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COMMONWEALTH v. GURNER (10/02/70)

decided: October 2, 1970.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
GURNER, APPELLANT



Appeal from sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, March T., 1966, Nos. 14, 27, and 28, and June T., 1966, Nos. 9, 109, 121, and 122, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Raymond Gurner.

COUNSEL

Lee A. Montgomery, with him Galbreath, Braham, Gregg, Kirkpatrick, Jaffee & Montgomery, for appellant.

Robert F. Hawk, Assistant District Attorney, with him David L. Cook, Assistant District Attorney, and John H. Brydon, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wright, P. J., Watkins, Montgomery, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, and Cercone, JJ. Opinion by Hoffman, J. Wright, P. J., would affirm on the able opinion of President Judge Kiester.

Author: Hoffman

[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 214]

Appellant pleaded guilty to charges of burglary, assault and battery, prison breach, and larceny of an automobile and was sentenced to twelve to twenty-four years in prison. Subsequently, he filed a Post Conviction Hearing Act petition upon which a hearing was held. Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, 19 P.S. § 1180-1 et seq. (Supp. 1970). From denial of that petition, this appeal followed.

The issue on appeal is whether the PCHA court should have made an independent inquiry into appellant's mental competency at the time of his guilty plea and sentencing.

[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 215]

The record at sentencing reflects that appellant had a disturbed background and turbulent childhood. Psychological reports from various reform schools showed that he was both hostile and a nonconformist. After a short period in the Navy, appellant was medically discharged following a two-month hospitalization for treatment of a nervous disorder. While in prison awaiting trial on the present charges, appellant attempted suicide by digging a deep hole in his arm with a plastic spoon.

The PCHA court was presented with additional evidence relating to appellant's physical and mental state at the time of plea and sentencing which had not been presented to the trial court. Both appellant and two other prisoners testified at the PCHA hearing that appellant had been in solitary confinement in a wet, unheated cell for an extended period immediately prior to the suicide attempt. During this confinement he was forced to sleep on a metal bench and was prevented from shaving and washing. He was not provided with clothes other than a pair of pants, and was placed on a reduced food allowance.

Two weeks after his attempted suicide appellant pleaded guilty, and shortly thereafter was sentenced. Only six weeks after sentencing, the prison superintendent petitioned for appellant's commitment to a mental institution, citing that he was hallucinating and that his brother and grandmother had been psychotic. The report of two qualified physicians recommended his commitment because of "[b]izarre and inappropriate behavior since confined; suicidal ideation and obsession with morbid thoughts; mood swings and episodes of very hostile, paranoid verbalizations; frequent suicidal traits; hitting his head against the wall; probably hallucinating. At the present time turning to religious preoccupations." Pursuant to this report appellant

[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 216]

    was committed to Farview State Hospital for the criminally insane, where he ...


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