Com. v. Paolello

Citation665 A.2d 439,542 Pa. 47
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Anthony PAOLELLO, Appellant.
Decision Date22 September 1995
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

William R. Cunningham, District Attorney, James K. Vogel, Assistant District Attorney, Anthony R. Himes, Assistant District Attorney, Robert A. Graci, Chief Deputy Attorney General, for Appellee.

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

OPINION OF THE COURT

CAPPY, Justice.

This is an automatic direct appeal from the imposition of a sentence of death. 1 Following a trial by jury, Appellant was convicted of murder in the first degree, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a), two counts of aggravated assault, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702, two counts of conspiracy to commit assault, 18 Pa.C.S. § 903, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, 18 Pa.C.S. § 903. 2 For the reasons that follow we affirm all of the above convictions, reverse the penalty of death, and remand for the imposition of a life sentence.

We will begin our review of this case by first addressing the sufficiency of the evidence. This Court has a duty to conduct an independent review to determine if the evidence is sufficient to sustain the underlying conviction for murder in the first degree in all cases where a sentence of death has been imposed. 3 Commonwealth v. Green, 536 Pa. 599, 640 A.2d 1242 (1994); Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 454 A.2d 937 (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). Much of the Commonwealth's evidence in this case is circumstantial, thus requiring that the facts be set forth in depth.

The events which culminated in Appellant's convictions on the above-listed charges began on October 1, 1992 and ended on October 4, 1992 with the discovery of the body of James Stanley in an alley near the building where Stanley and Appellant resided. At the time period in question, Appellant and Stanley were residents of a rooming house at 2516 Peach Street in Erie, Pennsylvania. Their rooms were directly across the hall from one another, and they shared a common sitting room/kitchen with each other and one additional resident of the third floor.

Sometime in September of 1992, Stanley had befriended Allen Gaffield while sharing a drink together on the railroad tracks in the area near the Peach Street rooming house. Stanley invited Gaffield to share his room. While staying with Stanley, Gaffield met Appellant and his co-defendant, Daniel Funt. 4 According to Gaffield's testimony, he, Appellant, and Funt were sharing a drink together in the common area late on the afternoon of October 1, 1992, when Appellant and Funt attacked him from behind, without provocation. Gaffield testified that he was severely beaten and rendered unconscious. At the time of the beating he had been wearing black jeans and a tee shirt. Upon regaining consciousness Gaffield realized that his own clothes were missing, and he was clad in a pair of pants that were too large, that he did not recognize, and no shirt.

Gaffield then dragged himself into Stanley's room where he collapsed onto his sleeping bag at the foot of Stanley's bed. Gaffield awakened at some point on Friday to find that Stanley and a woman, Marlena Valenta, were also in Stanley's room. Stanley and Marlena were sharing a bottle of vodka and offered some to Gaffield; he declined. Gaffield testified that his injuries caused him to remain on the sleeping bag, wavering in and out of consciousness, for the entire day of October 2nd.

At some point around 2:30 a.m., October 3, 1992, Gaffield was awakened when the door to Stanley's room was kicked open by a man wearing a mask who entered the room and proceeded to severely beat Stanley. A second man was standing in the doorway holding a flashlight during the beating. The beating lasted about one minute and the man left. A few minutes later, a second man entered the room with a hood over his head. The second man also beat Stanley and kicked Marlena in the head. Gaffield said the man tried to beat him but stopped after only hitting him once in the face and once in the chest because Gaffield told the man he had already been beaten. This second attack also lasted about one minute. Another brief pause occurred and then a third man entered the room. The third man was positively identified by Gaffield as the Appellant. Gaffield also identified a pair of light colored shorts with thin stripes that Appellant was wearing during the attack. Gaffield testified that Appellant knocked Stanley to the floor, then picked Stanley up from the floor and continued to beat him, finally dropping Stanley back on the floor at the foot of the bed. During this final encounter, Gaffield begged Appellant to stop.

