Com. v. Williams

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation896 A.2d 523
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. James T. WILLIAMS, Appellant.
Decision Date21 April 2006
896 A.2d 523
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
James T. WILLIAMS, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted March 10, 2004.
Decided April 21, 2006.

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Daniel Silverman, Esq., for StandCounsel.

James Williams, for James T. Williams.

Maria Lisa Dantos, Esq., Amy Zapp, Esq., Allentown, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.



Justice EAKIN.

On August 21, 2001, appellant, James T. Williams, a.k.a. "Mathematics,"1 was convicted of first degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery,2 and was sentenced to death. This direct appeal arises pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(1) (automatic direct appeal from death sentence to this Court). We affirm.

On May 29, 1995, Richard White, a.k.a. "Pookie," telephoned Lamar Peterson, a friend of appellant, seeking to buy a large quantity of marijuana to replenish the inventory for his drug dealing operation. Peterson concluded that if White had sold all his marijuana, White would have a significant amount of cash on hand. Peterson suggested to appellant that they rob White through a "stinger;" Peterson would engage White in a drug transaction, during which appellant would suddenly appear and rob them both. Peterson and appellant would reconnect later and share in the pelf.

Peterson, appellant, and Curtis French set out to find White, but Peterson could not remember the exact location of White's apartment. The three returned to Peterson's apartment where they informed Ralph Logan, a.k.a. "Rah-Rah," and Luis Avila, a.k.a. "T-Bone," of the plan. The group decided to make another attempt to find White. This time, Avila called White and informed him he would soon drop by to purchase marijuana. Avila, Logan, and appellant set out on another robbery attempt; however, this too was unsuccessful after the trio went to the wrong apartment. Again, appellant and his cohorts returned to Peterson's apartment.

Giving the "stinger" one last try, Avila called White again and ascertained his apartment's exact location; appellant, Avila, and Logan again set out to rob him. White was on his balcony when he saw the trio approaching; White tucked a pistol in the rear of his shorts and headed to the street, where he encountered the group. Appellant demanded White take him to his apartment and hand over his cash. When White refused, pleading with his arms in the air that his children were inside sleeping, appellant pulled out a MAC 10 automatic weapon and fired two bullets into

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White's chest and a third into his thigh as he fell to the ground.

With White lying in the street, the group fled back to Peterson's apartment. Upon their arrival, appellant informed Peterson that because White was uncooperative, he "wetted him lovely," i.e., appellant shot him. N.T. Trial, 7/20/01, at 1891. The other robbers also testified that appellant bragged about shooting White.

Later that summer, Peterson and appellant were arrested in Baltimore by the FBI for an unrelated bank robbery. Facing federal charges, Peterson told authorities of appellant's role in the robbery and murder of White. Avila, French, and Logan were also arrested and each corroborated Peterson's account. The three later testified appellant used the same weapon in many subsequent bank robberies. Photographs in Peterson's possession at the time of his arrest depicted appellant, Peterson, French, and Logan; one showed appellant posing with the MAC 10 used to kill White.

In November, 1996, appellant was convicted in federal court of robbery and was sentenced to 687 months federal incarceration. Having already filed first degree murder charges against appellant, Lehigh County prosecutors monitored appellant's federal prosecution and attended portions of his federal trial. N.T. Pretrial Hearing, 2/03/00, at 50. Appellant was ultimately transferred to a federal prison in Colorado; Lehigh prosecutors sought extradition. This request was delayed because appellant had previously filed homicide charges pending against him in New Jersey, which was also attempting to secure him. Eventually appellant was transferred to Lehigh County.

Despite repeated warnings and recommendations from the court to the contrary, appellant represented himself during pretrial hearings and at trial. At trial, and with standby counsel assisting when appellant permitted, appellant attempted to undermine the credibility of his accusers, but took the opportunity to personally attack Commonwealth prosecutors, officers, and criminal justice personnel. See N.T. Pretrial Hearing, 10/12/00, at 4 (appellant repeatedly slurred one black prosecutor as "house n* * * *r" and lead prosecutor as conspirator and liar).

