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COMMONWEALTH v. CATER ET AL. (05/08/59)

May 8, 1959

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CATER ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Appeals, Nos. 351, 353 and 360, Jan. T., 1957, from judgments of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, April T., 1957, No. 346, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James Cater, Robert Lee Williams, and George Lee Rivers. Judgment affirmed in Williams case; other judgments vacated; reargument refused July 2, 1959. Indictment charging defendants with murder. Before MACNEILLE, P.J., SPORKIN, and WATERS, JJ., without a jury. All defendants entered pleas of guilty to murder generally, and were adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree, with penalty fixed at death for each defendant, and judgments of sentence entered thereon, opinion by WATERS, J. Defendants appealed.

COUNSEL

W. Bradley Ward, with him Joseph L. Ehrenreich, for Cater, appellant.

Charles A. Lord, with him Leon Rosenfield, for Williams, appellant.

Garfield W. Levy, with him Irwin Apfel, for Rivers, appellant.

Juanita Kidd Stout, Assistant District Attorney, with her James N. Lafferty, First Assistant District Attorney, and Victor H. Blanc, District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Cohen

[ 396 Pa. Page 175]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE COHEN

On the evening of March 26, 1957, three young men planned and perpetrated a robbery at the pharmacy of Jacob Viner, a North Philadelphia druggist. One of the robbers accompanied Viner to the rear of the establishment, and after warning the druggist to "shut-up," shot and killed him in the presence of his wife. The pharmacy's cash register was rifled of some $34 and the trio made good their escape.

Subsequently, James Cater, Robert Lee Williams, and George Lee Rivers, the appellants herein, were arrested and indicted for the murder of Viner. All three, confessing to their participation in the crime, entered pleas of guilty to murder generally, whereupon the trial court adjudged each to be guilty of murder in the first degree. To guide the court's determination of the punishment to be imposed, counsel for the defendants presented evidence describing the defendants' background. Rivers, age 18, Cater, age 19, and Williams, age 20, were reared in unstable homes under unfavorable socio-environmental conditions. Each had made only minimal scholastic progress, and, according to a report of a psychiatrist, Rivers was not only mentally deficient but also mentally ill. After deliberation upon the entire record, the trial court sentenced each defendant to death in the electric chair.

Appeals of the defendants originally filed in this Court were discontinued by their counsel in order that applications might be made to the Board of Pardons for commutation of sentences without the risk that the record before the Board would be further prejudiced by this Court's affirmance of the sentences. However, when the matter was presented to the Board, that body, being evenly divided, refused the applications.

Thereafter petitions were filed in this Court to reinstate the appeals. We ...


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