Commonwealth v. Donough

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBELL, Justice.
Citation103 A.2d 694,377 Pa. 46
Decision Date25 March 1954

103 A.2d 694

377 Pa. 46


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

March 25, 1954

Defendant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. From the judgment and sentence of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery of Lebanon County at No. 2 December Term, 1952, A. Harry Ehrgood, P. J., defendant appealed. The Supreme Court, No. 52 January Term, 1954, Bell, J., held that the evidence sustained conviction.

Judgment affirmed. [103 A.2d 695]

[377 Pa. 47] L. E. Meyer, James R. Whitman, Meyer, Brubaker & Whitman, Lebanon, for appellant.

William H. Egli, Dist. Atty., and G. Thomas Gates, Asst. Dist. Atty., Lebanon, for appellee.


BELL, Justice.

Defendant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to not less than 6 years nor more than 12 years imprisonment. He alleges numerous errors in the charge of the Court as well as errors pertaining to suicide. The only material facts concerning what took place at or about the time of the death of Mrs. Irene Carpenter Krochell came from statements or a confession or testimony of defendant.

Defendant, a married man with several children, was having a couple of beers at a diner when Mrs. Krochell came up to him and started talking. After some drinking she invited him up to her room at the Stratford Hotel, where he got a room close to hers. After going to his room, they then went into her room which was several doors away. She immediately undressed and lay down on the bed, and they then had intercourse. After that, she left the room to go down to the hotel lobby to get a book or a paper, having first put on a thin nightgown and a coat over it. Defendant returned to his room but about 5 minutes later saw Irene pass by and went over once more to her room. She was lying on her bed in her nightgown reading a gray-colored book. He then attempted to again have [377 Pa. 48] intercourse with her. She jumped up, got to the end of the bed when he grabbed her and asked her to again have intercourse. She said, ‘ Nothing doing, Harold. [103 A.2d 696] If you don't have enough, I am going to jump out the window .’ [1]

‘ Well, I told her, ‘ Well, I will go home then .’ So as we parted there she went toward the window and I seen that she had lifted up the window, and I backed out the door . When I opened the door ready to back out, she was arched at the window. So I thought, well, she is just fooling or something; so I closed the door. I went over to my room, sat down on my bed about five minutes and I thought, well, I will go over. I tried the door knob and at first it didn't open up. So I gave another harder twist and then it opened up. When I opened the door I seen that the window-she was not there. So right there I got frightened and I fled. * * *'

Defendant's testimony was quite different from a prior confession and several prior conflicting statements he had made from which the jury could have believed that he wilfully and intentionally killed Irene either with premeditation or with malice or in resentment and anger. The material part of his confession is as follows:

‘ I, Harold Groy Donough, make this statement in the office of and in the presence of William H. Egli, the District Attorney of Lebanon County, G. Thomas Gates, the Assistant District Attorney, Lt. Roy Kirst, Sgt. Abe Wills, Detective Lloyd Wood’ (Wolfe) ‘ and Susan Flindell, the District Attorney's Stenographer. I make this statement freely and voluntarily without force, threats or intimidation and with out any special promises but with the thought to clear up the mystery [377 Pa. 49] regarding the death of Irene Krochell.

‘ We had intercourse. Then she left for the hotel lobby with a gray coat on. In a few seconds she was back with a book. Then we sat and she started talking about her husband. She said ‘ he is over in Korea’ . That she hopes he gets shot because she don't like him. Then I asked her again to have another intercourse, she said ‘ no’, she had enough. Then we started to tussle. Then we were tusseling a little bit and fighting. She fought, pulling away. I had a hold of her waist, while we were tusseling. Then she flew back against the window, bumped her head somewhere on the window, and I thought she was dead. Her body partly laid out the window. I crawled over, got underneath her arms, pulled her down to the roof, then got hold of her wrist, dragged her on her back until I almost fell off the roof and just rolled her over the roof . I believe she hit her head on the side of the windowsill. I ran out of the room closed her door and mine, ran down the hallway, through the front entrance, got my truck and went home. I was home approximately around 2:30 a. m., November 7.

‘ I pulled Irene's body over to the edge of the roof and pushed her off the roof to make it look like she had committed suicide herself .

‘ I have made the above statement voluntarily as above stated and it represents my version of what happened on the morning of November 7. Before I signed the statement I read it over and know that it correctly states my story, knowing that the same may be used against me.’

