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COMMONWEALTH v. WILLIAMS (03/25/74)

decided: March 25, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WILLIAMS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, July T., 1971, No. 379, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Violet Marie Williams.

COUNSEL

John P. Liekar, Public Defender, for appellant.

John F. Bell, First Assistant District Attorney, with him Roger J. Ecker, Assistant District Attorney, and Jess D. Costa, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Nix

[ 455 Pa. Page 541]

Appellant, Violet Marie Williams, was arrested and indicted in Washington County for the murder of Myrtle C. Amos. A jury trial resulted in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The punishment was fixed at life imprisonment. Post-trial motions were denied and sentence was imposed. This appeal followed.

At trial appellant did not testify and the Commonwealth's evidence established the following facts:

Myrtle C. Amos, an eighty-six-year-old widow, resided in the rural community of Eighty-Four, Washington County. She was enjoying relatively good general health for her advanced age, but was barely able to walk as a result of a severe arthritic condition. She was confined to a wheelchair most of the time and when she did attempt to walk she needed the assistance of a cane. The appellant lived with Mrs. Amos and served as her housekeeper-companion.

About two p.m. on August 13, 1971, Ray W. Reynolds, an employee of the Columbia Gas Transmission Operations of Pennsylvania, while checking a gas well

[ 455 Pa. Page 542]

    on a farm in West Finley Township about thirty miles from Eighty-Four, noticed smoke rising from a wooded area about one-half mile away. Accompanied by Charles Edward Anderson, who was working on the well, he drove in a truck towards the site from whence the smoke was coming. As the men neared the area, they observed a maroon 1968 Buick automobile parked along the roadway and Mr. Reynolds wrote down the license number. It was later ascertained this license was issued for a Buick automobile registered in the name of the appellant.

After parking their vehicle and walking across an open field, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Anderson located the fire at the foot of a steep embankment in a secluded area surrounded by woods. Heavy smoke and a foul odor was emanating therefrom. The appellant was seen standing by the fire with a stick in her hand. When she saw the men approaching she climbed the embankment, approached the nearest one and said everything was under control and that she was merely burning some garbage. When the man reproached her for throwing garbage in the area, she pleaded with him not to tell the police.

About 6 p.m. on August 13, 1971, the appellant visited the Pittsburgh National Bank in Washington City, Pennsylvania, and asked an employee if she had seen an elderly lady with a cane in the bank that day. The appellant, who was "disheveled" and appeared very nervous, explained that she had driven the elderly lady to the bank that afternoon about four o'clock and was to meet her later, but that the lady had not kept their appointment.

About 8 p.m. on August 13, 1971, appellant came to the headquarters of the Pennsylvania State Police in Washington City and reported Mrs. Amos missing. She told the officer in charge that about 4:30 that afternoon she had driven Mrs. Amos to a bank in Washington

[ 455 Pa. Page 543]

City and made arrangement to pick her up in about two hours, but Mrs. Amos wasn't there when she returned and she was afraid Mrs. Amos "had wandered off somewhere". At the time of this interview, the appellant appeared very excited and ...


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