Since the majority of the Commonwealth's witnesses were co-conspirators in numerous robberies and were currently serving time for other crimes, appellant harangued each about the reduced sentences they received in exchange for their cooperation with the Commonwealth. See, e.g., N.T. Trial, 7/23/01, at 2197-98, 2205-09, 2213-14; id., 7/24/01, at 2407-09; id., 7/27/01, at 3307-08. Appellant suggested French was the triggerman in White's murder, and maintained a statewide conspiracy was afoot wherein the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office, numerous police departments, prison staff employees, and even appointed standby defense counsel were acting in concert.

Police came into possession of the murder weapon after a failed robbery attempt by appellant, Peterson, French, and another individual. As was their typical strategy, the group tried to rob a drug dealer but were unsuccessful when the dealer brandished a weapon; French dropped the machine gun as the three fled for their lives. Ballistics tests revealed the gun recovered was used in White's murder. This same weapon was also linked to the bank robbery appellant was convicted of in federal court. The car used in the perpetration of White's murder was also tracked down by police; it had been rented by an associate of appellant, and had a dent in the fender consistent with the strike of a bullet. Testimony revealed that when appellant shot White, one of the bullets exited

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White's body and ricocheted off the getaway car. Id., 7/24/01, at 2539-40.

In addition to the physical evidence, the Commonwealth offered expert medical testimony consistent with its other witnesses' version of the killing, particularly the fact that White was shot while his arms were raised. Id., 7/23/01, at 2270, 2293-94. The Commonwealth also presented David Miller, an inmate at Lehigh County Prison, who testified appellant admitted to him he had killed somebody and was seeking Miller's legal advice concerning his case. Id., 7/26/01, at 3078.

Besides soliciting Miller's assistance, appellant spoke to another inmate, Louis Washington, about having one of Washington's family members provide an alibi for appellant's whereabouts on the night of White's murder. See id., 7/30/01, at 3584-87 ("So then [appellant] offered me some money, and he offered my family some money to have my mother be his alibi...."). Coached by appellant, this woman was to testify appellant was with her during the homicide, and because she had no criminal record or prior involvement with appellant, her story would be believed over appellant's criminal cohorts. After being threatened by appellant, Washington told the Commonwealth of appellant's fabrication plans. As a result, and at the meeting arranged by appellant to "go over" this testimony, Washington's mother was portrayed by state Trooper Regina Stafford; the Commonwealth had previously secured warrants to record the conversations. During the conversation, appellant orchestrated a time sequence placing him with Washington's mother at the time of White's murder, and informed her exactly what she was expected to say.

At trial, appellant called Washington to authenticate an affidavit exonerating appellant which Washington had signed; Washington testified he signed the affidavit only after being threatened. N.T. Trial, 7/30/01, at 3549-62. Appellant attacked Washington's credibility and the suggested alibi fabrication story; on cross-examination, the Commonwealth further explored the fabrication story. After appellant again tried to discredit Washington by alleging he invented the alibi story to curry favor with the Commonwealth, the prosecution was granted permission, in rebuttal, to verify Washington's version of events. Officer Stafford testified to the alibi plot, and the tape recording of the conversation was played for the jury. Appellant was convicted on all charges.

Appellant again represented himself during the penalty hearing, asking the jury to consider his character and the circumstances surrounding the crime, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(e)(8), and his allegedly minor criminal record, id., § 9711(e)(1). Appellant argued he was not a violent person and made repeated attacks on the character of the victim, i.e., the victim was armed, a neglectful parent, and a notorious drug dealer. The Commonwealth offered the jury two aggravating circumstances, namely, appellant's history of violent felonies, id., § 9711(d)(9), and that appellant committed the murder while in the course of a felony, id., § 9711(d)(6). The jury found the Commonwealth proved both aggravating circumstances, and rejected all appellant's proposed mitigating evidence; appellant was sentenced to death.

Reordered, but taken verbatim from his brief, these issues are raised by appellant:3

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Did the trial court err in denying appellant's Motion to Dismiss under former Rule 1100 and the Interstate Agreement on Detainers where trial commenced approximately five (5) years after appellant was...

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