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COMMONWEALTH v. THOMAS (06/28/71)

decided: June 28, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
THOMAS, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Feb. T., 1956, Nos. 811 and 813, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert W. Thomas.

COUNSEL

James Eiseman, Jr., and Drinker, Biddle & Reath, for appellant.

Peter S. Greenberg 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, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 443 Pa. Page 235]

This appeal necessitates our consideration of whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, the admission of certain hearsay testimony pursuant to a long recognized exception to the hearsay rule violated appellant's right of confrontation as guaranteed to him by the Sixth Amendment and applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Our review of this voluminous record and the relevant authorities persuades us that no such violation occurred. Accordingly, we affirm his conviction.

Neither appellant nor the factual background to this appeal are strangers to our Court. We therefore will not here repeat the entire saga surrounding his conviction except insofar as the facts are pertinent to the narrow issue now before us.*fn1

The theory of the Commonwealth was that appellant Thomas, a deputy sheriff of Dade County, Miami, Florida, became acquainted with the deceased victim, Mrs. Lulubel Rossman, when she enlisted the aid of Thomas's

[ 443 Pa. Page 236]

    fellow deputy to report on the activities of one Reverend Russell Ridgeway, an itinerant clergyman with whom she thought herself to be amorously involved.*fn2 Thomas eventually took charge of the investigation in a private capacity, and through this employment he discovered that the deceased was an elderly, eccentric widow in the habit of keeping large sums of money in new one hundred dollar bills on her person and in her living quarters. The Commonwealth sought to prove that appellant conceived the idea of robbing Mrs. Rossman and enlisted the assistance of Gus DeMoss, Raymond Wilson and Frank Ellsworth. It was the Commonwealth's view that on July 3, 1955, in furtherance of the conspiracy Wilson and Ellsworth went to Philadelphia, entered the deceased's room in the Adelphia Hotel, and robbed her of a large sum of money. During the course of the robbery, Mrs. Rossman was strangled to death.

Appellant was indicted on charges of conspiracy and murder generally. After a jury trial, he was found guilty of both conspiracy and murder in the first degree. A nolle prosequi was entered on the conspiracy charge, and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment on his murder conviction.

Thomas appealed from the judgment of sentence, alleging that Pennsylvania courts lacked jurisdiction to try him for murder, the charge of the court placed undue emphasis upon the Commonwealth's testimony, and hearsay testimony of five witnesses was improperly received into evidence. This Court sustained his conviction. Commonwealth v. Thomas, 410 Pa. 160, 189 A.2d 255, cert. denied, 375 U.S. 856, 84 S. Ct. 118 (1963).

In April, 1969, appellant filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States ...


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