Com. v. Sattazahn

Citation763 A.2d 359,563 Pa. 533
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. David Allen SATTAZAHN, Appellant.
Decision Date27 November 2000
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

763 A.2d 359
563 Pa. 533

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
David Allen SATTAZAHN, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued May 1, 2000.

Decided November 27, 2000.

763 A.2d 361
John T. Adams, Reading, for David Allen Sattazahn

Robert Brett Dunham, Philadelphia, for Amicus-Sattazahn.

763 A.2d 362
Mark C. Baldwin, Robert A. Graci, Harrisburg, Iva C. Dougherty, Reading, for Com


763 A.2d 360

NEWMAN, Justice.

On January 22, 1999, a jury convicted Appellant David Allen Sattazahn (Sattazahn) of first-degree murder in the slaying of Richard Boyer (Boyer) and sentenced him to death. This is a direct appeal of this verdict. As explained below, this was a second trial for Sattazahn regarding the murder of Boyer. The initial trial resulted in a conviction for first-degree murder and the imposition of a life sentence, which the Superior Court reversed on appeal, ordering a new trial. For the reasons that follow, we affirm both the verdict of guilt, and the sentence of death on retrial.


On Sunday evening, April 12, 1987, Sattazahn and his accomplice, Jeffrey Hammer (Hammer) hid in a cleared wooded area waiting to rob Boyer, who was the manager of the Heidelberg Family Restaurant. They had watched Boyer for several weekends and determined that Sunday would be the busiest day in the restaurant. At closing, Sattazahn and Hammer confronted Boyer in the parking lot. Hammer carried a .41 caliber revolver and Sattazahn had a .22 caliber Ruger semiautomatic pistol. With these guns drawn, the pair attempted to rob Boyer of the bank deposit bag with the day's receipts, but Boyer threw the bag toward the restaurant and then again toward the roof of the restaurant. While Sattazahn told Boyer to get the bag, Boyer did not comply and began to run away. Both Sattazahn and Hammer fired shots and Boyer fell to the ground. The two men then grabbed the bank deposit bag and fled.

Following a lengthy trial, a jury on May 10, 1991 convicted Sattazahn of first, second and third-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, carrying a firearm without a license, and criminal conspiracy. In the penalty phase, the Commonwealth presented one aggravating circumstance (commission of the killing while in the perpetration of a felony). Sattazahn presented as mitigating circumstances his lack of a significant history of prior criminal convictions and his age at the time of the crime. The jury deliberated without reaching a decision on death or life and without making any findings regarding aggravating or mitigating factors. After three and one-half hours, the judge dismissed the jury as hung, and entered a mandatory life sentence. On appeal, based on a jury instruction, the Superior Court reversed and remanded for a new trial on the remaining charges.1

To prepare for a retrial, on March 9, 1995, the Commonwealth filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, setting forth the aggravating circumstance presented at the first trial—commission of the killing while in the perpetration of a felony—and adding the circumstance that the defendant had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person.2 On March 13,

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1995, Sattazahn's attorney filed a motion to prevent the Commonwealth from seeking the death penalty and from adding an additional aggravating factor in his retrial, which the trial court denied and the Superior Court affirmed. We denied allocatur and the second trial ensued, resulting in a conviction and the imposition of the death penalty


A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Because this is a direct appeal death penalty case, we conduct an independent review of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict of guilt on the charge of first-degree murder. Commonwealth v. Clark, 551 Pa. 258, 710 A.2d 31, 34 (1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1070, 119 S.Ct. 1465, 143 L.Ed.2d 550 (1999) (citations omitted). The analysis we use to determine if the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction for first-degree murder is, whether after viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, as verdict winner, the evidence is sufficient to enable the trier of fact to find every element of the crime of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. To find a defendant guilty of first-degree murder a jury must find that the Commonwealth has proven that he or she unlawfully killed a human being and did so in an intentional, deliberate and premeditated manner. It is the element of a willful, premeditated and deliberate intent to kill that distinguishes first-degree murder from all other criminal homicide. Id. Specific intent to kill may be inferred from the defendant's use of a deadly weapon upon a vital party of the victim's body. Id.