Irene was found that morning at 10:30 A.M. lying on the ground at a point directly under her window and under that part of the roof where defendant in his confession stated he had rolled her. She was and remained unconscious until her death several days [377 Pa. 50] later. She had a fracture of her right wrist and right arm, abrasions over her face and body, a fractured pelvis, hemorrhages of the liver, the spleen, and in the adrenal gland, small hemorrhages in the concussion of the brain, all caused by trauma and all of which caused or contributed to her death. She was wearing a furry or gray coat, over a white sheer nightgown, and was lying on her stomach with her face down. She had cinders in her eyes, nose and mouth, but not on her feet, which she probably would have had if she had jumped to her death. [103 A.2d 697]

Defendant, aided by the ingenuity of counsel, contends (a) that his testimony at the trial showed that Irene committed suicide; (b) that his prior written confession (which he said he made at a time when he didn't feel right) showed that her death was accidental; and since this constituted the only material evidence of her death (c) the evidence was not sufficient to convict him of the crime of voluntary manslaughter. The basic fallacy of defendant's contentions is that he assumes a jury must believe all or none of his testimony or confession. Of course, this is not the law.

In Commonwealth v. Homeyer, 373 Pa. 150, at page 153, 94 A.2d 743, at page 745, where the defense was suicide, the Court said: ‘ Defendant like most defendants, proceeds on the assumption that you must believe all of his statements or confessions; of course, that is erroneous; a jury can believe all or a part of or none of a defendant's statements, confessions or testimony. * * *’

If suicide were an affirmative defense such as self-defense, insanity or alibi, the defendant would have the burden of establishing it by a fair preponderance of the evidence. Com. v. Noble, 371 Pa. 138, 142, 88 A.2d 760; Com. v. Johnson, 372 Pa. 266, 282, 93 A.2d 691; Com. v. Woong Knee New, 354 Pa. 188, 47 A.2d 450; Com. v. Burns, 367 Pa. 260, 80 A.2d 746; [377 Pa. 51] Com. v. Ross, 266 Pa. 580, 110 A. 327; Com. v. Molten, 230 Pa. 399, 79 A. 638; Com. v. Deitrick, 218 Pa. 36, 66 A. 1007; Com. v. Gerade, 145 Pa. 289, 22 A. 464; Meyers v. Commonwealth, 83 Pa. 131; Com. v. Bryson, 276 Pa. 566, 120 A. 552; Com. v. Weinberg, 276 Pa. 255, 120 A. 406; Com. v. Iacobino, 319 Pa. 65, 178 A. 823.While there are no appellate Court decisions in Pennsylvania on this question and the authorities elsewhere are few and divided, we believe that the better view is that suicide, like accidental death, see: Com. v. Kluska, 333 Pa. 65, 3 A.2d 398; Com. v. Deitrick, 218 Pa. 36, 66 A. 1007,supra; Com. v. Lockett, 291 Pa. 319, 324, 139 A. 836, is not an affirmative defense and there is no burden of proof upon the defendant on this issue. Cf. 40 C.J.S., Homicide, § 197, page 1098. The Commonwealth in this case-and, it seems necessary to repeat, in every case which requires a criminal intent, even though an affirmative defense is presented-has, of course, the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Rudy v. Com., 128 Pa. 500, 18 A. 344; Com. v. Jordan, 328 Pa. 439, 446, 196 A. 10; Com. v. Woong Knee New, 354 Pa. 215, 47 A.2d 450, supra; Com. v. Noble, 371 Pa. 143, 88 A.2d 760, supra; Com. v. Sallade, 374 Pa. 429, 433, 97 A.2d 528; Turner v. Com., 86 Pa. 54, 74; Com. v. Mills, 350 Pa. 478, 484, 485, 39 A.2d 572; Com. v. Barrish, 297 Pa. 160, 146 A. 553.

A variety of definitions of ‘ reasonable doubt,’ all expressing substantially the same thought, have been approved by the appellate Courts-See Commonwealth v. Kluska, 333 Pa. 65, 3 A.2d 398.A standard and approved form of charge on this point would be: ‘ The defendant comes before you presumed to be innocent and the burden is upon the Commonwealth to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt cannot be a doubt fancied or conjured up in the minds of the jury to escape an unpleasant verdict; it [377 Pa. 52] must be an honest doubt arising out of the evidence itself, the kind of a doubt that would restrain a reasonable man (or woman) from acting in a matter of importance to himself (or herself).’ The trial Judge's charge paraphrased these words and was even more...

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  • Com. v. Donough
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 25, 1954
    ...103 A.2d 694 377 Pa. 46 COMMONWEALTH v. DONOUGH. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. March 25, 1954. [377 Pa. 47] Page 695 L. E. Meyer, James R. Whitman, Meyer, Brubaker & Whitman, Lebanon, for appellant. William H. Egli, Dist. Atty., and G. Thomas Gates, Asst. Dist. Atty., Lebanon, for appellee......
1 cases
  • Com. v. Donough
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 25, 1954
    ...103 A.2d 694 377 Pa. 46 COMMONWEALTH v. DONOUGH. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. March 25, 1954. [377 Pa. 47] Page 695 L. E. Meyer, James R. Whitman, Meyer, Brubaker & Whitman, Lebanon, for appellant. William H. Egli, Dist. Atty., and G. Thomas Gates, Asst. Dist. Atty., Lebanon, for appellee......

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