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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MICHAEL GRANT (06/02/78)

decided: June 2, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MICHAEL GRANT, APPELLANT (TWO CASES)



Nos. 278 & 536 January Term, 1976, Appeals from Judgments of Sentence Imposed December 29, 1975, of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Trial Division, of Philadelphia, at Nos. 17 and 18 October Term, 1973.

COUNSEL

Neil E. Jokelson, Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Abraham J. Gafni, Deputy Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Deputy Dist. Atty. for Law, Gaele Barthold, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Roberts, J., joins in this opinion and files a concurring opinion.

Author: O'brien

[ 479 Pa. Page 76]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant, Michael Grant, was tried by a judge sitting with a jury and convicted of murder of the first degree and criminal conspiracy. Post-verdict motions were denied. Appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment for conviction of murder of the first degree and a concurrent five-to-ten year term of imprisonment on the conspiracy conviction. He appealed the judgment of sentence imposed on the conspiracy conviction to the Superior Court, which certified the appeal to this court for disposition with appellant's direct appeal from the judgment of sentence imposed on the conviction of murder of the first degree.

[ 479 Pa. Page 77]

This court has an independent duty pursuant to the Act of February 15, 1870, P.L. 15, § 2, 19 P.S. § 1187, to review the evidence and the law in all cases involving convictions for murder of the first degree and determine whether there exists sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction and the judgments of sentence entered thereon.

In Commonwealth v. Rose, 463 Pa. 264, 267-68, 344 A.2d 824, 825-26 (1975), we articulated our test of 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. . . . 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. . . . The fact-finder is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence." (Citations omitted.)

Reviewing the facts of the instant appeal under the above standard, the facts are as follows. On August 15, 1973, Winston Boston, a correctional officer at Holmesburg Prison, and Jeffrey Hunter, a prison inmate, witnessed an argument between the decedent, Samuel Molten, and Edward Ryder. The argument centered on Molten's nonbelief in and disrespectful attitude toward the Black Muslim religion. Molten was not a Muslim while Ryder was a member of that religion's chapter in Cell Block E of the prison.

On August 16, 1973, Kenneth Covil, another member of the Muslim religion, ordered Hunter and the other inmates of the cell block to a meeting conducted by Theodore Brown, the leader of the Black Muslim organization of Cell Block E. Brown instructed Hunter and the other inmates at the meeting to report to appellant any disrespectful behavior to the Muslim religion by Molten and it would be taken care of by appellant.

[ 479 Pa. Page 78]

Jerome Roach, also an inmate of Cell Block E, testified that on the night of August 16, 1973, he observed appellant and Covil sharpening a long metal rod in appellant's cell. When appellant noticed Roach, Covil obstructed Roach's view.

Robert Hall, another inmate, testified that on August 17, 1973, at 4:30 p. m., he was leaving his cell in Block E when he encountered Covil, Ryder and another man. Covil told Hall that they were "going to croak a lame." This phrase was defined as killing someone. Ryder entered appellant's cell, picked up a bundle and said, "Let's go." Hunter then observed Covil standing outside of decedent's cell, keeping watch. During this time, he heard loud breathing coming from decedent's cell. Within minutes Brown, Ryder and appellant emerged from the cell. Covil told Hunter, ...


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