Commonwealth v. Spardute

Decision Date23 June 1923
Docket Number321
Citation122 A. 161,278 Pa. 37
PartiesCommonwealth v. Spardute, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Argued April 30, 1923

Appeal, No. 321, Jan. T., 1923, by defendant, from judgment of O. & T. Bradford Co., Sept. T., 1922, No. 5, on verdict of guilty of murder of the first degree, in case of Commonwealth v. Anthony Spardute (alias Tony Spardute). Affirmed.

Indictment for murder. Before MAXWELL, P.J.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Verdict of guilty of murder of the first degree on which sentence was passed. Defendant appealed.

Errors assigned were various rulings and instructions, appearing by the opinion of the Supreme Court, quoting record.

The record is remitted to the court below for the purpose of execution.

Chas M. Culver, with him A. C. Fanning, for appellant. -- The Commonwealth should not have been permitted to discredit its own witness: McNerney v. Reading City, 150 Pa. 611; Smith v. Price, 8 Watts 447; Stearns v Merchants Bank, 53 Pa. 490; Com. v. Wickett, 20 Pa.Super. 350; Peoples Nat. Bank v. Hazard, 231 Pa. 552.

The admission of the confession was improper: Com. v. Harman, 4 Pa. 269; Com. v. Zorambo, 205 Pa. 109; Rizzolo v. Com., 126 Pa. 54.

Taking from the jury the right to consider or render a verdict of voluntary manslaughter was error: Rhodes v. Com., 48 Pa. 396; Lane v. Com., 59 Pa. 371; Com. v. McCloskey, 273 Pa. 456; Com. v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343.

W. G. Schrier, District Attorney, cited, as to the confession: Com. v. Van Horn, 188 Pa. 143; Com. v. Aston, 227 Pa. 112; Com. v. Clark, 130 Pa. 641.

As to the court's instructions as to manslaughter: Com. v. Toth, 145 Pa. 308; Com. v. LeGrange, 227 Pa. 368.

Before MOSCHZISKER, C.J., FRAZER, WALLING, SIMPSON, KEPHART and SCHAFFER, JJ.

OPINION

MR. JUSTICE SCHAFFER:

Appellant, under sentence to death for the murder of Norman Carmel, brings before us for review the record of his trial, claiming there were such errors in it as to warrant his having another chance for his life.

The case is uncomplicated so far as its principal facts are concerned. There was a strike of railroad employees at Sayre in Bradford County. It was ordered by a labor organization, of which defendant had been a member up to about a year prior to the date of the crime. While not actually belonging to the organization at the time of the strike, he took great interest in the strikers' cause, daily reported to their headquarters, and signed a roll there kept, pledging fidelity to the organization and the strike.

It was shown that, on the afternoon prior to the killing, defendant was visited at his home by four of the strikers, one of whom was his brother. These men either there or previously entered into a conspiracy to beat and rob strike-breakers. Conversations took place, the purport of which was, that defendant and the others in the party should go to the near-by town of East Waverly, where strike-breakers were supposed to be, for the purpose of assaulting and robbing them. Defendant denied that he was present when this talk was going on, alleging he was in and out of the room where the visitors were for the purpose of supplying them with cider and wine which he served to them. James B. Kelly, one of the persons in the house and one of those who subsequently went to East Waverly, testified the defendant was present. Whether he overheard and participated in all that was said in the house or not, it was convincingly shown the same subject, that of beating and robbing strike-breakers, was discussed after they departed from the house and when they were on their way to East Waverly, in an automobile, in which defendant sat on the rear seat with two of the other conspirators, his brother and another being on the front seat. While appellant said he did not participate in or hear what was said about the unlawful acts which were to be perpetrated, and that he only went along for the ride, it is manifest, from his nearness to those who were talking, that he must have heard them, as his subsequent conduct shows he acted in concert with them in carrying out what was planned. On arriving at East Waverly, the party left the automobile, loitered around the railroad station for awhile, and defendant then proceeded along a path on which the strike-breakers were likely to walk in coming from their work. None appeared, however, and, after waiting sometime, the party proceeded in the automobile to Sayre, where the railroad shops of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company are located, which was the central point of the strike. Arriving there, defendant left the automobile and sat in a public park, the others who had been with him remaining in the vicinity.

