Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania at No. 645 Pittsburgh, 1985, entered July 16, 1986, reversing the Judgment of Sentence entered on September 12, 1985 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division, at No. CC 8403736A.
Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion.
On December 20, 1984, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, the appellee, Kathleen Dollman, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. A sentence of three to six years imprisonment was imposed. An appeal was taken to the Superior Court, whereupon the conviction was reversed and a new trial was granted, 355 Pa. Super. 108, 512 A.2d 1234. The instant appeal ensued.
The incident from which the conviction arose was one in which Dollman shot and killed her husband. At trial, Dollman claimed that she was a "battered wife,"*fn1 and that
the killing was committed to defend herself and her two children from harm. The bizarre and gruesome facts of this case are as follows.
In June, 1980, a human skull, containing a bullet hole, was found in some grass near Dollman's home in the City of Pittsburgh. The skull was found by a child, who placed the skull in a shopping bag and took it home to present it to a friend or babysitter. Police were summoned. Residents of the neighborhood, including Dollman, were questioned by police in an attempt to identify the skull, but no identification was made.
Nearly four years later, in February, 1984, police received certain investigative information from a social worker, causing them to conduct pathological examinations of the skull to determine whether the skull was that of Dollman's husband. Based upon x-ray pictures taken years before, the skull was positively identified as having been that of Dollman's husband. Dollman was arrested, and she subsequently confessed that, in December, 1979, she had killed her husband.
Dollman claimed that the homicide was a justifiable one, committed to protect herself and her children from harm. She testified that she and her children had on many occasions been severely beaten and abused by her husband, and that, on the day of the killing, her husband had gone on a drunken rampage involving such beatings, causing her to fear for the lives of herself and her children. Indeed, there was testimony that, at various times during her five-year relationship with her husband, who happened to be a motorcycle gang member who commonly wore chains and a spiked dog collar and worshiped "Odon, God of the Bikers," Dollman was threatened with death, tied and hung in the basement, sexually abused, punched until her bones were fractured, assaulted with a pistol and a knife, shot at, pummelled with a lead-filled pick handle, beaten with a steel
rake, strangled to the point of unconsciousness, forced to sleep in a dog house, etc. There was also testimony that Dollman's husband had threatened and abused the children in the household, as well as performed other acts of cruelty, such as cutting the head off the family's Doberman pinscher. Dollman testified that, despite all of these acts, she still loved her husband.
Nevertheless, Dollman confessed that on the day in question, during an interlude in the beatings when her husband was resting or sleeping on the living room couch, she shot him with a rifle. The first time she pulled the trigger the gun did not fire, but, with the assistance of her thirteen year-old son, co-defendant Jack Beauchamp, who was present in the living room at the time, she succeeded in releasing the safety latch and firing the gun. The victim was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head. Dollman cleaned the resulting bloodstains from fabrics in the living room. Then, with the assistance of her son, Dollman moved the victim's body to a sub-basement of her home, and, over the next several days, Dollman, her son, and a fifteen year-old neighbor dug a hole in the sub-basement and buried the body. To prevent the victim's relatives from finding out what she had done, she made up a story that her husband had moved to California.
Several months later Beauchamp became concerned that the bullet was still in the victim's head, so, with the assistance of yet another child from the neighborhood, he uncovered part of the victim's body and cut off its head with a machete. The head was then placed by Beauchamp in a plastic bucket filled with water. Beauchamp was planning to keep the head, because he found it "fascinating." In June of 1980, however, Beauchamp's dog overturned the plastic bucket and carried away the head, eventually leaving it outdoors near the Dollman residence. After the head was discovered by a child, and placed in a shopping bag, police ...