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.
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
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
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 ...