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decided: January 5, 1965.


Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1964, No. 886, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Clarence Mitchell v. Alfred T. Rundle, Superintendent.


Clarence Mitchell, appellant, in propria persona.

Louis Abromson, Assistant District Attorney, and Robert W. Duggan, District Attorney, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Roberts

[ 416 Pa. Page 297]

This is an appeal from the denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The lower court dismissed without a hearing. Appellant-petitioner, Clarence Mitchell, was indicted for murder. Counsel was appointed to represent him and the case came on for trial January 28, 1963.

Petitioner was arraigned in open court with his counsel present at all times. An entire panel of prospective jurors was in the courtroom. Upon being arraigned, petitioner entered a general plea of guilty and affixed his signature to the indictment. The trial judge specifically informed appellant that it would be the court's province to fix the degree of guilt as well as the punishment and that the jury would not be selected to pass upon these matters and would therefore be returned to the jury room.*fn1 The panel of jurors was then excused and the court commenced taking testimony.

The testimony revealed that on June 17, 1962, the body of Mavis Todd was found in a culvert. Death was due to brain concussion and shock following many contusions and stab wounds of her head, face, neck, chest and hands. Microscopic examination of a slide containing a vaginal smear revealed spermatazoa.

Because of information received from those persons who last saw Mavis Todd, together with certain physical evidence, petitioner became the subject of interrogation by the Allegheny County homicide bureau. On June 26, 1962, he gave a written confession.*fn2

[ 416 Pa. Page 298]

This statement and an earlier statement*fn3 of June 20 were admitted into evidence.

Petitioner testified before the trial court on his plea of guilty. He stated that after their initial argument

[ 416 Pa. Page 299]

    in the car, he and the victim got out and began "hugging and kissing" and that he did attempt to have intercourse with the victim, both inside and outside the car, but without success. He admitted dragging her, beating her with a rock, stabbing her with a screwdriver which he obtained from the car, and pushing her body into the culvert. The accused was able to give no reason whatever for this brutal killing. He stated he took the victim's purse so that she could not be identified, but denied taking anything from the purse. He further denied beating her before he attempted to have intercourse.

In arriving at the determination that the accused was guilty of murder in the first degree, the trial judge stated he was "convinced that the defendant is Guilty of Murder in the first degree that either because it was willful, deliberate or premeditated, or because it was a murder committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate rape, or because it was a murder committed in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate a robbery."

The court, the district attorney and counsel for the defendant were in agreement that the defendant was a low grade moron. This factor seems to have led the trial court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. Petitioner was given an opportunity to speak before sentence was pronounced. The court thereafter imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. No appeal was taken.

Petitioner, in seeking a writ of habeas corpus, urges that (1) a finding of first degree murder cannot be found on a general plea of guilty and (2) that the trial judge's findings were no findings at all because they were phrased in the alternative.

The petitioner was advised prior to entry and acceptance of his plea of guilty that, upon a general plea of guilty to murder, the court shall determine the degree of guilt and fix the penalty to be imposed.

[ 416 Pa. Page 300]

The law is clearly in accord with this instruction. Penal Code of 1939, June 24, P. L. 872, § 701, as amended, 18 P.S. § 4701; Commonwealth ex rel. Dandy v. Banmiller, 397 Pa. 312, 155 A.2d 197 (1959). There is nothing in the record of the trial of this case which remotely suggests that petitioner was led to believe that he was pleading guilty to murder in the second degree, nor does petitioner contend that he was so misled. He clearly understood that the degree of guilt, if any, would be fixed by the court. The point raised is utterly without merit.

By his second contention, petitioner takes issue with the court's determination, on alternate grounds, of murder in the first degree. This was simply the court's way of saying that the record supported a number of findings, any one of which justified the conclusion that petitioner was guilty of murder in the first degree. We are satisfied that the record amply supports the trial judge's conclusions. We are particularly satisfied that a finding of willful, premeditated killing with malice aforethought has abundant support in the record.*fn4

We find no error. The petition was properly dismissed without a hearing as being totally devoid of merit.

Order affirmed.


Order affirmed.

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