Appeal from Judgment of Sentence October 25, 1985, in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Criminal No. 85-85.
Peter D. Goldberger, Bellefonte, for appellant.
Ray F. Gricar, District Attorney, Bellefonte, for Com., appellee.
Wieand, Olszewski and Tamilia, JJ. Wieand, J., concurs in the result.
[ 365 Pa. Super. Page 601]
This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence imposed following appellant's plea of guilty, but mentally ill, in connection with the murder of her infant son. After careful consideration of the briefs*fn1 and record on appeal, we conclude that we must affirm.
The victim, Garret Comitz, was born to appellant, Sharon Comitz, and her husband, Glenn Comitz, on December 3, 1984. One month later, on January 3, 1985, appellant drove Garret to a point in Centre County, Pennsylvania, where a stream called Black Bear Run passes under Route 504, and dropped him into the stream. Garret's body was found the next morning, fully clothed and lying face down in the water. As disclosed by a subsequent autopsy, the cause of death was either suffocation or exposure to the elements.
Appellant at first told state police, on the day before Garret's body was found, that Garret had been kidnapped from her car while it was parked at a shopping center. In
[ 365 Pa. Super. Page 602]
the weeks that followed, however, the police uncovered evidence implicating appellant in her son's death. The investigation eventually culminated in a complaint and information charging appellant with first and third degree murder.
Appellant initially entered a plea of not guilty to each offense. Thereafter, however, appellant agreed to plead guilty but mentally ill to the charge of third degree murder. At the change of plea hearing held June 14, 1985, the trial court accepted appellant's plea, finding that appellant was mentally ill at the time of the offense. After changing her plea and prior to being sentenced, appellant was examined by Dr. Robert Sadoff, a prominent forensic psychiatrist. At that time appellant was placed under hypnosis and, while hypnotized, acknowledged that she had killed Garret.
Following testimony and argument at sentencing, the trial court determined that appellant was not currently "severely mentally disabled," see 42 Pa.C.S. Sec. 9727, and then sentenced appellant, by order filed October 29, 1985, to a term of eight to twenty years imprisonment. Appellant filed a "Petition to Amend Sentence," which the trial court denied, treating the petition as a motion to modify sentence. Appellant then filed a timely notice of appeal on November 25, 1985. Appellant's counsel subsequently withdrew and were replaced by appellate counsel, who entered his appearance on May 6, 1986.
Before addressing the issues on appeal, we observe that appellant's mental condition has been the focus of attention in this matter. According to various medical records and reports received into evidence, appellant has a history of depressions associated with her family and with childbirth. Records from Geisinger Medical Center, for example, disclose that appellant suffered from postpartum depression following the birth of her first child, Nicole.*fn2 Appellant
[ 365 Pa. Super. Page 603]
also became depressed, according to the evidence, while pregnant with Garret. Deborah Gette, a close church friend, testified that she had two long telephone conversations with appellant a few days before Garret was born. At that time, appellant expressed concern over her depression, telling Ms. Gette that she was afraid that what happened with Nicole would happen with the new baby.*fn3 The evidence demonstrates that appellant continued to be depressed after Garret's birth, appellant's doctor having ordered her to take medication for that depression.
The evidence presented at sentencing concentrated on appellant's mental condition at the time she murdered Garret as well as appellant's prognosis for the future. Dr. Sadoff, an expert witness for appellant, testified that he believed appellant had "dissociated"*fn4 at the time of Garret's death, and characterized appellant's dissociation as "somewhere towards the pathological or abnormal as an atypical association nearing or approaching multiple personality . . . ." N.T. 10/25/85, 15. Dr. Sadoff thought that the hypnosis confirmed appellant's dissociation, stating that it also allowed appellant ...