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COMMONWEALTH v. CULBREATH (04/22/70)

decided: April 22, 1970.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CULBREATH, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Sept. T., 1968, Nos. 399 to 401, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth v. Wallace Culbreath.

COUNSEL

H. K. Agran, with him I. B. Sinclair, and Bell, Pugh, Sinclair & Prodoehl, for appellant.

Ralph B. D'Iorio, Assistant District Attorney, with him Vram Nedurian, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, William R. Toal, First Assistant District Attorney, and Stephen J. McEwen, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Jones concurs in the result. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Pomeroy joins in this dissent.

Author: Bell

[ 439 Pa. Page 23]

On January 13, 1969, the defendant, Wallace Culbreath, was to be tried by a jury for the murder of Ernest McNeil. As the case was being readied for actual trial in the courtroom, defendant, while represented by Court-appointed counsel, stated his intention to plead guilty to the murder. Defendant was interrogated by both his counsel and the trial Judge with respect to his awareness of the consequences of the entry of the guilty plea, and thereafter he entered a guilty plea.

After hearing the testimony in the case for the purpose of establishing the degree of guilt, the trial Judge concluded that the defendant was guilty of second-degree murder and ordered a pre-sentence investigation.

[ 439 Pa. Page 24]

On the evening of July 1, 1968, defendant and Ernest McNeil were engaged in an animated conversation in a taproom known as Andy's Bar in the City of Chester. The proprietor, hoping to avoid trouble in his bar, asked them to leave. They did leave; the victim walked out the door first, and was followed by defendant, a few feet behind. Defendant had his right hand in the side pocket of his trousers. Shortly after the door closed, patrons of the bar heard what sounded to them like gunshots. The victim (McNeil) was found in the vicinity of the bar dying from bullet wounds which entered his body from the back. Defendant's landlady testified that later that evening defendant told her he had shot a man because "the man was bothering him." Defendant did not testify. A psychiatrist called in defendant's behalf testified that the drinking of almost a fifth of liquor on the day of the shooting, as defendant claimed he did, coupled with his epilepsy and diabetes, would have caused amnesia.

From this evidence, defendant contends (1) that the evidence was not adequate to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he commited a murder, and (2) that since he does not remember what happened at the time of the shooting, a loss of memory which he further contends was corroborated by his psychiatrist, he should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea. We disagree.

This Court has stated many times that a person may be convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence alone. Very recently, in Commonwealth v. Slavik, 437 Pa. 354, 261 A.2d 583, the Court stated (page 358): "In Commonwealth v. Hart, 403 Pa., supra, this Court, quoting from Commonwealth v. Kravitz, 400 Pa. 198, 161 A.2d 861, said (pages 654-655): '"'. . . "'It is clearly settled that a man may be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, and a criminal intent may be inferred by the jury from facts and circumstances which are of such a

[ 439 Pa. Page 26]

    nature as to prove defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt: [citing 10 recent cases].'"'"

"'If the law were otherwise it would be impossible in many cases where there were no eyewitnesses, to convict a criminal. It is rare that a criminal ever discloses in advance or sends ...


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