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COMMONWEALTH v. COLE (01/09/56)

January 9, 1956

COMMONWEALTH
v.
COLE, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 114, March T., 1955, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Allegheny County, Sept. T., 1954, No. 51, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William D. Cole. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

Herbert Blumenfeld, for appellant.

Samuel Strauss, Assistant District Attorney, with him James F. Malone, Jr., District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Musmanno

[ 384 Pa. Page 41]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

The details of the murder to which the defendant in this case pleaded guilty are so revolting that no purpose can be served in sullying the printed pages of the State Reports with a narration of the loathsome particulars. It is enough to say that a reading of the record establishes beyond the slightest shadow of even a mist of uncertainty that the facts spell first degree murder under the Criminal Code*fn* and all the decisions of this Court on the subject. Moreover, there is no pretension in the appeal of the defendant that his unhesitant admissions in open court on his plea of guilty do not conclusively prove all the ingredients of first degree murder.

The appeal for a new trial is divided into three parts, which will be taken up seriatim.

1. Should the defendant have been permitted to withdraw his plea of guilty?

On December 6, 1954, the defendant appeared in the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery for Allegheny County. Sitting on the bench were Judges WEISS, NIXON, and ALPERN. The indictment was read aloud to the accused by Court Clerk Mazer, who then questioned him: "How say you - are you guilty or not guilty of the felony for which you stand charged?" The defendant's answer was: "Guilty."

[ 384 Pa. Page 42]

In Order that it should be clear as sunlight and as obvious as day that he fully comprehended the nature of the proceedings into which he entered of his own free will, the Court interrogated the defendant as follows: "Judge ALPERN: Q. We want to make certain Mr. Cole, that you understand now, about the plea of guilty? A. Yes, ma'am. Q. Have you made this plea with the full knowledge of the consequences of pleading guilty? A. Yes, I have. Q. Did you discuss the matter, thoroughly, with your counsel? A. Yes, ma'am. Q. Did they urge you to plead guilty, or was it of your own volition? A. They didn't urge me at all. It was of my own. Q. And you know when you are pleading guilty, you are pleading guilty generally? A. Yes. Q. And you have given it consideration and nobody has told you? A. No, ma'am. Judge NIXON: Q. Mr. Cole, I want to be sure you arrived at this conclusion yourself? A. Yes, sir. Q. Without the influence of anybody else? A. Yes, sir. Q. And you realize what you are doing, pleading guilty to murder? A. Yes, sir. Q. And that this court has the responsibility, on your plea, to fix the punishment? That is, the responsibility of this court, there being no arrangements made by this Court or anyone else, that by pleading guilty, the sentence of this court would be lenient or not lenient, and in accordance with the facts as presented. Is that right? A. Yes. Q. Under our responsibility, this court has to fix the degree of the crime, do you understand that? A. Yes. Judge ALPERN: Q. Do you know you have a right to a jury trial? A. Yes. Q. And you do not choose to have a jury trial? A. No."

When the defendant was arrested, six months prior to appearing in Court, he voluntarily made a written statement in which he related minutely how he strangled to death his victim Pearl Williams. Now, in ...


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