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COMMONWEALTH v. PIERCE (03/16/73)

decided: March 16, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
PIERCE, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Sept. T., 1969, Nos. 69 to 75, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Alan D. Pierce.

COUNSEL

R. Stuart Jenkins, with him Schroeder, Jenkins & Raymond, for appellant.

Ralph B. D'Iorio, Assistant District Attorney, with him William R. Toal, First Assistant District Attorney, and Stephen J. McEwen, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Chief Justice Jones took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Eagen

[ 451 Pa. Page 191]

On January 16, 1970, the appellant, Alan D. Pierce, was convicted by a jury in Delaware County of murder in the first degree and the punishment was fixed at death.*fn1 A motion for a new trial was denied and sentence

[ 451 Pa. Page 192]

    was imposed as the jury directed. This appeal followed.

The prosecution stemmed from the attempted robbery of John Courtney and Joseph O'Brien, Esq., while they were walking along a public street in Media, about 8:30 p.m. on April 7, 1969.

Several assignments of error are asserted, but only one need concern us.

Prior to the trial Pierce filed a motion for a change of venue alleging he could not receive a fair trial by an impartial jury in Delaware County, because of the nature and quantity of the publicity which attached to the crime and his arrest. After a hearing the motion was denied. We have reviewed the evidence presented to the lower court in support of the application for a change of venue and now rule a change of venue should have been granted, and on this basis we reverse.

Because of the nature of the crimes and the fact that one of the victims was a seminarian and the other a practicing lawyer in Delaware County, the incident received wide coverage in the newspapers, and on radio and television. While much of the publicity was routine, factual, and wholly lacking in inflammatory content, a great deal of publicity about Pierce was emotionally charged and inflammatory, and clearly pointed to his guilt. A brief review of some of the inflammatory news coverage will show the quality of the publicity. In one story the police were quoted as stating Pierce had been arrested, and he verbally confessed to the double shooting. The story read: "[Police] He's the triggerman. . . . He admitted it ...


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