Com. v. Jones

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore NIX; CASTILLE; CAPPY; MONTEMURO
Citation668 A.2d 491,542 Pa. 464
Decision Date16 January 1996
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Aaron JONES, Appellant.

Page 491

668 A.2d 491
542 Pa. 464
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
v.
Aaron JONES, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued April 26, 1995.
Decided Nov. 22, 1995.
Reargument Denied Jan. 16, 1996.

Page 498

[542 Pa. 479] Gerald A. Stein, for Aaron Jones.

[542 Pa. 480] Catherine Marshall, Norman Gross, Robert A. Graci, Attorney General's Office, for Com.

Before NIX, C.J., and FLAHERTY, ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE and MONTEMURO, JJ.

OPINION

CASTILLE, Justice.

Following a nine (9) day jury trial in which appellant was tried with co-defendants Samuel Brown and James Anderson, appellant was found guilty of first degree murder 1 and criminal conspiracy to commit murder 2 in connection with the August 18, 1990 death of Brian Kennedy. The jury acquitted appellant of the three counts of aggravated assault which were also charged in connection with this incident. 3 With the agreement of the parties, the trial court then ordered that appellant's penalty hearing be severed from that of the other two co-defendants. Following the penalty hearing, the jury found that one aggravating circumstance 4 outweighed the one mitigating circumstance, 5 and set the

Page 499

penalty at death. 6 Post-verdict [542 Pa. 481] motions were filed and these motions were denied. On February 28, 1994, the trial court imposed the jury's sentence of death. 7 This direct appeal followed. For the reasons expressed herein, we affirm the judgment of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

I. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

As is required in all cases where the death penalty has been imposed, this Court must conduct a review of the sufficiency of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26, 454 A.2d 937, 942 (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). When reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, an appellate court, viewing all the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, must determine whether the evidence was sufficient to enable 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 evidence:

Appellant and the two co-defendants in this case were members of an organization known as the JBM. 8 The JBM was an organization which distributed drugs within the city of Philadelphia. In 1990, appellant was the leader of the JBM. Co-defendant Samuel Brown was also a member of the JBM and was approximately third in command. The other co-defendant, James Anderson was a member of the organization who worked as a bodyguard for Leroy Davis, the person who led the Southwest Philadelphia faction of the JBM.

[542 Pa. 482] In May, 1990, Davis was slain. Rodney Carson, 9 a Commonwealth witness, testified that he had informed appellant that he suspected that Brian Thornton, another high ranking JBM member, had murdered Davis. Appellant initially disbelieved Carson's suspicions but ultimately changed his mind, convinced that Thornton had killed Davis.

Because of appellant's belief that Thornton killed Davis, a meeting was held on August 17, 1990 in the dining room of a house at 46th and Woodland which belonged to Calvin and Mark Brown. Appellant, together with co-defendant Samuel Brown, Christopher Anderson, Calvin and Mark Brown, and Bernard Fields Quadir were present at this meeting. Christopher Anderson 10 testified at trial that since Thornton was incarcerated when this meeting occurred, the meeting concerned who they could "hit" to avenge Davis' death and to also send a message to Thornton that the killing of a fellow JBM member was not condoned by the JBM or its leaders. Appellant decided that they would kill Thornton's cousin, Bruce Kennedy, 11 and that Christopher Anderson and James Anderson would execute the murder.

Immediately after the meeting, appellant, co-defendant Brown, Christopher Anderson and two other people at the meeting went to

Page 500

a bar called Tucker's on 54th and Greenway in Southwest Philadelphia to meet co-defendant James Anderson and inform him of his mission. When they arrived, appellant pulled James Anderson aside and co-defendant [542 Pa. 483] Brown informed James Anderson of the plan to murder the victim at his store, a small convenience store called "Mommies" at 54th and Harlin Streets in West Philadelphia. Co-defendants Brown and James Anderson, along with Christopher Anderson, then drove to the victim's store to plan the logistics of the murder. Later that evening, appellant instructed co-defendant Brown and Christopher Anderson to obtain a car from a person named "Eggie" to use in the murder so that the car could not be traced to anyone in the JBM.

On August 18, 1990, the day of the murder, co-defendant Brown instructed Christopher and James Anderson to obtain black sweat suits, which they did. Co-defendant Brown also supplied them with black leather gloves. To carry out the assassination, Christopher Anderson armed himself with a nine millimeter semi-automatic handgun provided by co-defendant Brown. James Anderson armed himself with a nine millimeter MAC-11 machine gun.

James Anderson and Christopher Anderson then drove to the victim's store in the car provided by Eggie. They initially proceeded into the store at approximately 4:10 p.m. to see if the victim was present. After determining that the victim was present, the two Andersons left the store and returned to the car to don their hooded sweat suits and gloves and to arm themselves for the murder.

The Andersons then returned to the store at approximately 4:20 p.m. The victim was in the rear of the store. Three of the store employees were working in the front of the store. James Anderson pulled the MAC-11 from under his sweat suit and proceeded to the back of the store where he killed the victim by firing at least ten shots into his body. Upon hearing these shots, the three workers fled from the store at which time Christopher Anderson fired upon them hitting one of them in the shoulder.

After the shooting, James Anderson and Christopher Anderson abandoned their car and discarded the firearms and clothes near train tracks by the Philadelphia Zoo. James [542 Pa. 484] Anderson then called Carson to pick him up at 29th and Girard in Philadelphia. Carson testified that when he met and picked up the two Andersons in his car, that James Anderson informed him how they had killed the victim.

