Com. v. Murphy

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore O'BRIEN; NIX; ROBERTS; ROBERTS
Citation493 Pa. 35,425 A.2d 352
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Bernard MURPHY, Appellant.
Decision Date30 January 1981

Page 352

425 A.2d 352
493 Pa. 35
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
v.
Bernard MURPHY, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted Oct. 16, 1980.
Decided Jan. 30, 1981.

Page 353

[493 Pa. 38] James J. Binns, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., Franklin Hoel, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Before O'BRIEN, C. J., and ROBERTS, NIX, LARSEN, FLAHERTY and KAUFFMAN, JJ.

OPINION

NIX, Justice.

As a result of an incident which occurred in Philadelphia on October 3, 1977, appellant, Bernard Murphy, was tried and convicted for the shooting deaths of two victims and the aggravated assault of a third individual. He was sentenced on the murder convictions to concurrent terms of life imprisonment and a concurrent term of not less than five nor more than ten years for the aggravated assault bill of indictment. This is a direct appeal from these judgments of sentence. 1

These shootings occurred in and about the premises of a State Liquor Store shortly after noontime. Appellant entered the store and stood in one of two lines waiting for service. When two other persons entered the store, one joined the line behind

Page 354

appellant and the other went to the rear of the second line. Appellant turned to the man who had taken the position immediately behind him and asked him where he was from and "what's your problem." When the person responded that he did not have a problem, appellant shot him and killed him. This person was identified as Basil Moore. Appellant then fired at the person standing at the end of the second line, striking him in the head. This victim, Eric Younger, recovered from his wounds and testified at trial against appellant. Appellant, after shooting Younger, left the store and on the sidewalk shot a third man who had been with Moore and Younger.

At trial appellant raised the defenses of insanity and justification. In support of the justification defense, appellant[493 Pa. 39] contended that he had shot the three victims in defense of the life of his companion, Robinson. This version was corroborated by Robinson and several other defense witnesses who testified to certain threats made on the life of Robinson by a youth gang, of which the defense alleged the three victims were members.

The first assignment of error is that the trial court abused its discretion in denying a request for a bifurcated trial pursuant to the Mental Health Procedures Act, Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 817, No. 143, § 404, 50 P.S. § 7404 (Supp. 1980-81). Section 404(c) provides:

Bifurcation of Issues of Trial. Upon trial, the court, in the interest of justice, may direct that the issue of criminal responsibility be heard and determined separately from the other issues in the case and, in a trial by jury, that the issue of criminal responsibility be submitted to a separate jury. Upon a request for bifurcation, the court shall consider the substantiality of the defense of lack of responsibility and its effect upon other defenses, and the probability of a fair trial.

By its terms the statute directs that the determination as to whether such a request should be granted should turn upon "the substantiality" of the insanity defense and its "effect upon other defenses." We would readily agree there would be serious question as to whether the fair trial standard of section 404(c) could be satisfied if one with a substantial insanity claim were forced to assert it before the same fact tribunal that was being called upon to assess an alternative claim of defense of another. The insanity defense is premised upon the contention that the actor did not know the nature and quality of the act or could not perceive the distinction between right and wrong. Commonwealth v. Hicks, 483 Pa. 305, 396 A.2d 1183 (1979); Commonwealth v. Bruno, 466 Pa. 245, 352 A.2d 40 (1976); Commonwealth v. Demmitt, 456 Pa. 475, 321 A.2d 627 (1974). The incompatibility with a defense of justification, such as defense of a [493 Pa. 40] third party, is evident. 2 Thus the validity of this complaint must depend upon "the substantiality" of the insanity defense raised here.

