Com. v. Bracey

Decision Date21 July 1995
Citation662 A.2d 1062,541 Pa. 322
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Edward BRACEY, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court



CAPPY, Justice.

We have before us an automatic direct appeal from the judgment of sentence of death and concurrent and consecutive terms of imprisonment imposed upon Appellant, Edward Bracey, by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division. 1 On the record before us, we affirm the judgments of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division.

On February 3, 1992, Appellant was brought to trial by jury in connection with the shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Boyle that occurred on February 4, 1991, and subsequently resulted in the death of Officer Boyle. The jury found Appellant guilty of murder of the first degree, 2 possessing an instrument of crime, 3 theft by receiving stolen property, 4 and criminal trespass. 5 A separate penalty hearing was held regarding the murder conviction. The jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances 6 and no mitigating circumstances, and fixed Appellant's penalty at death. Appellant was immediately sentenced by the trial court to death for the first degree murder conviction, and sentencing on the remaining convictions was deferred pending the filing and disposition of post-verdict motions. Post-trial motions were subsequently filed, argued and denied, and Appellant was sentenced on his remaining convictions to an aggregate period of incarceration of eleven to twenty-two years to run consecutively to the sentence of death.

As Appellant alleges insufficient evidence was presented to sustain his conviction for murder in the first degree we will begin our review of this case with a discussion of the evidence adduced at trial. The test for establishing sufficiency is whether the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict-winner, are sufficient to establish all the elements of the offense(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Rhodes, 510 Pa. 537, 510 A.2d 1217 (1986).

On February 4, 1991, Officer Boyle was operating his police cruiser during a search for robbery suspects and attempted to stop a stolen vehicle being operated by Appellant. Appellant failed to stop the stolen vehicle and eventually crashed it into a building. Appellant immediately jumped out of the vehicle and onto the hood and roof of Officer Boyle's cruiser while brandishing a 9mm automatic handgun. Appellant jumped off the vehicle and aimed his firearm at Officer Boyle while warning Officer Boyle not to touch his firearm. As this occurred Officer Boyle quickly attempted to remove his vehicle from the area, and Appellant rapidly discharged his firearm no less than eight times at Officer Boyle. One of these shots struck Officer Boyle in the right temple. Officer Boyle radioed that he had been shot. Upon the arrival of his fellow officers, Officer Boyle, although bleeding heavily and incapable of opening his eyes, said "the guy just got out and shot me." Officer Boyle died two days later.

Barry Smith, an individual who provided Appellant with the stolen vehicle and who allegedly exited the stolen vehicle seconds before the crash, identified Appellant as the shooter. Numerous other witnesses, as well as physical evidence in the form of sneaker prints on the victim's police cruiser, also linked Appellant to the crime.

An intensive search was undertaken for Appellant. On February 6, 1991, the police were summoned by a woman complaining that a man had entered her residence through a skylight and set himself on fire. The police entered the residence and confronted Appellant on the second floor, "still smoldering." He was arrested and taken to the hospital where he was placed in intensive care in critical condition. The police did not interview Appellant until February 15, 1991, after being advised by physicians that Appellant was then well enough. During the interview, Appellant waived his Miranda rights, 7 and immediately confessed to shooting Officer Boyle. Thereafter, the police recovered the murder weapon, a 9mm Ruger P85 automatic handgun, which Appellant had disposed of in a sewer.

Appellant specifically argues that there was insufficient evidence that his actions were willful and premeditated because he was in great fear at the time he shot Officer Boyle. He claims that this fear existed because during the incident, which happened very quickly, Officer Boyle allegedly possessed a "Rambo" attitude, bumped Appellant's vehicle, tried to run Appellant down, and had drawn his firearm, as evidenced by the fact that the gun was found out of its holster. Appellant also claims to have emotionally shouted "don't do it, don't do it" at or about the time he opened fire at Officer Boyle. This claim also invokes principles of self-defense given the nature of the allegations.

In order to prove murder of the first degree the Commonwealth must show that a human being was unlawfully killed, that the accused committed the killing, and that the killing was done in an intentional, deliberate and premeditated manner. Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 599 A.2d 624 (1991). Specific intent to kill may be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon upon a vital part of the victim's body. Commonwealth v. Jones, 530 Pa. 591, 610 A.2d 931 (1992). At trial the Commonwealth introduced overwhelming evidence that Appellant jumped from the vehicle he was operating brandishing a firearm, and then rapidly fired numerous bullets at Officer Boyle as Officer Boyle attempted to flee. One of the bullets struck Officer Boyle in the head. Thus, the jury had sufficient evidence from which it could reasonably conclude Appellant possessed the requisite specific intent to kill Officer Boyle. Moreover, the jury was free to disbelieve the evidence proffered by Appellant in support of claim of reduced intent and/or self-defense. Commonwealth v. Edwards, 521 Pa. 134, 555 A.2d 818 (1989). Thus, we conclude that Appellant's challenge that the evidence was insufficient to establish the requisite specific intent is without merit.

In addition to reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in order to address Appellant's claim regarding the element of specific intent this Court has a duty to conduct an independent review to determine if the evidence is sufficient to sustain the underlying conviction for murder in the first degree in all cases where a sentence of death has been imposed. 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 (1983), reh'g denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). Based upon our review of the evidence of record, as set forth above, we conclude that the Commonwealth sufficiently established that Officer Boyle died as the result of an unlawful shooting committed by Appellant in an intentional, deliberate and premeditated manner. Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 599 A.2d 624 (1991). Thus, we will now address Appellant's remaining claims of error and prejudice in connection with his trial.

Appellant's first set of challenges involve his written confession. Appellant asserts that: (1) the trial court erred in refusing to suppress his confession; (2) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the instructions of the trial court concerning his confession; and (3) the trial court erred in refusing to redact portions of his confession that revealed that he had armed himself with the intention of robbing drug dealers on the night of Officer Boyle's death. Upon review of these claims we conclude that they provide no basis for relief.

The record reflects that Appellant was hospitalized in critical condition immediately upon his arrest due to self-inflicted second and third degree burns over 39 percent of his body, and severe smoke inhalation, which necessitated surgeries and numerous drugs for sedation and pain. As a result of Appellant's physical condition, he was physically and mentally incapable of participating in police interrogation or arraignment until February 15, 1991. On February 15, 1991 Appellant's physician permitted the police to interview Appellant. Appellant expressly waived his Miranda rights, and immediately confessed to the murder of Officer Boyle. Appellant was not arraigned until February 19, 1991, which was the second work day following February 15, 1991, and the first time a bail commissioner was available to appear at the hospital. At trial, Appellant's confession was read into the record in its entirety by Philadelphia Police Detective Joseph Walsh. (N.T. 3/2/92 pp. 33-43).

Appellant initially argues that he should have been arraigned instead of interrogated by the police on February 15, 1991, because he was physically and mentally capable of being arraigned well before February 15, 1991. Thus, he reasons that his confession was the result of unnecessary delay between arrest and arraignment and must be suppressed. However, Appellant also argues in the alternative, that his physically weakened condition on February 15, 1991 rendered his confession involuntary.

It is well settled that an accused must be arraigned without unnecessary delay, and that any statement obtained as a result of unnecessary delay must be suppressed. Commonwealth v. Williams, 484 Pa. 590, 400 A.2d 1258 (1979). However, any period of delay attributable to an accused's impaired mental or physical condition is "necessary delay," and thus, must be excluded when determining...

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