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COMMONWEALTH v. CHASTEN (03/25/71)

decided: March 25, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CHASTEN, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Jan. T., 1968, No. 2192, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James A. Chasten.

COUNSEL

Harold L. Randolph, for appellant.

T. Michael Mather and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Jones, Mr. Justice Roberts and Mr. Justice Pomeroy concur in the result.

Author: Bell

[ 443 Pa. Page 30]

Appellant, James A. Chasten, was indicted for murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter of Paul Gross, arising out of a barroom brawl. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Appellant, who was represented by counsel, filed motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, which were argued and denied. This appeal followed.

There was substantial difference in the testimony and in the evidence presented on the one side by the Commonwealth and on the other side by the appellant.

[ 443 Pa. Page 31]

In examining the evidence, we are governed by our well settled principle of law: "'It is hornbook law that the test of the sufficiency of the evidence -- irrespective of whether it is direct or circumstantial, or both -- is whether, accepting as true all the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom, upon which if believed the jury could properly have based its verdict, it is sufficient in law to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime or crimes of which he has been convicted. Commonwealth v. Finnie, 415 Pa. 166, 202 A.2d 85; Commonwealth v. Burns, 409 Pa. 619, 634, 187 A.2d 552; Commonwealth v. Kravitz, 400 Pa. 198, 161 A.2d 861; Commonwealth v. Williams, 432 Pa. 557, 248 A.2d 301 (1968).' See also, Commonwealth v. Terenda, 433 Pa. 519, 252 A.2d 635; Commonwealth v. Lawrence, 428 Pa., supra; Commonwealth v. Tabb, 417 Pa. 13, 16, 207 A.2d 885." Commonwealth v. Commander, 436 Pa. 532, 538, 260 A.2d 773.

From the evidence, the jury could have found the following facts. On the evening of December 12, 1967, appellant and Gross (the deceased) were drinking at a taproom known as the J & H Bar in Philadelphia. A dispute arose between appellant and Gross over some change which was left on the bar from payment for a drink. The bartender, Emmitt Holland, testified that suddenly several of the patrons ran out of the bar, with appellant running "right behind" Gross. Shortly thereafter, Gross was present in another bar in the neighborhood, known as the Silver Note Bar. Appellant entered the bar, came up behind Gross and threw him from his bar stool to the floor. A patron, James King Bines, standing near the deceased, testified that he saw an object in appellant's hand with which he appeared to be striking Gross. Gross was able to shake himself loose and was chased and caught by the appellant.

[ 443 Pa. Page 32]

He broke loose from the appellant a second time and was again thrown down to the floor by the appellant, who stabbed him several times and said: "I told you I would kill you." The bartender approached Gross and appellant told him, "Don't you say a word and don't you move, you have nothing to do with this." The police arrived a short time later to find appellant standing over Gross with a knife in his hand. At 2:25 A.M. on December 13, Gross was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital, and the cause of death, as determined by the Medical Examiner, was multiple stab wounds.

Appellant's first contention is that the trial Judge committed error in admitting color slides depicting the various wounds on Gross's nude body. The law concerning the admission into evidence of such slides or pictures is clearly set forth in Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 406 Pa. 102, 176 A.2d 421. In that case, we pertinently said (page 109): "In a murder trial, the admission of photographs of the victim is largely within the discretion of the trial court. Unless there is a flagrant abuse of discretion, we will not say that reversible error exists: Commonwealth v. Novak, 395 Pa. 199, 150 A.2d 102 (1959). The fact that a photograph is gruesome is not sufficient legal reason in and of itself to exclude it. Commonwealth v. Capps, 382 Pa. 72, 114 A.2d 338 (1955). Also permission of the use of color slides showing the bruised body of the deceased is not, in itself, error. The use of photographs, black or ...


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