The only evidence on the record at the time appellant requested a bifurcated trial related to his competency to stand trial. The test for competency to stand trial not only relates to the accused's mental state at the time proposed for trial and is therefore not necessarily relevant to his state of mind at the time of the occurrence, Mental Health Procedures Act, Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 817, No. 143, § 402(a), 50 P.S. § 7402(a); Commonwealth v. Harper, 479 Pa. 42, 387 A.2d 824 (1978); Commonwealth v. Kennedy, 451 Pa. 483, 305 A.2d 890 (1973); Commonwealth ex rel. Hilberry v. Maroney, 424 Pa. 493, 227 A.2d 159 (1967); Commonwealth v. Dimitris, 247 Pa.Super. 486, 372 A.2d 930 (1977), it also uses a different standard than the one employed to determine criminal responsibility for the act. Commonwealth v. Harper, supra; Commonwealth v. Kennedy, supra; Commonwealth ex rel. Hilberry v. Maroney, supra. 3 Appellant, nevertheless, still argues

Page 355

that if the request had been granted a substantial issue as to his sanity at the time of the defense could have been raised. He did not at the time of the application, nor even in his brief in this appeal, suggest with specificity what additional evidence may have been available to support the defense. Thus based upon the information provided to the court, we cannot say the denial of the request constituted an abuse of discretion.

It is next charged that the trial court erred in permitting evidence of alleged criminal activity of appellant one and one-half hours before the charges for which he was being tried. Henry Pompey, a witness for the Commonwealth,[493 Pa. 41] testified that one and one-half hours before the shootings he had met appellant not far from the liquor store. Appellant took a gun from under his coat and said, "let's have a shootout." The witness testified that he answered he did not wish to have a shootout and appellant walked away mumbling. Generally, evidence of a defendant's prior criminal activity is not admissible. Commonwealth v. Sisco, 484 Pa. 85, 398 A.2d 955 (1979); Commonwealth v. Spruill, 480 Pa. 601, 391 A.2d 1048 (1978); Commonwealth v. Fortune, 464 Pa. 367, 346 A.2d 783 (1975); Commonwealth v. Foose, 441 Pa. 173, 272 A.2d 452 (1971); Commonwealth v. Wable, 382 Pa. 80, 114 A.2d 334 (1955). However, evidence concerning a defendant's conduct at a time and place very close to the commission of the crimes for which he is charged is admissible if relevant to show a defendant's mental state when he committed the crimes with which he is charged. Commonwealth v. Glover, 446 Pa. 492, 286 A.2d 349 (1972); Commonwealth v. Faison, 437 Pa. 432, 264 A.2d 394 (1970); Commonwealth v. Wable, supra.

The defense of others is dependent upon the mental state of the actor. Commonwealth v. Jackson, 467 Pa. 183, 355 A.2d 572 (1976); Commonwealth v. Brentley, --- Pa.Super. ---, 405 A.2d 1282 (1979). We are satisfied that this event was sufficiently proximate in time to be germane in determining appellant's state of mind at the time of the shootings. The jury could properly consider whether the aggressive and provocative behavior exhibited in the earlier event carried over to the time of the incident in question. 4

The third complaint is that the defense was improperly restricted and too much latitude was given to the prosecution[493 Pa. 42] in cross-examination. Appellant also complains that he was denied the opportunity to present competent and exculpatory evidence. The latter complaint related to the evidence sought to be elicited from Detective Dougherty. Our review of the trial record satisfies us that the trial court properly limited the scope of cross-examination of both defense counsel and the prosecutor and also properly excluded the testimony of the police officer who took a statement from appellant shortly after his arrest.

The record shows appellant was not permitted to ask questions concerning statements the appellant may have made at the time of his arrest. Appellant argues he asked these questions to elicit testimony bearing on his sanity at the time of his arrest. However, these questions were beyond the scope of the direct examinations of the arresting officers. Commonwealth v. Schmidt, 437 Pa. 563, 263 A.2d 382 (1970); Spiwak v. Allegheny County, 366 Pa. 145, 77 A.2d 97 (1950). If in the judgment of the defense these officers had non-hearsay testimony relevant to appellant's sanity, appellant was free to call those officers as his

Page 356

own witnesses. This course was not followed and the appellant will not now be heard to complain. Commonwealth v. Nash, 436 Pa. 519, 261 A.2d 314 (1970); Commonwealth v. Brown, 438 Pa. 52, 265 A.2d 101 (1970). The record also fails to support appellant's contention that the prosecutor was permitted to explore with defense witnesses the same type of questions defense counsel was barred from asking of the arresting officers. Both defense counsel and prosecutor were permitted to ask questions relating to appellant's demeanor and appearance on the morning of the killings. The sword was not single edge as construed by appellant, but rather double edge with equal sharpness on both sides of the blade.

