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decided: June 5, 1989.


Petition for Review of the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Washington County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division entering Judgment of Sentence dated March 25, 1988, at No. 686, 687 and 688, of 1985.


John P. Liekar, Sr., Office of Public Defender and Paul A. Tershel, Washington, for appellant.

John C. Pettit, Dist. Atty. and William A. Johnson, Asst. Dist. Atty., Washington, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Stout, Former J., did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 522 Pa. Page 63]


The appellant was tried by a jury and found guilty of three counts of murder in the first degree,*fn1 two counts of robbery*fn2 and two counts of theft by unlawful taking.*fn3

[ 522 Pa. Page 64]

After further deliberations that same jury rendered three separate verdicts of death for the three first degree murder convictions.*fn4 Post trial motions were denied and the judgment of sentence was entered on March 25, 1988. Two consecutive sentences of ten to twenty years were imposed on the robbery convictions. The theft convictions were merged with the robbery convictions. Appellant directly appealed the judgment of sentence.*fn5

On June 23, 1985, the appellant was arrested in connection with the deaths and robberies of Lucille Horner, age 88, Minnie Warrick, age 86 and Sarah Kuntz, age 85. The bodies of the victims were found on the morning of June 22, 1985, in a secluded, wooded area, off a dirt road in Cecil Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. The police investigation that followed led the police to the appellant who was arrested on June 23, 1985, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. The appellant raises several claims of trial error. Before addressing these claims, we must first determine whether the evidence presented was sufficient to sustain his convictions.*fn6

When a criminal agency intrudes upon the common place, the ordinary way of things, it explodes them into shards and splinters and they and people are changed forever. The shards and splinters, however, can often be collected to show what was and who did what. Such evidence is circumstantial and can be collected, to prove beyond a reasonable

[ 522 Pa. Page 65]

    doubt, who did what to whom. Here to recount the evidence is to draw that picture.

The record reveals that on Saturday, June 22, 1985, at approximately 6:15, a.m., Cedra McDavis, discovered the body of Lucille Horner and called the police. When they arrived, Trooper William Cunningham of the Pennsylvania State Police, discovered the bodies of Minnie Warrick and Sarah Kuntz under a near-by pile of discarded tires. Subsequently a Doctor Earnest L. Abernathy, the Chief Deputy Coroner of Washington County, performed the autopsies at 1:30, p.m., Saturday, June 22, 1985. He placed the times of death around 20 hours prior to the autopsies, with a four to five hour, plus or minus margin of error.

Police had learned through friends and family members of the victims, that all three had attended a charitable luncheon together at the Club Internationale in the Millcraft Shopping Center the day before on Friday, June 21, 1985. The luncheon began around 1:00, p.m.. It was also learned that they had driven to this function in Mrs. Horner's car.*fn7 At trial three witnesses testified that they had seen the appellant on Friday, June 21, 1985, between the times of 11:30, a.m., and 2:25, p.m., in the City of Washington.*fn8 Subsequently three different witnesses testified that they had seen the appellant with the victims in, or near, the Millcraft Shopping Center.

The first of these witnesses, Mrs. Mildred Stitler, testified that she lived in the Bassettown Manor Apartments, located next to the Millcraft Shopping Center, and that from her apartment windows she had an unobstructed view of the shopping center's parking lot. She testified that on that Friday, from her apartment window, she had seen a bald

[ 522 Pa. Page 66]

    headed colored man, who she identified as the appellant, wandering through the parking lot. She testified that she saw him go up to the "lady that had the car" and point to the tire of the car, apparently trying to show her that something was wrong with it. She testified that the lady then got out of the car and eventually got into the passenger-seat and that the appellant then got into the driver-side. She further testified that she then saw the appellant and this lady, pick up two other ladies who apparently were waiting for the car. The second witness, Kimberly Oyler, testified that she was in the Millcraft Shopping Center's parking lot on Friday, June 21, 1985*fn9 and that she had seen the appellant holding the car door open to Mrs. Horner's Dodge Dart, for Mrs. Kuntz, who was getting into the backdoor, on the passenger-side of the car.*fn10 In addition she stated that the appellant was wearing a dark colored suit without a necktie. The third witness, Harry Crothers, testified that at approximately 2:30 that day, a vehicle coming from the Millcraft Shopping Center entered the roadway in front of his vehicle on Franklin Street in Washington. He testified that his friend's mother-in-law, Mrs. Horner, was in the passenger seat of the vehicle, that two ladies were in the back seat and that a bald headed man whom he identified as the appellant, was driving the vehicle.

Next a Joseph Klements testified that on Friday, June 21, 1985, at approximately 3:00 or 3:30, the appellant drove into his service station, alone. He testified that the appellant was driving a cream colored, 1974, four door Dodge or Plymouth, which was in remarkable condition. At the trial he identified the car that the appellant was driving that day, as Mrs. Horner's car. This identification was from a photograph

[ 522 Pa. Page 67]

    of the vehicle.*fn11 He also testified that on Saturday, the 22nd of June of 1985, he went to the Washington State Police barracks and identified the appellant from a photo lineup.*fn12 He also ...

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