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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLES STICKLE (03/14/79)

decided: March 14, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES STICKLE, APPELLANT



Nos. 18 and 581 January Term 1977, Appeals from the Judgments of Sentence and Orders of Probation of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Criminal Section of Philadelphia at Nos. 1479, 1480, 1481, 1482, 1484 and 1485 July Sessions 1975.

COUNSEL

Paul M. Perlstein, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.

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

Author: Eagen

[ 484 Pa. Page 95]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant, Charles Stickle, was arrested and charged with two counts of murder generally, of kidnapping, and of rape in connection with an incident involving two teenage girls, Beverly Rodenbaugh and Tina Statuti. Stickle, in connection with the same incident, was also charged with arson, criminal conspiracy, and causing or risking a catastrophe. At trial, demurrers to the charges of rape and causing or risking a catastrophe were sustained. The jury found Stickle guilty of murder of the first degree and of kidnapping on

[ 484 Pa. Page 96]

    two counts each, in addition to the charges of conspiracy and arson. Post-verdict motions were denied. Thereafter, Stickle was sentenced to consecutive life sentences on the murder convictions. Maximum probationary terms were imposed as a result of the convictions on the other charges, such probationary periods to run consecutively to each other but concurrently to the judgments of sentence on the murder convictions. A direct appeal to this Court was taken from the judgments of sentence imposed on the murder convictions. The orders imposing probation were appealed to the Superior Court which certified that appeal to this Court.

The facts giving rise to this appeal are as follows:

At approximately 12:30 a. m. on May 10, 1975, a security guard at the Container Corporation of America heard an explosion and observed a large ball of fire rising from the corporation's tractor trailer lot which is situated in a remote industrial area in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. He immediately proceeded to the lot and saw one of the trailers, which was stored there, on fire. At the same time, he observed a "ball of fire coming from the trailer on all fours." He thought it to be "a dog or cat or something on fire"; but, as he turned his light on the "ball of fire," he discovered it was a human being, later identified as Beverly Rodenbaugh, engulfed in fire. Taking immediate action, he was able to douse the flames surrounding the conflagrant victim. He then attempted to remove Miss Rodenbaugh from the area but, because she was badly burned and because she had crawled between the rear wheels of an adjacent trailer, he was unable to do so.

Within minutes of the explosion, units of the Philadelphia police and fire departments arrived at the scene. They discovered the charred body of a second victim, Tina Statuti, inside the still blazing trailer. An autopsy revealed Miss Statuti had died as a result of "thermal burns and smoke inhalation."

Using the "jaws of life," rescue units were able to extricate Miss Rodenbaugh from between the wheels of the

[ 484 Pa. Page 97]

    second trailer. She was given emergency medical attention at the scene and was then transported via ambulance to Roxborough Memorial Hospital where she was classified by medical personnel as "extremely critical." Physicians at Roxborough decided to transport Miss Rodenbaugh to St. Agnes Burn Center. Approximately one month after the explosion and fire, Beverly Rodenbaugh died as a result of "extensive thermal burns" sustained in the fire.

In this appeal, Stickle complains of twelve alleged errors in the prosecution process. For reasons stated herein, the judgments of sentence and orders will be affirmed.

Stickle complains error was committed because the search warrant used to obtain hair, blood, and nail scrapings from him was invalid since "factual allegations asserted therein were patently false at the time they were made." However, Stickle made no effort in his pretrial "Motion to Suppress" to apprise the suppression court of specific factual falsities contained in the warrant and, therefore, has not preserved this issue. Pa.R.Crim.P. 323(d); Commonwealth v. Dussinger, 478 Pa. 182, 386 A.2d 500 (1978).

Stickle next complains the warrant was invalid because it did not contain a statement of the purpose of the warrant. However, the warrant clearly states on its face that it was to be used to obtain hair, pubic hair, fingernail scrapings, toenail scrapings, and a blood sample.

He further complains the search warrant was invalid because it contained no statement as to the reliability of the informant. The probable cause for the issuance of the warrant consisted of a recitation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident, a statement to police by a co-defendant implicating himself and Stickle, and a corroborating statement by Miss Rodenbaugh, one of the victims. Where a person is an admitted participant in a crime and police secure a search warrant upon information received from him, affiant-officers need not support their claim that the informant was credible or his information reliable since the individual's admission of participation in the crime insures

[ 484 Pa. Page 98]

    his reliability. Commonwealth v. Matthews, 446 Pa. 65, 285 A.2d 510 (1971). This is especially true where, as here, the incriminating statement of a co-defendant is accompanied by corroborating evidence.

Stickle next maintains that the trial judge erred in refusing to allow his counsel, during voir dire, to inquire whether prospective jurors had an opinion regarding Stickle's guilt and that the court erred in refusing to allow questions concerning "the prevailing attitude in the community" to be asked of the prospective jurors.

The trial judge allowed defense counsel wide latitude in the examination of prospective jurors and permitted questions which would reveal whether a juror had formed a fixed opinion as to Stickle's guilt. "'While considerable latitude should be permitted on a voir dire, the inquiry should be strictly confined to disclosing qualifications of a juror and whether a juror has formed a fixed opinion or may be otherwise subject to disqualifications for cause. ' Commonwealth v. McGrew, 375 Pa. 518, 525, 100 A.2d 467, 470 (1953)." [Emphasis in original.] Commonwealth v. Johnson, 452 Pa. 130, 134-5, 305 A.2d 5, 7 (1973). See also Commonwealth v. Pass, 468 Pa. 36, 360 A.2d 167 (1976); Commonwealth v. Biebighauser, 450 Pa. 336, 300 A.2d 70 (1973). We find no error in the challenged rulings.

Stickle next maintains he is entitled to a new trial because exculpatory information known to the district attorney was not disclosed to the defense prior to trial. He contends the nondisclosure was violative of the holding of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963) [hereinafter: Brady ]. Instantly, no specific request for the information was made. Therefore, error was committed only if the nondisclosed evidence could have created a reasonable doubt as to guilt. Commonwealth v. Rose, 483 Pa. 382, 396 A.2d 1221 (1979). In ...


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