759 A.2d 1280 (Pa. 2000), Commonwealth v. Spotz

Citation:759 A.2d 1280, 563 Pa. 269
Party Name:COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Mark Newton SPOTZ, Appellant.
Case Date:October 20, 2000
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Page 1280

759 A.2d 1280 (Pa. 2000)

563 Pa. 269

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,


Mark Newton SPOTZ, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

October 20, 2000.

Argued Nov. 15, 1999.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[563 Pa. 273] Taylor P. Andrews, Carlisle, for Mark Newton Spotz.

M.L. Ebert and Jaime M. Keating, for Com.

Robert A. Graci, for Office of the Atty. Gen.



CASTILLE, Justice.

This is a direct appeal from a sentence of death imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County. Following a capital jury trial, which commenced on May 9, 1996, appellant was convicted of first-degree murder. 1 At the penalty phase, the jury found three aggravating circumstances and two mitigating circumstances, and also found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances; accordingly, it returned a sentence of death. 2 Post-verdict

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motions were denied and the trial court imposed the death [563 Pa. 274] penalty. For the reasons set forth below, we now affirm the conviction and judgment of sentence.

Although appellant has not challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court performs a self-imposed duty to review the sufficiency of the evidence underlying the first-degree murder conviction in capital cases. See Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26-27 n. 3, 454 A.2d 937, 942 n. 3 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 103 S.Ct. 2444, 77 L.Ed.2d 1327, reh. denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we must determine whether the evidence admitted at trial, and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, supports the jury's finding of all of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. See Commonwealth v. Rhodes, 510 Pa. 537, 539-40, 510 A.2d 1217, 1218 (1986). Evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction of first-degree murder where the Commonwealth establishes that the defendant acted with the specific intent to kill, that a human being was unlawfully killed, that the person accused did the killing, and that the killing was done with premeditation or deliberation. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(d); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 550, 599 A.2d 624, 626 (1991). A specific intent to kill may be proven by circumstantial evidence; it may be inferred by the use of a deadly weapon upon a vital part of the victim's body. Commonwealth v. Bond, 539 Pa. 299, 305, 652 A.2d 308, 311 (1995).

The evidence adduced at trial showed that on February 2, 1995, appellant, who was on the run after committing multiple homicides in other Pennsylvania counties, arrived in Harrisburg and unsuccessfully attempted to sell rings stolen from one of his previous victims to his friend, Juan Maldonado. Appellant told Maldonado that he was wanted on a homicide charge in Schuylkill County and that his gun was dropping them like flies. After leaving Maldonado, and sometime before 4:00 p.m., appellant abducted the elderly Betty [563 Pa. 275] Amstutz at or near her home in Harrisburg. 3 Over the next few hours, appellant drove to various places with Ms. Amstutz being held hostage, obtaining money, clothing, and lodging by use of her credit card and checking account. Thus, at 3:59 p.m. a bank employee in Harrisburg, cashed a $500 check for Ms. Amstutz, who was accompanied by appellant. A bank security camera filmed the transaction. At approximately 5 p.m. an employee of a sporting goods store in Cumberland County, sold appellant and Ms. Amstutz $262.05 worth of Orlando Magic products, which were purchased with a credit card belonging to Ms. Amstutz. At 5:26 p.m. an employee of a Camp Hill bank, cashed another check in the amount of $1,139.95 for appellant and Ms. Amstutz. A bank security camera filmed that transaction as well. Finally, at 6:04 p.m., Ms. Amstutz and appellant checked into the Knight's Inn in Carlisle, Pennsylvania using Ms. Amstutz's credit card. Shortly thereafter, at approximately 6:30 p.m. a woman and her daughter were driving on McClures Gap Road in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where they saw a white male standing near a car matching the description of the vehicle owned by Ms. Amstutz. The car was parked at the location where Ms. Amstutz's lifeless body was discovered the

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next day. 4

Later that evening, appellant and a friend, Charles Carothers, invited Michelle Rhinehart, the mother of appellant's two children, to join appellant in his room at the Knight's Inn in Carlisle. There, appellant, Carothers and Rhinehart smoked crack cocaine purchased by appellant. Appellant then gave $200 cash to Rhinehart and gave Ms. Amstutz's car to Carothers. Carothers left Rhinehart and appellant in the hotel room [563 Pa. 276] and drove in Ms. Amstutz's car to the apartment of Rhinehart's sister and her friend.

