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COMMONWEALTH v. MITCHELL (12/20/71)

decided: December 20, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
MITCHELL, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Dec. T., 1966, Nos. 226 to 230, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Frank Joseph Mitchell, a/k/a Joseph Frank Mitchell.

COUNSEL

Joseph Alessandroni, Jr., with him Abraham J. Brem Levy, for appellant.

Arlen Specter, District Attorney, with him Louis A. Perez, Jr. and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, and Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Eagen

[ 445 Pa. Page 463]

On May 9, 1968, the appellant, Frank Joseph Mitchell, was convicted by a jury in Philadelphia of murder in the first degree and punishment was fixed at life imprisonment. From the judgment of sentence, this appeal was filed.

The first question presented is whether incriminating oral admissions and a written confession given by Mitchell to the police which were introduced over objection against him at trial were obtained through methods violative of the precepts established by the United States Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966).*fn1

The record discloses the following pertinent facts.

About 2:15 p.m., Saturday, October 15, 1966, the body of Doris Shenk, age fifteen years, was discovered in a vacant house on East Boston Street in the Kensington area of Philadelphia. Evidence indicated she had been sexually assaulted and the cause of death was forced strangulation. Through investigation, the police learned the identity of five youths (three girls and two boys) who had been with Miss Shenk on the night of October 13th. Upon questioning these girls, the police were informed that immediately after the girls and Miss Shenk parted company, she walked in the direction of East Boston Street accompanied by Mitchell and one Thomas Burns. The police then questioned Burns and learned he had departed from the two in the area of the house where Miss Shenk's body was found. In seeking out Mitchell for questioning, it was learned that he

[ 445 Pa. Page 464]

    was visiting relatives with Walter Robert Wiggins, an uncle, in Aston, Pennsylvania, so about 10:15 p.m., three Philadelphia police detectives were dispatched to this community (about one hour's drive from Philadelphia) to bring Mitchell back to Philadelphia.

Upon reaching the residence in Aston where Mitchell was visiting, the police asked him to return to Philadelphia to clear up some questions about his drinking with Miss Shenk. He was not informed of his constitutional rights or that the police intended to question him about a homicide, or that he did not have to accompany the police if he chose not to do so.

Mitchell agreed to accompany the police, and his uncle also joined them. During the trip the police asked Mitchell the following questions without advising him of his "Miranda" rights: (1) Are you Frank Mitchell? (2) Do you know Doris Shenk? (3) Were ...


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