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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MELVIN DOUGLAS BROWN (07/08/77)

decided: July 8, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MELVIN DOUGLAS BROWN, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

John J. Dean, Lester G. Nauhaus, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

John J. Hickton, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Linda L. Kelly, Asst. Dist. Attys., Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, former C. J., did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 473 Pa. Page 565]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Melvin Douglas Brown was indicted on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter arising out of the October 13, 1973 killing of Mary Lee Walters. Appellant's pre-trial application to suppress was denied and the case proceeded to trial on June 18, 1974. The jury found appellant guilty of murder of the second degree. Post-verdict motions were denied, and appellant was sentenced to ten to twenty years imprisonment. In this appeal,*fn1 appellant contends that the court erred in denying his application to suppress incriminating statements taken from him by the police. We agree, reverse judgment of sentence, and remand for a new trial.*fn2

[ 473 Pa. Page 566]

I

When ruling on suppression motions, the suppression court is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law as to whether evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights. Pa.R.Crim.P. 323(i). The suppression court must determine whether the Commonwealth has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the challenged evidence is admissible. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 323(h). On review, our responsibility is "to determine whether the record supports the factual findings of the court below and the legitimacy of the inferences and legal conclusions drawn from those findings." Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 460 Pa. 516, 521, 333 A.2d 892, 895 (1975).

If the suppression court has determined that the evidence is admissible, "this Court will consider only the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much of the evidence for the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted." Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 264, 280, 361 A.2d 282, 290 (1976); see Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 604, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 1878, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1961) (Opinion of Frankfurter, J.). This rule is subject to the limited exception that where, as here, certain findings by the suppression court are supported by defense testimony, we accept those findings as true even though they are in conflict with evidence presented by the Commonwealth.

Applying these standards the evidence establishes the following: On Saturday, October 13, 1973, the victim was stabbed to death while working after-hours in an office

[ 473 Pa. Page 567]

    on the twenty-third floor of the Koppers Building, a downtown Pittsburgh office building. Her body was discovered at about 2:00 a.m., the next morning.

On Sunday, October 14, the Pittsburgh Police Department interviewed individuals who had been in the building the night before. Two detectives went to the home of appellant, a security guard who had been on duty in the Koppers Building the night of the killing. They arrived at appellant's home at 11:00 a.m. They requested appellant to accompany them to the Public Safety Building for questioning. Appellant complied and was taken to the Public Safety Building.

Appellant arrived at the Public Safety Building at noon. Appellant was taken to an interview room where he was left for approximately an hour. The room had no windows, and the door was left closed. The two detectives returned to the interview room at 1:00 p.m., Sunday. Appellant was not advised of his constitutional rights before questioning but was told he was not under arrest. The two detectives asked him about his work schedule at the Koppers Building the night before. The detective who testified at the suppression hearing could not remember if appellant was asked if he was involved in the killing.

Appellant was questioned intermittently all afternoon. Other members of the Koppers Building staff were also questioned at the ...


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