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COMMONWEALTH v. TURNER (05/23/51)

May 23, 1951

COMMONWEALTH
v.
TURNER, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 257, Jan. T., 1950, from judgment of Court of Oyer & Terminer of Philadelphia County, June Sessions, 1946, No. 646, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Aaron Turner. Judgment reversed.

COUNSEL

Edwin P. Rome, with him Clinton Budd Palmer, for appellant.

Colbert C. McClain, Assistant District Attorney, with him John H. Maurer, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Drew

[ 367 Pa. Page 404]

OPINION BY MR. CHIEF JUSTICE DREW

This is an appeal by Aaron Turner from his second conviction of murder in the first degree, committed during the perpetration of a robbery, with sentence of death fixed by the jury. From a similar sentence following his first conviction an appeal was taken to this Court and the judgment affirmed. (Commonwealth v. Turner, 358 Pa. 350, 58 A.2d 61) Judgment of this Court was reversed by the United States Supreme Court (338 U.S. 62; 69 S. Ct. Rep. 1352) on the ground that a confession by Turner was improperly admitted into evidence because obtained under coercive circumstances.

Turner and two accomplices, Jasper Johnson and Clarence Lofton, were jointly indicted for the murder of one Frank Endres. Lofton who was the "lookout" during the commission of the robbery, eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Johnson, on a plea of not guilty, was separately tried and convicted of murder in the first degree, with sentence of death. On appeal to this Court the judgment was affirmed (Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144) but the judgment of this Court was reversed by the United States Supreme Court on November

[ 367 Pa. Page 40513]

, 1950 in an order without opinion, citing its decision in the Turner case (338 U.S. 62, supra).

It is unnecessary to recite the facts of the brutal killing of the deceased. They are fully set forth in the opinion of Mr. Chief Justice MAXEY in Commonwealth v. Turner, 358 Pa. 350, 351 et seq.

At the second trial of Turner now here for review, the objectionable confession was not introduced into evidence but the testimony of Turner and of Johnson and Lofton given at a preliminary hearing admitting their guilt was received into evidence and it is contended that this testimony at least in so far as Turner is concerned, was the product of the same coercion that produced his written confession. Under the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in the Turner case and its disposition of the Johnson case, we are compelled to so find.

The crime was committed on December 15, 1945. Lofton was arrested on May 24, 1946; and Turner and Johnson on June 3, 1946. Turner and Johnson were immediately taken to City Hall, Philadelphia, and there held continuously in the custody of the police from June 3rd until sometime after June 8th, under circumstances which the United States Supreme Court held were inherently coercive. During this period they were repeatedly questioned by one or more of seven police officers. On the sixth day of their detention, June 8, 1946, their interview by the police officers was resumed and continued until 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., when they, together with Lofton, were taken before a magistrate in another room in City Hall for a preliminary hearing. The only persons present at this hearing were the same police officers who had engaged in ...


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