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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ROBERT RIGLER (03/20/80)

decided: March 20, 1980.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ROBERT RIGLER, APPELLANT



No. 630 January Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence imposed on August 3, 1977, Court of Common Pleas Trial Division, Criminal Section, County of Philadelphia, at Nos. 879 and 880, June Term, 1975.

COUNSEL

Andrew G. Gay, Albert L. Deutsch, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Division, Marianne E. Cox, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen and Flaherty, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Nix, J., joined.

Author: Larsen

[ 488 Pa. Page 445]

OPINION

The macabre events of this case give stark witness to the depths of depravity to which the criminal mind is capable of sinking; these events are as follows.

On May 10, 1975, Robert Rigler, appellant, and Charles Stickle, a co-defendant, lured two young girls, Beverly Rodenbaugh, (age sixteen) and Tina Statuti (age fifteen) to the French Creek Inn in Montgomery County. Rigler and Stickle had taken it upon themselves to investigate a recent beating of Rigler's father by unknown assailants and apparently thought the girls knew something about that incident.

Inside the Inn, appellant and Stickle severely beat and raped Beverly and Tina. Their sadistic appetites unsatiated, they transported the girls to a trailer lot of the Container Corporation in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, and took them inside a parked trailer. Beverly and Tina were then choked, doused with gasoline, set on fire and left in the trailer as it erupted in flame.

Tina Statuti died in the blaze. Beverly Rodenbaugh was somehow able to crawl from the inferno, whereupon she became trapped under an adjacent trailer. Extricating her, fire department paramedics took her to the emergency ward of Roxborough Hospital. Although in critical condition, large parts of her body having been burned beyond recognition,

[ 488 Pa. Page 446]

Beverly remained conscious and coherent. She was able to identify appellant and Stickle as the perpetrators of the heinous crimes,*fn1 and she related the details of the incident to several witnesses. Approximately one month later, Beverly Rodenbaugh died as a result of her burns.

Appellant was convicted by a jury of two counts of murder of the second degree, two counts of rape and kidnapping, arson and conspiracy. Judgments of sentence were imposed -- consecutive life sentences for the murder convictions; five to ten years, to run consecutively, for the conspiracy; and ten to twenty years, to run consecutively, for the remaining convictions. This direct appeal followed.

Appellant first argues that the suppression court erred in failing to suppress certain statements he made to the police on the day of his arrest. Although there is no single litmus-paper test for determining the validity of a confession, the parameters of appellate review of a suppression court's ruling of admissibility are well-defined.

The suppression court, which hears and evaluates the testimony, is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law. . . . The court must determine whether the Commonwealth has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was voluntary and that the waiver of constitutional rights was knowing and intelligent. . . . Our responsibility on review is "to determine whether the record supports the factual findings of the court below and the legitimacy of the inferences and legal conclusions drawn from those findings." . . . In making this determination, this Court will consider only the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much of the evidence for the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted.

Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 265, 279, 361 A.2d 282, 290 (1976) (cites omitted). We will consider all of the

[ 488 Pa. Page 447]

    attendant circumstances to determine if it was sufficiently demonstrated that appellant's decision to speak was the product of a free and unconstrained choice and that the waiver of his constitutional rights was a knowing, intelligent and voluntary choice. Id.

The following facts and circumstances surrounding the statements were found by the suppression court and are amply supported by the record. Appellant was arrested at 8:10 a. m. on May 10, 1975 and arrived at the Police Administration building at 8:45 a. m. At 9:05 a. m., appellant was advised of his Miranda rights and waived his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. From 9:05 a. m.-9:30 a. m., Officer Michael Gannon interrogated appellant. During this interval, appellant gave a partially incriminating statement, admitting to being with the girls the prior evening and to having intercourse with them. At 9:30 a. m., appellant informed Officer Gannon that he would tell the whole truth after he talked to his girlfriend.

Appellant was then taken to the polygraph room where he stayed from 9:40 a. m. to 11:07 a. m., but no polygraph was administered. An attorney, Neil Carver, arrived at that time at the request of appellant's family to consult with appellant. From 11:07 a. m. to 11:25 a. m., appellant was allowed to use the restroom facilities, given water and then left alone in the interrogation room. At 11:25 a. m. until 12:15 p. m., attorney Carver consulted with appellant, and advised appellant not to make any further statements. Thereafter, attorney Carver informed Officer Gannon that he had explained to appellant his right to remain silent. According to attorney Carver's testimony, and that of Officer Gannon, attorney Carver did not tell the police not to further interrogate appellant, nor did he instruct them that he desired to be present during further interrogation of appellant.

From 12:15 p. m. until 12:30 p. m., appellant was left alone in the interrogation room, and he again was accorded restroom privileges and given water. At 12:30 p. m., Officer Gannon dialed the phone number of appellant's girlfriend,

[ 488 Pa. Page 448]

    with whom he lived, and appellant spoke with her until 12:35 p. m. Appellant was then left alone until 12:55 p. m. Appellant then banged on the door of the interrogation room and, when Officer Gannon responded, appellant said he wanted to tell him what happened. Appellant again waived his right to remain silent, and rendered a second statement to police. He also expressed a willingness to make this statement without the presence of an attorney.*fn2 This statement was much longer than the first. Appellant detailed the rapes, beatings and his participation in the burnings, as well as his subsequent incriminating conduct.

The suppression court further found that, at all times relevant to the giving of the statements, appellant was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was not tired, made no request that was refused, was fully able to understand his interrogators and to communicate without any difficulty. Attorney Carver also testified that he ...


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