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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LOUIS CECIL SCHROTH (07/10/81)

decided: July 10, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
LOUIS CECIL SCHROTH, APPELLANT



No. 53 May Term, 1979, Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, at No. 2645 C.D. 1972

COUNSEL

Spero T. Lappas, Harrisburg, for appellant.

William A. Behe, Deputy Dist. Atty., Harrisburg, for appellee.

O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, Kauffman and Wilkinson, JJ. Flaherty, J., concurs in the result.

Author: O'brien

[ 495 Pa. Page 563]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant, Louis Cecil Schroth, was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County of murder of the first degree. No post-verdict motions were filed and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment. Appellant then filed a direct appeal to this Court, and we remanded for a determination of whether appellant had knowingly and intelligently waived his right to file post-verdict motions. Commonwealth v. Schroth, 458 Pa. 233, 358 A.2d 168 (1974). The trial court on remand allowed the filing of post-verdict motions. The motions were filed and considered and relief was denied. No direct appeal was taken. Appellant thereafter obtained new counsel and filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (PCHA),*fn1 alleging, inter alia, that his appeal rights had been denied. The trial court granted leave to appeal nunc pro tunc but denied relief in all other respects. On appeal, we affirmed. Commonwealth v. Schroth, 479 Pa. 485, 388 A.2d 1034 (1978). Appellant again acquired new counsel and filed a new PCHA petition. He alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise certain issues and that appellate counsel was ineffective in failing to raise trial counsel's alleged ineffectiveness. The trial court dismissed the petition without a hearing. Appellant appealed that dismissal and we remanded for an evidentiary hearing. Commonwealth v. Schroth, 490 Pa. 232, 415 A.2d 1219 (1980). Following a hearing, the trial court denied relief. This appeal followed.

Appellant was charged with the death of Linda Lugar. According to the Commonwealth's evidence, appellant was with the decedent at 3:00 a. m. on October 25, 1972. A neighbor testified that she heard screams from the decedent's residence at 3:15 a. m. and saw an unidentified

[ 495 Pa. Page 564]

    individual leave at 3:40 a. m. The victim's nude body was found beaten, stabbed and strangled at 9:00 a. m. A thumbprint taken at the scene at 10:00 a. m. was later identified as appellant's print. A police officer testified that appellant made an oral statement to him in which he confessed to having an argument with the victim and strangling and stabbing her.

Appellant presented witnesses to establish that he had been drinking all evening prior to the killing. He testified that he had been at the victim's residence twice on the night of the killing. When he left the apartment for the first time, he realized that he had forgotten his jacket. When he returned to get it, appellant found the victim's body lying on the floor. Appellant further denied making any inculpatory statements.

In considering appellant's claim of ineffective counsel, we are governed by Com. ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, 427 Pa. 599, 235 A.2d 349 (1967), where we held that a court must independently review the record and examine counsel's stewardship in light of available alternatives. The inquiry ceases and counsel is deemed to have been effective once the court is able to conclude that counsel's actions had a reasonable basis designed to effectuate the client's interests. The test is not whether it appears on hindsight that another course of action would have been more reasonable. Further, counsel is not ineffective in failing to assert a baseless claim. Commonwealth v. Hubbard, 472 Pa. 259, 372 A.2d 687 (1977).

Appellant's first allegation of ineffectiveness relates to the testimony about the discovery of his thumbprint at the scene of the killing. The print was taken by a police sergeant who was employed as an identification officer. In the course of his duties, the officer removed appellant's thumbprint from the victim's door at 10:00 a. m. on October 25, 1972, approximately seven hours after ...


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