About nine o'clock in the evening, it became noised about that deceased, who was working for the railroad company and had refused to strike, was eating in a restaurant near the park. Two of the men who had gone on the automobile trip, Kelly and DePasquale, entered the restaurant to endeavor to persuade the deceased to abandon his work. They were unsuccessful in this, came out of the restaurant and announced to those who were standing near, a considerable crowd having congregated, defendant being in it, that the man in the restaurant was a strike-breaker and that he would not give up his employment. It was testified that at this time defendant spoke of the deceased as a "scab." In a short while, deceased emerged from the restaurant and started down the street followed by defendant and a number of the strikers. When a place was reached where it was dark, he was set upon, beaten and fatally stabbed.

Defendant admits he was one of those who pursued the deceased and that he was within twenty-five feet of him when the assault took place; that he stopped to pick something up, which turned out to be a piece of manure; just then, and while the affray was in progress, someone called that the state troopers were coming. The participants ran from the scene and two of them were joined by defendant, who was seen by others running away. The subject of the assault on the deceased was talked over by appellant and these two men, after they left the scene, and he invited them to go to a near-by hospital, where he was employed in the laundry; there they all washed their hands. After doing so, the trio separated, defendant going to his home. Subsequent to his arrest, a coat, identified as having been worn by defendant on the night of the murder, was found. There was blood in the inside pocket, which had hardened; on it was an imprint in the form of a knife blade. In his confession, defendant said he carried the knife, with which he did the stabbing, in his inside coat pocket. The next day after the murder, defendant returned to work in the hospital, was there taken into custody and removed to the headquarters of the state constabulary in a hotel in Sayre; he was detained, either there or in the town lockup, for two days, without seeing anyone except those investigating the crime. While so held, he confessed his guilt.

The principal battle in the case and before us is over this confession, defendant contending that it was made involuntarily and the Commonwealth that it was freely given. The circumstances connected with it are that, after the accused was taken to the headquarters of the constabulary, he was interrogated by the district attorney, by members of the state constabulary, the coroner, the sheriff and detectives as to his connection with the murder. He at first denied all participation in it and said he knew nothing about the matter until the next day, when a newspaper was read to him. Subsequently, he was asked if he wished to make a statement under oath, and, on his assenting, he was sworn by the court stenographer. While this official had no authority to administer an oath, we will treat it as though he had, because the defendant evidently so thought. After being sworn, the district attorney warned defendant that he need not make any statement, that no promise of any kind could be held out to him and that whatever he might say would be used against him on trial. He was asked whether anyone had promised him anything to make a statement and he answered no. In his first narration after being sworn, he denied the visit made to him on the afternoon of the murder by his brother and the others and the trip to East Waverly, accounting for his presence elsewhere on that afternoon, and for his being in the park, and in the vicinity of the restaurant, as a chance matter, and denied all connection with the killing. This first statement was untrue in all material respects, as was what he said before being sworn. ("The fabrication of false and contradictory accounts by an accused criminal, for the sake of diverting inquiry or casting off suspicion, is a circumstance always indicatory of guilt": Cathcart v. Com., 37 Pa. 108, 113; McMeen v. Com., 114 Pa. 300, 306.) After he had denied the visit to East Waverly, the others of the party whom he had accompanied there were produced before him and interrogated in his presence; they told the true story of what had taken place on that afternoon. Upon hearing this and being urged by the district attorney and the other officials to tell the truth, and after having been accused by them of lying and after allegations made to him by them of certain evidence in their possession, which were false, among others, that they had the knife with which the killing was done, defendant, in answer to interrogations which assumed his guilt, admitted his trip with the others to East Waverly, that they had gone for the purpose of attacking strike-breakers, that he had participated in the assault on the deceased and had stabbed him with a sharp instrument, which he, the defendant, had made and which he...

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