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COMMONWEALTH v. TOWNSELL (05/22/74)

decided: May 22, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
TOWNSELL, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment and order of Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Philadelphia, March T., 1970, Nos. 1595 and 1596, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Michael Townsell.

COUNSEL

Patrick W. Kittredge, with him James D. McCrudden, for appellant.

James J. Wilson, Assistant District Attorney, with him James T. Ranney and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, 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. Dissenting Opinion by Justice Roberts, Nix, and Manderino.

Author: Eagen

[ 457 Pa. Page 250]

On January 20, 1971, Michael Townsell was convicted by a jury of aggravated robbery and of murder

[ 457 Pa. Page 251]

    in the first degree. Post-trial motions were denied, and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed on the murder conviction as the jury's verdict directed. An additional twenty years of probation was ordered on the robbery conviction. This one appeal followed.*fn1

The factual background, as disclosed by the record, is this:

On the afternoon of January 14, 1970, at approximately 2:30 p.m., the appellant Townsell and Gregory Thomas attempted to steal from Otto Burkhard, the driver of a meat truck in Philadelphia. In carrying out the theft, Townsell assaulted Burkhard, and Thomas shot him fatally. Two young boys, Douglas Chappell and Robert Alford, witnessed the occurrence. Townsell was taken into police custody about 5 p.m. the same afternoon in the home of a friend near the scene of the robbery-homicide.

Townsell was taken to the West Detective Division Headquarters where he remained in a cell until 7:55 p.m. During this time period, Townsell was not questioned by the police, since the detectives assigned to the case were completing an on-the-scene investigation. Townsell was then transferred to Homicide Headquarters where he was initially questioned from 8:35 p.m. until 9:25 p.m. Before this questioning commenced, Townsell was informed of his Miranda*fn2 rights and was told he was in Homicide Headquarters because the victim of the robbery under investigation had been shot and was in critical condition. During the initial questioning period, Townsell admitted participating in the robbery, but said it was Thomas who shot the victim. Townsell was then left alone until

[ 457 Pa. Page 25210]

:00 p.m. when a second period of questioning began. This lasted until 10:45 p.m., and during this questioning, Townsell repeated what he had told the police previously. This statement was recorded in handwriting by one of the investigating officers. Before this second period of questioning, Townsell was informed the victim of the holdup had died. Between 10:45 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., Townsell was given a polygraph examination and allowed to rest. At 2:00 a.m., a third period of questioning began and the questions and answers were recorded in the form of a typewritten statement. Before this statement, Townsell was again informed of his Miranda rights and told the ...


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