When the third attack ended Gaffield heard the assailants in the hallway and the man in the hood say: "We're the Hood. If you F with our cocaine and money again, we'll come back and kill you." After that, the Appellant came back into the room and acted unaware of what had transpired. Appellant attempted to offer Stanley assistance and then took Marlena by the hand and led her back to his own room across the hall. Gaffield testified that he and Stanley then went to sleep. Later that morning, Saturday, October 3, 1992, at 9:00 a.m., Gaffield walked across the street to the Rite-Aid pharmacy seeking assistance. The manager of Rite-Aid called an ambulance and Gaffield spent the next ten days in intensive care with multiple rib fractures, contusions, and punctures in both lungs. According to Gaffield, Stanley refused to seek medical attention.

Marlena Valenta testified to the same scenario of three separate assaults as Gaffield. However, Marlena testified that Gaffield was kicked by the second assailant. Marlena also identified Appellant as the third assailant. After being led into Appellant's room, Marlena observed Daniel Funt with what appeared to be fake blood on his face. Funt told Marlena that he had chased three black men out of the building and had been injured in the process. Marlena testified that after having a drink to calm her nerves she went to sleep.

Through-out the day and evening of Saturday October 3, 1992, Marlena testified Appellant kept her out of Stanley's room. Appellant told Marlena that Gaffield had gone to the hospital in an ambulance and that Stanley was resting. On three separate occasions during the course of the day she observed Appellant fill a large glass with vodka which he said he was giving to Stanley. Marlena testified that except for a brief period of time on Saturday morning when she was sent to the home of Appellant's wife, Chris Paolello, Appellant kept her in his room.

On Sunday morning, Appellant again sent Marlena to his wife's house, which was across the street from the rooming house. While with Appellant's wife, Marlena learned that Stanley's body had been found in the alley. When she returned to Appellant's room, he told her to stay quiet because she might incriminate herself. Marlena stayed in Appellant's room through Monday morning.

On Monday, October 5, 1992, Marlena went to the Erie welfare office to register for benefits. While at the office, she told the story of the beating to Hugh Price who was also waiting at the office to register for benefits. The conversation was triggered by the fact that Mr. Price was reading the morning paper containing a story on the discovery of a body in the alley off Peach Street. Marlena told Price she was there and knew about the body. Marlena also told the story of the beatings to Cheryl Moore an employee of the welfare office who conducted the interview with Marlena. Officer Gerald McShane testified that he received a phone call from Price on October 5, 1992 relating the conversation with Marlena, identifying her as a possible witness in the death of James Stanley.

Marlena returned to the rooming house on Monday after her visit to the welfare office. On Tuesday afternoon, October 6, 1992 Detective DiPaulo of the Erie police returned to the rooming house specifically looking for Marlena. Appellant denied knowing anyone by that name and when Detective DiPaulo asked the identity of the woman in Appellant's room he initially said it was his wife, then amended that to his girlfriend; finally Appellant admitted that it was the woman they were looking for. Marlena agreed to cooperate with the Detective and left the building in his custody. Before leaving the rooming house, the Detective searched Appellant's room and Daniel Funt's room. 5 In Funt's room the Detective observed a vial containing fake blood.

Andrew Richardson, another resident of the Peach Street rooming house who lived on the floor below Appellant, testified that after Stanley's body was found, Appellant warned him not to talk to the police about the fights that went on upstairs. Richardson testified that Appellant seemed nervous and also said that Appellant had ignored him before Stanley's death, but afterwards came to him often during the police investigation. On October 6, 1992, Richardson told police about his conversations with Appellant.

Linda Marlowe testified that her husband, Brian Marlowe, was a friend of Appellant's co-conspirator, Anthony DeFranco. In October of 1992, while Brian was a resident of the Erie County jail, Linda discovered a pair of men's white shorts with thin stripes in her barbecue grill. Linda testified that Sue Brasington, a girlfriend of Anthony DeFranco, placed the shorts in the grill. After discussing the matter with Brian, Linda put the shorts in a plastic bag and placed the bag in the trunk of her car. On October 14, 1992, after further discussions with Brian, Linda arranged for the Erie police to retrieve the shorts.

John Robertson, a forensic criminalist, testified that the blood stains on the shorts positively...

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