674 A.2d 1044 (Pa. 1996), Commonwealth v. Michael

Citation:674 A.2d 1044, 544 Pa. 105
Opinion Judge:The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castille
Party Name:COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Hubert L. MICHAEL, Jr., Appellant.
Attorney:For Hubert L. Michael, Jr., Appellant: Bruce P. Blocher, Esquire.
Case Date:April 17, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
 
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Page 1044

674 A.2d 1044 (Pa. 1996)

544 Pa. 105

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,

v.

Hubert L. MICHAEL, Jr., Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

April 17, 1996

Argued Oct. 26, 1995.

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[544 Pa. 106] Bruce P. Blocher, York, for Hubert L. Michael, Jr.

Christy Fawcett, York, and Robert A. Graci, Attorney General's Office, for the Commonwealth.

Before NIX, C.J., and FLAHERTY, ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE and MONTEMURO, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT

CASTILLE, Justice:

This is an automatic direct appeal from the judgment of sentence of death imposed on appellant, Hubert Michael, by the Court of Common Pleas of York County. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of sentence.

The underlying procedural history in this case establishes the following: On October 11, 1994, appellant was brought to trial in connection with the kidnapping and shooting death of 16 year-old Trista Eng. 1 During jury selection, appellant, through counsel, informed the trial court that he wished to waive his right to a jury trial and plead guilty to first degree murder and kidnapping. Following an extensive colloquy, appellant indicated that his waiver was knowing and voluntary and testified to the following: "I picked up Trista Eng on Route 15. Abducted her at gunpoint. Took her to the state game lands. At which point, when we got out of the car, I shot her three times intentionally." (N.T. 10/11/94 at 66). 2 When the Commonwealth asked appellant why he shot the victim, appellant stated that he thought that he had been unjustly accused of an unrelated rape charge in Lancaster County and stated, "... I was under a lot of pressure for the rape. I guess, I lashed out and angry [sic] and maybe I took it out on a woman because it was a woman who was doing this [544 Pa. 108] to me." (N.T. 10/11/94 at 74). The trial court accepted appellant's guilty plea to first degree murder and kidnapping and scheduled a non-jury sentencing hearing in the Court of Common Pleas of York County for October 17, 1994.

Six days after he pleaded guilty to first degree murder, on October 17, 1994, appellant informed the trial court that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court denied the request, finding on the record that appellant's guilty plea was knowing and voluntary. (N.T. 10/17/94 at 5-8). Thereafter, pursuant to appellant's request that he be sentenced by a jury, the trial court continued the hearing so that a jury could be selected. 3

On March 3, 1995, the sentencing court conducted a pre-sentencing conference, during which appellant indicated to the sentencing court that he did not want defense counsel

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to present any mitigating circumstances at the sentencing hearing. Nevertheless, the sentencing court instructed appellant's counsel to be prepared to present any possible mitigating circumstances for the sentencing hearing and informed appellant that it would be his option at the sentencing hearing to present any such mitigating circumstances.

At the sentencing hearing, on March 20, 1995, with jury selection set to begin, appellant again informed the sentencing court that he did not wish to present any evidence of mitigating circumstances. Appellant also informed the sentencing court that he wanted to waive his right to be sentenced by a jury and was willing to stipulate to the Commonwealth's two aggravating circumstances. The two aggravating circumstances presented by the Commonwealth were that: (1) the killing occurred during the perpetration of a felony, the felony of kidnapping, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(6); and (2) that appellant had a significant history of felony convictions, including an attempted armed robbery conviction in 1974 and a 1994 rape conviction in Lancaster County, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(9). During a lengthy colloquy, 4 appellant stated that he had discussed his decision with his attorney and that he understood that if he stipulated to the aggravating circumstances and did not present any mitigating circumstances that the death penalty would be imposed. 5 Thereafter, the trial court found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and imposed the death penalty. (N.T. 3/20/95 at 17).

With respect to the claims now before us, we note at the outset that appellant, through his counsel's brief and through an affidavit signed by appellant subsequent to his sentencing, has expressed his desire to have his judgment of sentence of death affirmed by this Court. 6 Nonetheless, as is

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[544 Pa. 110] required in all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, this Court must conduct an independent review of the sufficiency of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26, 454 A.2d 937, 942 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 103 S.Ct. 2444, 77 L.Ed.2d 1327 (1983), reh'g denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court must determine whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that the factfinder...

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