decided: June 3, 1977.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
EDWARD PAUL MOORE, APPELLANT
William T. Shulick, Blairsville, for appellant.
W. Thomas Malcolm, Dist. Atty., John P. Merlo, Asst. Dist. Atty., Indiana, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, former C. J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Roberts, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Manderino, J., joined.
[ 473 Pa. Page 171]
Appellant, Edward Paul Moore, was indicted for murder as a result of the robbery and stabbing death of one Annabell Graham. On February 10, 1975, while represented by counsel, Moore entered a plea of guilty to a general charge of murder in the Court of Common Pleas, Indiana County. At the degree of guilt hearing, the Court upon hearing a portion of the testimony determined that the offense might rise to murder of the first degree. He thereupon secured the assignment of two additional judges to sit as a panel for the purpose of determining the degree of guilt.*fn1 Following the presentation
[ 473 Pa. Page 172]
of the evidence and oral argument, the three judge panel unanimously adjudged appellant guilty of murder of the first degree and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment.*fn2
The sole issue presented on appeal is whether the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of murder of the first degree. Although appellant did not deny he committed the homicide, he contends that the Commonwealth has failed to meet its burden of proving the specific intent which is required for a conviction of murder of the first degree. We disagree and now affirm the judgment of sentence for the reasons set forth below.*fn3
A plea of guilty to an indictment for murder constitutes an admission or confession of guilt to the crime of murder, with the degree of the crime to be determined by the Court.*fn4 Commonwealth v. Ewing, 439 Pa. 88, 264
[ 473 Pa. Page ]
Page 173It is axiomatic that the specific intent to kill is the element which distinguishes murder of the first degree from the lesser grades of murder. Commonwealth v. O'Searo, 466 Pa. 224, 352 A.2d 30 (1976); Commonwealth v. Alston, 458 Pa. 412, 317 A.2d 229 (1974); Commonwealth v. Bricker, supra; Commonwealth v. Bowden, 456 Pa. 278, 309 A.2d 714 (1973); Commonwealth v. Mosley, 444 Pa. 134, 279 A.2d 174 (1971); Commonwealth v. Hornberger, 441 Pa. 57, 270 A.2d 195 (1970); Commonwealth v. Jones, 355 Pa. 522, 50 A.2d 317 (1947). Moreover, the use of a deadly weapon directed at the vital organ of another human permits an inference that the actor intended the resultant death. Commonwealth v. O'Searo, supra; Commonwealth v. Bricker, supra; Commonwealth v. Agie, 449 Pa. 187, 296 A.2d 741 (1972); Commonwealth v. Gidaro, 363 Pa. 472, 70 A.2d 359 (1950). This inference was developed in recognition of the difficulty in establishing the requisite state of mind of the actor without resort to circumstantial proof. Thus evidence of the conduct of the accused and the circumstances surrounding the crime may be considered in determining the mental state which accompanied the act. Commonwealth v. O'Searo, supra; Commonwealth v. Tyrell, 405 Pa. 210, 174 A.2d 852 (1961); Commonwealth v. Kravitz, 400 Pa. 198, 161 A.2d 861, (1960).
Appellant contends, however, that the psychiatric evidence offered by the defense was sufficient to negate the inference of a specific intent to kill. This testimony, although conceding that appellant was legally sane and not psychotic, did indicate that he was impulsive and had limited control over his emotions and feelings. The findings suggested that appellant experienced difficulty in maintaining a conventional attitude, especially when faced with stressful situations. It was theorized that the victim's threat to contact the police could have presented such a stress situation as to have produced an impulsive response.
[ 473 Pa. Page 175]
On cross examination, however, the witness stated that he did not believe appellant was acting impulsively when he purchased the knife or at the time he went to the house and demanded money. Under further questioning by the court, the psychiatrist indicated that it was also possible that appellant could have planned the crime and intended to take a person's life. The mere introduction of evidence designed to refute the inference of a specific intent to kill does not necessarily prevent the finder of fact from concluding that the killing was in fact intended. Rather, it merely creates a factual question for the resolution of the trier of fact. As this Court has previously stated:
The inference or presumption that arises from the intentional use of a deadly weapon on the vital part of the body of another human being is merely a factual presumption. In the absence of any other evidence as to the defendant's intent, it is sufficient to sustain a finding of murder in the first degree. When evidence is introduced to overcome or rebut this presumption, the question of defendant's intent becomes one for the triers of fact. The triers of fact may, however, consider the presumption along with all other credible evidence presented on the issue of intent. Commonwealth v. Gibbs, 366 Pa. 182, 76 A.2d 608; Commonwealth v. Gidaro, 363 Pa. 472, 70 A.2d 359, supra; Commonwealth v. Wuckerer, 351 Pa. 305, 41 A.2d 574; Commonwealth v. Kluska, 333 Pa. 65, 3 A.2d 398; Commonwealth v. Troup, 302 Pa. 246, 153 A. 337; Commonwealth v. Green, 294 Pa. 573, 144 A. 743; Tiffany v. Commonwealth, 121 Pa. 165, 15 A. 462.
Commonwealth v. Ewing, supra, 439 Pa. at 92, 264 A.2d at 663.
Having considered all the testimony presented at the hearing, it was the function of the trier of fact to resolve the question of whether appellant had formed the specific intent to commit murder of the first degree.
[ 473 Pa. Page 176]
kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing." Id. § 2502(d). Thus, to be guilty of murder of the first degree, the defendant "'must not only intend to kill but in addition he must premeditate the killing and deliberate about it.'" Commonwealth v. O'Searo, 466 Pa. 224, 242, 352 A.2d 30, 39 (1976) (dissenting opinion of Manderino, J., joined by Roberts, J.), quoting LaFave & Scott, Criminal Law 563-64 (1972).
As Mr. Justice Manderino correctly observed in O'Searo,
"One who possesses the intent to kill may or may not have formed that intent to kill in a willful, deliberate, and premeditated [manner]. If the intent to kill was willful, deliberate, and premeditated, the killing is murder [of] the first degree. If, however, the defendant's intent to kill was not formulated in a willful, deliberate, and premeditated manner, the killing is not murder [of] the first degree . . . ."
466 Pa. at 242, 352 A.2d at 38-39 (dissenting opinion).
Here, there was ample evidence from which the three judge panel could infer that the killing was "willful, deliberate and premeditated." Therefore, I agree that judgment of sentence should be affirmed.