Com. v. La

Decision Date29 April 1994
Citation640 A.2d 1336,433 Pa.Super. 432
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Minh LA, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Samuel C. Stretton, West Chester, for appellant.

Anthony Pomerantz, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for Com., appellee.

Before ROWLEY, President Judge, and McEWEN and KELLY, JJ.

KELLY, Judge.

Appellant, Minh La, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed following his convictions of third degree murder, 1 aggravated assault, 2 criminal conspiracy, 3 and possession of an instrument of crime. 4 We affirm.

The relevant facts and procedural history of this appeal are as follows. In the early morning of August 3, 1991, two separate groups of individuals were drinking beer and socializing in the Thomas P. McCreesh Playground at 66th Street and Kingsessing Avenue in southwest Philadelphia. The first group consisted of seven Vietnamese males and three Vietnamese females, who were congregated in the outfield around a white bucket containing beer and ice. The second group consisted of eight white males who were sitting on the concrete bleachers drinking beer. Three of the white males, Robert Sciarrillo, Brian Parker and David Reilly, walked from the concrete bleachers to the outfield where the Vietnamese group was standing. Robert Sciarrillo then began to question the Vietnamese men in an abusive and racially derogatory manner about an incident which allegedly occurred a month earlier in which an unknown Asian male pulled a knife on Brian Parker and chased him from the playground. As the heated discussion continued, appellant and the other Vietnamese males present, co-defendant Manh Ba Hoang, co-defendant Dieu Van Nguyen, co-defendant Khoa Ho, co-defendant Tuan Huyhn, co-defendant Tho Tran and Khanh Lam, 5 speaking in Vietnamese, decided to fight the three white males. Appellant was told by the other Vietnamese males to go to his house at 6541 Kingsessing Avenue, which was directly across from the playground, to get knives. It was also determined at that time by the Vietnamese males that the Vietnamese girls present, appellant's girlfriend, Tien Huyhn, Dieu Van Nguyen's girlfriend, Hahn (Linda) Nguyen and Tho Tran's girlfriend, Sue, would leave the playground so that they would not be injured in the planned fight. The Vietnamese girls, accompanied by Tho Tran, exited the playground without any interference by the white males and stood at the entrance to the playground. Appellant then left the remaining group of Vietnamese males and walked away unimpeded by the group of three white males to his house across from the playground to get knives. Appellant, who had forgotten his door key, knocked on the front door and was admitted by his brother. After entering his home, appellant proceeded to the kitchen where he filled a white bag with knives and a meat cleaver. Appellant then walked back to the playground. While walking back to the playground, appellant passed the three girls and Tho Tran, who were standing at the entrance to the playground. Appellant handed a knife to Tho Tran and continued to where the other Vietnamese males were standing accompanied by Tho Tran.

During appellant's absence, the shouting match between the Vietnamese males and the white males, specifically Robert Sciarrillo and Brian Parker, had subsided. David Reilly, who had previously attempted to persuade Sciarrillo and Parker to leave appellant and his group alone had apparently succeeded because the white males were departing from the area.

At this moment, appellant returned to the playground with the bag of weapons. Appellant removed a meat cleaver from the bag and dropped the bag on the ground. The other Vietnamese males then ran over to the bag from about thirty feet away, grabbed knives, and began chasing the white males around the field. During the attack, David Reilly was stabbed in the chest and back by two different weapons, piercing both of his lungs, and causing his death. Brian Parker was struck with a knife in the head from behind and required five stitches. Michael Roche, who watched the attack from the concrete bleachers and attempted to aid his friends, was attacked by appellant with a meat cleaver. Appellant struck Michael Roche with the meat cleaver above the eye and then nearly severed Roche's ear. Michael Roche also received defensive wounds on his left hand. As Michael Roche was taken from the playground by John D'Ambrosio, appellant stood on the other side of the fence, screaming and taunting them. After all the white males had fled the playground, appellant searched for a necklace that he lost during the melee. After failing to find his necklace, appellant, co-defendant Tho Tran and the three girls exited the playground, crossed the footbridge, and walked to Tho Tran's house at 6642 Paschall Avenue. Shortly thereafter, appellant was joined at Tho Tran's house by Mahn Ba Hoang, Tuan Huyhn, Dieu Van Nguyen, Khoa Ho and Khanh Lam. Dieu Van Nguyen carried the bloodied knives brought back from the playground to Tran's basement where they were cleaned. Appellant whose shirt was covered with blood, claimed to have hit one of the white males in the neck and stated he had cut off another's ear. Sometime later, appellant left Tran's basement with the knives and his girlfriend, Tien Huyhn, and was driven home by Khanh Lam.

