Commonwealth v. Yeager, 377

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtMR. JUSTICE MAXEY:
Citation329 Pa. 81,196 A. 827
PartiesCommonwealth v. Yeager, Appellant
Docket Number377
Decision Date31 January 1938

196 A. 827

329 Pa. 81

Commonwealth
v.
Yeager, Appellant

No. 377

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

January 31, 1938


[196 A. 828]

Argued: November 23, 1937

Appeal, No. 377, Jan. T., 1937, from judgment of O. & T. Montour Co., May Sessions, 1937, No. 1, in case of Commonwealth v. William H. Yeager. Judgment affirmed.

Indictment for murder. Before EVANS, P.J.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Verdict of guilty of first degree murder and judgment and sentence thereon. Defendant appealed.

Errors assigned, among others, were various rulings on evidence.

The judgment is affirmed. The record is remitted to the court below so that sentence may be executed.

Edward J. Flynn, for appellant.

George O. Wagner, for appellee.

Before SCHAFFER, MAXEY, DREW, LINN, STERN and BARNES, JJ.

OPINION [196 A. 829]

[329 Pa. 82] MR. JUSTICE MAXEY:

This is an appeal from the sentence of death imposed in accordance with the jury's verdict, upon the defendant, William H. Yeager, after he was convicted of murder in the first degree upon an indictment charging him with the murder of John Fessler, a member of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Early in the evening of April 22, 1937, the defendant engaged in a quarrel with his wife and other members of his family at his and their home in Cooper Township, Montour County. In the course of the argument Yeager struck his wife over the head with a lantern, causing her head to bleed. One of his sons, Charles "Bud" Yeager, then went to the office of the sheriff of Montour County and asked the sheriff to arrest his father. The sheriff instructed him to go to the office of Austin H. Klase, a [329 Pa. 83] Justice of the Peace, to secure a warrant. This "Bud" Yeager did, charging his father with felonious assault and battery committed on the person of his mother, Gertrude Yeager, and himself. "Bud" Yeager then delivered the warrant to the sheriff who in turn gave it to Deputy Sheriff Wray.

The sheriff called the State Police Barracks at Muncy and asked for assistance in making the arrest. In response to his request, Officers John Fessler, the victim, and Thomas Hooper arrived at the Montour County Jail at approximately 10:20 o'clock p.m. Fessler was dressed in State Police uniform and Hooper wore civilian clothes. These two officers, the sheriff and his deputy then left for the Yeager home in an automobile. At approximately 10:55 p.m. they arrived at the Yeager home, which is not located along the public highway; a lane leads from the public highway to the house and beyond the house to the barn. The officers drove down the lane, passed the house, and parked their car. On the side of the house facing the lane there are two kitchen windows and a window in the kitchen door.

The officers got out of the car and walked single file, Fessler leading, toward the house. Hooper noticed a dim light burning in the kitchen and the two sheriffs noticed the light after they entered the house. Fessler and Hooper, the State Policemen, looked through the kitchen windows and through the window in the kitchen door. Fessler, after looking through the windows, stepped up to the kitchen door, looked through the window in it, and then knocked. They saw no one inside. There was no response to Fessler's knock and he then called the defendant's name and cried out: "State Police. Come out. Sheriff wants to talk to you. We have a warrant for you." There was no reply to this and Fessler then tried the door knob and found it locked. A few minutes later he forced the door open with his knee. Fessler had taken about three steps into the kitchen when a loud shot was heard coming from the inside [329 Pa. 84] of the house to the right of the kitchen door. Fessler exclaimed: "Tommy, I'm shot." Hooper saw in the end of the kitchen what he described as a "darkened doorway." He called: "Come out with your hands up." A voice replied: "Go away or I'll kill you all." Hooper fired a shot and again called: "Come out with your hands up." There was no reply but "just a mumble or a shuffle coming from the same direction." Hooper [196 A. 830] fired another shot and called again: "Come out with your hands up." There was again no reply. Hooper fired again "in the direction of the darkened doorway" and then a man came out of this doorway into the room. He had nothing in his hands. Hooper "pinned him against the wall." The sheriff and his deputy then came in and the sheriff placed handcuffs on the appellant.

The officers were attending to Fessler, who was lying on his stomach on the kitchen floor and calling for aid, when they noticed that Yeager had grabbed a revolver lying on the kitchen table and had raised it several inches. He was overpowered. The sheriff then left for Geisinger Memorial Hospital at Danville to secure an ambulance. Officer Hooper attended to Fessler and Deputy Sheriff Wray removed Yeager to the hallway and stood guard over him. Fessler was admitted to the hospital at about 12:05 a.m., April 23rd, 1937. He received immediate medical attention, was operated upon and removed to his room, and at 3:50 a.m. the same day, he died as a result of the wounds inflicted. There were two gun shot wounds, one on the right side of the back a short distance above the crest of the ilium, where the bullet entered, and one on the left side of the back, about two inches higher, where the bullet left the body.

