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decided: January 27, 1975.



Gilbert E. Toll, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, 1st Asst. Dist. Atty., David Richman, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Benjamin H. Levintow, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Manderino, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Nix

[ 459 Pa. Page 665]


Appellant, Regina Garrison, was indicted and charged with the murder of Henrietta Garrison, the appellant's mother. Prior to trial appellant filed a motion to suppress which was denied. Thereafter, trial was had before a judge and jury, at the conclusion of which, the appellant

[ 459 Pa. Page 666]

    was found guilty of murder in the first degree. Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were argued and denied and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed.

The principal objection relates to the introduction into evidence over the objection of the defense of eleven color slides of the body of the deceased. We believe the admission of this evidence was error and now reverse.*fn1

We recently set forth the controlling law in this area in our opinion in Commonwealth v. Scaramuzzino, 455 Pa. 378, 317 A.2d 225 (1974):

"At the outset it should be noted that the practice of admitting photographs of the body of the deceased, unless they have essential evidentiary value, is condemned. Commonwealth v. Peyton, 360 Pa. 441, 450, 62 A.2d 37, 41 (1948). See also, Commonwealth v. Dankel, 450 Pa. 437, 441, 301 A.2d 365, 367 (1973). Our law is well-settled that the admission of such evidence is a matter within the discretion of the trial judge and, absent an abuse of discretion, there is no reversible error. Commonwealth v. Woods, 454 Pa. 250, 252, 311 A.2d 582, 583 (1973), citing Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 406 Pa. 102, 176 A.2d 421 (1962).

"'The proper test to be applied by the trial court in determining the admissibility of photographs in homicide cases is whether or not the photographs are of such essential evidentiary value that their need clearly outweighs the likelihood of inflaming the minds and passions of the jurors.' Commonwealth v. Powell, 428 Pa. 275, 278-279, 241 A.2d 119, 121 (1968). Such photographs will not be excluded merely because they are horrid or gruesome, Commonwealth v. Snyder, 408 Pa. 253, 257, 182 A.2d 495, 496 (1962), but the more inflammatory the photograph the greater the need to establish

[ 459 Pa. Page 667]

    the essential evidentiary value." Id. at 381, 317 A.2d at 226.

The color slides in issue involved two photographs of the bedroom and bedding covered with blood; five photographs of the deceased on the floor of her bedroom immersed in a pool of blood with blood splattered on the surrounding furnishings; a view of the lacerated left side of the deceased's head in a pool of blood; two photographs of the deceased's head showing blood, as well as fragments of bone and brain tissue protruding from a gaping wound of the deceased's head; and one frontal photograph of the deceased nude from the waist up. The total viewing time was between three and four minutes.

Unquestionably, the photographs depicted a gruesome and macabre scene which would incite and inflame the passions of a jury. Thus, we must determine whether the evidentiary value of this evidence justified its introduction into evidence. See Commonwealth v. Petrakovich, Pa., 329 A.2d 844 (1974) [Filed December 5, 1974]. In the instant case, the defense raised was that of insanity. During the trial, appellant's written confession was introduced which graphically illustrated a premeditated, calculated and deliberate murder of her mother.*fn2 At no

[ 459 Pa. Page 668]

    point was the cause of death contested and the nature of the injuries were such as could be adequately described verbally by the pathologist. Further, the content of the slides sheds little, if any, light on the question of the state of mind of the accused which was the only issue before the jury.

Whether the purpose of the evidence was as asserted by the court en banc to illuminate the testimony of the pathologist or as suggested by the court in its charge to the jury to assist the jury in making a finding of a specific intent to kill, it is quite apparent that it sheds little light under either theory.

"The picture of one in death, particularly if the death resulted from violent means, can never be expected to be an aesthetic or pleasant vision". Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 446 Pa. 419, 435, 286 A.2d 898, 904 (1971). (Opinion in Support of Affirmance).

Commonwealth v. Johnson, 402 Pa. 479, 167 A.2d 511 (1961); Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 406 Pa. 102, 176 A.2d 421 (1962). This was particularly true in the instant case where death resulted from numerous blows to the head. Matricide by its very nature is a horrendous crime and the introduction of these photographs could

[ 459 Pa. Page 669]

    only have further incited the emotions of the jury and diminished their ability to return a deliberate and objective verdict. Whereas here there was an absence of any compelling reason for the admission of these slides, we are forced to conclude that their introduction was error. Further, we cannot accept the Commonwealth's argument that the cautionary instructions of the court relating to this evidence or the limitation placed upon the viewing time adequately assured against the prejudice created. It is unrealistic to believe, even after a limited view, that the horror engendered by these slides could ever be erased from the minds of the jurors or that its prejudicial effect could be avoided by cautionary instructions.

We thus find an absence of any need that would justify the introduction of such inflammatory material and conclude the trial court abused its discretion in permitting its introduction into evidence.

Judgment of sentence is reversed.

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