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filed: December 17, 1982.




Clarence D. Bell, Media, for appellant.

David E. Fritchey, Assistant District Attorney, Media, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Spaeth, Wickersham and Cirillo, JJ. Spaeth, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Cirillo

[ 308 Pa. Super. Page 207]

This is an appeal from the judgments of sentence imposed on the appellant, John W. Davis, Jr., on April 10, 1981, in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County. A jury convicted appellant of first-degree murder,*fn1 two counts of robbery,*fn2 and criminal conspiracy.*fn3 The court denied appellant's post-trial motions and sentenced him to life imprisonment for murder, ten to twenty years imprisonment for robbery to be served consecutively to the life sentence, and five to ten years imprisonment for conspiracy to be served concurrently with the robbery sentence. We affirm.

[ 308 Pa. Super. Page 208]

The evidence presented at trial, viewed in a light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, shows the following:

On the evening of December 23, 1979, Father William Benonis and Joseph Hoffman were walking the short distance from the church building of St. Michael's Church in Chester to the rectory. Mr. Hoffman's wife was waiting for him outside the rectory. Father Benonis was carrying a case containing proceeds from a church bingo game, while Mr. Hoffman was carrying a tin box containing money from sales of refreshments at the game. Before Father Benonis and Mr. Hoffman reached the rectory, two men who had been sitting together near the church entrance approached and confronted them. One of the men poked a shotgun into Father Benonis's stomach. Father Benonis grabbed the gun and yelled, and threw the money case into a hedge near the rectory. One of the assailants began to run away, while the one with the shotgun went to retrieve the money case. As the gunman tried to escape, he came upon Joseph Hoffman, raised the shotgun and fired at very close range into Hoffman's left chest and shoulder. The gunman fled on foot. Father Benonis and Mrs. Hoffman ran immediately to Mr. Hoffman where he lay on the ground. When Chester Police arrived minutes later, Hoffman had no vital signs. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police immediately began a search of the neighborhood around St. Michael's. About a block from the church, an officer came upon a man named Pat Martin walking on Eighth Street and asked him whether he had seen anyone running through the vacant lot behind the church. Martin told the officer he had seen three black males, one of whom appeared to be carrying a rifle and a radio-shaped object, running from St. Michael's through the lot. Martin said he then saw a late 1960's model Cadillac with a white top and temporary tags pick the three men up on Eighth Street. The car then sped down Eighth Street and made a turn, at which point Martin lost sight of it. Police also learned that

[ 308 Pa. Super. Page 209]

    the car had a personalized front license plate with the letters "BOP" on it. A description of the car was called in to the police radio dispatcher. A short time later, a car fitting the description was found on Seventh and McIlvain Streets in Chester, about two blocks from where Martin had last seen the car. In the glove compartment, police officers found a temporary registration slip for the car in Davis's name. As officers were investigating the car, the appellant's brother, Bruce Davis, came upon the scene and asked the officers why they were searching his brother's car. Bruce Davis was detained, but released without questioning. Later, a fingerprint dusting of the car turned up some prints identified as those of the appellant.

Near the scene of the crime, police found a piece of gun metal and two waddings from shotgun shells. In the under-brush at Eighth and Madison Streets, police found a shotgun with its barrel split and a shell in one of its chambers. About five or six blocks from the church, police found a case containing church keys and checks made out to St. Michael's. With the case was a tin box. The case and box were identified as those Father Benonis and Hoffman had been carrying.

Later tests determined that John Davis's fingerprints were on the shotgun; that the shotgun was the one used to shoot Joseph Hoffman; that the piece of gun metal had come from the barrel of the shotgun; and that the shell waddings were ...

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