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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES ALAN ROMBERGER (10/07/77)

decided: October 7, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JAMES ALAN ROMBERGER, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Carl B. Stoner, Jr., Harrisburg, for appellant.

Reid H. Weingarten, Deputy Dist. Atty., Harrisburg, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Packel, JJ. Manderino, J., concurs in the result. Roberts, J., files a concurring opinion.

Author: Nix

[ 474 Pa. Page 192]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is the third time that this Court has had occasion to consider this cause. We are now being asked to determine the effect of our earlier decisions upon the admissibility of a signed written statement of appellant that was elicited while he was in police custody following his arrest. Since we are of the view that the admission of this statement was in violation of our earlier directives and was contrary to the law of this Commonwealth we are again forced to reverse the judgment of sentence and to award a new trial.

On November 6, 1965, the body of Joy Keifer, who had been reported missing on November 4th, was discovered in Wildwood Lake, Harrisburg. Appellant, James Alan Romberger, was subsequently arrested and convicted of murder of the first degree in connection with this killing. In accordance with the verdict of the jury a sentence of death was imposed. A direct appeal was taken to this Court and the judgment of sentence was reversed and a new trial awarded. Commonwealth v. Romberger, 454 Pa. 279, 312 A.2d 353 (1973). (Romberger I). After a denial by this Court of a petition for reargument filed by the Commonwealth, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and thereafter vacated the order of this Court and remanded the matter back for further consideration in view of its then recent decision in Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 94 S.Ct. 2357, 41 L.Ed.2d 182 (1974). Pennsylvania v. Romberger, 417 U.S. 964, 94 S.Ct. 3166, 41 L.Ed.2d 1136 (1974).

The matter was again briefed and reargued and after further consideration we concluded that the principles announced

[ 474 Pa. Page 193]

    in Michigan v. Tucker, supra, did not require a different result and we reinstated our original mandate. Commonwealth v. Romberger, 464 Pa. 488, 347 A.2d 460 (1975). (Romberger II). A retrial resulted in a conviction of murder of the first degree and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. We have now before us the appeal from the judgment of sentence which resulted from the second trial.*fn1

The circumstances of this sordid crime have been set forth in our earlier opinion and need not be repeated here in detail. For purposes of the instant discussion it is sufficient to note that prior to his formal arrest appellant made numerous oral statements which were contradictory and, although intended to be exculpatory, placed the appellant at the scene of the crime with the victim at or about the time she met her untimely death. The questioning of Mr. Romberger by police officials took place between 12:30 P. M. and 11:52 P. M. when he was formally charged with the murder. During this period of time he was moved from his home to police headquarters, a partial polygraph was conducted and he was taken to the scene of the crime. Thereafter he was formally charged, arraigned and administered full Miranda warnings. Thereupon appellant admitted killing the deceased, gave a written signed statement to that effect. It is conceded for purposes of this appeal that Mr. Romberger was not given the full panoply of warnings until he was formally charged and arraigned.

The first question to be resolved in this appeal is whether the admissibility at trial of the written signed statement was ruled upon by this Court in either of our earlier decisions. It is axiomatic that if such a determination were, in fact, made by this Court, the trial judge at the time of the retrial was powerless to review that ruling.

"A lower court is without power to modify, alter, amend, set aside or in any manner disturb or depart from the judgment of the ...


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