Yeager was also taken to the Geisinger Memorial Hospital and was there treated for gun shot wounds and a wound upon his head. He remained at the hospital until April 28, 1937, when he was removed to the county jail.

[329 Pa. 85] There were no witnesses who testified that they saw Yeager shoot. However, at about midnight on April 22, 1937, one hour after the shooting occurred and after Fessler and Yeager had been removed to the hospital, Corporal Eshleman and Officer Reigel of the Pennsylvania State Police made an inspection of the Yeager house. Among a number of things found at the house by these two officers was a 30.06 rifle in a bedroom on the second floor covered with blood. There was blood on the stairway and floor leading from the hallway to this gun.

The examiner of small arms and ammunitions, John Funck, testified, over the objection of defendant's counsel, that the empty cartridge case found on the kitchen floor of the house was fired from this rifle, and that this type cartridge when fired from this rifle produced a loud report.

Defendant was tried and found guilty, and a new trial being denied, was duly sentenced to death. This appeal followed, with twenty-one assignments of error.

The first assignment, which is the one chiefly stressed by appellant, is based upon the refusal of the court to submit to the jury the issue of manslaughter. The court stated to the jury that there were four possible verdicts: "First, murder in the first degree, with the death penalty, or second, murder in the first degree, with life imprisonment, or third, murder in the second degree, or fourth, not guilty."

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.

The crime of voluntary manslaughter consists of an intentional and unlawful killing of a human being without [329 Pa. 86] malice, either express or implied, but committed under the immediate influence of sudden passion. The sudden passion which will reduce an unlawful killing to voluntary manslaughter must be due to a legally adequate provocation. The law views with some tolerance an unlawful act impelled by a justifiably passionate heart, but has no toleration whatever for an unlawful act impelled by a malicious heart. In the case at bar there was no evidence whatsoever showing that the killing of State Policeman Fessler was induced by any passion such as anger, rage, resentment or terror arising from a legally adequate provocation. The proof was that after an altercation between defendant and his wife and his son, in the course of which defendant struck his wife over the head with a lantern, injuring her, he, the defendant, loaded his shotgun and placed it near the kitchen stove on the east side of the house facing the lane, and then loaded his rifle and placed it in a corner of the hallway on the west side of the kitchen door, thus having a loaded gun on each side of...

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44 practice notes
  • U.S. ex rel. Matthews v. Johnson, No. 73-1424
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 15, 1974
    ...is no evidence of passion or provocation. 6 See, e.g., Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 112 A.2d 362 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, Page 342 196 A. 827 (1938). The reason for this rule is said to be that a charge on a point or issue which is unsupported by any evidence '. . ......
  • Com. v. Moore
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 3, 1975
    ...558--59, 239 A.2d 382, 384--85 (1968); Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 121--22, 112 A.2d 362, 366--367 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 85--87, 91, 196 A. 827, 830--31, 833 (1938); Commonwealth v. Gibson, 211 Pa. 546, 548, 60 A. 1086, 1086 (1908) (per curiam); Commonwealth v.......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 28, 1977
    ...555, 558--59, 239 A.2d 382, 384--85 (1968); Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 121--22, 112 A.2d 362, 367 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 85--87, 91, 196 A. 827, 830--31, 833 (1938) Commonwealth v. Gibson, 211 Pa. 546, 548, 60 A. 1086, 1086 (1908) (per curiam) (no citation to a......
  • Com. v. Heckathorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 1968
    ...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. Crossmi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • U.S. ex rel. Matthews v. Johnson, No. 73-1424
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 15, 1974
    ...is no evidence of passion or provocation. 6 See, e.g., Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 112 A.2d 362 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, Page 342 196 A. 827 (1938). The reason for this rule is said to be that a charge on a point or issue which is unsupported by any evidence '. . ......
  • Com. v. Moore
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 3, 1975
    ...558--59, 239 A.2d 382, 384--85 (1968); Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 121--22, 112 A.2d 362, 366--367 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 85--87, 91, 196 A. 827, 830--31, 833 (1938); Commonwealth v. Gibson, 211 Pa. 546, 548, 60 A. 1086, 1086 (1908) (per curiam); Commonwealth v.......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 28, 1977
    ...555, 558--59, 239 A.2d 382, 384--85 (1968); Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 121--22, 112 A.2d 362, 367 (1955); Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 85--87, 91, 196 A. 827, 830--31, 833 (1938) Commonwealth v. Gibson, 211 Pa. 546, 548, 60 A. 1086, 1086 (1908) (per curiam) (no citation to a......
  • Com. v. Heckathorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 1968
    ...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. Crossmi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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