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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. LARUE v. RUNDLE (03/16/65)

decided: March 16, 1965.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. LARUE, APPELLANT,
v.
RUNDLE



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas No. 3 of Philadelphia County, March T., 1964, No. 2229, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Alphonso LaRue v. Albert T. Rundle, Superintendent.

COUNSEL

Alphonso LaRue, appellant, in propria persona.

Alfred J. DiBona, Jr. and Joseph M. Smith, Assistant District Attorneys, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Jr., First Assistant District Attorney, and James C. Crumlish, Jr., District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 417 Pa. Page 384]

After a jury trial, Alphonso LaRue was found guilty of murder in the first degree and the jury fixed the penalty at death. The conviction was appealed to this Court and affirmed. Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 112 A.2d 362 (1955). The facts relating to the offense are recited in full in that opinion. Shortly thereafter, in 1955, the Board of Pardons commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. LaRue is presently confined under this sentence and in 1964 he sought release by means of a petition for habeas corpus. The petition was denied, without hearing, and this appeal followed.

The petition may be fairly characterized as urging three contentions in support of the request for a writ. We find no merit in any of these arguments.

Appellant-petitioner first contends that since he had no counsel at his preliminary hearing or at the coroner's inquest, he is entitled to release. The contention is without merit. We have had occasion to face

[ 417 Pa. Page 385]

    this question frequently in recent months. Our holding has consistently been that, in the absence of unusual circumstances which transform the proceedings into a critical stage, lack of counsel at preliminary hearing or coroner's inquest in this Commonwealth does not constitute a deprivation of due process. E.g., Commonwealth ex rel. Butler v. Rundle, 416 Pa. 321, 206 A.2d 283 (1965) (preliminary hearing); Commonwealth ex rel. Linde v. Maroney, 416 Pa. 331, 206 A.2d 288 (1965) (preliminary hearing and coroner's inquest); Commonwealth ex rel. Maisenhelder v. Rundle, 414 Pa. 11, 198 A.2d 565 (1964) (preliminary hearing). In the present case, there are no circumstances whatever suggesting basic unfairness. Petitioner alleges no facts suggesting any unfairness and our review of the record reveals nothing which would remove this case from the general rule.

A second allegation is that Commonwealth witnesses conspired to and did commit perjury. The allegedly perjured testimony related to the number, extent and placement of stab wounds suffered by the victim. (Petitioner, at trial, hypothesized that the victim had committed suicide.) The only evidence, properly received, as the complete account of the victim's wounds, was presented by the coroner's physician who testified that he had observed approximately twelve stab wounds in both the front and back of the victim. Petitioner's position is that the physician did not tell the truth because, according to petitioner, the earlier reports, charts and diagrams prepared by the police revealed a lesser number of wounds, none of which appeared in the victim's back. Certainly there is nothing in the record lending support or even slight credibility to the allegation that the physician's testimony was perjured or that the truth was in any way suppressed. At trial, the physician's testimony was somewhat disputed by part of petitioner's testimony. Petitioner testified

[ 417 Pa. Page 386]

    as to what he believed to be the content of pretrial police reports. The dispute was therefore raised for the jury to consider and, at best, the ...


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