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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LOUIS R. RIGGINS (04/28/78)

decided: April 28, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
LOUIS R. RIGGINS, APPELLANT (TWO CASES)



Nos. 522, 550 January Term, 1975, Appeal from Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Criminal Section, as of March Term, 1974, Nos. 155, 156.

COUNSEL

Joel Harvey Slomsky, Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., for appellee.

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

Author: Nix

[ 478 Pa. Page 225]

OPINION

The appellant, Louis Riggins, was convicted by a jury of murder of the first degree and criminal conspiracy in connection with the stabbing death of Linda DeBose in Philadelphia on February 13, 1974. Post-verdict motions were denied. A sentence of life imprisonment was imposed for murder, and a consecutive sentence of five to ten years was imposed for criminal conspiracy. The judgment of sentence for murder was appealed to this Court, and the judgment of sentence for criminal conspiracy was appealed to the Superior Court, which certified the appeal to this Court. We affirm.

Appellant first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict. Our well established test for sufficiency of evidence is whether accepting as true all the evidence together with all reasonable inferences therefrom upon which the jury could properly have based its verdict, such evidence and inferences are sufficient in law to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Ilgenfritz, 466 Pa. 345, 348, 353 A.2d 387, 389 (1976). In addition, we are to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner. Id. So viewing the evidence, we find it sufficient.

The Commonwealth's trial evidence was as follows: The victim's mother, accompanied by a co-worker, Mrs. Young, stopped by the home of her two daughters late at night to see that all was well. She discovered a large cooking knife and bloody paper towels on the kitchen countertop, and at the same time heard the victim calling faintly from the basement. Upon going down to the basement, the mother found the victim lying in a pool of blood with numerous stab wounds to her right arm, chest and throat. In answer to her mother's question as to what caused her injuries, the victim clearly and repeatedly named the appellant and two of appellant's regular companions. The mother's co-worker came down the stairs and heard the same three people named as the assailants.

[ 478 Pa. Page 226]

The mother called the police and an emergency patrol wagon arrived within minutes. The senior police officer found the victim in a severely wounded state and heard her say repeatedly that she was dying. When questioned, she replied, "They stabbed me." She also stated there had been three assailants. The police officer then grabbed the nearest available thing to write on, a napkin. The victim gave him the same three names she had given her mother, and told the officer they were all Muslims who lived in Frankford and belonged to the Susquehanna Mosque. The officer wrote this information in abbreviated form on the napkin. After taking the victim to the hospital, the officer showed the names on the napkin to another policeman. Seeing appellant's name, the other officer said he knew where appellant lived. When the police went to the address supplied by the officer, they were given another address by appellant's parents. Arriving at that destination, they apprehended appellant as he ran to get into a car.

The victim's sister, Rose DeBose, testified at trial that earlier during the evening in question she answered the telephone at the home where she and her sister, the deceased, resided. The caller identified himself as "Louis" and asked for Linda DeBose, the victim. The witness further testified that she recognized the voice as that of Louis Riggins, whom she knew from having spoken to him before, both in person and by telephone. At the end of the telephone conversation, Linda DeBose, the victim, told Rose DeBose, "Louis will be over later on." When the sister left the house at 9:30 p. m. she locked the door. The door had two locks and a peephole. She testified that they always kept the door locked and admitted no one unless identified. She returned to the house at 11:45 p. m., after the police had taken the victim to the hospital. There was no sign of forcible entry. Rose DeBose further testified that three nights before the stabbing she observed Linda in their home along with appellant and one of the other named assailants. The other individual and Linda were engaged in an angry argument.

[ 478 Pa. Page 227]

The first contention relates to the dying declarations made by the victim. Appellant concedes that these declarations were clearly admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule. He argues, however, that the dying declarations were the only testimony identifying him as the perpetrator of the act and that these declarations constitute insufficient evidence as a matter of law unless corroborated by other evidence linking him directly to the crimes. The requirement of corroboration for dying declarations is not in accordance with the law of this jurisdiction. The credibility, interpretation and weight to be given a dying declaration under the attendant facts and circumstances of the case, are matters exclusively for the jury. Commonwealth v. Brown, 388 Pa. 613, 131 A.2d 367 (1957); accord, 5 Wigmore, Evidence § 1451(b) (Chadbourn rev. 1974). The solemnity of an occasion in which the declarant is conscious of the imminence of death justifies giving the dying declaration the same weight as sworn testimony. The reliability accorded a sworn statement springs from the declarant's appreciation of the significance of the oath. In the case of the dying declaration the awareness of impending death provides the assurance of the truthfulness of the utterance. Accord, McCormick on Evidence § 286 (2nd ed. 1972).

"Some authorities which limit the value and weight to be given to dying declarations, point out that the declarant may be influenced by hatred or revenge or similar unworthy motives, but this is equally applicable to any despicable character who takes the witness stand. '"When every hope of this world is gone, when every motive to falsehood is silenced, and the mind is induced by the most powerful considerations to speak the truth, a situation so solemn and awful is considered by the law as creating the most impressive of sanctions." 1 Wharton's Criminal ...


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