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COMMONWEALTH v. PALMER (06/30/72)

decided: June 30, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
PALMER, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Jan. T., 1971, No. 1365, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Larry Palmer.

COUNSEL

Alfred P. Filippone, for appellants.

Romer Holleran 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.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino.

Author: Manderino

[ 448 Pa. Page 284]

On August 6, 1970, officers of the Philadelphia police force, responding to a shooting report, found nineteen-year-old Michael Davis staggering about in a dazed condition with what appeared to be a cut in the center of his forehead. The officers transported Davis to St. Joseph's Hospital for emergency treatment. At the hospital, Davis related that he had been talking to two young negro males after which he heard a shot, felt a blow on the back of his head, and then observed the two boys running away. Davis did not know the names of the two boys and was unable to provide the police with an accurate description. On August 14, 1970,

[ 448 Pa. Page 285]

Michael Davis died; the cause of death being a .22 caliber gunshot wound in the back of the head.

Larry Palmer, a seventeen-year-old black youth, was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of Michael Davis. During Palmer's non-jury trial, testimony revealed that the deceased and the appellant were members of rival Philadelphia gangs. The Commonwealth presented three witnesses who testified that during the week following the shooting of the deceased, the appellant approached them, and while engaged in conversation, admitted to them that he shot Davis in the back of the head. The witnesses further testified that shortly after the appellant admitted shooting Davis, the appellant pulled out a gun, and started shooting, causing injury to two persons. Palmer was found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to two and one-half to ten years imprisonment.

Palmer first contends that absent other corroborating proof, the extra-judicial admissions of the defendant are insufficient to sustain a finding of guilty on the charge of murder even though there is proof of the corpus delicti. We disagree. In Pennsylvania, the extra-judicial admissions or confessions of the accused are sufficient to convict, if the corpus delicti has been established by independent proof before the extra-judicial statements of the accused are received into evidence. Commonwealth v. Turza, 340 Pa. 128, 16 A.2d 401 (1940). The identity of the party responsible for the act is not an element of the corpus delicti. Commonwealth v. Butts, 204 Pa. Superior Ct. 302, 204 A.2d 481 (1964); Commonwealth v. Gockley, 411 Pa. 437, 192 A.2d 693 (1963); Commonwealth v. Turza, supra. Therefore if, ". . . the Commonwealth, in a homicide case, has established that the person for whose death the prosecution was instituted is in fact dead and that death occurred under circumstances indicating that it

[ 448 Pa. Page 286]

    was criminally caused by someone, the rule is satisfied and admissions or confessions of the accused may then always be received as proof of the identity of the guilty agent. . . ." Commonwealth v. Turza, supra.

The appellant contends that Commonwealth v. Meehan, 198 Pa. Superior Ct. 558, 182 A.2d 212 (1962), requires other proof in connection with extra-judicial admissions before the admissions can be used to establish guilt. Meehan did not so hold. That case said that admissions or confessions ". . . may be considered in connection with other facts or circumstances to prove guilt." (Emphasis supplied.) Meehan considered the admissibility of the extra-judicial admission and in that context, the court stated that the extra-judicial admission may be considered in connection with other facts or circumstances. Meehan did ...


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