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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. DOUGLAS K. WEBSTER (03/30/88)

decided: March 30, 1988.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
DOUGLAS K. WEBSTER, APPELLANT



Appeal, by Allowance, from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania Entered December 27, 1985, at No. 1137 Pittsburgh, 1983, Affirming the Judgments of Sentence Entered on August 16, 1983, at Nos. CC 8203721A and CC 8203500A in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division. Pa. Superior Ct. , A.2d (198 ).

COUNSEL

John H. Corbett, Jr., Chief -- Appellate Div., Office of the Public Defender, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert E. Colville, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy Dist. Atty., Edward M. Clark, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson, Former J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. McDermott, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Flaherty, J., joins.

Author: Papadakos

[ 517 Pa. Page 580]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal by allowance from the December 27, 1985, order of the Superior Court affirming the judgments of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Appellant, Douglas Webster, was convicted by a jury of murder of the first degree*fn1 and two violations of the Uniform Firearms Act.*fn2 The convictions resulted from a shooting incident which occurred on April 5, 1983, and resulted in the death of Gwendolyn Jones. Following the denial of his post-verdict motions, Appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction and concurrent sentences of two and one-half (2 1/2) to five (5) years for each firearm violation. Represented by new counsel, Appellant filed an appeal to the Superior Court raising various claims of trial error and ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. The Superior Court affirmed the judgments of sentence in an unreported memorandum opinion.*fn3 Appellant then petitioned this Court for allowance of appeal, which was granted. We now reverse the order of the Superior Court.

On this appeal, Appellant raises a number of issues among which are: whether the trial court's comments on the expertise of the defense witness invaded the province of the jury and deprived Appellant of a fair trial and whether the trial court's failure to address the defense expert by his

[ 517 Pa. Page 581]

    proper title prejudiced appellant.*fn4

The record reveals that prior to the incident in question, Appellant, a former state policeman, had filed criminal charges against the victim, Gwendolyn Jones, and her boy-friend, Robin Ford. The charges related to a burglary of Appellant's residence. A preliminary hearing had been scheduled for the morning of April 5, 1982, before District Justice Betty Lloyd. Appellant arrived at the magistrates' office that morning and had conversations with police officer Fantaski and appeared clear and coherent. While in the magistrate's office, Appellant, without warning, approached Ms. Jones and said, "[t]his is what you need," aimed a gun at her head and fatally shot her. Appellant was immediately searched and a knife was found in his possession. Later, when questioned, Appellant stated that, having been a police officer, he was aware of his constitutional rights. Nevertheless, his Miranda warnings were read to him and thereafter he freely gave a statement in which he admitted the shooting. Several eyewitnesses gave testimony that Appellant acted normally and was calm and rational during this period. Appellant was rewarned of his rights prior to giving a recorded statement.

The record is clear that, at the time of the shooting, Appellant acted normally and was calm and rational. The testimony of the interrogating officers was that Appellant was calm, coherent, cooperative, and without signs of mental or physical problems at the time he gave his initial statements and at the time he gave his recorded statement.

We focus upon Appellant's contention that he was deprived of a fair trial because of the trial court's improper challenge to the expertise of a crucial defense witness, thereby invading the province of the jury, and because of the judge's failure to address such expert ...


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