The dispute surrounding the court's rejection of the defense's offer of appellant's statement made at the time of arrest is also without foundation. The defense called Detective Dougherty for the purpose of having him read into evidence statements made by appellant at the time of his [493 Pa. 43] arrest. Where a defendant seeks at trial to introduce his own statements made at the time of arrest to support his version of the facts such testimony is clearly offensive to the hearsay rule. Commonwealth v. Lippert, 454 Pa. 381, 311 A.2d 586 (1973). Appellant suggests that this testimony may have been relevant and not hearsay as it...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 practice notes
  • Com. v. Manchas
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 28, 1993
    ...was prejudicial." Commonwealth v. Hudgens, supra 400 Pa.Super. at 96, 582 A.2d [1352] at 1361 [ (1990) ]. See also: Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 45-46, 425 A.2d 352, 357 (1981); Commonwealth v. Woodell, 344 Pa.Super. 487, 491-492, 496 A.2d 1210, 1212-1213 [430 Pa.Super. 79] Commonwea......
  • Com. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 1989
    ...mind are not within the interdiction of the hearsay rule, Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 516 Pa. 460, 533 A.2d 74 (1987); Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 425 A.2d 352 (1981); Commonwealth v. Wright, 455 Pa. 480, 317 A.2d 271 (1974); Commonwealth v. Santos, 275 Pa. 515, 119 A. 596 In this insta......
  • Com. v. Ulen
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 30, 1992
    ...the evidence was prejudicial." Commonwealth v. Hudgens, supra 400 Pa.Super. at 96, 582 A.2d at 1361. See also: Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 45-46, 425 A.2d 352, 357 (1981); Commonwealth v. Woodell, 344 Pa.Super. 487, 491-492, 496 A.2d 1210, 1212-1213 Our assessment of the prejudicial......
  • Com. v. Gordon
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 30, 1987
    ...it into evidence. Thus, anything in the report favorable to the defendant was before the learned finder of fact. In Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 425 A.2d 352 (1981), the Supreme Court of this State laid down the applicable rule where previously withheld Brady material is disclosed at......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Com. v. Manchas
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 28, 1993
    ...was prejudicial." Commonwealth v. Hudgens, supra 400 Pa.Super. at 96, 582 A.2d [1352] at 1361 [ (1990) ]. See also: Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 45-46, 425 A.2d 352, 357 (1981); Commonwealth v. Woodell, 344 Pa.Super. 487, 491-492, 496 A.2d 1210, 1212-1213 [430 Pa.Super. 79] Commonwea......
  • Com. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 1989
    ...mind are not within the interdiction of the hearsay rule, Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 516 Pa. 460, 533 A.2d 74 (1987); Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 425 A.2d 352 (1981); Commonwealth v. Wright, 455 Pa. 480, 317 A.2d 271 (1974); Commonwealth v. Santos, 275 Pa. 515, 119 A. 596 In this insta......
  • Com. v. Ulen
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 30, 1992
    ...the evidence was prejudicial." Commonwealth v. Hudgens, supra 400 Pa.Super. at 96, 582 A.2d at 1361. See also: Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 45-46, 425 A.2d 352, 357 (1981); Commonwealth v. Woodell, 344 Pa.Super. 487, 491-492, 496 A.2d 1210, 1212-1213 Our assessment of the prejudicial......
  • Com. v. Gordon
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 30, 1987
    ...it into evidence. Thus, anything in the report favorable to the defendant was before the learned finder of fact. In Commonwealth v. Murphy, 493 Pa. 35, 425 A.2d 352 (1981), the Supreme Court of this State laid down the applicable rule where previously withheld Brady material is disclosed at......
  • 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