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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. FRANK R. HART (05/27/83)

decided: May 27, 1983.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
FRANK R. HART, APPELLANT



No. 80-3-692, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Trial Division, Criminal Section, at No. 1646 October Term, 1977.

COUNSEL

Delores Wilson, Philadelphia (Court-appointed), for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Thomas Quinn, Asst. Dist. Attys., for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 501 Pa. Page 175]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Frank Hart appeals from a judgment of sentence of imprisonment of five to fifteen years imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia upon a verdict of murder of the third degree entered after a bench trial. Appellant seeks a new trial on the ground that his trial counsel allegedly provided ineffective assistance in failing to object to the competency of two of the Commonwealth's eyewitnesses, both of whom were minors. Having found no basis on the record for the disqualification of these eyewitnesses, we affirm.

[ 501 Pa. Page 176]

Appellant was tried on charges of murder generally and voluntary manslaughter for the beating death on August 26, 1977, of sixty-six year old Jessie Hines. The Commonwealth's case against appellant was established through the testimony of three eyewitnesses: Mary Johnson, an adult, and Will McCray and Shawn Dukes, both minors. McCray, then thirteen years of age, testified that, immediately before the beating, he had observed appellant standing on the sidewalk outside the victim's home, had heard appellant say "I'm going in there and get Jessie," and had seen appellant enter the victim's home. McCray also testified that through the front window of the victim's home he had seen appellant punch the victim five or six times on the head and face, and shake the victim severely. Shawn Dukes, then eleven years of age, testified that he, too, had seen appellant enter the victim's home and punch the victim, although he stated that appellant had not announced that he was going to "get Jessie" until the victim had been beaten. Mary Johnson, the adult eyewitness, corroborated the testimony of both minors concerning the beating. Additionally, testimony of a medical examiner revealed that the cause of death had been a subdural hematoma, an injury consistent with a beating.

Represented by the same counsel as at trial, appellant took an appeal from the judgment of sentence to this Court. The matter was transferred to the Superior Court, which, in a per curiam opinion, rejected two claims of trial error, but declined to reach the merits of appellant's present allegation of ineffective assistance because trial counsel was impermissibly attempting to argue his own ineffectiveness. Commonwealth v. Hart, 272 Pa. Super. 189, 414 A.2d 1071 (1979). See Commonwealth v. Dancer, 460 Pa. 95, 331 A.2d 435 (1975). Thus the Superior Court remanded the record for appointment of new counsel and an evidentiary hearing on the ineffective assistance claim. The evidentiary hearing was conducted by the trial judge who had presided at

[ 501 Pa. Page 177]

    appellant's bench trial. This appeal followed the court's denial of relief.*fn*

It is well settled that the competency of a witness is presumed and the burden to show incompetency falls upon the party asserting it. Commonwealth v. Riley, 458 Pa. 390, 393, 326 A.2d 384, 385 (1974). When the witness is a child under the age of ...


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