Nicholas A. Clemente, Philadelphia, for appellant.
F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Benjamin H. Levintow, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.
Appellant, Theodore X. Brown, was found guilty by a jury in Philadelphia of murder of the first degree and guilty of conspiracy to murder. Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were filed and denied. Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction and given a suspended sentence on the conspiracy conviction. This appeal, contesting only the murder conviction, followed.
On August 17, 1973, Samuel Molten was fatally assaulted in his cell on Cellblock E inside Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. Molten had been stabbed fifty-four times and the stab wounds were the direct cause of his death. It was the Commonwealth's theory at trial that Brown, as the Lieutenant, or leader of the Black Muslim sect on Cellblock E, combined with one Kenneth Covil, the Drill Instructor of the sect, one Michael Grant, the Investigator of the sect, and one Edward Ryder, a member of the organization to plan to murder and, in fact,
did murder Samuel Molten over religious differences between the Muslims and Molten. The Commonwealth offered proof of the following facts to support that theory. On August 15th, Ryder and Molten had a heated argument on a catwalk in the receiving area of the prison. During this argument Molten said that Muslims were nothing and Ryder threatened to throw Molten from the catwalk for Molten's disrespectful attitude. It was necessary for prison guards to intervene to prevent the two from coming to blows. The following evening, a meeting was called by Brown and attended by Covil, Grant and Ryder at which it was said that if anyone disagreed with their religious tenets, they "would be taken care of." Subsequently, that evening, Grant and Covil were seen sharpening a metal rod on the floor of their cell. On August 17th, Covil told an inmate to call his cellmate, who was standing near Molten's cell, because he had some business there and did not want any witnesses. Ryder was then seen emptyhanded entering Grant's cell, where the metal rod had been sharpened, and emerging with a blue prison shirt draped over his arm. Ryder then joined Covil and was seen walking in the direction of Molten's cell. Covil was then seen pacing back and forth outside Molten's cell at a time when sounds "like . . . somebody trying to catch their breath" were heard from the direction of Molten's cell. Immediately thereafter, Brown, Grant and Ryder were seen emerging from Molten's cell. The three dispersed but as Covil passed the witness he paused and said: "You didn't see anything." A few minutes later, Molten's body was discovered by prison guards who immediately sounded an alarm. As guards entered the cellblock to answer the alarm, Brown and Ryder were seen running from the direction of Molten's cell towards their own cells. A search of Molten's cell produced a blue prison shirt and a sharpened metal rod, which the medical examiner testified would produce wounds consistent with the fatal stab wounds.
Appellant first contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction. However, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and accepting as true all the evidence together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, upon which the jury could properly have based its verdict, see Commonwealth v. Carbonetto, 455 Pa. 93, 314 A.2d 304 (1974); Commonwealth v. Eiland, 450 Pa. 566, 301 A.2d 651 (1973), we are convinced that the evidence in this case is of sufficient quality and quantity to support the convictions.*fn1
Next, the appellant contends that the trial court erred when it allowed the sharpened metal rod and the wooden handle found with it, both of which were admitted into evidence as Commonwealth exhibits and briefly displayed to the jury during the Commonwealth's case in chief, to be taken into the jury room during the jury's deliberations. Appellant makes much of a ruling made by the trial court at the close of the Commonwealth's case, before the defense began production of evidence, where, in response to a motion by the Commonwealth that all exhibits and photographs submitted by the Commonwealth be admitted into evidence and a request for clarification of that motion by defense counsel to determine whether those items admitted into evidence would be permitted to go out with the jury, the trial court ruled that all the proffered items were admissible into evidence, however, certain of the items, including the rod and handle would not go out with the jury. From the colloquy surrounding the ...