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decided: October 20, 1989.


Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, at Criminal Action No. 86-10889, entered September 13, 1988.


George W. Porter, Carlisle, for appellant.

Thomas S. Long, Dist. Atty., Daniel G. Ehrgood, Lebanon, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. McDermott, J., files a concurring opinion in which Larsen, Flaherty and Papadakos, JJ., join.

Author: Zappala

[ 523 Pa. Page 22]


Richard D. Brode was found guilty of first degree murder in the shooting death of his wife. After hearing, the jury fixed the sentence at death. This direct appeal follows pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. ยง 9711.

Although the appellant has not renewed the claim made in post-trial motions that the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate the specific intent to kill, and thus to prove

[ 523 Pa. Page 23]

    first degree murder, it is our policy in all capital cases to ascertain that the evidence was indeed sufficient to establish the only crime for which this most extreme punishment is imposable. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26 n. 3, 454 A.2d 937, 942 n. 3 (1982).

Richard and Carole Brode, married twenty-two years, had been living apart for several months in 1986, during Richard Brode's stay at an alcohol rehabilitation center and thereafter. On the morning of October 29, Richard Brode went to the marital residence to remove some items of personal property. While there, he asked his wife, as he had repeatedly done over the previous weeks, about coming home. Carole Brode told him that the marriage was over. Richard Brode then left the house and opened the trunk of his car. In the trunk was a shotgun and a box of shells that he had purchased the night before. He removed the gun from the box, assembled it, and put some shells in his pocket. He then returned to the house, loading the gun as he walked up the steps to the second floor, where his wife was in a bedroom. The two argued as Carole Brode tried to convince him to call his mother for help. Richard Brode then shot his wife once in the abdomen and once in the right elbow, reloaded, and shot two more times, hitting her in the chest.

Brode's defense sought to refute the inferences of planning and premeditation, and to establish his incapacity to form the specific intent to kill his wife. Brode testified that he had bought the shotgun as a gift for his son, to replace one he had been given that was too long and unwieldy. He explained that he had already drank four to six double shots of whiskey that morning before he went to retrieve a video cassette recorder and stereo from his wife's house. After being rebuffed in his request to return home, he was preparing to leave with the items he had gone to the house for. When he opened the trunk of his car, however, he saw the gun, and, in his words, "I don't know if I could take this anymore -- I thought to myself." He then returned to the house, and after arguing with his wife shot and killed her.

[ 523 Pa. Page 24]

Brode also presented the testimony of a psychiatrist, who offered the opinion that Brode had a number of psychiatric problems that, compounded by the influence of alcohol, rendered him incapable of forming the intent to kill his wife. The psychiatrist described in detail how, in his opinion, the anger and hostility associated with Brode's compulsive personality disorder overrode his judgment and ability to form a specific intent; how Brode's adjustment disorder with depression, resulting from the perceived lack of support upon leaving the rehabilitation center, affected his judgment and led to his resumption of drinking; and how Brode's alcohol consumption that day interfered with his cognitive abilities, noting especially that Brode's high tolerance for alcohol, developed during his years of alcohol dependence, was reduced because of his recent period of detoxification.

Appellate assessment of whether the evidence suffices to support a verdict examines that evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner and accords the benefit of all reasonable inferences in the same manner. This standard of review gives effect to and protects the factfinder's prerogative to accept all, part, or none of the evidence presented. Viewed in this way, the record evidence plainly supports the ...

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