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May 22, 1962


Appeal, No. 314, Jan. T., 1960, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1959, No. 523, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ray Jordan. Judgment affirmed.


Albert S. Fein, with him Charles S. Schermer, and Fein and Johanson, for appellant.

William H. Wolf, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, with him Arlen Specter, Assistant District Attorney, Paul M. Chalfin, First Assistant District Attorney, and James C. Crumlish, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Eagen

[ 407 Pa. Page 577]


The defendant, after jury trial, was found guilty of murder in the first degree and his punishment fixed at life imprisonment. From the judgment of conviction and sentence, this appeal is prosecuted.

According to the overwhelming mass of testimony offered by the Commonwealth, the killing was a cold, cruel, malicious and planned murder. It can be fairly and briefly summarized as follows:

The defendant and one Louise Hickson lived together "off and on" in her apartment in the city of Philadelphia for a period of time, under meretricious circumstances. During the months of June and July, 1959, their relationship became strained because, among other things, of his failure to help defray the cost of the household expenses and his relationship with another woman of which he openly boasted. Over the weekend of July 31, he was the guest in the apartment of this other woman. Over the same weekend, Louise had as guests in her apartment her sister, Vertell Hickson, and the latter's boy friend, Ronald Berry.

On August 4, Louise told the defendant that she did not want anything further to do with him and that

[ 407 Pa. Page 578]

    their relationship was at an end. The defendant attempted to dissuade her, but to no avail. During these conversations, Ronald Berry took Louise's part which the defendant bitterly resented, causing him to threaten Berry with serious bodily harm and to engage in other conduct patently manifesting bitterness and hatred.

Late in the morning of August 4, Louise, her children, Vertell Hickson and Ronald Berry went out visiting. Their departure was immediately preceded on the stairway in the hallway of the apartment by bitter words during which the defendant threatened to shove Berry "out of the second-story window" and, finally, to say, "I'll get you when I come back." While Louise and her guests were gone from the apartment, the defendant went out and bought a gun. In order to do so, he traveled by bus and by subway to another section of the city. He then returned to the apartment and sat to await the return of Louise and her guests. He placed the gun on the top of the refrigerator with a cloth over it.

When Louise and party returned to the apartment later on in the day, the windows were all closed and the shades drawn. Ronald and Vertell sat down at a table and engaged in a game of cards. The defendant was in an angry mood and resumed the argument with Louise as to why she was leaving him. In the course of this conversation, he threatened "to blow all their brains out." He then directed his conversation to Berry, telling him that he had taken offense at what Berry had said earlier in the day. Berry replied that what he had said meant no harm but if the defendant didn't like it, there was nothing he could do about it. The defendant replied, "Well, I promised the next time a man said anything to me I didn't like or did anything to me, I'm going to get him before he gets me." He then walked to the refrigerator, grabbed the gun and pointed it at Berry. As the latter stood

[ 407 Pa. Page 579]

    up, saying "I'm not afraid of your gun," the defendant retorted, "I'll kill you" and shot Berry in the neck. Vertell jumped up from the table screaming, the defendant turned to her and said, "You want some of it too" and then shot her in the abdomen. The defendant then turned toward Louise threatening to kill her with the gun but finally decided against it for the sake of her children.

As Berry and Vertell lay on the floor, both begged for a doctor. The defendant told Berry to get up and get one himself. When Berry said he couldn't move, the defendant sneered, "Well that's too bad, because I want you to die. ... I want you to die slow. I want you to be damned near dead when you get a doctor." Both victims begged for water. The defendant filled two jars with water and placed them on the floor but just out of reach of the injured. Berry said he couldn't reach the water and the defendant replied, "Well get it the best way you can."

Ronald Berry died two weeks later. Vertell Hickson eventually recovered.

The defendant was arrested in the street by the police a short time after the affair. He readily admitted he did the shooting. He told the police that "they*fn1 jumped up as if they*fn2 wanted to jump on me so I grabbed the gun and shot them. I guess I was mad*fn3 and didn't realize what I was doing."

The defendant took the stand in his own defense. He testified that at the time of the shooting he was in great fear and that he shot Berry to defend himself. He stated that Berry "made a step toward me, and I just threw the gun up and I must have shot him and the girl. I didn't have no intention of shooting either

[ 407 Pa. Page 580]

    of them, but I just went in fear of ...

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