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COMMONWEALTH v. WABLE (05/23/55)

May 23, 1955

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WABLE, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 85, March T., 1955, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Westmoreland County, Feb. T., 1954, No. 9, incase of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. John Wesley Wable. Judgment affirmed; reargument refused June 14, 1955.

COUNSEL

A. C. Scales, with him Richard B. McCormick and B. Patrick Costello, for appellant.

Joseph M. Loughran, Assistant District Attorney, L. Alexander Sculco, District Attorney, and John K. Best, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Stern

[ 382 Pa. Page 82]

OPINION BY MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HORACE STERN

Defendant, John Wesley Wable, 25 years of age, although of a well respected family in the community and a high school graduate, was court-martialed while in Army service and received a dishonorable discharge; thereafter he worked for some time in Cleveland but became unemployed a short time prior to the occurrences which have now resulted in his conviction of the crime of murder.

On July 25, 1953, one Lester B. Woodward, a truck driver, was murdered while asleep in the cab of his truck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at a point in Westmoreland County. Three days later, on July 28, 1953, one Harry Franklin Pitts, likewise a truck driver, was similarly murdered while asleep in the cab of his truck at a point on the Pennsylvania Turnpike also in Westmoreland County. Three days later, on July 31, 1953, one John K. Shepard, another truck driver, was shot while asleep in the cab of his truck on a highway in Ohio at a point approximately 15 miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Defendant was indicted and tried for the murder of Pitts. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder of the first degree and fixed the penalty at death. Defendant appeals from the judgment entered on the verdict and the sentence imposed thereon by the court.

Of the several reasons advanced by defendant in support of his appeal the principal one is that the court erroneously admitted evidence relating to the murder of Woodward and the shooting of Shepard. Apart from the fact, however, that the crimes all occurred at three day intervals and two of them in the same neighborhood, there was a striking similarity in the manner in which they were committed. Woodward and Pitts were each found lying on the seat of his

[ 382 Pa. Page 83]

    cab with his head against the door and resting on a pillow. Each had apparently been attacked in the early morning hours. In each instance the murderer had poked his gun through the door window and shot his victim in the head, death being instantaneous. In each instance the bullet had entered the head at about the same angle. In each instance the motive was evidently robbery, Woodward being actually robbed but apparently a hurried getaway in the case of Pitts prevented accomplishment of that purpose. Shepard also was robbed and the shooting in his case was practically identical in detail with the other crimes, except that he was fortunate that his wound did not result in death. What led to defendant's arrest was that a watch which had been stolen from Shepard was discovered in a pawnshop in Cleveland and found to have been pawned there by defendant. The weapon with which all the shootings had been performed was identified as belonging to defendant. He was arrested in New Mexico,*fn1 waived extradition, and, while returning to Pennsylvania in the custody of officers, wrote out a statement in which he admitted that he was with one "Jim Parks" on the occasions of the shootings, but he asserted that "Parks" was the man who had actually committed them; such a person as "Parks" has never been located, and, as already stated, the bullets that were fired into the three victims were shown

[ 382 Pa. Page 84]

    to have been fired from defendant's gun. Shepard testified that defendant, whom he positively identified, was on the scene and accosted him as he ...


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