Com. v. Williams

Decision Date21 April 1994
Citation640 A.2d 1251,537 Pa. 1
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Kenneth J. WILLIAMS, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

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

OPINION OF THE COURT

FLAHERTY, Justice.

Following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, appellant, Kenneth John Williams, Sr., was found guilty of murder of the first degree, 1 robbery, 2 theft by unlawful taking or disposition, 3 and receiving stolen property. 4 A sentencing hearing took place after which the jury recommended that appellant be sentenced to death, finding, as an aggravating circumstance which outweighed any mitigating circumstances, that murder was committed in the act of the commission of a felony, i.e. robbery. On June 29, 1990, the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County imposed the death sentence in addition to a consecutive sentence of five to ten years on the robbery and related offenses. The present direct appeal ensued. We affirm.

Appellant first argues that the evidence was insufficient to support a verdict of guilt of robbery. This court is required in capital cases to review the sufficiency of the evidence, particularly with respect to the first degree murder conviction. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26 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) rehearing denied, 463 U.S. 1236, 104 S.Ct. 31, 77 L.Ed.2d 1452 (1983). The applicable standard of review is whether, viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, a jury could find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Bryant, 524 Pa. 564, 567, 574 A.2d 590, 592 (1990). Therefore, the evidence surrounding the murder and the robbery and related convictions will be reviewed.

The crimes of murder and robbery have distinct elements of proof. To prove murder of the first degree, the Commonwealth must demonstrate that the defendant killed with a specific intent to kill. 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(d). The Commonwealth must show: 1) that a human being has unlawfully been killed; 2) that the person did the killing; and, 3) that the killing was done in an intentional, deliberate and premeditated manner. Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 599 A.2d 624 (1991). If a deadly force is knowingly applied by the defendant to another, the specific intent to kill is as evident as if the defendant stated the intent to kill at the time the force was applied. Commonwealth v. Meredith, 490 Pa. 303, 416 A.2d 481 (1980). To prove robbery, the Commonwealth must prove that, in the course of committing a theft, the defendant either inflicted serious bodily injury on another or "physically removed property of another by force." Commonwealth v. Breakiron, 524 Pa. 282, 297, 571 A.2d 1035, 1042, cert. denied Breakiron v. Pennsylvania, 498 U.S. 881, 111 S.Ct. 224, 112 L.Ed.2d 179 (1990).

The record reflects that the evidence was more than sufficient to support verdicts of both crimes. On October 25, 1983, the body of Edward Miller, a single Mennonite long-distance truck driver from Dundee, Ohio, was found shot to death in a truck trailer located at the Trexler Truck Stop in Kuhnsville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Miller had received one gunshot in the back. The body was discovered by three of Miller's brothers who had come to Pennsylvania from Ohio to search for their brother at motels and truck stops when they had not heard from Miller for a few days. They had reported their brother missing to the Ohio and Pennsylvania State Police, and Pennsylvania State Trooper Karvan responded to the Trexler Truck Stop. Trooper Karvan, in the presence of Miller's brothers, discovered the body. Further investigation of the trailer revealed that there were three bullet holes in the trailer.

An autopsy disclosed that: the cause of death was a single .38 caliber gunshot wound to the back; the manner of death was homicide; and, while the date of death could not be determined with absolute certainty, the date of death was approximately October 20, 1983. Forensic pathologist Isidor Mihalakis, M.D., testified that Miller's death was caused when a single .38 caliber bullet pierced his spinal column, pierced his heart, ricocheted off his breast bone and subsequently pierced his heart a second time. Mihalakis established that Miller's death occurred on or about October 20, 1983.

Credible testimonial evidence was produced at trial which traced the movements of appellant prior to and subsequent to October 20, 1983 and placed appellant with Miller. On October 10, 1983, appellant obtained a ride from truck driver Dennis Knowles at a truck stop in Florida. Appellant rode with Knowles until October 14th, when he was dropped off in Kings Dominion, Virginia. Appellant then obtained a ride with another truck driver, James W. Sacco, and traveled with him to the Truck Stop of America near Elkton, Maryland. He then obtained a ride with a truck driver, known only as Jim, for two days from Maryland through Pennsylvania and on to Youngstown, Ohio. When Jim's truck broke down in Ohio, appellant took a ride with an unknown trucker eastward to a rest area on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Here, appellant encountered the victim, Edward Miller, in the early morning hours of October 18, 1983.

Appellant was the last person to ride with Miller. He rode east with Miller and spent the night of October 18 sleeping in Miller's truck. Miller proceeded in the morning of October 19 to Port Jersey, New Jersey, where he unloaded his trailer as appellant slept in the cab of Miller's truck. In mid-afternoon on October 19th, they arrived at Kuhn's Motel in Kuhnsville, Pennsylvania, where Miller checked into the motel and they both spent the night with appellant sleeping in Miller's room.

