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decided: January 15, 1969.


Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas No. 6 of Philadelphia County, March T., 1965, No. 4109, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. James Brown v. David N. Myers, Superintendent.


Elizabeth Langford Green and Melvin Dildine, Assistant Defenders, and Herman I. Pollock, Defender, for appellant.

Michael M. Baylson and James D. Crawford, Assistant District Attorneys, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for appellee.

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

Author: Bell

[ 433 Pa. Page 26]

A jury found appellant, James Brown, guilty of first degree murder on May 2, 1958 and fixed the penalty at life imprisonment. No direct appeal was taken. Appellant filed a habeas corpus petition in 1965, alleging that two confessions which had been used against him at his trial were coerced. A Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, hearing was held by the lower Court in

[ 433 Pa. Page 271967]

, and that Court found that the confessions were voluntary. This appeal followed.

James Harkins, the victim, who managed an Acme Store at 13th and Ellsworth Streets, Philadelphia, was robbed and killed on September 26, 1956. Appellant was questioned by the police on April 27, 1957, after they had received information from Ivard Maples that he saw appellant and several other boys enter the Acme Store at the approximate time of the slaying. Following appellant's arrest on April 27, 1957, at which time appellant was sixteen years of age, a written confession was obtained from him by the police. On April 29, 1957, appellant gave the police a second confession, which he signed. Both confessions were admitted into evidence and used against the appellant at his trial.

Appellant claims that the two confessions were involuntary and were obtained from him by the use of "psychological coercion." He alleges that the "psychological coercion" took the form of asking the same questions repeatedly until appellant gave answers acceptable to the police. At the Jackson v. Denno hearing, appellant testified that the reason he admitted being present at the scene of the murder was "because, through the interrogation, I became weak, so to speak, and I was scared also, and I thought maybe if I admitted it and said I was there, that would be the end of it and they would leave me alone. . . . They mentioned the electric chair, I could get the electric chair, but if I cooperated with them, they would see that I didn't." Appellant testified at this hearing that when he was first questioned at the Youth Study Center (he was there on an unrelated charge), he asked permission to call his father; that the supervisor of the Center suggested that he make the call, but that the detectives refused to allow him to do so and said that they would "contact" his father. When taken from the

[ 433 Pa. Page 28]

Youth Study Center, appellant testified he was told to look inside the 33rd District Police Station. A few minutes later, Detective Tanksley appeared and told appellant that he had "been identified." Appellant claims he was punched in the jaw after he asked the officer the name of the person identifying him. Appellant was then taken to the 16th District Police Station and thereafter, while appellant was lying on the rear seat of the police car, Ivard Maples entered the car and identified the appellant. At about 3:00 P.M. on the same afternoon of April 27, 1957, appellant orally admitted his participation in the murder. Appellant further testified that during the evening of April 27, he was questioned continuously until he confessed. He also testified that the police "suggested" answers to him when his answers seemed to conflict with statements obtained from the other boys involved in the murder.

All of the police officers who testified at the 1967 Jackson v. Denno hearing contradicted appellant on all the important matters which he relied on for relief. Detectives Tanksley and Gilton testified that appellant was taken from the Youth Study Center to the 33rd District Police Station in order to obtain certain information concerning the murder and then to the 16th District Police Station, and finally to Room 117, City Hall. Both detectives denied, inter alia, the use of physical force or threats, or any mention of the electric chair, or any constant questioning of appellant. Detective Tanksley testified that appellant, at 3:30 P.M. on April 27, admitted participating in the murder. He further stated that appellant was not questioned further until ...

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