On September 19, 1991, appellant gave a statement to police in which he claimed that he was home sleeping when the stabbing occurred. On September 24, 1991, after realizing that the police knew his first statement was false, appellant gave a second statement to police. In his second statement, appellant admitted his first statement had been false. Appellant then gave his version of how the events on the morning of August 3, 1991 transpired. Appellant stated he and his friends were attacked by Brian Parker and Robert Sciarrillo with David Reilly standing in the background doing nothing. Appellant then stated he and his friends agreed that the girls should leave the playground and that appellant would go home and get knives. Appellant stated to police that he returned to the playground and threw down the knives which were picked up by his friends. Appellant then stated that he and his friends began chasing the white youths. Appellant, in his statement, also claimed that one of the white youths hit him with a beer bottle and another attempted to choke him. Appellant stated that while attempting to defend himself, he swung a meat cleaver at the white youth who hit him with the beer bottle, cutting this white youth's ear. Appellant then stated that after the white youths fled the scene, he attempted to find a necklace he lost during the altercation.

In his statement, appellant further elaborated that while he and his friends were in co-defendant Tho Tran's basement after the incident, co-defendant Dieu Van Nguyen said, "I think I stabbed one of the kids." Appellant also stated that co-defendant Manh Ba Hoang said, "I stabbed one of the kids too." While co-defendant Tuan Huynh stated that at the time he threw the knife at a white kid, he was not sure whether he hit him or not. 6

Appellant was arrested and charged with one count of murder, one count of possession of an instrument of a crime, one count of conspiracy, two counts of aggravated assault, and two counts of recklessly endangering another person. Appellant filed an omnibus pretrial motions seeking to suppress his statement to police. The motion was denied. Appellant also filed a motion to challenge the jury array alleging the system of selecting jurors in Philadelphia County discriminated against persons of Asian extraction. A hearing was held at which the Jury Commissioner of Philadelphia, Michael J. McAllister, Esquire, testified concerning the system utilized for compiling the jury arrays. The trial court held the system utilized in Philadelphia County did not discriminate against Asians and denied appellant's motion. A jury was then selected and a month long trial was held. During the course of the trial, appellant chose to testify in his own behalf. At this point, appellant's co-defendants filed motions for severance. These motions were denied.

In his direct testimony, appellant stated that he and his friends were confronted by three males while they were standing in the outfield. Appellant further testified that one of the white males, Robert Sciarrillo, punched Khanh Lam in the face. Appellant also testified that none of the white males tried to stop him when he left the playground to go home and get knives for his friends. In his testimony, appellant also stated on numerous occasions that he walked home to get the knives because he was fearful for his own and his friends lives. Appellant further testified that all of his co-defendants, except Khoa Ho, ran over to the bag to get knives when he returned to the playground and that there was nothing to prevent them from leaving the playground at that time. Appellant then testified he and his co-defendants chased the white males. Appellant further testified that he accidently cut a white male's ear while two white males were holding him. Appellant also testified that he did not kill David Reilly. Finally, appellant testified that co-defendant Manh Ba Hoang stated that he stabbed a white kid, while Tuan Huyhn stated he threw a knife at a white guy. On cross-examination, when confronted with his prior statement to police, appellant denied that he told police that Dieu Van Nguyen claimed to have stabbed one of the white kids.

The jury returned a verdict finding appellant guilty of third degree murder, one count of aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and possession of an instrument of a crime. Appellant was acquitted of another aggravated assault charge. Post-trial motions were denied. Appellant was sentenced to terms of imprisonment of eight to twenty years for the third-degree murder conviction, a consecutive term...

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