Nos. 399, 518 January Term, 1978, Appeals from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Criminal Section, at Nos. 80-83 September Term, 1977, No. 2309 May Term, 1977, entered September 21, 1978.
Joseph H. Reiter, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div. Asst. Dist. Atty., Michelle Goldfarb, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Larsen, J., concurs in the result. Nix and Kauffman, JJ., file dissenting opinions.
At issue on these appeals is whether appellant Edwin Meredith, while on trial before a jury for his alleged criminal involvement in the shooting death of one person and the beating of another, should have been permitted to establish that one of his witnesses, Geraldine Stetler, has been acquitted on charges arising out of the same incident. Unlike the trial court, we are satisfied that appellant validly sought to introduce evidence of his witness's acquittal for the limited purpose of removing a "cloud" cast over the witness's testimony by Commonwealth evidence indicating the witness's involvement in the alleged crimes. Because the court erred in refusing appellant's valid request for permission to make limited use of evidence of his witness's acquittal, judgment of sentence must be vacated and appellant must be granted a new trial.
The episode giving rise to the present prosecution was the culmination of long-standing animosity between Robert and Nancy Mendel, alleged victims of criminal activity, and their next-door neighbors, James and Geraldine Stetler, as well as James Horner (Geraldine Stetler's first husband and friend of the Stetlers) and David Horner, his son by Geraldine Stetler. Appellant Meredith is a friend of the Stetlers and Horner.
By the Commonwealth's account of the episode, on the evening of May 7, 1977, James Horner and appellant threatened and assaulted Nancy Mendel in order to provoke her
husband, Robert Mendel. Robert Mendel fended off the attack and called the police. That same evening, while standing on a front porch common to both the Mendel and Stetler residences and awaiting the arrival of the police, Robert Mendel allegedly was pulled inside the Stetler home by appellant and James Horner. There, with separate weapons, both James Stetler and David Horner shot Mendel in the back.
When police arrived, appellant as well as James and David Horner and James and Geraldine Stetler were taken to the Police Administration Building. All five were arrested and charged. Geraldine Stetler's trial was held before appellant's. She was acquitted.
Appellant was tried on charges of criminal homicide, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, criminal conspiracy, and aggravated and simple assault. In presenting the Commonwealth's case against appellant to the jury, the prosecutor also brought out evidence of Geraldine Stetler's relationship to the alleged shooting. For example, the prosecutor asked William McBurnie, a neighbor of the Mendels, if he saw any of the Stetlers or Horners after the police arrived at the scene. The following colloquy ensued:
"A. I saw them bringing the people out, out of the Horner [sic] household.
Q. Who was the first person you saw brought out?
The prosecutor pursued the inquiry, dwelling upon what happened upon the arrival of police. After ascertaining that a policeman had kicked in the door of the Stetler house, pulled his gun, and gone into the house, ...