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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. SEBASTIAN THOMAS YOST (04/28/78)

decided: April 28, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
SEBASTIAN THOMAS YOST, APPELLANT (TWO CASES)



Nos. 174 & 233 January Term, 1976, Appeal from Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Northumberland County, at Nos. CR-74-366, CR-74-366A, CR-74-366B and CR-74-366F

COUNSEL

Anthony D. Miele, Williamsport, for appellant.

Samuel C. Ranck, Dist. Atty., R. Michael Kaar, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Pomeroy, J., files a concurring opinion. Roberts, J., concurs in the result. Manderino, J., files a dissenting opinion. Jones, former C. J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: O'brien

[ 478 Pa. Page 330]

OPINION

Appellant, Sebastian Yost, of Shamokin, was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County, in a case arising from the deaths of three Shamokin girls, Margaret Long, 16, her sister, Sharon, 15, and Carol Taylor, also 15.

Yost was convicted of murder of the first degree in the death of Sharon Long, murder of the second degree in each of the other two deaths, and criminal conspiracy. He was sentenced to imprisonment for life for murder of the first degree, ten-to-twenty years on each count of murder of the second degree, and five-to-ten years for conspiracy. All sentences were to run consecutively. He appeals the judgments of sentence.

The facts surrounding this appeal are as follows. The three girls disappeared the evening of July 19, 1973. On October 6, 1974, their bodies were discovered in a wooded area near Shamokin. They were identified on the basis of personal effects at the scene, an examination by Dr. Halbert

[ 478 Pa. Page 331]

Fillinger, a forensic pathologist, and the identification of an orthodontic appliance belonging to Sharon Long.

The police were led to the bodies by Robert Reichwein, who reported that Yost had shown them to him and Albert Patti, Jr., after telling them that he (Yost), Ronald Scandle and Joseph Ziemba killed the girls. Both Reichwein and Patti testified at trial that Yost made the admission and took them to the scene.

Testifying against Yost after a guilty plea, Joseph Ziemba gave the following account of the events relating to the disappearance and death of each of the victims. He (Ziemba), Yost and Scandle picked up the victims on the night of their disappearance while riding around Shamokin in Scandle's car. They took them to a spot near the site where the bodies were found. When they had been there for a time, an argument broke out, which led to violence. The girls were killed at Yost's suggestion. Yost himself strangled Sharon Long. The bodies were taken to the spot where they were found, which was in a wooded ravine, and left there. The following day, a deodorizing solution was purchased at a hardware store and applied to the bodies, which were then covered with debris.

Sharon Johns, an acquaintance of all of the involved parties, testified that she was with the victims on the night of their disappearance, that they were picked up as stated by Ziemba, and that she declined an invitation to accompany them. Robert Jones, proprietor of the hardware store, identified Scandle and Ziemba as purchasers of the deodorizing solution.

Yost testified that he was with certain members of his family on the night of the victims' disappearance. Other members of the family testified that Yost was with them. Yost testified in detail about his activities on that day. He explained his ability to remember what happened by stating that it was the day his infant daughter was released after being hospitalized. His testimony concerning his daughter's hospitalization and release was corroborated from hospital records. Yost admitted knowledge of details of the manner

[ 478 Pa. Page 332]

    of the victims' deaths. He claimed that he learned what he knew from Ziemba and from rumors that were circulating around the Shamokin area.

Appellant first argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. We do not agree.

In Commonwealth v. Rose, 463 Pa. 264, 344 A.2d 824 (1975), this court reiterated our standard review in judging the sufficiency of the evidence:

"The test of sufficiency of the evidence is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and drawing the proper inferences favorable to the Commonwealth, the trier of fact could reasonably have found that all of the elements of the crime had been established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Robson, 461 Pa. 615, 625, 337 A.2d 573, 578 (1975); Commonwealth v. Boyd, 461 Pa. 17, 24, 334 A.2d 610, 613 (1975); Commonwealth v. Murray, 460 Pa. 605, 608, 334 A.2d 255, 257 (1975). Moreover, it is the province of the trier of fact to pass upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be accorded the evidence produced. Commonwealth v. Robson, supra; Commonwealth v. Murray, supra; Commonwealth v. Smith, 457 Pa. 638, 326 A.2d 60, 61 (1974); Commonwealth v. Paquette, 451 Pa. 250, 257, 301 A.2d 837, 841 (1973). The fact-finder is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Robson, supra; Commonwealth v. Smith, supra."

In this case, there is testimony that appellant was a party to a plan to kill the victims and hide their bodies, that he participated in the killings, and that he strangled Sharon Long. We find that the evidence will sustain the verdict. Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient because of the conflict between the Commonwealth's evidence and his testimony.

As stated in Rose, supra, a "fact-finder is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence," and credibility is also within the province of the factfinder. Given the above test, there existed sufficient evidence to sustain appellant's convictions.

[ 478 Pa. Page 333]

Appellant argues that the verdict is contrary to law. He bases his argument on the premise that a verdict is illegal if it is against the express instructions of the trial judge. Commonwealth v. Jones, 303 Pa. 551, 154 A. 480 (1931).

Our review of the charge in the instant case reveals that the trial judge instructed the jury on all possible verdicts, including murder of the first degree, murder of the second degree, and criminal conspiracy, the crimes that appellant was found guilty of. We find no merit in appellant's allegation of error.

Appellant next argues that the trial judge improperly charged the jury that he had the burden of proof concerning his ...


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