Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Dauphin County, Nos. 908, 908A, 908B CD.
Joshua D. Lock and Lawrence A. Kalikow, Harrisburg, for appellant.
Richard L. Guida, Harrisburg, for Com., appellee.
Wieand, Olszewski and Watkins, JJ. Olszewski, J., files a concurring statement.
[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 472]
William S. Bradfield was found guilty by a jury of intentionally and deliberately murdering Susan Reinert and her two children, Karen and Michael. Post-verdict motions were dismissed, and Bradfield was sentenced to serve three consecutive life sentences. This appeal followed.
Susan Reinert's battered body was discovered in the trunk of her car in Dauphin County on June 25, 1979. The bodies of her two children have never been found. Mother and children were last seen alive entering Ms. Reinert's car in Delaware County on June 22, 1979. Bradfield argues on appeal that he should not have been tried in Dauphin County because there was no evidence that a murder had been committed in that county.*fn1 We disagree.
"For a county to take jurisdiction over a criminal case, some overt act involved in that crime must have occurred within that county." Commonwealth v. Tumolo, 455 Pa. 424, 427, 317 A.2d 295, 297 (1974). See: Commonwealth ex rel. Chatary v. Nailon, 416 Pa. 280, 206 A.2d 43 (1965); Commonwealth v. Winter, 324 Pa. Super. 258, 471 A.2d 827 (1984); Commonwealth v. Katsafanas, 318 Pa. Super. 143, 464 A.2d 1270 (1983); Commonwealth v. Guess, 266 Pa. Super. 359, 404 A.2d 1330 (1979); Commonwealth v. Frey, 258 Pa. Super. 288, 392 A.2d 798 (1978); Commonwealth v. Creamer, 236 Pa. Super. 168, 345 A.2d 212 (1975); Commonwealth v. Simeone, 222 Pa. Super. 376, 294 A.2d 921 (1972); Commonwealth v. Marino, 213 Pa. Super. 88, 245 A.2d 868 (1968), aff'd, 435 Pa. 245, 255 A.2d 911, cert. denied sub. nom., Rispo v. Pennsylvania, 395 U.S. 983, 89 S.Ct. 2145, 23 L.Ed.2d 771 (1969); Commonwealth v. Tarsnane, 170 Pa. Super. 265, 85 A.2d 606 (1952). While the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving facts sufficient
[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 473]
to establish jurisdiction, it may rely upon circumstantial evidence to meet its burden. Commonwealth ex rel. Chatary v. Nailon, supra.
The Crimes Code, at 18 Pa.C.S. § 102(c), provides that either the death of a homicide victim or the bodily impact causing death is an event sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon the territory in which such event occurred. Moreover, "if the body of a homicide victim is found within this Commonwealth, it is presumed that [the death] occurred within this Commonwealth." Id. This rule was prompted by unique problems which arise in ascertaining the situs of a homicide for jurisdictional purposes. Although, by its terms, the statute refers to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for purposes of applying territorially the law of homicide, the same considerations are applicable to determine in which county a homicide case is to be tried. Thus, in Commonwealth v. Mull, 316 Pa. 424, 175 A. 418 (1934), a case arising prior to enactment of the Crimes Code, the Supreme Court held that the finding of the decedent's body, with blood beneath it, would be sufficient to support a jury's finding that a homicide had occurred in Allegheny County. See also: Commonwealth v. Leary, 67 Lanc.L.Rev. 57 (1979). The presumption in this case that an overt act had occurred in Dauphin County was not rebutted or weakened merely because Susan Reinert was last seen alive in Delaware County. We conclude, therefore, that appellant could properly be tried in Dauphin County for the murder of Susan Reinert.
