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COMMONWEALTH v. WITHERSPOON (06/01/71)

decided: June 1, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WITHERSPOON, APPELLANT



Appeals from judgments of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Dec. T., 1964, Nos. 628, 629 and 632, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Lawrence Witherspoon.

COUNSEL

Daniel M. Rendine, with him Herbert A. Barton, for appellant.

Benjamin H. Levintow, Assistant District Attorney, with him Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorney, 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, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 442 Pa. Page 598]

Before the Court are three appeals from judgments of sentence entered against Lawrence Witherspoon, appellant, by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. After a jury trial appellant was found guilty of murder in the first degree, burglary and robbery and was sentenced to life imprisonment and two consecutive ten-to-twenty year terms.

The record discloses the following facts. On the evening of November 4, 1964, at approximately 7:30-8:00 P.M., appellant and his accomplice, Ernest Satchell, while passing by a taproom at 228 Race Street, Philadelphia, decided to burglarize it. Satchell entered the bar and ordered a drink. Appellant followed shortly and also ordered a drink. Then both left the bar for a moment and returned announcing to the patrons and bartender that a holdup was in progress. Witherspoon was carrying a loaded gun.

The two men ordered the five patrons and the bartender towards the back of the bar, and all except Joseph Ambrose, the deceased, immediately obeyed. Ambrose, who was sitting at the bar with his back to Satchell and Witherspoon, apparently did not comprehend what was happening and did not move. When appellant reached a point a few feet from Ambrose, the latter turned on the stool, and Witherspoon fired a single shot which struck Ambrose in the head. Satchell and appellant then took approximately $150 from the cash register plus a small amount the patrons had left on the bar and fled.

[ 442 Pa. Page 599]

On December 8, 1964, at approximately 1:40 A.M., two police officers stopped the car Ernest Satchell was driving for failure to yield the right-of-way. As Satchell emerged from the car, the car's interior light revealed a gun lying on the floor which Satchell stated belonged to Lawrence Witherspoon. The officers arrested Satchell for possession of the gun, and upon checking the car's registration, they discovered that it belonged to appellant.

Present by chance at the magistrate's office during Satchell's preliminary hearing later that morning were Officers McKendry and Hill who knew appellant and became interested when they heard appellant's name mentioned in connection with the gun and car. They then decided to go to Witherspoon's home to talk to him. It should be noted that at this time the police had no evidence to connect appellant with the robbery-murder at 228 Race Street and, in fact, had no evidence that appellant had committed any crime.

The officers went to appellant's residence at approximately 12:45 P.M. and asked whether he would accompany them to the police station, as they wanted to talk to him. They arrived at headquarters at approximately 1:00 P.M., and appellant was questioned intermittently from then until 9:20 P.M. when he made an inculpatory statement. He was given no warnings at all until approximately 8:30 P.M., when an officer who had been questioning Satchell entered the room in which Witherspoon was being questioned and announced that Satchell had made an inculpatory statement and had implicated appellant. That officer testified that he told appellant of Satchell's statement and told him he had ...


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