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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES JARRETT ASHBURN A/K/A JAMES JARRETT ASHBURN (01/27/75)

decided: January 27, 1975.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JAMES JARRETT ASHBURN A/K/A JAMES JARRETT ASHBURN, JR., APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Mead S. Spurio, Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., David Richman, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Manderino, J., joined.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 459 Pa. Page 628]

OPINION OF THE COURT

A Philadelphia County jury found James Jarrett Ashburn guilty of murder in the second degree. Post-verdict motions were denied, and Ashburn was sentenced to life imprisonment under the habitual offender statute.*fn1 This appeal followed.

Acting on information supplied by a person who shared a hotel room with Ashburn, police investigators went to the hotel room, where they discovered blood on the mattress, rug, and wall behind the bed; a pair of bloodstained trousers; and bloodstained bed clothing in a heap on the floor of the closet. Further investigation resulted in the discovery of the body of one George Santagada on a landing of one of the hotel's fire towers. Santagada had been shot once in the neck. Arrested a few hours later, Ashburn made a series of inculpatory statements in which he admitted shooting Santagada.

Ashburn's account of the incident, as contained in his statements, was as follows: He and Santagada had gone to Ashburn's hotel room late the previous night after dining with friends; Ashburn produced a pistol to show to Santagada, who then brought up the subject of Russian roulette; at that point Ashburn loaded one chamber of the pistol, pointed it at Santagada, who was sitting on

[ 459 Pa. Page 629]

    the bed, and pulled the trigger twice; on the second pull, the gun discharged, fatally wounding Santagada; Ashburn then dragged Santagada's body to the fire tower landing, changed his clothes, and fled the hotel.

Ashburn's incriminating statements were introduced in evidence at trial as part of the Commonwealth's case. He contends that one of these statements, made eighteen hours after his arrival at the Police Administration Building, was obtained during a period of unnecessary delay prior to his arraignment, and thus was inadmissible under the exclusionary rule announced in Commonwealth v. Futch, 447 Pa. 389, 290 A.2d 417 (1972). In its opinion disposing of appellant's post-verdict motions, the trial court gave two reasons for rejecting this contention. First, the court deemed the statement admissible because it had "no reasonable relationship" to the delay prior to arraignment.*fn2 Second, the court concluded that in any event the admission of the statement did Ashburn no harm. Both points are urged by the Commonwealth in support of affirmance.

We need not pass on the first reason advanced by the trial court, for we agree with it that the admission of the statement if it was indeed error, was harmless. The challenged statement is identical in all material respects to an earlier statement obtained from Ashburn immediately upon his arrival at the Police Administration Building, which also was introduced in evidence at trial. The admissibility of this earlier statement is not challenged. Compare Commonwealth v. Blagman, Pa., 326 A.2d 296, 299 (1974); Commonwealth v. Townsell, 457 Pa. 249, 320 A.2d 111 (1974); Commonwealth v. Padgett, 428 Pa. ...


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