Frederick J. Lanshe, Public Defender, Allentown, for appellant.
George J. Joseph, Dist. Atty., Howard R. Miller, Asst. Dist. Atty., Allentown, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Manderino, J., joins.
Appellant, William Petrakovich, charged with the murder of his wife, was tried before a jury and convicted of murder in the first degree. Upon denial of post-trial motions, a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. This direct appeal followed.*fn1 We have considered
each of appellant's arguments and, for the reasons set forth below, affirm the judgments of sentence.*fn2
I. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Appellant first contends that the evidence is insufficient to support a verdict of murder in the first degree. As we have said many times, our scope of review as an appellate court is limited to determining "whether, accepting as true all the evidence, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, upon which the jury could properly have based its verdict, such evidence and inferences are sufficient in law to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Commonwealth v. Carbonetto, 455 Pa. 93, 95, 314 A.2d 304, 305 (1974) citing Commonwealth v. Clark, 454 Pa. 329, 311 A.2d 910 (1973); Commonwealth v. Bayard, 453 Pa. 506, 309 A.2d 579 (1973). Of course, because the prosecution prevailed in the trial court, the record must be viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Rife, 454 Pa. 506, 312 A.2d 406 (1973); Commonwealth v. Cimaszewski, 447 Pa. 141, 288 A.2d 805 (1972); Commonwealth v. Gray, 441 Pa. 91, 271 A.2d 486 (1970).
With these standards in mind, we turn to a review of the rather bizarre set of facts disclosed by the record.
Appellant and Rochelle Petrakovich were married in September, 1970 and resided near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Both had been previously married and divorced and had lost custody of their respective children of those prior marriages. In May, 1971, appellant and his wife moved to Arizona where they lived for several months. In October of that year, Mrs. Petrakovich returned to Allentown and obtained employment at the Top Diner, where she had previously worked. On January 12, 1972, appellant appeared at the Diner, spotted his wife behind the lunch counter, and accosted her. The prosecution version of what then transpired, as presented through three eye-witnesses, was as follows: Appellant leaned over the counter and pushed his wife against a refrigeration unit which was several feet behind her. Mrs. Petrakovich, seeming startled, moved towards the counter and apparently spoke with her husband for one or two minutes. No witness could testify as to the content of this conversation. Appellant then drew a gun and fired it at his wife; she screamed, clutched her left arm, and fell to the floor. Still holding the gun, appellant leaped over the counter and warned the other employees and patrons not to move or call the police. He then bent over his wife and said "I love you, Shel." After another warning to an employee who attempted to come to the injured woman's aid, appellant again professed his love to his wife and fired a second shot into her chest. He then shot himself in the chest and fell upon his wife's body. The police and an ambulance were then called. Mrs. Petrakovich died before arrival at a hospital.
Taking the stand in his own behalf, appellant recounted a very different version of the facts, and denied that he had shot his wife. He stated that life for him and his wife had ...