Com. v. Whitney

Decision Date15 July 1986
Citation511 Pa. 232,512 A.2d 1152
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Raymond WHITNEY, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Thomas W. Moore, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief/Appeals Div., William Boland, Arnold H. Gordon, Asst. Dist. Attys., for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, HUTCHINSON, ZAPPALA and PAPADAKOS, JJ.

OPINION ANNOUNCING THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT

McDERMOTT, Justice.

The appellant, Raymond Whitney, was convicted by a jury of two counts of burglary 1, two counts of robbery 2, two counts of possession of an instrument of crime--generally 3, terroristic threats 4, indecent assault 5, attempted rape 6, and murder in the first degree 7. These crimes were committed during an episode in which appellant invaded two adjoining homes. He robbed the occupant of the first home at knife point. He attempted to rape the female occupant of the second; he murdered the male occupant by the infliction of twenty-eight stab wounds. Following the jury's rendition of the verdicts of guilt a sentencing hearing was conducted in accordance with Section 9711 of the Sentencing Code 8, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711, resulting in a determination by the jury that the appellant should be sentenced to death. Post-verdict motions were denied and appellant was formally sentenced to death in connection with the first degree murder conviction in accordance with the jury's findings 9. Direct appeal from the judgment of sentence was taken to this Court. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(1) and § 722(4).

It is the practice of this Court in death penalty cases to review the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the conviction of murder in the first degree whether or not the appellant contests the issue. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26-27, n. 3, 454 A.2d 937, 942, n. 3 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 103 S.Ct. 2444, 77 L.Ed.2d 1327 (1983), reh. denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). The test to be applied in such review is whether, viewing all of the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, as verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the trier of fact to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 265, 361 A.2d 282 (1976).

The evidence adduced at trial disclosed that shortly before 4:00 A.M. on October 10, 1981, a man gained access to the second floor apartment of Juliana Minor through a window. The man, identified later that night by Ms. Minor as appellant, came into her bedroom where she lay in bed. Armed with a knife, he threatened to kill her if she wasn't quiet. He asked if she recognized him; she responded that she didn't. He then announced that he was in the "wrong" apartment. Nonetheless, he stole items from her jewelry box, cut her telephone wire, and soon thereafter left through a window onto a ledge.

Moments later appellant entered the apartment of Jehad Taha and Mahin Murtaza, husband and wife, just two doors away from Ms. Minor's apartment on the same floor. Realizing that someone was in the apartment, Mr. Taha got out of bed and went to the living room to investigate. Mrs. Murtaza heard someone hit her husband and she attempted to contact the police on the bedroom phone. Before she was able to get through she saw her husband at the bedroom door, blood running from his chest and face, with appellant standing behind him holding a knife to his neck. As Mrs. Murtaza hung up the phone appellant threw Mr. Taha to the bed and approached Mrs. Murtaza, holding his knife to her chest. Appellant demanded money and jewelry. She gave him jewelry from a candle case; appellant forcibly removed what jewelry the victims were wearing. He then announced his desire to rape Mrs. Murtaza and tore off her brassiere. Before carrying these intentions further he repeated his demand for money, and was told by Mrs. Murtaza that their money was in the living room in her purse. Appellant ordered Mr. Taha up from the bed and pushed him toward the living room. Still bleeding Mr. Taha headed for the bathroom at which point appellant attacked and stabbed him again. Appellant forced Mr. Taha into the living room where Mrs. Murtaza emptied the small amount of change in her purse onto the floor. Appellant expressed his disappointment. In a relaxed and "very cool" manner he opened the refrigerator, took out a glass container and drank some water. Then he advanced on Mrs. Murtaza, hugged her, touched her breast and reiterated his intent to have intercourse with her. He struck her and threw her to the floor next to her husband. Mr. Taha protested, but was struck in the face and ordered to put his neck down. Appellant then stabbed him again and repeatedly stated that he was going to kill Mr. Taha and then would rape her. At this point appellant opened his pants and drew out his penis. Mr. Taha arose and began to scuffle with appellant; Mrs. Murtaza ran out of the apartment and onto the street where she saw two police officers, Sergeant Wagner and Officer Miller. She directed them to the apartment where the police officers observed appellant crouched over Mr. Taha pulling a knife out of Taha's chest. Appellant was immediately arrested. Mr. Taha died subsequently as a result of twenty-eight stab wounds to his body.

