Com. v. Chester, Nos. 103

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation587 A.2d 1367,526 Pa. 578
Docket NumberNos. 103
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Frank CHESTER, Appellant. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Richard LAIRD, Appellant. E.D. Appeal 1989 and 102 E.D. Appeal 1989.
Decision Date20 March 1991

William F. Mabon, Gregg M. Blender and John J. Fioravanti, for appellants.

Alan M. Rubenstein, Dist. Atty., Stephen B. Harris, and Robert A. Graci, Chief, Deputy Atty. Gen., for the Com.




NIX, Chief Judge.

Appellants herein, Frank Chester and Richard Laird, were tried and found guilty of Murder in the First Degree 1 with the jury imposing the penalty of death for both defendants in connection with the death of Anthony Milano. After consideration of post-verdict motions, the court below sustained the convictions and the matter is now before this Court on direct appeal pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h). 2

As in all death penalty cases, we must determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the Commonwealth together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, was sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of each element of the offenses charged. Commonwealth v. Lewis, 523 Pa. 466, 471, 567 A.2d 1376, 1378 (1989). See also, Commonwealth v. Jackson, 506 Pa. 469, 473, 485 A.2d 1102, 1103 (1984); Commonwealth v. Macolino, 503 Pa. 201, 469 A.2d 132 (1983); Commonwealth v. Ransome, 485 Pa. 490, 493, 402 A.2d 1379, 1381 (1979). Applying this standard we find that the following facts were established.

During the evening of December 14, 1987, Anthony Milano, the deceased, went to his father's home to advise his father that he intended to go out for the evening. The victim left the father's residence at approximately 11:15 p.m. in a 1976 Chevrolet Nova, registered in the name of Rose Milano, the mother of Anthony. The deceased proceeded to the Edgely Inn, where the appellants also happened to be on that occasion. Appellants had been in the tavern for quite some time prior to the arrival of Milano. Both appellants had exhibited quarrelsome and aggressive behavior before the deceased arrived at the Inn. Chester, who possessed skills in the art of Karate, had threatened to assault one of the male guests at the establishment and Laird was loud and argumentative that evening in the premises.

The victim arrived at the Inn sometime after 11:15 p.m. and left shortly after closing time, accompanied by appellants. The three men were last observed in the Nova with Milano driving and Laird supplying directions as to their destination. There was also testimony that during the time that the three men were in the tavern the appellants at one point were taunting Milano as to his masculinity.

On the evening of December 15, Officer McGuigan responded to a report of a car fire. The vehicle involved was a Chevrolet Nova. A search of the wooded area adjacent to where the automobile was parked resulted in the discovery of the body of the deceased, Anthony Milano. The body was lying face up with the left eye partially open, contusions in the facial area, and multiple "slashings" on the neck and throat. A postmortem examination revealed that the victim had been assaulted about the face and had sustained lacerations about the face, throat, neck, and shoulder. The pathologist concluded that the deceased had been kicked and/or punched in both the right and left temple areas and the chin. A hairline fracture at the base of the skull was attributed to a blunt instrument striking the head. The lacerations were made by a sharp instrument, consistent with a utility knife. The pathologist opined that the "slashings" were hard enough and deep enough to sever the fifth and sixth vertebrae and were too numerous to count. It was also concluded that the victim aspirated on his own blood for five to ten minutes before expiring.

Officer McGuigan testified that when he arrived at the scene he first observed the vehicle ablaze and assisted in extinguishing the fire. The vehicle was identified as being the 1976 Chevrolet Nova registered in the name of Rose Milano, the mother of the deceased. Police records further established that Mrs. Milano had reported the deceased as a "missing person" when he failed to return to the family home in the early morning hours of December 15, 1987. This officer further testified that prior to the response to the car fire, at approximately 1:30 a.m. on December 15, he had responded, with two fellow officers, to a reported stolen car which was found in a parking lot of the Edgely Inn. To pursue their investigation they began interrogating the customers in the Edgely Inn. During that investigation he observed Chester, Laird, and the decedent at the bar. The time was fixed at approximately 1:30 a.m., December 15. He requested identification from each of these individuals and was satisfied that they were not involved in the car theft. At approximately 2:10 a.m., while he was still in the parking lot, he observed the deceased, Chester, and Laird leave the Inn together. This testimony was confirmed by the two officers that responded with Officer McGuigan to the stolen car complaint.

The fire marshal for the township testified that in his opinion the fire which involved the Milano vehicle was deliberately and intentionally ignited. In addition, the Commonwealth presented evidence to establish that at approximately 4:00 a.m., December 15, Chester and Laird approached, on foot, the apartment of a friend of Chester's, Richard Griscavage. Griscavage's apartment was located less than a mile from the murder scene. Griscavage testified that both were visibly agitated and were covered with blood. Chester attempted to explain their condition by stating that had been engaged in a fight and "the dude is dead." Griscavage took both men to Laird's apartment where they attempted to remove and conceal their bloody clothing. The Commonwealth also produced additional witnesses to whom appellants made incriminatory statements and actions that reflected their complicity in the murder.

