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UNITED STATES EX REL. PUNTARI v. MARONEY

August 22, 1963

UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Paul PUNTARI, Petitioner,
v.
James F. MARONEY, Superintendent State Correctional Institution, Pittsburgh 33, Pennsylvania, Respondent



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH

The relator, Paul Puntari, 31 years old, was convicted by a jury in the Court of Oyer & Terminer of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on a charge of armed robbery of a Pittsburgh bank. He was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 5 to not more than 15 years. On May 7, 1963, the relator filed in this court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in forma pauperis; counsel was appointed to represent him at the hearing. We have secured and reviewed the transcript of the trial and all the pertinent documents and records of the Allegheny County Courts. From these records it appears that a motion for a new trial was denied by a court en banc. Relator appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The conviction was affirmed, Commonwealth v. Puntari, 198 Pa.Super. 70, 181 A.2d 719 (1962); allocatur was refused by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 198 Pa.Super. XXVIII; an appeal to the United States Supreme Court was dismissed, 372 U.S. 708, 83 S. Ct. 1021, 10 L. Ed. 2d 127. While the appeal to the Superior Court was pending, relator filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County at No. 662 April Term, 1962, which was dismissed without a hearing; no appeal was taken to any appellate court.

From the transcript of the trial and other records it appears that on February 1, 1960, at about 11:25 A.M., a bandit, armed with a revolver containing copper-coated bullets, wearing a bandana over his face and a 'pork pie' hat, robbed the Shadyside office of the Western Pennsylvania National Bank, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of over $ 6,000.00. The next day two detectives went to the home of relator's parents in Pittsburgh. One of the officers knew Mr. and Mrs. Puntari, and Mrs. Puntari voluntarily consented to a search of their house (T., pp. 166, 251). The officers found and seized a 'pork pie' hat in the dining room and six 38-caliber, copper-coated bullets in a second floor bedroom (T., pp. 163, 193). They did not have a search warrant.

 Relator had been living in California. He visited his parents, arriving on Christmas Eve, 1959. He left Pittsburgh on February 1, 1960, the day of the robbery. His mother testified he left around 6:30 P.M. after supper. He did not tell his parents where he was going (T., pp. 253-254).

 Exhibits 12 through 25, including the hat, the bullets, and the revolver were offered in evidence. The defendant objected to them generally, and specifically for the reason that they were not properly identified (T., pp. 232-233). There was no objection to the testimony relating to these exhibits. No contention was made that they were the fruit of an illegal search and seizure. The objections were overruled (T., pp. 232-234), although the Court refused to send the hat, the revolver, and the bullets out with the jury (T., p. 300). *fn1"

 The federal authorities in Pittsburgh filed a warrant charging relator with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Title 18 U.S.C. § 1073. Pursuant to this warrant, he was subsequently arrested in Richmond, Virginia, by the F.B.I. (T., pp. 187, 199). At the time he was arrested he had a 38-caliber revolver containing copper-coated bullets in a holster strapped to his waist with a belt. The bullets were of the same caliber and manufactured by the same company as the bullets found in the Puntari home. He was charged with illegal possession of firearms under federal law; the charge was later dismissed by the federal court in Virginia.

 On or about October 29, 1960, relator was returned to Pittsburgh for trial in the State Court on an indictment for armed robbery and receiving stolen goods (T., p. 201). Attorney Carl Blanchfield was appointed to defend him at the arraignment on November 10, 1960. The case was continued twice and finally called for trial on January 10, 1961. Relator refused the services of court-appointed counsel, and his third request for continuance was denied by Judge Lewis and later by Judge Pentz, the trial judge. Relator elected to try the case himself. The Court ordered Attorney Blanchfield to remain in Court and advise and assist relator during the trial.

 At the trial six employees of the victimized bank positively identified relator as the robber even though he was masked to some extent. A bystander, Manders, observed an automobile being driven in an unorthodox manner in a street adjacent to the bank at about the time of the robbery. At 11:30 A.M. this car stopped about one-half block from the bank and six feet in front of Manders, who positively identified the driver as the relator. The direct and circumstantial evidence pointing to relator's guilt was overwhelming. The jury could hardly have been expected to return a verdict other than guilty.

 The trial was fairly conducted. The trial judge on his own motion several times protected relator from prejudice (T., pp. 210, 217-218, 237, 240).

 Attorney Blanchfield aided relator in selecting the jury; consulted with him several times when directed by the Court and during recesses; demurred to the evidence pursuant to which the second count of receiving stolen goods was dismissed; made a motion to strike testimony, which was granted; made a motion for directed verdict of acquittal; delivered the summation to the jury on behalf of relator and secured permission from the Court to permit relator to also address the jury; and filed a motion for a new trial.

 Relator cross-examined the Commonwealth's witnesses and frequently seized the opportunity thus presented to testify in his own behalf, although in defense he did not take the witness stand. From the trial record relator's cross-examination appears to have been able and comprehensive, -- indeed, it was more vigorous and cunning than that of some lawyers we have had occasion to observe.

 Relator was in Pittsburgh on the day of the robbery, but other than his mother who said he was in bed until 10:55 A.M., left the house at 11:20 A.M., and returned at 12:15 P.M., he had no alibi witnesses.

 The trial judge ordered the Commonwealth to subpoena every witness requested by relator at the trial and this was done. Every witness relator requested appeared and testified or was available to testify.

 From the rambling petition, 30 pages long, the grounds upon which relator relies for relief ...


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