Appeals from judgments of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, May T., 1960, Nos. 688, 689, 690 and 691, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Cockfield.
Cecil B. Moore, for appellant.
Paul R. Michel, Assistant District Attorney, with him Benjamin H. Levintow and Michael J. Rotko, Assistant District Attorneys, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Musmanno dissented.
On April 7, 1960, Ida Quattlebaum and her two young children lost their lives from carbon monoxide poisoning and severe burns suffered in a fire which substantially damaged their dwelling house in the City of Philadelphia. Charles Cockfield was arrested for deliberately setting the fire. On March 31, 1964, after a jury trial, he was convicted of arson and three separate counts of murder. On the murder convictions, the jury fixed the penalty at life imprisonment. Post-trial motions were dismissed and sentences imposed on the murder convictions as the jury directed. An appeal from these judgments is now before us.
We conclude that cockfield was denied due process of law, because evidence admitted, over objection, at trial was obtained by unlawful searches and seizure and should have been excluded.*fn1 Consequently, we reverse and order a new trial.
The existence of the fire was discovered at about 2:30 a.m. by two police officers cruising in a police car in the neighborhood. Firemen were summoned and arrived shortly, but the intensity of the fire prevented immediate entry into the house. When entry was gained, the bodies of the three dead victims were found. There was a strong odor of gasoline or kerosene on the premises.
Two police detectives and a police lieutenant arrived on the scene at about 3:40 a.m. They were advised by fire department officials that the fire was probably of incendiary origin. They also learned through questioning a neighbor that Mrs. Quattlebaum had been "keeping company" with a tall slim Negro called "Bill," later ascertained to be Cockfield. Lately the relationship had become strained and, on an occasion about a month before the fire, "Bill" had assaulted Mrs. Quattlebaum, threatening to cut her throat with a knife. They also were informed that "Bill" owned or operated "a 1953 or 1954 Dodge or Plymouth car that was supposedly bluish at the top and dirty white or gray at the bottom."
Shortly after 5 a.m., these police detectives, joined by another police officer named Merriweather and a lieutenant of the fire department attached to the Fire Marshal's office, proceeded to the neighborhood where "Bill" was thought to reside. A resident of the neighborhood directed them to a specific address where "Bill" lived. After ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door without receiving a response, the officers decided to walk through the area to see if they could find an automobile matching the description given them. About three-fourths of a block away, they came
upon an unoccupied automobile parked in the street which the officers thought "possibly was the car we were hunting for." The hood was quite warm, indicating that the motor had recently been operated. The license number was taken and Officer Merriweather was dispatched to police headquarters to ascertain the identity of the registered owner. Within minutes, Merriweather returned to the scene without the registration information, but with a sister of Mrs. Quattlebaum who identified the automobile as "Bill's." The unlocked trunk was then opened. A two ...