Com. v. Burgos

Decision Date19 June 1992
Citation530 Pa. 473,610 A.2d 11
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Jerry BURGOS, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

E. David Christine, Jr., Dist. Atty., Robert A. Graci, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.



ZAPPALA, Justice.

On April 15, 1989, a jury convened in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, convicted Appellant, Jerry Burgos, of first degree murder, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501; two counts of arson endangering property, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c)(2) and (3); and abuse of corpse, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5510, in the strangulation death of his wife, Nilsa Burgos. Following the jury's pronouncement of its verdict of guilt, a sentencing hearing was conducted in accordance with 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711 resulting in a determination by the jury that Appellant should be sentenced to death. Post-trial motions were filed, argued and denied. Appellant was formally sentenced to death on August 23, 1990. Direct appeal from the judgment of sentence was taken to this Court pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h).

In cases where the capital sanction is imposed we are obliged to independently examine the sufficiency of the evidence. Commonwealth v. DeHart, 512 Pa. 235, 516 A.2d 656 (1986), cert. denied, 483 U.S. 1010, 107 S.Ct. 3241, 97 L.Ed.2d 746 (1987); Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 454 A.2d 937 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 103 S.Ct. 2444, 77 L.Ed.2d 1327, reh'g. denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). The test for determining the sufficiency of evidence is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, and drawing all proper inferences favorable to the Commonwealth, the jury could reasonably have determined all elements of the crime to have been established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Syre, 507 Pa. 299, 489 A.2d 1340 (1985), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 935, 107 S.Ct. 1577, 94 L.Ed.2d 768 (1987); Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 265, 361 A.2d 282 (1976). This standard is equally applicable to cases where the evidence is circumstantial rather than direct so long as the combination of the evidence links the accused to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 472 Pa. 129, 150, 371 A.2d 468, 478 (1977); Commonwealth v. Farquharson, 467 Pa. 50, 354 A.2d 545 (1976).

A review of the record reveals that Appellant arrived home at 2:30 AM on May 31, 1988 after working a second job as a disc jockey at a Mount Pocono's bar. He removed his two children, Jerry Michael Burgos, then age 6, and Jason Burgos, then age 3, from the house and put them into his truck. Appellant then returned to his house and called the operator to report a fire at his home.

Next, Appellant drove to the house of his neighbors, the Maisanos, and frantically yelled to them that his house was on fire and requested that they call the fire department. Appellant then returned home. While Mrs. Maisano reported the fire, Mr. Maisano got in his car and drove to the Burgos residence. Upon his arrival at the fire scene, Mr. Maisano observed that the Burgos home was engulfed in flames.

Shortly after Mr. Maisano arrived at the scene, two volunteer fire fighters drove up ahead of the fire trucks. They observed Appellant throwing rocks through the windows of the house, which had the effect of feeding the fire. Appellant told these two fire fighters that his wife, Nilsa Burgos, was in the back bedroom of the burning house.

After the fire trucks and fire fighters converged on the house, Mr. Maisano returned to his home with the Burgos' children. Mrs. Maisano later testified that notwithstanding the defense claim that the Burgos children were taken from the burning house, the boys had clean, unsoiled clothing on and did not smell of smoke. This was also true, Mrs. Maisano observed, of Appellant when he later returned to the Maisano home to check up on his sons.

At the fire scene, while the fire fighters fought to contain the fire, Appellant spoke with the fire company chaplain. Appellant told the chaplain that he had heard his wife calling his name during the initial stages of the fire. The chaplain later testified that he observed scratch marks on Appellant's chest. When the fire was put out, the fire fighters found the charred remains of Nilsa Burgos in the back bedroom of the house as Appellant had indicated to the two fire fighters.

An autopsy performed on Nilsa Burgos revealed that she had been manually strangled to death prior to the time of the fire. The report also indicated that the victim was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.

A state police forensic scientist conducted tests of various materials taken from different areas of the Burgos residence, the results of which indicated the presence of a gasoline type accelerant on the materials including the victim's flesh.

Finally, the Commonwealth introduced at trial the fact that the Burgoses were experiencing significant financial problems. It was suggested that the key to unlock these financial difficulties was the life insurance policy that Appellant had taken out on his wife in the amount of $75,000, which was purchased at the same time he had purchased a policy for himself in the amount of $100,000.

Review of the facts of this case leaves no doubt that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to have determined that all elements of the crimes had been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appellant argues numerous contentions of error; however, our resolution of just one of these claims convinces us that a new trial is necessary.

It is Appellant's contention that the trial court erred as a matter of law in allowing State Police Trooper Clark Ritter to testify as to the prior inconsistent statements of Appellant's six-year old son Jerry Michael Burgos and in instructing the jury that they could consider such testimony as substantive evidence.

In Commonwealth v. Brady, 510 Pa. 123, 507 A.2d 66 (1986), we held that otherwise admissible prior inconsistent statements of a declarant who is a witness in a judicial proceeding and is available for cross-examination may be used as substantive evidence to prove the truth of the matters asserted therein. Id. at 131, 507 A.2d at 70. We set forth in Commonwealth v. Lively, 530 Pa. 464, 610 A.2d 7, also decided today, that otherwise admissible prior inconsistent statements were limited to a statement that had been given under oath at a formal legal proceeding; or a statement that had been reduced to a writing signed and adopted by the witness; or a statement that is a contemporaneous verbatim recording of the witness' statement.


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31 cases
  • Com. v. Robinson
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • December 30, 2004
    ...than direct so long as the combination of the evidence links the accused to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Commonwealth v. Burgos, 530 Pa. 473, 610 A.2d 11, 13 (1992). To sustain a conviction of first-degree murder, the Commonwealth must prove that: (1) the appellant acted with a spe......
  • State v. Chew
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • June 26, 1997 pay or be paid by another person for the killing of the victim." 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 9711(d)(2) (1996); Commonwealth v. Burgos, 530 Pa. 473, 610 A.2d 11 (1992). But almost every jurisdiction that has considered a broadly-worded pecuniary gain factor has applied the factor to killing......
  • Holloway v. Horn, CIVIL ACTION No. 00-CV-1757, CAPITAL CASE (E.D. Pa. 8/27/2001)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • August 27, 2001
    ...U.S. 153, 196 (1976) (plurality); Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) (per curiam). Additionally, the Petitioner cites Commonwealth v. Burgos, 610 A.2d 11 (Pa. 1992), to argue that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a limiting instruction is required for aggravating circumstance (......
  • Com. v. Jones
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • January 16, 1996
    ...the fact finder to find that all of the elements of the offenses were established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Burgos, 530 Pa. 473, 476, 610 A.2d 11, 13 (1992). Using this standard, the record below establishes the following Appellant and the two co-defendants in this case wer......
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