and Marlene Sue Newcomer.

Following various delays caused by two changes of venue and a mistrial, trial commenced in Westmoreland County on January 21, 1981, before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Gilfert Mihalich and a jury selected in Berks County. The jury found the Appellants guilty of the first degree murder of Officer Miller on January 30, 1981. On February 3, 1981, the jury, finding aggravating circumstances which outweighed any mitigating circumstances, imposed the penalty of death upon Appellants.



Appellants claim that they were unlawfully arrested and that certain evidence should be suppressed as the fruit of the unlawful arrest. The evidence consists of a .22 caliber revolver taken from Lesko and a confession given by each of the Appellants.

Prior to the arrest, the police knew the following:

Three homicides by shooting had occurred in Westmoreland County between December 29, 1979 and January 3, 1980. The December 29 shooting of Peter Levato and the January 1 or 2 shooting of Marlene Sue Newcomer were done with a .22 caliber revolver. The January 3 shooting of Leonard Miller was done with a .38 caliber revolver.

During the approximate period of the killings, there had been a series of robberies of convenience stores in Westmoreland and Indiana Counties at which the victims were bound with yellow electrical wire. Travaglia's father, Bernard Travaglia, had told the police that a spool of yellow electrical wire and a .38 caliber revolver had been stolen from him and that he suspected Travaglia of stealing the revolver. An inspection of a truck owned by Travaglia and repossessed by a bank had revealed yellow electrical wire similar to that stolen from Travaglia's father and that used in the robberies. Bernard Travaglia had also told the police that his son owned a .22 caliber revolver but had told him it was confiscated by a game warden. The Pennsylvania Game Commission had contradicted the report of the confiscation.

The victims of one of the robberies had said that the perpetrators fled in a tan Dodge Ram Charger with window curtains. The body of Marlene Sue Newcomer had been discovered in such a vehicle.

On January 3, 1980, an arrest warrant was issued for Travaglia for receiving stolen property in connection with a burglary at Sonny's Lounge on Route 22 in Delmont, Westmoreland County. Travaglia was known to have been staying at the time with another individual at the Thatcher Motel, which was next to Sonny's Lounge. Peter Levato's car had been found abandoned on December 29, 1979, within a mile of the motel.

The police also knew that the windows of the escape vehicle used by the perpetrators of the Miller homicide had been shot out and that three men had been seen in the area hitchhiking toward Pittsburgh. A motorist, James Henderson, who gave a ride to a group of three men, had been previously acquainted with Travaglia and had identified him as one of the riders.

The police learned that Room 616 of the Edison Hotel in Pittsburgh had been rented to a Michael Simons and a Mr. Lesko. Travaglia was known to have used the alias Michael Simons. Information obtained from Daniel Keith Montgomery confirmed that Lesko and Travaglia were in Room 616 of the Edison Hotel and indicated that Lesko still had a .22 caliber revolver. A night clerk at the hotel told police that the Appellants were still in the room. At 10:20 p.m. on January 3, the clerk unlocked the room with a pass key. The police entered without announcing their identity or purpose. Lesko pointed his gun at them before surrendering.

Travaglia claims that his arrest was unlawful because the warrant for his arrest on the charge of receiving stolen goods was issued without sufficient probable cause. We need not decide that question because we find that the validity of the arrest does not depend on the validity of the warrant. A police officer may arrest without a warrant where there is probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed and that the arrestee is the felon. Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the officer are reasonably trustworthy and sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in believing that the arrestee has committed the offense, Commonwealth v. Jackson, 450 Pa. 113, 299 A.2d 213 (1973). The officers' investigation and the information they acquired, as detailed above, gave them probable cause to believe that the Appellants were the perpetrators of the homicides. This allowed them to arrest the Appellants without a warrant.

The Appellants also claim that the arrests were invalid because the police acted improperly in entering the hotel room without a warrant and without announcing beforehand their identity and purpose. They base their claim on the rule prohibiting a warrantless entry into a suspect's dwelling without exigent circumstances, Commonwealth v. Williams, 483 Pa. 293, 396 A.2d 1177 (1978); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980), and on the "knock and announce" rule, Commonwealth v. Norris, 498 Pa. 308, 446 A.2d 246 (1982); Commonwealth v. Newman, 429 Pa. 441, 240 A.2d 795 (1968). The Appellants would treat the hotel room as a dwelling and apply the requirements of Williams and Payton to both the warrantless entry and the failure of the officers to announce their identities and purpose. Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d 856 (1964) supports the Appellants' contention that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their hotel room. The Court in Stoner held that a hotel clerk does not have authority to allow police to search a guest's room. However, we find that even if the requirements of Williams and Payton apply to hotel rooms, they do not render these arrests invalid. In Williams, we listed certain factors that would tend to support a finding that a warrantless arrest of a suspect in his or her home is legal. These include, inter alia, that a grave offense is involved, particularly a crime of violence; that the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed; a clear showing of probable cause--including reasonable, trustworthy information--to believe that the suspect committed the crime; and strong reason to believe that the suspect is on the premises. We find that these factors were present in this case and were sufficient to establish exigent circumstances so as to justify a warrantless entry and arrest. Although the exigent circumstances which "justify failure to obtain an arrest warrant are not entirely coextensive with those exigencies which justify noncompliance with the 'knock and announce' rule," Commonwealth v. Norris, 498 Pa. at 313 n. 2, 446 A.2d at 248 n. 2, the facts previously recited clearly demonstrate the existence of circumstances which excused compliance with this Fourth...

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