Nos. 665 & 668 January Term, 1977, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Trial Division, of Philadelphia, at Nos. 0061, 0062, 0065 March Term, 1977. Nos. 77-03-0058-0059
Richard E. Johnson, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., James Jordan, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Kauffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Larsen, J., concurs in the result. Roberts, J., files a dissenting opinion.
Appellant, Winfield C. Patterson, was convicted by a jury of three counts of murder of the first degree. Since the Commonwealth was seeking the death penalty, the jury further deliberated and found aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances. Post-verdict motions were denied and appellant was sentenced to death. This direct appeal followed.
Appellant first argues that the suppression court erred in failing to suppress statements given to police. The facts are as follows.
On February 21, 1977, police discovered the bodies of Victor Soto, his wife Betty Soto, and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Wanda McKim, in their home at 1231 South 46th Street in Philadelphia. Mr. and Mrs. Soto had been bound with electrical cord and stabbed repeatedly while Ms. McKim was found submerged in a bathtub full of water.
Police at the scene learned that Mrs. Soto had another daughter, Helen McKim, who had recently moved out of the Soto household. Police learned that Helen had struck her mother with a hammer a week or so before the killings. Police discovered that Helen was living at the home of Mrs. Ruth Stroman at 4821 Kingsessing Avenue in Philadelphia. At the Stroman home, police found Helen McKim, Sharlinda Stroman, William Blannon and appellant. All four agreed to go to police headquarters to be interviewed concerning their knowledge of the victims. Before leaving, however, Ruth Stroman told a Detective Hildred Allen that appellant and Blannon had been around the Soto residence over the past weekend.*fn1
Appellant and his companions arrived at the Police Administration Building at 6:35 P.M. Appellant was questioned by Detective Harry McCabe for approximately thirty minutes about his knowledge of the slain family and their relationship with Helen McKim. McCabe testified that appellant was not under arrest and that appellant was very cooperative in answering questions. Appellant agreed to take a polygraph examination, but he was found unfit for the examination because he had been smoking marijuana all day before arriving at police headquarters.
At 8:30 P.M., Sergeant Herbert Gibbons, the detective in charge of the case, told appellant that he was free to leave and that the police would give him a ride home. Appellant, however, informed Sergeant Gibbons that he preferred to wait until police were done questioning his girlfriend, Sharlinda Stroman. Appellant, who was not a suspect at this time, remained in the waiting room overnight.*fn2 The next morning appellant was given breakfast. During the period between 8:30 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. the following morning, appellant was not questioned.
During the night, William Blannon told police that he alone had gone to the Soto residence on Saturday evening and killed the three victims. Sharlinda Stroman, on the other hand, told police during questioning that she, Blannon and appellant had been together at her home all day Saturday. Because of the inconsistencies between the statements of Blannon and Stroman, Sergeant Gibbons instructed Detective Francis Ansel to interview appellant concerning Blannon's whereabouts on Saturday. During an interview between 7:05 A.M. and 8:45 A.M., appellant told Ansel that he had been with Blannon all Saturday evening except for a ten-minute period when Blannon left to buy beer. Appellant ...