The Commonwealth also produced a transcription of a consensually intercepted telephone call between Chester and Laird, during which Laird suggested that Chester leave town, recommended ways Chester could pass a polygraph examination, and commented on the Commonwealth's inability to prove a case without evidence. Both defendants testified at trial and admitted being at the scene.

A criminal homicide constitutes murder in the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing. 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a). Clearly, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to sustain a conviction of first degree murder. The use of a deadly weapon on a vital part of the body warrants an inference that the act was done with a specific intent to take life, Commonwealth v. Holley, 358 Pa. 296, 56 A.2d 546 (1948); thus, the slashing of the victim's throat supports the jury's finding herein that the killing was intentional. Moreover, the fact that the victim was last seen leaving a bar with appellants, as well as their conduct after the murder, their statements to friends and to the police, their bloodstained attire, and their testimony at trial, are all sufficient evidence of their guilt of the first degree murder of Anthony Milano. See Commonwealth v. Finnie, 415 Pa. 166, 202 A.2d 85 (1964). Appellants' claims to the contrary must therefore be rejected as meritless.

We now address appellants' various claims of pretrial and trial error. Appellants' first contention is that the trial court erred in denying a motion to sever appellants' trials. Appellants argue that separate trials should have been provided because their defenses were antagonistic, and their inability to adequately present these defenses because of the joint trial was prejudicial.

The decision whether to grant a motion for severance is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court and should not be disturbed absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Tolassi, 489 Pa. 41, 413 A.2d 1003 (1980); Commonwealth v. Lasch, 464 Pa. 573, 347 A.2d 690 (1975); Commonwealth v. Patrick, 416 Pa. 437, 206 A.2d 295 (1965). Here the defendants were charged with conspiracy as well as first degree murder. Joint trials are advisable where conspiracy is charged. Commonwealth v. Patterson, 519 Pa. 190, 546 A.2d 596 (1988); Pa.R.Crim.P. 1127(A)(2). Where, however, a party can show that he will be prejudiced by a joint trial, severance is proper. Commonwealth v. Patterson, supra; Pa.R.Crim.P. 1128.

In the instant matter appellants correctly assert that the probability of antagonistic defenses is a factor which the trial court should consider in deciding whether to grant severance. Commonwealth v. Morales, 508 Pa. 51, 494 A.2d 367 (1985). However, more than a bare assertion of antagonism is required. Id. The mere fact that there is hostility between defendants, or that one may try to save himself at the expense of another, is in itself not sufficient grounds to require separate trials. See Commonwealth v. Bennie, 352 Pa.Super. 558, 508 A.2d 1211 (1986). See also United States v. Provenzano, 688 F.2d 194 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1071, 103 S.Ct. 492, 74 L.Ed.2d 634 (1982). In fact, it has been asserted that the fact that defendants have conflicting versions of what took place, or the extents to which they participated in it, is a reason for rather than against a joint trial because the truth may be more easily determined if all are tried together. Ware v. Commonwealth, 537 S.W.2d 174 (Ky.1976). See, generally, 2 La Fave and Israel, Criminal Procedure § 17.2 (Third Edition).

Instant appellants' claim of antagonism falls within this latter category. Neither...

To continue reading

Request your trial
157 cases
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 23, 2009 of Huffman, albeit the argument was rejected by this Court after examining the charge in its entirety. See Commonwealth v. Chester, 526 Pa. 578, 587 A.2d 1367, 1384 It is well-settled that when reviewing the adequacy of a jury instruction, we must consider the charge in its entirety to......
  • Com. v. Flanagan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 23, 2004
    ...543 Pa. 634, 674 A.2d 217, 222-23 (1996); Commonwealth v. Huffman, 536 Pa. 196, 638 A.2d 961, 962-63 (1994); Commonwealth v. Chester, 526 Pa. 578, 587 A.2d 1367, 1384 (1991) (Chester I); Commonwealth v. Bachert, 499 Pa. 398, 453 A.2d 931...
  • Com. v. Wright
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2004
    ...442, 715 A.2d 1086, 1096 (1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1021, 119 S.Ct. 1258, 143 L.Ed.2d 354 (1999), quoting Commonwealth v. Chester, 526 Pa. 578, 591, 587 A.2d 1367, 1373 (1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 959, 112 S.Ct. 422, 116 L.Ed.2d 442 (1991), ("Photographs of a murder victim are not pe......
  • Com. v. Williams
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 21, 2006
    ...misconduct will not be found where the comments were based on the evidence or derived from proper inferences. Commonwealth v. Chester, 526 Pa. 578, 587 A.2d 1367, 1377 (1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 959, 112 S.Ct. 422, 116 L.Ed.2d 442 (1991) (quoting Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT