Com. v. Marshall

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore NIX; PAPADAKOS; NIX
Citation523 Pa. 556,568 A.2d 590
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Jerome MARSHALL, Appellant.
Decision Date22 December 1989

Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Deputy Dist. Atty., Ronald Eisenberg, Chief, Appeals Div., Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., Robert A. Graci, Chief, Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.




These are the direct appeals from three convictions of murder of the first degree, involving two death sentences and one life sentence of Jerome Marshall (Appellant), pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. Section 9711(h)(1) 1. Appellant was arrested on November 9, 1983, and charged with criminal homicide for the deaths of Myndie McKoy, Sharon Saunders, and her two-year-old daughter, Karima Saunders. Their nude bodies were found under a mattress in one of the bedrooms of their apartment by Sharon's mother and brother. The discovery was made on January 25, 1983. The bodies were found with cords tied around their necks, indicating that they had been strangled until dead.

Appellant was tried to a jury with the Honorable Francis A. Biunno of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia presiding and, on August 29, 1984, the jury returned its verdicts of murder of the first degree as to each victim. A separate sentencing hearing was immediately held, following which the same jury determined that Appellant be sentenced to death on the murders of Karima Saunders and Myndie McKoy, and that Appellant be sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Sharon Saunders. Post-trial motions were considered and denied, triggering these automatic appeals.

Appellant first argues that insufficient evidence exists to support the convictions of murder of the first degree. 2 Our independent review of the entire record, giving all reasonable inferences to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, discloses sufficient evidence to support the convictions of murder of the first degree for each of Appellant's victims based upon the following facts which we have gleaned from the record.

On January 25, 1983, James Burley, the brother of Sharon Saunders, in the company of his mother, went to the victims' apartment in the City of Philadelphia. Upon entering the apartment, James noticed that it was very hot in the apartment and that a foul odor permeated the air. Upon searching, he found the bodies of his sister, niece, and Myndie McKoy, under a mattress in one of the bedrooms. James also noticed that Sharon's stereo and speakers were missing. Upon viewing this grizzly scene, James and his mother contacted the police, who immediately responded to the call and conducted an investigation.

Among the items recovered during this investigation was a manilla envelope containing Appellant's name and address and documents indicating the time and place where Appellant was scheduled to pick up his welfare check. On the front of the envelope was inscribed the following "Jerome and Sharon 4 ever".

Armed with this information, the police conducted a search for Appellant by going to his listed address and waiting for him at the bank and by visiting his parents and aunts and uncles. As part of the search for Appellant, they went to his brother's home where the police saw the stereo and speakers that James Burley had described as belonging to his sister Sharon. The police obtained a search warrant for these items and returned to Eugene and Irene The post-mortem examination of the victims indicated that they were all strangled to death and that the time of death was from one and one-half to five and one-half days from their discovery on January 25, 1983. Myndie McKoy's corpse also revealed that she had been stabbed in the back, which wound was listed as a contributing factor to her death.

Marshall's home and seized the stereo and speakers. Irene admitted that Appellant brought these items into her home and that he sold them to Eugene. Eugene told the police that he found his brother on a corner very near to where the victims lived near their time of death, carrying a knife and that he had blood on his shirt. He also told the police that he harbored Appellant in his home for a few days and knew that Appellant returned to the victims' apartment following the murders to retrieve some of his belongings and the stereo, which he sold to Eugene. Finally, Eugene [523 Pa. 564] told the police that his brother had confided to him that he had, in fact, killed the women.

Based upon this information, a warrant for the arrest of Appellant was obtained and, following an extensive search for Appellant, he was finally apprehended on November 10, 1983, and brought to the Norristown Police Station. After some preliminary interrogation and the administration of the Miranda warnings, Appellant decided to waive those rights and give a statement which proved to be a confession.

Appellant recounted that he and Sharon had been lovers and that when she told him she was to marry another he became enraged. On the day of the murders, he had sex with the twenty year old Sharon, and while she slept, he put a clothes line around her neck and strangled her to death. He then went into Myndie McKoy's room to tie her up. When she awoke and began to scream, he found a knife and stabbed her in order to quiet her and tied her up. He then dragged her into the bathroom and filled the tub up with water. She pleaded with him to leave her alone and she promised not to tell anyone and again began to scream, and then Appellant plunged Myndie's head under the water in the tub and held it there until Myndie no longer moved. Having permanently silenced Myndie, he dragged her body into Sharon's bedroom and laid her corpse next to Sharon. Appellant also admitted that he killed Sharon's two-year-old baby, Karima, by strangulation and drowning because the baby was awakened by the commotion and called out for her mother. When little Karima was dead, Appellant put her between the bodies of Sharon and Myndie and covered their bodies with a mattress.

When he left the premises, he ran into his brother and then went to his brother's home where he changed his bloody shirt and stayed for a few days. He went back to the apartment to retrieve some of his belongings and took the stereo and speakers. He stated that he sold these items to Eugene and then left town because he knew that the Philadelphia police were looking for him.

Taking all of these circumstances together, a jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Sharon, Karima and Myndie died as the result of a homicide. From the nature of the injuries, the jury could infer that the killings were intentional and malicious. From the manner of the killings, the jury could conclude that the killings were premeditated and the jury could conclude that Appellant committed the crimes, from his own testimony as well as the circumstantial evidence linking him with the crimes. Accordingly, we are more than satisfied that sufficient evidence exists in this record to support the jury's verdicts of murder of the first degree and dismiss Appellant's sufficiency challenge.


Appellant charges that the suppression court was in error in not suppressing his confession as being the result of police coercion. He argues that he was psychologically coerced into making a confession when the police showed him a photograph of the victims under the mattress.

Aside from making this bald allegation, Appellant does not demonstrate how the showing of the photograph perverted the voluntariness of his statement or that his At the most, Appellant would have us believe that he was so shocked when shown the picture of the victims, that it unleashed an involuntary flood of inculpatory statements which would not otherwise have been made. The police, however, contradicted Appellant and testified that he was alert and responsive during the interrogation and that Appellant agreed to be interviewed before seeing any photographs. Appellant decided to make his confession after he was shown his brother's statement in which he told his brother that he had killed the women. After making his statement, Appellant signed each page of the confession and specifically answered that he was making his statement of his own free will, without force or fear, and without threats or promises having been made to him.

waiver of his constitutional rights became unknowing or unintelligent. See Commonwealth v. Culberson, 467 Pa. 424, 358 A.2d 416 (1976). More recently, in Commonwealth v. Fahy, 512 Pa. 298, 516 A.2d 689 (1986), we rejected a similar assertion by a defendant who, after being shown pictures of the victim's body, exclaimed, "I did it, I did it."

When faced with such a conflict of testimony, we defer to the suppression court, which, as fact finder, passes upon the credibility of witnesses, and its findings are not disturbed when supported by the record. See Fahy; Commonwealth v. Guest, 500 Pa. 393, 456 A.2d 1345 (1983). Since the record supports the trial court's finding based upon the Commonwealth's version of the interrogation which was accepted as credible by the suppression court, we must affirm the denial of the suppression motion. Appellant's contrary argument must be rejected.

Appellant also asserts that the suppression court erred in not quashing the indictments against him because the affiant listed in the warrant, Detective Ernest Bethea, did not have first-hand knowledge of the truth of the facts which made up the affidavit supporting the claim of probable cause for the arrest of Appellant. This allegation is made in a vacuum, without supporting argument or authorities.

Detective Bethea testified that the affidavit was comprised of the results of the investigation conducted by his colleague, Detective Michael...

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