The next morning, an employee of a tree service accidentally discovered Ms. Amstutz's body on the side of McClures Gap Road and contacted local authorities. Police investigated the scene and broadcast information concerning Ms. Amstutz's missing vehicle. Later that morning, Rhinehart's sister and her friend were en route to the Knight's Inn to pick up Rhinehart and appellant, at Carothers' request. The police stopped them because their vehicle matched the description of Ms. Amstutz's vehicle. Police learned from the two women that appellant was staying at the Knight's Inn.

Thereafter, a police team surrounded appellant's hotel room and, after a lengthy standoff, appellant finally tossed his silver nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol outside of the hotel room, surrendered and was arrested. A subsequent search of the hotel room yielded a pair of bloodstained jeans, a knife, nine-millimeter full metal jacket ammunition, and five credit cards issued in the name of one of appellant's previous murder victims, Penny Gunnet. In addition, a note written by appellant was recovered, which itemized the money appellant had stolen and his expenditures on crack cocaine and other purchases. At the bottom of the note, appellant had written, a good day's work.

An autopsy performed on Ms. Amstutz showed that she had been shot nine times, including one lethal shot through the neck and another lethal shot to the head. A ballistics test showed that the full metal jacket bullets recovered at the scene of the murder and from Ms. Amstutz's body matched appellant's handgun. 5 Furthermore, appellant's fingerprints were found on Ms. Amstutz's vehicle and an analysis of blood found on appellant's shoe was consistent with Ms. Amstutz's blood.

Christina Noland established the chain of events that led to appellant's presence in Harrisburg and his motive for abducting [563 Pa. 277] and executing Ms. Amstutz. On January 31, 1995, Noland and appellant had fled from appellant's mother's home in Clearfield County after appellant had shot his brother, Dustin, during a family fight. In need of a vehicle to escape, appellant and Noland abducted June Ohlinger in Schuylkill County, stole her car and later murdered her. The two then fled to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in Ohlinger's car, where they attempted to alter their appearances. Noland and appellant then returned to York County, Pennsylvania, where they abducted Penny Gunnet, stole her car, and murdered her. Following this murder, Noland and appellant became separated and Noland returned to the home of a friend.

The foregoing evidence overwhelmingly supports the jury's finding that Ms. Amstutz was unlawfully killed, that appellant committed the killing, that appellant acted with the specific intent to kill when he shot Ms. Amstutz nine times, and that the killing was done with premeditation and deliberation.

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We now proceed to address appellant's allegations of error.

Appellant first claims that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the charges against him pursuant to the compulsory joinder provision of 18 Pa.C.S. § 110. Appellant maintains that the court should have dismissed the charges here because this murder was logically and temporally related to crimes he earlier committed in Schuylkill, York and Clearfield Counties. 6 Appellant essentially argues that the same factors that made evidence of his prior crimes relevant to the trial of this matter also required a conclusion [563 Pa. 278] that, for purposes of § 110, the killing here must be viewed as being part of the same criminal episode as the prior crimes.

Appellant's claim is without merit. Indeed, this Court recently rejected a substantially similar claim in Spotz II. As was noted there, § 110's compulsory joinder rule was designed to serve two distinct policy considerations: (1) to protect a person accused of crimes from governmental harassment by being forced to undergo successive trials for offenses stemming from the same criminal episode, and (2) to ensure judicial economy. Spotz II, supra, at 1157; Commonwealth v. Hude, 500 Pa. 482, 489, 458 A.2d 177, 180 (1983). Section 110(1)(ii) will only bar a prosecution if: (1) the former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or a conviction; (2) the instant prosecution is based on the same criminal conduct or arose from the same criminal episode as the former prosecution; (3) the prosecutor was aware of the instant charges before the commencement of the trials on the former charges; and (4) the instant charges and the former charges were within the jurisdiction of a single court. Spotz II, supra, at 1157; Commonwealth v. Hockenbury, 549 Pa. 527, 533, 701 A.2d 1334, 1337 (1997); Commonwealth v. Bracalielly, 540 Pa. 460, 472, 658 A.2d 755, 761 (1995). Here, as in Spotz II, the dispute centers...

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