Christopher Anderson further testified that later on that evening he informed co-defendant Brown that police were seen near Anderson's mother's house. Accordingly, co-defendant Brown took Anderson to see appellant Jones about seeking refuge. Appellant told Brown to take Christopher Anderson to a certain hotel and gave him money to pay for the hotel. Co-defendant Brown took Christopher Anderson to what was known at that time as the Airport Tower Hilton. Brown registered for the room under his own name and signed the registration card. 12 It is there that Christopher Anderson hid until the next day.

In first degree murder cases, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant acted with a 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 deliberation. 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(d); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 550, 599 A.2d 624, 626 (1991). The use of a deadly weapon on a vital part of the body is sufficient to establish the specific intent to kill. Commonwealth v. Meredith, 490 Pa. 303, 311, 416 A.2d 481, 485 (1980). Moreover, all co-conspirators to a murder can be found guilty of first degree murder, even if the co-conspirator did not inflict the wound which resulted in death. Commonwealth v. Joseph, 451 Pa. 440, 449, 304 A.2d 163, 168 (1973).

Here, the evidence presented at trial showed appellant was the member of the

Page 501

conspiracy who devised the murderous plot and ordered his co-conspirators James Anderson and Christopher Anderson to carry out the plot. In accordance with these orders, James Anderson and Christopher Anderson [542 Pa. 485] went to the victim's store and murdered the victim by shooting him at least ten times. This evidence was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant, in a conspiratorial fashion, acted with malice aforethought and with a specific intent to kill. See Commonwealth v. Boyle, 470 Pa. 343, 368 A.2d 661 (1977) (evidence that defendant was member of conspiracy to kill three persons was sufficient to support guilty verdict against defendant in prosecution of three counts of first degree murder).

II. MOTION FOR SEVERANCE

Turning now to appellant's claims, he first contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion for severance. Appellant submits that the trial court's denial of his motion for severance prejudiced him because his co-defendants pursued antagonistic defenses which relied, in part, upon evidence regarding the JBM's other criminal acts and functions in an attempt to portray themselves as insignificant foot soldiers who were only following appellant's orders. Appellant also asserts prejudice based upon his belief that if a severance had been granted, no testimony would have been presented concerning the hierarchy of the JBM or that appellant ordered others to murder the victim.

A motion for severance rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will only be reversed on appeal for a manifest abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Jones, 530 Pa. 591, 602, 610 A.2d 931, 936 (1992). As a general policy, joint trials are encouraged when judicial economy will be promoted by avoiding the expensive and time-consuming duplication of evidence. Commonwealth v. Patterson, 519 Pa. 190, 197, 546...

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16 practice notes
  • Bodle v. Smith, Civil No. 3:17-CV-2265
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • February 1, 2021
    ...defendant of a fair and impartial trial.'" Commonwealth v. Boczkowski, 577 Pa. 421, 846 A.3d 75, 94 (2004), quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 542 Pa. 464, 688 A.3d 491, 503 (1995). (Doc. 17-2, p. 16.) Because this standard mirrors the standard articulated in Renico, supra, the court concludes ......
  • Com. v. King, No. 3214 EDA 2006.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 17, 2008
    ...prejudicial event may reasonably be said to deprive the defendant of a fair and impartial trial.'" Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 502-03 ¶ 32 Appellant alleges that Commonwealth witness Craig Lindsey's testimony required a mistrial. Specifically, Appellant objects to the ......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, 2004 PA Super 420 (PA 10/29/2004), No. 912 MDA 2002.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 29, 2004
    ...Claims of constitutional error, such as the one presented herein, may be subject to a harmless error analysis. See Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 506 (Pa. 1995) ("[A] violation of a defendant's right to confront witnesses against him may constitute harmless error if the admission coul......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Birdsong, J-63-2003
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 26, 2011
    ...the expensive and time-consuming duplication of evidence, and where the defendants are charged with conspiracy. Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 501 (Pa. 1995)."[T]he mere fact that there is hostility between defendants, or that one may try to save himself at the expense of another, is ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Bodle v. Smith, Civil No. 3:17-CV-2265
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • February 1, 2021
    ...defendant of a fair and impartial trial.'" Commonwealth v. Boczkowski, 577 Pa. 421, 846 A.3d 75, 94 (2004), quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 542 Pa. 464, 688 A.3d 491, 503 (1995). (Doc. 17-2, p. 16.) Because this standard mirrors the standard articulated in Renico, supra, the court concludes ......
  • Com. v. King, No. 3214 EDA 2006.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 17, 2008
    ...prejudicial event may reasonably be said to deprive the defendant of a fair and impartial trial.'" Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 502-03 ¶ 32 Appellant alleges that Commonwealth witness Craig Lindsey's testimony required a mistrial. Specifically, Appellant objects to the ......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, 2004 PA Super 420 (PA 10/29/2004), No. 912 MDA 2002.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 29, 2004
    ...Claims of constitutional error, such as the one presented herein, may be subject to a harmless error analysis. See Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 506 (Pa. 1995) ("[A] violation of a defendant's right to confront witnesses against him may constitute harmless error if the admission coul......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Birdsong, J-63-2003
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 26, 2011
    ...the expensive and time-consuming duplication of evidence, and where the defendants are charged with conspiracy. Commonwealth v. Jones, 668 A.2d 491, 501 (Pa. 1995)."[T]he mere fact that there is hostility between defendants, or that one may try to save himself at the expense of another, is ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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