Com. v. Lambert

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation603 A.2d 568,529 Pa. 320
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. James LAMBERT, Appellant.
Decision Date02 September 1992

[529 Pa. 325] Darryl A. Irwin, Arthur Henry James, Philadelphia, for appellant.

[529 Pa. 326] Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Deputy Dist. Atty., Ronald Eisenberg, Chief, Appeals Div., Hugh J. Burns, Robert A. Graci, Chief, Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.



PAPADAKOS *, Justice.

Appellant was found guilty of murder in the first degree. Following a separate sentencing proceeding pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711, he was sentenced to death. We find no error in the proceeding and affirm the judgment of sentence.

The critical facts and procedural history indicate that in September, 1982, three actors, James Lambert, Bruce Reese and Bernard Jackson, agreed to rob Prince's Lounge in Philadelphia. As later testimony established, Reese and Jackson earlier had combined forces to undertake previous bar robberies, while Lambert was a newcomer on this particular occasion. Reese furnished two handguns to be wielded by himself and Lambert in this robbery. Upon arriving at the scene of the crime, Reese and Appellant Lambert proceeded inside while Jackson waited on the street with the car in preparation for the escape. Reese remained poised by the exit stairs, but Lambert went to the bar where he thrust a bag at a barmaid, Janet Ryan, who dashed into the ladies room. Lambert then ordered a second barmaid, Sarah Clark, to open the cash register and handed her a bag. According to Clark's testimony, she then heard two gunshots at that moment and saw one patron slump over the killer and fall to the floor. (T.T., April 11, 1984, pp. 92-93.) Two patrons had been shot to death by the Appellant. Both victims were killed by one actor. The evidence is clear that the actor with the bag was the shooter.

The three men then sped away in the car driven by Jackson. Jackson was arrested on an unrelated crime two weeks later. At that time, he told the police about the robbery of Prince's Lounge and identified the perpetrators and stated that Lambert, then known to him as "Monk" or simply "dude," told him in the getaway car that he (Lambert) had just killed two men inside. Jackson repeated this statement during his testimony at trial. (T.T., April 13, 1984, pp. 116, 119.) 1

Lambert and Reese also were arrested and charged with murder, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and weapons offenses. At the preliminary hearing, witness Ryan did not appear because she could neither describe the actors nor identify them from photo arrays. There and at the suppression hearing as well, the Commonwealth informed the defense that Jackson alone was the only witness who could identify the two other defendants.

Lambert and Reese were tried together in a jury trial despite the former's motion for severance. Witness Ryan testified on two separate occasions. In her first appearance, she stated that she was unable to identify the actors. (T.T., April 11, 1984, pp. 128-129.) After she stepped down, she approached the prosecutor outside of the courtroom to reveal that, while on the stand, she came to recognize Lambert as the person who had put the gun to her head. (T.T., April 11, 1984, p. 140.) The Commonwealth then sought to recall her over Lambert's objections that her proferred testimony be subjected first to a suppression hearing. The court refused to allow her to be recalled by the Commonwealth. (T.T., April 11, 1984, p. 148).

After the Commonwealth rested, Reese initiated his defense by seeking to call Janet Ryan as his first witness. Lambert's counsel again objected on two grounds: first, that Ryan had been unable to make any prior identification of the person who had approached her; and, second, that the prosecution should not be given an opportunity to cross-examine her. The trial court ruled against both objections: "it's a different situation ... I felt I couldn't stand in the way of the defendants who has [sic] testimony that was not brought out before. I think there are 2 different situations." (T.T., April 19, 1984, pp. 6, 84.) In his opinion (at p. 11), Judge John A. Geisz reiterated his position that "it is a different situation when the District Attorney is allowed to cross examine any witness called as a defense witness. In this part of the case, the adversary system had switched from a Commonwealth v. Defense into a Reese v. Lambert contest."

On direct examination by Reese's counsel, Ryan then denied that Reese was the person with the bag but followed with a positive in-court identification of Lambert as the actor who had approached her. On cross-examination by the prosecutor, she identified Lambert further from his facial features. (T.T., April 19, 1984, pp. 46, 71-72.)

