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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ANCELL EUGENE HAMM (10/07/77)

decided: October 7, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ANCELL EUGENE HAMM, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Fred T. Cadmus, III, Ronald C. Nagle, Westchester, for appellant.

William H. Lamb, Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, former C. J., did not participate in the decision of this case. Manderino, J., joins in this Opinion of the Court and joins in the concurring opinion of Nix, J. Nix, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Manderino, J., joins. Eagen, C. J., concurs in the result.

Author: Roberts

[ 474 Pa. Page 490]

OPINION

On November 20, 1972, appellant Ancell Eugene Hamm was arrested and charged with the murder of two police officers. On March 30, 1973, appellant's pre-trial motion for a change of venue from Chester County was granted. A jury trial was held on March 11 to 25, 1974 in Dauphin County. Appellant was convicted of murder of the first degree and received two consecutive sentences of life imprisonment. This appeal followed.*fn1 We vacate judgment of

[ 474 Pa. Page 491]

    sentence and remand the case to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

Appellant asserts that the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient to support appellant's conviction.*fn2 We do not agree.

The Commonwealth's evidence established that at approximately 2:00 a. m. on November 15, 1972, Officers Davis and Posey, two uniformed police officers of the Kennett Square Police Department, were shot to death in front of the Kennett Square police station. During the initial investigation on November 15, the police found a spent shell casing across the street from the police station, approximately sixty yards away. On November 19, 1972, the state police, assisted by about one hundred volunteer firemen, conducted a search of the field on the northern edge of Kennett Square. The search party discovered a .308 caliber rifle at a location between the police station and appellant's home, approximately a sixteen minute walk from the station and a three minute walk from appellant's home. The barrel of the rifle was bent. A sight cover and bolt were also found in the general vicinity of the rifle. On November 21, 1972, the police found a sling in the field. The sling fit the .308 rifle.

Two Commonwealth ballistic experts expressed the opinion that the bullet which struck Officer Davis was fired from the .308 rifle. The bullet fragments recovered from Officer Posey's body were too badly damaged to determine whether they were fired from the .308 rifle, but one expert was able to determine that these fragments were fired from a rifle "having the same class characteristics" as the .308 rifle. The other expert testified that the shell casing found across the street from the police station had been discharged by the bolt found near the .308 rifle. The ballistics experts

[ 474 Pa. Page 492]

    also testified that the spent shell casing had been "reloaded" several times.*fn3

The Commonwealth introduced evidence linking appellant to the murders. On January 23, 1970, almost three years before the killings, the police, pursuant to another investigation, seized four weapons from appellant's home, including the .308 rifle which was used in the sniper attack on Officers Davis and Posey. The four weapons were returned to appellant's mother in May 1972. When the police searched appellant's home and the house trailer of his brother James Hamm, which is located on the same property as appellant's home, they discovered three of the four weapons. The missing weapon was the .308 rifle, later found in the field near appellant's house. Thus, the evidence permitted the jury to conclude that appellant was the owner of the murder weapon. In addition, appellant was a skilled marksman and had been seen practicing with the .308 rifle prior to the killings. Appellant was proficient in reloading his own shells and possessed the necessary equipment for doing so. Approximately one month before the murder, appellant attempted to purchase a human silhouette target from a sporting goods store; such targets are normally sold only to police departments.

The Commonwealth's evidence also suggested a motive for the murder. Officer Davis had filed criminal charges against appellant on several occasions. Appellant believed that Davis was harassing him. The most recent charges arose out of an incident which took place on September 21, 1972, less than one month before the murders. On that date, Davis stopped appellant's car. After appellant refused to display his operator's license and vehicle registration, appellant and Davis became involved in a physical confrontation. Appellant was arrested and taken to the police station where he and Davis continued to argue with each other. At one point, appellant stated, "Davis, I'm not scared of you," and "I'll get even with you." Appellant was

[ 474 Pa. Page 493]

    charged with resisting arrest and assault and battery. These charges made by Officer Davis were scheduled for grand jury ...


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