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COMMONWEALTH v. LANCE (04/18/55)

April 18, 1955

COMMONWEALTH
v.
LANCE, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 68, March T., 1955, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Beaver County, Sept. T., 1954, No. 5, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Patrick Alexander Lance. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

Linas V. Ledebur, Jr., with him Edward J. McClain, for appellant.

Richard P. Steward, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold JJ.

Author: Arnold

[ 381 Pa. Page 294]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE ARNOLD

Defendant was indicted for the murders of his wife and two stepchildren. He was tried only for the killing of his stepson, and was convicted by a jury which fixed the penalty at death. He appeals from the judgment and sentence of death entered upon the verdict. The only defense was insanity at the time of the homicides.

The killings occurred on the evening of June 11, 1954, in their home in Big Beaver Township, Beaver County. At that time defendant was approximately thirty years of age. He had quit school after the ninth grade, and had thereafter served in World War II, during which he suffered a concussion from a mortar

[ 381 Pa. Page 295]

    shell burst. In 1950 he married one Agnes Hoffman, whom he killed and who was the mother of the two stepchildren killed by him.

After much contention during the several years of their marriage, he and his wife, on June 10, 1954, arranged through an attorney for separation and support. The following morning he and his wife went shopping in nearby Beaver Falls, during which time they drank some beer. They returned to their home at approximately 6:00 P.M. and shortly thereafter engaged in argument. He then picked up a 22 calibre revolver from a chair where he had left it after hunting, and proceeded to kill his wife, his 12 year old stepdaughter, and his 10 year old stepson. He then placed his stepdaughter on a bed, undressed her, and had intercourse with her body. He left the home, drove down the road for a bit, and then returned to feed his chickens. He again left and drove until apprehended by officers in New Bethlehem the following day. Thereupon he confessed all the incidents of the killings, which confession was the principal source of facts presented to the jury.

Defendant admitted all the facts concerning the homicides. His only defense was insanity, his contention being that he "blacked out" when he shot and until he was in the jail. He assigns as grounds for appeal that (1) the verdict was contrary to the evidence and the weight of the evidence; (2) the court erred in expressing an opinion in its charge to the jury as to the degree of guilt of the defendant; and (3) the court erred in its charge, in that it reviewed the evidence in such a manner as to disparage the defendant's defense of insanity.

A careful and painstaking review of the testimony presented in this case, to prove these atrocious and brutal killings, ...


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