We are satisfied that the evidence is sufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilt.

Although he did not contest the sufficiency of the evidence appellant does contend that the weight of the evidence clearly established his diminished capacity due to intoxication, and therefore negated his intent to commit first degree murder.

Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge. However, evidence of alcohol or drug intoxication may be introduced in a murder case to negate the element of specific intent and thereby reduce the crime to a lesser degree of murder. 18 Pa.C.S. § 308 10; Commonwealth v. Coleman, 482 Pa. 581, 394 A.2d 474 (1978); Commonwealth v. Graves, 461 Pa. 118, 334 A.2d 661 (1975).

In support of his position appellant cites the testimony of defense witnesses that he had been drinking and had become intoxicated at a party earlier that evening. In addition, Ms. Minor had stated that appellant's walk was "woozy" and she thought his speech was "funny". The police officer who transported appellant to police headquarters testified that he smelled alcohol on his breath.

On the other hand, there was substantial evidence that appellant had the capacity to possess the specific intent to murder Jehad Taha. First of all, he had sufficient command of his body to allow him to travel along the second floor ledge of the apartment building, to think about stealing valuables from Ms. Minor and cutting the phone wire despite realizing he was in the "wrong" apartment. He demonstrated the capacity of mind to direct Mrs. Murtaza as to how to respond when an operator called during the incident. Furthermore, Sergeant Wagner and Officer Miller both testified that while at the scene appellant did not stumble or stagger; and neither detected any odor of alcohol on his breath, nor believed that he was under the influence of alcohol.

Whether appellant lacked the capacity to possess the requisite specific intent was an issue for the jury. Commonwealth v. Colbert, 476 Pa. 531, 383 A.2d 490 (1978). A trial court should award a new trial on the ground that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence only when the jury's verdict is so contrary to the evidence as to shock one's sense of justice and the award of a new trial is imperative so that right may be given another opportunity to prevail. See: Commonwealth v. Datesman, 343 Pa.Super. 176, 494 A.2d 413 (1985); Commonwealth v. Sample, 321 Pa.Super. 457, 468 A.2d 799 (1983). The trial court's decision on such a motion for new trial is committed to its sound discretion and an appellate court will not disturb its decision absent an abuse of that discretion. Commonwealth v. Pronkoskie, 498 Pa. 245, 445 A.2d 1203 (1982). The jury's decision that appellant possessed the specific intent to commit murder, inherent in its verdict, is supported by substantial evidence. See Commonwealth v. Fairell, 476 Pa. 128, 381 A.2d 1258 (1977). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial on these grounds.

Appellant also asserts that he lacked the requisite mental capacity to make an intelligent, informed, knowing and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights 11. Accordingly, he contends that the court erred in refusing to grant his motion to suppress an incriminating statement given to the police hours after the crime.

In Commonwealth v. Cortez, 507 Pa. 529, 491 A.2d 111 (1985), our standard of review of defendant's appeal of an adverse suppression ruling was described as follows:

When we review the ruling of a suppression court we must determine whether the factual findings are supported by the record. When it is a defendant who has appealed, we must consider only the evidence of the prosecution and so much of the evidence for the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted. Assuming that there is support in the record, we are bound by the facts as are found and we may reverse the suppression court only if the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are in error.

Id. at 532, 491 A.2d at 112.

At the suppression hearing appellant presented testimony from two friends who stated he was drunk at a party earlier that evening. On cross-examination the officer who transported appellant to police headquarters testified that he smelled alcohol on appellant's breath. In addition, the defense called a clinical psychologist, Dr. Gerald Cooke, to testify as to the appellant's mental state. Dr. Cooke testified that when he went over the Miranda warnings with appellant, he did have a basic concrete understanding of the...

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    ...were not calculated to inflame the passions of the jury, but merely summarized the evidence presented at trial. See Commonwealth v. Whitney, 511 Pa. 232, 512 A.2d 1152 (1986). From their conduct and conversation with each other and among acquaintances, an inference could fairly be drawn tha......
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