George W. Westervelt, Jr., George Royle, IV, John A. Hiscott, Stroudsburg, for appellant.
James F. Marsh, Stroudsburg, 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. Nix, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
Appellant Linda Joyce Dixon, charged with the murder of her infant son Christopher, moved pre-trial to suppress an oral statement given by her to the police which admitted her guilt. The motion was denied. Thereafter appellant was convicted of murder in the second degree in a trial before a judge sitting without a jury. Post-verdict motions, which again challenged the admissibility of appellant's confession, were denied, and sentence of 6 1/2 to 13 years imprisonment was imposed. This appeal followed. We shall reverse and direct a new trial.
The facts relevant to the motion to suppress are as follows.*fn1 On July 24, 1973, the decomposed body of a two year old child identified as that of Christopher Dixon was found in a wooded area in Stroud Township, Pennsylvania. The ensuing investigation by the police soon focused upon appellant, the child's mother. Shortly before 10:00 a. m. on August 14, 1973, three detectives (two state police officers and a Stroud Township policeman) called at the apartment of Rita Delessio, the person with whom Linda Dixon was then residing in Easton, Pennsylvania. Ms. Dixon was present and assented to the police request to accompany them to the Easton State Police Barracks. No reasons for this request were given. Linda Dixon informed Rita Delessio that no help would be necessary inasmuch as she, Linda, could handle the situation herself. The four then drove to the barracks in a police car, no conversation taking place between appellant and the three officers during the twenty minute ride.
Arriving at the Easton police barracks, appellant was placed in a small interrogation room. She was asked if she knew why the officers sought to question her and answered "yes." One of the policemen then read aloud from a prepared form the constitutional warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Appellant was asked to repeat the words, to state whether she understood, and to sign the printed "waiver" form. She complied, and stated that she understood the warnings.
Before continuing this narrative, it is necessary to relate certain events which had taken place prior to this August 14 interview. Five months earlier, on March 14, 1973, appellant had been adjudged guilty of the crime of malicious mischief
by a justice of the peace of Stroud Township.*fn2 As a result, she was ordered to make restitution at the rate of $50 per month until a total of $500, the estimated amount of property damage, had been paid to the injured person. Appellant was informed at that time by the justice of the peace that in the event she should default in making a required payment, a warrant would issue for her arrest; she was specifically told that the police would be dispatched to make the arrest. Nevertheless, Ms. Dixon failed to pay the first $50 installment falling due in late March, and each of the subsequent four installments owing for the period preceding August 14. In consequence, a warrant for Linda Dixon's arrest was delivered to the Stroud Township Police by the justice of the peace on July 26, 1973. The policemen were in fact armed with this warrant at the time of their arrival at the Delessio apartment on August 14 and the interview with Dixon which followed at the police barracks.
Reverting to the events of August 14, 1973, interrogation commenced as soon as Linda Dixon had signed the Miranda waiver, but it did not pertain to the malicious mischief charge. Appellant was shown a small black and white photograph of her deceased child, Christopher, taken at the age of ten months. One of the police officers asked Ms. Dixon, "Where is Chrissy?", whereupon she broke into tears and wept for ten minutes. At the end of this time appellant stated, "I did it." The police then asked, "How did you do it?", and appellant ...