Several weeks after the October 25th discovery of Miller's body, police officials learned that Miller's telephone credit card and other charge cards were being used in the midwest and southwestern sections of the United States. The use of the credit card led to the investigation of one Monica Mannion, a female truck driver from Illinois. Pursuant to the information provided by Mannion, the police were able to determine that she had encountered appellant on October 20 1983 in the area of Bloomsburg, New Jersey. Mannion related to the police that appellant contacted her via Citizens Band (CB) radio and that she followed him from Bloomsburg, New Jersey to the Trexler Truck Stop on the night of October 20, 1983. She testified that on the night of October 20th, appellant was alone and operating the tractor-trailer rig identified as Miller's rig. Mannion further stated that when appellant reached the Trexler Truck Stop, he "bobtailed" 5 the tractor and parked it at the nearby Peter Pan Diner, after having disconnected the trailer on the lot of the Trexler Truck Stop. 6 Mannion positively identified the tractor and trailer in the same locations as they were found on the night Miller's body was discovered.

After meeting Mannion on October 20th, appellant accompanied her west in her rig to Illinois and gave her a flashlight, later identified as being the property of Miller. Telephone calls from appellant to Ms. Mannion were charged to Miller's credit cards. Appellant also possessed other personal property belonging to Miller, identified by members of Miller's family. Such property consisted of a trucker's log book, a baseball-type cap, a suitcase, and other items.

Based upon the circumstantial evidence mentioned above, criminal complaints were filed against appellant on December 7, 1983. About one week later, the Pennsylvania State Police learned of appellant's incarceration on other charges in Louisville, Kentucky. Upon disposition of the charges in Kentucky, appellant waived extradition and was returned to Lehigh County. Appellant was informed of his rights and was afforded all proper process due to him.

During the next three weeks, appellant made incriminating statements to the state police at the Lehigh County Prison, the substance of which corroborated much of the circumstantial evidence which the police had uncovered. The statements culminated with appellant's admission that he shot Miller in the back.

Appellant gave a detailed confession concerning Miller's homicide to Troopers Levisky and Gerken. Appellant stated that on the night of October 19, 1983, he and Miller had stayed in Kuhn's Motel in Kuhnsville. The appellant indicated that the next day, while at breakfast in the adjacent Peter Pan Diner, they encountered a trucker named Wilkens who agreed to get Miller a load back to Ohio from Philadelphia. Miller and appellant entered the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Miller's truck, followed by Wilkens operating his own rig. The two trucks became separated and Miller and appellant continued to travel on the turnpike. Just prior to the Delaware Valley interchange, appellant convinced Miller he would get Miller a load if the trailer was clean of debris. So, Miller pulled off to clean the trailer.

Miller climbed inside the trailer with a flashlight and appellant climbed in after him. While Miller was in the front right corner of the trailer, he dropped his flashlight and bent down to pick it up. At this moment, appellant, who was in the middle of the trailer, shot Miller in the back with a .38 caliber handgun. Appellant stated he did not know why he shot Miller. He explained that "... sometimes I just do things like that ..." and "the thing that doesn't make sense is that Edward Miller was the nicest person that I ever met."

After the shooting, appellant closed the rear door of the trailer. He drove the rig to the Quakertown area and telephoned his wife,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
126 cases
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • March 29, 2011
    ...in furtherance of his defense strategy. See Commonwealth v. Laird, 555 Pa. 629, 726 A.2d 346, 353–54 (1999); Commonwealth v. Williams, 537 Pa. 1, 640 A.2d 1251, 1264 (1994). Moreover, addressing the substance of the mental health evidence offered by Appellant, the Commonwealth argues that t......
  • Com. v. Bryant
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • August 18, 2004
    ...expert would prove that [appellant] did not stab Mr. Chapman fifteen times in his cell." PCRA slip op. at 10. In Commonwealth v. Williams, 537 Pa. 1, 640 A.2d 1251, 1265 (1994), this Court noted the well-settled rule that, in addition to the ineffectiveness test, "[w]hen a defendant claims ......
  • Com. v. Williams, No. 430 CAP.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2008
    ...of a new penalty hearing. The factual circumstances underlying Appellant's judgments of sentence are set forth in Commonwealth v. Williams, 537 Pa. 1, 640 A.2d 1251 (1994). Briefly, Appellant shot and killed the victim, truck driver Edward Miller, on or around October 20, 1983, in the trail......
  • Commonwealth v. Masker
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • December 15, 2011
    ...designed to advance appellant's cause.”); Commonwealth v. Copenhefer, 553 Pa. 285, 719 A.2d 242, 253 (1998); Commonwealth v. Williams, 537 Pa. 1, 640 A.2d 1251, 1265 (1994); see also Commonwealth v. Smith, 544 Pa. 219, 675 A.2d 1221, 1230 (1996); Commonwealth v. Yarris, 519 Pa. 571, 549 A.2......
  • 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