Each co-defendant denied during the trial that he was the shooter. As a result, the trial proceeded with a great deal of fingerpointing and evidence concerning the height, weight, and facial features of the killer. No other witness in the bar, excepting Ryan's later recollection, and Jackson's statement, was able to identify the actors.

The jury found Lambert guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree, robbery, conspiracy and related offenses on April 25, 1984. The sentencing jury found three aggravating circumstances and one mitigating circumstance. 2 He was sentenced to death for the murders and concurrent jail sentences of five to ten years and ten to twenty years for the other crimes. Reese was found guilty of two counts of felony murder, robbery, and conspiracy and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Sometime after the trial, Lambert's attorney interviewed Commonwealth witness and co-conspirator, Bernard Jackson, at his request. Jackson purportedly signed an affidavit which stated that Reese had been the killer and that Janet Ryan was a friend of the Reese family and would never testify adversely against him. In December, 1985, counsel requested an evidentiary hearing on after-discovered evidence. Judge Geisz rejected the motion in February, 1986, it appearing that the motion was not promptly filed and the attached affidavits were not properly executed, all in violation of Pa.R.C.P. 1123(d), Post-Verdict Motions:

(d) A motion for a new trial on the ground of after-discovered evidence must be filed in writing promptly after such discovery. If an appeal is pending, the court may grant such motion only upon remand of the case.

I. Severance

Appellant alleges abuse and resulting prejudice by the trial court in refusing to grant severance. He advances several arguments to substantiate his conclusion that severance was warranted before and during trial. First, he contends in a general fashion that because he faced a death-qualified jury which was conviction-prone in his estimation, the court should have understood that the possible defenses which might be presented by the two defendants would be adversarial and antagonistic. Without fleshing in his argument with concrete evidence of irreconcilable defenses at the preliminary hearing, his request for separate trials was rejected as being unsubstantiated.

His second argument is that at trial he was not permitted to cross-examine witness Bernard Jackson for the purpose of eliciting information that Jackson and Reese had committed a series of past robberies together. Such information, he alleges, would have sustained his insistence that he was not the killer in the instant case because neither Jackson nor Reese would have entrusted the important task of carrying a gun to him as a newcomer who had known them for just a few hours before the robbery. The obvious aim of Appellant's strategy was to point the finger at his co-defendant, while exculpating himself on the grounds that, based on the Jackson-Reese robberies, it was more likely that Reese did the shooting.

Jackson's admission to the police that he and Reese previously had committed a string of robberies was made on October 22, 1982. At trial, Jackson was permitted to testify to these prior acts, but the court forbade him to make any references to Reese. (T.T., April 12, 1984, pp. 115ff.) The same prohibition applied to Appellant's cross-examination. In denying an opportunity to implicate Reese in the past robberies before the jury, the court concluded that the aggregate facts of those crimes do not satisfy the standard of "signature crimes" which reveal a unique modus operandi. Without proof of a common scheme, plan, or design, the trial court held that evidence of crimes other than that for which the accused is being tried is inherently prejudicial and inadmissible. Reese was being tried on the present charges; evidence of other crimes would have amounted to proof that he was a "bad man."

Third, Appellant forcefully urges us to justify severance based on the fact that Janet Ryan was permitted to be called by the Reese defense to identify him (Lambert) as the person who confronted her in the bar after she had been unable to do so as a Commonwealth witness. The procedure was unfair to him, he alleges, because he was not given an in-camera suppression hearing prior to her taking the stand as Reese's witness and because he had no warning prior to trial that she could identify him.

We conclude that Appellant was not entitled to severance on any of the theories which he advances in this appeal. Separate trials of co-defendants should be granted only where the defenses of each are antagonistic to the point where such individual differences are irreconcilable and a joint trial would result in prejudice. This determination is left to the discretion of the court which balances the inconvenience and expense to the government of separate trials against prejudice to the defendants in a joint trial, and the burden is on the movant to show prejudice. Prejudice, moreover,...

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