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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOHN HARRY BRUNO (01/29/76)

decided: January 29, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JOHN HARRY BRUNO, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Daniel L. Quinlan, King of Prussia, for appellant.

Milton O. Moss, Dist. Atty., Stewart J. Greenleaf, Norristown, for appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 466 Pa. Page 249]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant John Harry Bruno was arrested on April 26, 1966, and charged with five murders. The trial court, pursuant to a Commonwealth petition, appointed a sanity commission, which, on June 12, 1967, declared appellant incompetent to stand trial. The trial court adopted the commission's findings, committed appellant, and dismissed

[ 466 Pa. Page 250]

    appellant's writ of habeas corpus. This Court affirmed that dismissal on appeal. Commonwealth v. Bruno, 435 Pa. 200, 255 A.2d 519 (1969).

In November 1973 appellant was certified as competent to stand trial, and the Commonwealth proceeded on two of the five murder indictments. Appellant was found guilty on both counts of murder in the first degree in a jury trial on February 4, 1974, and was subsequently sentenced to two concurrent life terms.

In this appeal,*fn1 appellant raises three issues: (1) whether the Commonwealth met its burden of proving appellant sane beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) whether certain evidence should have been suppressed; and (3) whether the trial court committed reversible error by refusing either to sequester the jury or to conduct daily questioning of jurors to ensure that they had not been exposed to prejudicial publicity. We find appellant's third contention to be meritorious, reverse the judgments of sentence, and remand for a new trial.

I -- Sufficiency of the Evidence

Appellant's first argument concerns the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence. Although he does not attack the sufficiency of the evidence linking him to the actual shootings, he claims that the Commonwealth failed to prove his sanity beyond a reasonable doubt.

[ 466 Pa. Page 251]

Appellant offered expert testimony to the effect that he was insane at the time of the shooting. To sustain the conviction, therefore, the Commonwealth must show that the evidence is sufficient to support a finding of sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Demmitt, 456 Pa. 475, 321 A.2d 627 (1974); see Commonwealth Page 251} v. Rose, 457 Pa. 380, 321 A.2d 880 (1974).*fn2 This burden may be met with either expert or lay witness testimony. Commonwealth v. Demmitt, supra; Commonwealth v. Zlatovich, 440 Pa. 388, 269 A.2d 469 (1970).

Appellant does not challenge the well-established definition for legal insanity in Pennsylvania -- the M'Naghten test: a defendant is legally insane if, "at the time of the act, either he did not know the nature and quality of the act or he did not know that it was wrong." Commonwealth v. Demmitt, supra 456 Pa. at 481, 321 A.2d at 631; see Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 459 Pa. 304, , 329 A.2d 212, 214 (1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 981, 95 S.Ct. 1411, 43 L.Ed.2d 663 (1975); Commonwealth v. Woodhouse, 401 Pa. 242, 249-50, 164 A.2d 98, 102-03 (1960); Commonwealth v. Mosler, 4 Pa. 264 (1846). Nor does he challenge the test for whether the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction:

"[W]hether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and drawing all proper inferences favorable to the Commonwealth, the trier of fact could reasonably have found that all of the elements of the crime had been established beyond a reasonable doubt."

Commonwealth v. Robson, 461 Pa. 615, 625, 337 A.2d 573, 578 (1975); see Commonwealth v. Boyd, 461 Pa. 17, 334 A.2d 610 (1975); Commonwealth v. Murray, 460 Pa. 605, 334 A.2d 255 (1975). Thus, we must determine whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, supports a finding beyond a reasonable

[ 466 Pa. Page 252]

    doubt that appellant knew the nature and quality of the act and knew that it was wrong.

The following evidence was presented at trial: Ottavio and Pauline Perricone were killed by a .22 caliber revolver during the evening of April 23, 1966; a revenge note together with a list of names (including the deceased), both written in appellant's own hand, were found in his room; the murder weapon was found hidden in appellant's room; appellant's fingerprints and palm prints were found in the home of the victims; a cane with a thin blade at its tip was found with blood on the blade at the home of the victims, and appellant, when arrested, had a long thin scratch along the side of his face and neck; notes and writings were found in appellant's room from which it could be inferred that appellant believed that the persons on his revenge list were casting an "evil-eye" on his mother and, that, in order to break the spell, he had to "eliminate" them.

Appellant relies on the testimony by Doctors Bartle (the defense's expert witness) and Fisher (the Commonwealth's expert witness), who were both members of the 1967 sanity commission. Dr. Bartle testified that appellant had a long history of mental illness which began before the alleged murders and which required a finding of incompetency to stand trial in 1967.*fn3 Dr.

[ 466 Pa. Page 253]

Fisher agreed; in response to a question by the court concerning appellant's ability to appreciate the nature and quality of his act, he also stated:

"I would presume that when he shot these people he knew he was killing them. Whether he was killing the people we think of as the people or whether he was killing a black witch, is something else."

The evidence also includes the following testimony by the two doctors: that appellant was aware he was killing the deceased by firing the revolver; that appellant could appreciate that the taking of life was wrong; that appellant's mental illness does not keep him from appreciating the nature of his act and that it was wrong; and, that, by hiding the murder weapon, it could reasonably be inferred that appellant knew that what he had done was wrong. If the jury had believed that appellant thought he was killing a black witch instead of a person, it would have had to conclude that appellant did not understand the nature and quality of his actions. However, this testimony, together with the circumstantial evidence linking appellant to the crime, was sufficient for the jury to conclude otherwise. There was evidence sufficient for the jury to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant committed the murders and that he was legally sane when doing so.

II -- Admissibility of Evidence

Appellant's second argument is that the alleged murder weapon found in his room should be suppressed because

[ 466 Pa. Page 254]

    it is either the fruit of an illegal interrogation or found pursuant to a search warrant issued without probable cause.

Appellant's arrest on April 26, 1966, was preceded by a police investigation of five similar homicides. All of the victims were elderly, were on friendly terms with each other prior to their deaths, and had been shot with small caliber weapons in the early evening. In no case was there evidence of forcible entry. An informant supplied police with two documents that appellant had given him. One was a list of seven names, including those of the five victims, and the other was a revenge note. The police also learned that, prior to the first shooting, a .22 caliber revolver was stolen from a store shortly after a man matching appellant's description had inquired about it. The informant told police that appellant's family had been on friendly terms with all the victims.

The police, relying on this information, applied for and received body warrants for appellant and his father and warrants to search their business and home addresses. They authorized a search for a .22 or .25 caliber pistol and papers and writings pertaining to the murders. The police found numerous incriminating items: writings concerning voodoo, occult and the "evil-eye"; papers containing the names of the victims; and photos of corpses. ...


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