No. 66 March Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence from the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Criminal Division, at Nos. 778 and 778-A of 1975.
Joseph V. Bullano, Court-Appointed, Jonathan Solomon, New Castle, Court-Appointed, for appellant.
Donald E. Williams, Dist. Atty., New Castle, for appellee.
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Pomeroy, Nix and Larsen, JJ., concur in the result.
Appellant Glenda Yvonne Knight pleaded guilty to murder of the third degree for killing her first husband. The court imposed a sentence of imprisonment of eight to twenty years. Appellant's only contention is that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing sentence.*fn1 We affirm the judgment of sentence.
On September 27, 1975, appellant drove to the home of her former husband and killed him by firing a single shot through the skull with a .22 caliber rifle. Immediately after the shooting, appellant called to a pair of passing neighbors that she had just killed her former husband and that they should inform the police. The neighbors reported that appellant appeared distraught in a state of near hysteria. The police arrived within minutes and brought appellant to the stationhouse, where she gave a statement admitting that she had shot the victim but asserting that the gun had accidentally discharged when a barking dog startled her. Following indictment for murder and voluntary manslaughter, appellant, with the assistance of counsel, pleaded guilty to murder generally. The Commonwealth certified that the killing rose no higher than murder of the third degree and the court found appellant guilty of that offense.
Appellant, at the age of fifteen, married her former husband in 1962. The couple had five children and were divorced in 1972. Each remarried. At various times during their marriage, the local children's welfare agency placed their children in foster care because of troubles in the home. Appellant blamed these troubles on the victim. The victim's desire to have custody of the children, whom appellant desired returned to her, proved a persistent source of conflict between the couple after the divorce. The evidence presented by appellant indicated that she was very upset
that the court awarded custody of three of the children to the victim and that on the day of the incident the victim had in his car an order of the court awarding him custody. The trial court, however, found that appellant had not seen this order at the time of the shooting.
Appellant argues that the sentence imposed was so excessive as to constitute an abuse of discretion. She contends that her sentence should be reduced in light of her emotional strain at the time of the incident caused by loss of her children, whom she loved and wanted in her home, her cooperation with the police and other officials, her record of nonviolence and because she presents no threat to the community and severe punishment for her crime will not serve as a deterrent to others.
Although this Court has frequently reviewed sentences imposed for convictions of murder of the first degree, see, e. g., Commonwealth v. Williams, 456 Pa. 550, 317 A.2d 250 (1974); Commonwealth v. Lee, 450 Pa. 152, 299 A.2d 640 (1973); Commonwealth v. Person, 450 Pa. 1, 297 A.2d 460 (1972), we have never decided a case where punishment for committing murder of the third degree is said to be excessively harsh. In Commonwealth v. Martin, 466 Pa. 118, 351 A.2d 650 (1976), we applied the standards of review developed for convictions of murder of the first degree in reviewing convictions for violations of the Uniform Controlled Substance, Drug, Device ...