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COMMONWEALTH v. BALLEM (03/17/58)

March 17, 1958

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BALLEM, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 50, Jan. T., 1958, from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery and Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Delaware County, June T., 1954, No. 482, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Francis X. Ballem. Order affirmed.

COUNSEL

William H. Turner, for appellant.

Paul R. Sand, Assistant District Attorney, with him Ernest L. Green, Assistant District Attorney, and Raymond R. Start, District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Chidsey

[ 391 Pa. Page 628]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE CHIDSEY

On April 29, 1954 the appellant, Francis X. Ballem, was arrested and charged with murder. The court appointed counsel for the defendant, who on September 10, 1954 petitioned the court for the appointment of a commission to inquire into the mental condition of the defendant pursuant to The Mental Health Act of June 12, 1951, P.L. 533, as amended by the Act of January 14, 1952, P.L. 2053, 50 PS ยง 1071 et seq. The petition was granted and the court appointed a commission. Following the report of such commission and in accordance with its conclusions, the court found that the defendant's mental condition was not such as to require commitment to a mental hospital. Thereupon the defendant was tried by a jury which, after a lengthy trial, rejected his pleas of insanity and self defense, and found him guilty of murder in the first degree, with the penalty fixed at death. Motions for new trial and in arrest of judgment were heard and dismissed, and on December 30, 1955 the court imposed the sentence prescribed by law. The judgment of sentence of death was appealed to this Court and affirmed: Commonwealth

[ 391 Pa. Page 629]

    testimony of witnesses was taken, certain documentary evidence, principally letters written by the defendant, was received, and the defendant himself was examined. Thereafter the commission made two reports to the court, one submitted by Mr. Heidmann and Dr. Bartle, Jr. as a majority opinion concluding that the appellant was not insane under the definition of "insanity" contained in the 1956 amendment of the Mental Health Act of 1951, and the other by Dr. Staples as a minority opinion concluding that the defendant was insane under such definition.

On May 15, 1957 the court below, with President Judge SWENEY, and Judges TOAL and BRETHERICK present, held a hearing in chambers during which members of the court as well as counsel for the defendant and the Commonwealth questioned the members of the commission after they were duly sworn with respect to their reports. On June 3, 1957 the court having found that the defendant was not insane under the applicable definition of "insanity" contained in the 1956 amendment of The Mental Health Act of 1951, made the following order:

"AND NOW, to wit, this 3rd day of June A.D. 1957, a petition for the commitment to a hospital for mental illnesses having been filed on behalf of the defendant, Francis X. Ballem, on March 5, 1957, and the Court having appointed a Commission to investigate the condition of the said Francis X. Ballem and to make a report thereof in writing to the Court, and specifically to inquire into and report upon the condition of the said Francis X. Ballem, a prisoner under sentence of death, alleged to be insane, within the meaning of that term as defined by the Mental Health Act of 1951, June 12, P.L. 533, section 344, as amended by the Act of 1951, January 14 (1952), P.L. 2053, section II, and the Act of 1956, May 31, P.L. 1897 (1955), section 1,

[ 391 Pa. Page 631]

    and to report to the Court its specific answers to the following questions.

"1. Whether the prisoner, Francis X. Ballem, is insane and does not have capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him.

"2. Whether the prisoner, Francis X. Ballem, is insane and does not comprehend his own condition with ...


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