The Commonwealth's evidence showed the existence of a conspiracy between appellant and an unidentified second person to kill Susan Reinert in order to collect the proceeds of a policy of insurance on her life. The evidence tended to show that the deaths of the children were also brought about as a result of the same conspiracy. Because the death of Susan Reinert, presumed to have occurred in
[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 474]
Dauphin County,*fn2 was an overt act committed pursuant to that conspiracy, that act was sufficient to vest jurisdiction in the courts of Dauphin County to try appellant for the murders of the children committed pursuant to the same conspiracy.*fn3
Moreover, the instant proceedings were properly tried in Dauphin County pursuant to the venue provisions of 42 Pa.C.S. § 4551(d). This section provides: "In any case where a multicounty investigating grand jury returns a presentment the supervising judge shall select the county for conducting the trial from among those counties having jurisdiction." This section of the Judicial Code empowers the supervising judge to designate one county in which several alleged offenses may be consolidated in a single trial. If offenses are otherwise properly consolidated, it is not necessary that the county so chosen be the situs of each and every crime charged. It is enough that one of the offenses being tried occurred in that county.
It is well established that the General Assembly may determine the jurisdiction of the courts of this Commonwealth. See: Pa. Const. art. V, § 10 (Supreme Court's power to prescribe rules governing the operations of all
[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 475]
courts shall not affect the right of the General Assembly to determine the jurisdiction of any court); Commonwealth ex rel. Chatary v. Nailon, supra (court has no jurisdiction over an offense unless it occurred within the county of trial or unless by some statute it need not).
The purpose of the legislature in authorizing the Supreme Court to convene multicounty, investigating grand juries was to enhance the ability of the Commonwealth to inquire into criminal activity or public corruption reaching into several counties. See: 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 4542, 4544. In light of this purpose, it is not reasonable to believe that the legislature intended separate trials in each county where acts of a criminal nature had been committed. Rather, it appears that the legislature intended that the supervising judge would select a single county in which all offenses set forth in a presentment could be tried. Susan Reinert's body having been found in Dauphin County, the supervising judge could direct that appellant be tried there for all murders arising from the same criminal scheme to kill Ms. Reinert in order to collect the insurance which had been written on her life.
Appellant argues that the multicounty, investigating grand jury lacked authority to issue a presentment against him because his alleged crimes did not fall within the statutory definition of organized crime or public corruption which the legislature had authorized the grand jury to investigate. There is no merit in this argument.
Organized crime is defined in part as "any continuing criminal conspiracy or other unlawful practice which has as its objective: (1) large economic gain through fraudulent or coercive practices . . . ." 42 Pa.C.S. § 4542. The evidence presented at trial established that appellant's activities had constituted a "criminal conspiracy or other unlawful practice," and that these activities had had as their objective "large economic gain through fraudulent or coercive practices." It was also necessary that these activities be "continuing." We conclude, however, that appellant's conspiracy
[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 476]
was continuing. It did not end with the deaths of the insured mother and her children. The murders were but one step in the ongoing conspiratorial scheme to recover life insurance proceeds.
If, during an investigation of ongoing criminal activity, a grand jury comes upon criminal activity which has been completed, it is not required to close its eyes thereto. A contrary interpretation of the statute would be unreasonable. See: Commonwealth v. Iacino, 490 Pa. 119, 415 A.2d 61 (1980) (grand jury did not exceed its authority in issuing presentment against defendant regarding improper sale of state property where grand jury had been impaneled to investigate corruption of supervisory personnel of Penn-DOT, evidence of improper sale arose in the course of that investigation, and sale had been made possible by the submission of false report by defendant, a maintenance supervisor).
During the proceedings before the grand jury in this case, Paul Tressler, a county prosecutor appointed to assist the Office of the Attorney General in presenting this matter to the grand jury, said in response to an expressed fear that members of the grand jury were not hearing all of the facts:
I want to make that very plain to you. There is nobody in this courtroom that wants to convict this person more than Rick Guida and myself, and in the end we are gonna be the ones who stand up and ask a jury of twelve people to believe us. The only thing we are going to be able to give the jury is what is admissible evidence.
So, sometimes if you think we are abrupt with you, I apologize. I get very emotional about this case, not from my own standpoint, those kids would have been 14 and 15 years old now. They would have been going to Disney World. They would have been playing softball and in the band. They have been denied the right.
If we get an indictment out of this grand jury, by God, it is going to be one that is going ...