With this standard in mind, we have reviewed the evidence and have found it sufficient to support the jury's verdict. At trial, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Hammer, who testified as to the details of the crime as recited in the fact portion above. Hammer's testimony was confirmed by an autopsy that revealed that Boyer suffered two gunshot wounds in the lower back and one each in the left shoulder, the lower face and the back of the head. All wounds were consistent with being caused by a .22 caliber bullet, the caliber gun that Hammer attributed to Sattazahn, and which a gun shop owner testified that Sattazahn purchased. Moreover, the .22 and the two slugs recovered from Boyer's body, and the five cartridges found at the scene, were identified as being fired from Sattazahn's gun.

A review of the Record indicates that the facts were more than sufficient to support the conviction. We now turn to the specific issues that Sattazahn has raised.

B. Cross-examination of Hammer

Sattazahn raises two alleged errors based on the trial court's limitation upon the cross-examination of Hammer: (1) regarding Hammer's guilty plea, and (2) preclusion of police reports regarding Hammer, which contained allegedly inconsistent statements.

We discuss first whether Sattazahn is entitled to a new trial because the trial court did not allow defense counsel to cross-examine Sattazahn's cohort in the murder, Jeffrey Hammer, regarding the details of his guilty plea for the third-degree murder of Boyer. Sattazahn argues, citing Commonwealth v. Birch, 532 Pa. 563, 616 A.2d 977 (1992) and Commonwealth v. Johnson, 536 Pa. 153, 638 A.2d 940 (1994), that counsel should have been

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able to cross-examine the witness broadly to determine his bias to testify that he did not murder Richard Boyer.
As a general rule, evidence of interest or bias on the part of a witness is admissible and constitutes a proper subject for cross-examination. It is particularly important that, where the determination of a defendant's guilt or innocence is dependent upon the credibility of a prosecution witness, an adequate opportunity be afforded to demonstrate through cross-examination that the witness is biased.

Commonwealth v. Birch, 532 Pa. 563, 616 A.2d 977, 979 (1992). Further, if the Commonwealth's witness might be biased because of treatment received in relation to a plea agreement we have stated that:

whenever a prosecution witness may be biased in favor of the prosecution because of outstanding criminal charges or because of any non-final criminal disposition against him within the same jurisdiction, that possible bias, in fairness, must be made known to the jury. Even if the prosecutor has made no promises, either on the present case or on other pending criminal matters, the witness may hope for favorable treatment from the prosecutor if the witness presently testifies in a way that is helpful to the prosecution. And if that possibility exists, the jury should know about it. The jury may choose to believe the witness even after it learns of actual promises made or possible promises of leniency which may be made in the future, but the defendant, under the right guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution to confront witnesses against him, must have the opportunity at least to raise a doubt in the mind of the jury as to whether the prosecution witness is biased. It is not for the court to determine whether the cross-examination for bias would affect the jury's determination of the case.

Commonwealth v. Hill, 523 Pa. 270, 566 A.2d 252 (1989), reargument denied, 525 Pa. 505, 582 A.2d 857 (1990), citing, Commonwealth v. Evans, 511 Pa. 214, 512 A.2d 626-27 (1986)(emphasis added).

We have thoroughly reviewed the record and find no instance where defense counsel was prevented from presenting the bias of Hammer. While the trial court sustained several objections related to defense counsel's cross-examination of Hammer when counsel asked Hammer to read a count of the murder charge against him, (N.T. at 347) this ruling did not hinder Sattazahn's ability to show that Hammer was biased. Through counsel's cross-examination of Hammer, the jury heard that Hammer was allowed to plead to third-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against Sattazahn, even though the Commonwealth was at the time seeking the death penalty against Hammer for the murder of Boyer. (N.T. at 331). Thus, Hammer was able to avoid the imposition of the death penalty for his part in the murder because he had agreed to testify against Sattazahn. Additionally, due to Hammer's checkered criminal past for felony burglary, he faced potential jail time of 240 years, but because of the guilty plea and testimony against Sattazahn, he could be paroled for all of his crimes in nineteen years. (N.T. at 228-333). The jury heard more than sufficient evidence to raise bias and we therefore reject Sattazahn's claim that he is entitled to a new trial on this issue.

We now address...

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  • Com. v. Sattazahn, No. 509 CAP.
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    ...on retrial, after he had received a life sentence at his initial trial. This Court rejected such challenge, see Commonwealth v. Sattazahn, 563 Pa. 533, 763 A.2d 359 (2000),2 and this decision was sustained by the United States Supreme Court, see Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 537 U.S. 101, 123 ......
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