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COMMONWEALTH v. BUTLER (10/03/73)

decided: October 3, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BUTLER, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgments of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Bedford County, Nos. 92 and 93 of 1972, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. George Edward Butler.

COUNSEL

Richard W. Lins, Jr. and Alexander Ogle, for appellant.

Charles M. Koontz and Gordon E. Stroup, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Eagen concurs in the result. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Nix and Mr. Justice Manderino join in this dissenting opinion.

Author: Jones

[ 454 Pa. Page 97]

Appellant pled guilty to and was convicted on two counts of murder in the first degree. This appeal is taken from the imposition of two consecutive life sentences.*fn1

The Commonwealth's evidence establishes the following operative facts: Marguerite Snyder, age sixty-nine, and Mary Deremer, age sixty-seven, were proprietors of a combination gas station, restaurant and grocery store in Cumberland Valley Township, Pennsylvania, known as the "Beechwood Inn." Early on the morning of December 1, 1971, the appellant entered the Beechwood

[ 454 Pa. Page 98]

Inn and, at gunpoint, instructed Mary Deremer to "hand over the money." She balked at the appellant's demand and called into a back room to Marguerite Snyder to get a gun. Appellant shot and mortally wounded Mary Deremer, and then walked to the other room and shot and mortally wounded Marguerite Snyder.

Police investigation proved futile until February 11, 1972, when Michael Howsare, an acquaintance of George Butler, informed police that appellant admitted responsibility for the Beechwood Inn homicides in a January, 1972, conversation between Howsare and the appellant. Howsare also disclosed that certain items of evidence, including the death weapon, had been thrown into the Juniata River by appellant. On February 21, 1972, another confidant of the appellant, David Price, told police that appellant similarly disclosed his responsibility for these homicides to Price in a December 9, 1971, conversation and on that occasion revealed that the murder weapon and other inculpating items of evidence had been thrown into the Juniata River.

On the basis of information supplied by Howsare and Price, police commenced a search of the Juniata River at the location fixed by appellant's disclosures and, on March 29, 1972, recovered a .22 caliber revolver from that location. This revolver was identified as the death weapon when compared by ballistics tests to the bullets recovered from the bodies of the victims.

After the recovery of the weapon, the appellant was formally charged with murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was taken into custody by state police at the Meadows Race Track in Washington County at 12:20 p.m. on March 30, 1972, and immediately advised of his constitutional rights. The appellant was taken to his apartment to change his shoes and then ...


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