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COMMONWEALTH v. HENDERSON (01/07/71)

decided: January 7, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
HENDERSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, June T., 1953, No. 6, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Walter Henderson.

COUNSEL

James R. Beilstein, with him John P. McComb, Jr., and Moorhead & Know, for appellant.

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

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Eagen

[ 441 Pa. Page 256]

On June 22, 1953, the appellant, Walter Henderson, while represented by counsel, entered a general plea of guilty to an indictment charging him with the murder of Alice Grace Storch in Butler County. Russell Budd, who was also indicted for murder in connection with the Storch killing, pleaded "not guilty."*fn1 Budd was immediately placed on trial before a jury, and Henderson

[ 441 Pa. Page 257]

    testified as a Commonwealth witness detailing how he and Budd committed the fatal assault upon the victim. Before so testifying, Henderson was not advised, either by the court or by his counsel who was present, of his constitutional right against self-incrimination.*fn2

Subsequently, on June 26, 1953, a hearing was held before the trial court to determine Henderson's degree of guilt. By stipulation of counsel, the recorded testimony of Henderson and of thirteen other witnesses*fn3 at the Budd trial, plus a recorded statement given by Henderson to the police following his arrest, were introduced in evidence and made part of the record at the hearing. The court found Henderson guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. An appeal from the judgment was not filed within the statutorily prescribed time.

On May 23, 1968, Henderson filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief. After an evidentiary hearing the petition was dismissed, but Henderson was permitted to file a direct appeal from the 1953 judgment of sentence as if timely filed. This appeal followed.

The assignments of error will be discussed ad seriatim.

It is first asserted that the plea was not voluntary or "made with understanding." Since the plea was entered prior to the announcement of our decision in Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle, 428 Pa. 102, 237 A.2d 196 (1968), even though the record of the plea proceedings fails to show any inquiry by the trial court to determine ...


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