Commonwealth of Pa. v. Chamberlain

Citation30 A.3d 381
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appelleev.Terry Ray CHAMBERLAIN, Appellant.
Decision Date14 October 2011
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

30 A.3d 381

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Terry Ray CHAMBERLAIN, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued April 13, 2011.Decided Oct. 14, 2011.

[30 A.3d 389]

Heidi Fisher Eakin, Lemoyne, George H. Matangos, Harrisburg, Costopoulos, Foster & Fields, for Terry Ray Chamberlain.John Scott Robinette, Towanda, William Ross Stoycos, Amy Zapp, Harrisburg, PA Office of Attorney General, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.
Justice BAER.

Appellant Terry Ray Chamberlain appeals from the sentence of death imposed on May 13, 1994, after a jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder, burglary, and possessing an instrument of crime. On direct appeal to this Court, we held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying a pretrial motion for continuance to allow Appellant to obtain DNA testing of certain blood evidence. Commonwealth v. Chamberlain, 557 Pa. 34, 731 A.2d 593 (1999) ( Chamberlain I ). To remedy this abuse of discretion, we remanded the case to the trial court to afford

[30 A.3d 390]

Appellant the opportunity to conduct DNA tests. The trial court has completed the proceedings on remand, and we now consider the remaining claims of Appellant's direct appeal. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the judgment of sentence.

We set forth the factual circumstances of this double murder in our prior opinion in Appellant's direct appeal, Chamberlain I. Briefly, Appellant's estranged wife Sherri Chamberlain and her boyfriend Greg Inman, with whom she lived, were found dead at their residence in the early morning hours of August 22, 1991. Each victim had been shot multiple times. Sherri sustained five gunshot wounds, one of which was a shot to the chest that would have been fatal in a few minutes, and the last of which was an execution-style shot to the head that killed her instantly. Greg Inman had been shot four times, including one execution-style shot to the head.

The evidence demonstrated that the shooter gained entry by throwing a typewriter through a sliding glass door. An examination of the residence revealed multiple fired bullets and bullet fragments. There was blood throughout the living room and kitchen, where the victims were killed, including on the floors, walls, light switch, telephone, and sliding glass door. Additionally, blood was found on a washcloth and vanity surface in an upstairs bathroom. The state police collected blood evidence from the following locations in the victims' home (which will collectively be referred to as the blood evidence): the sliding glass door; the refrigerator door; the kitchen floor; the bathroom vanity; a light switch; the living room floor; the stairs; the railing along the stairs; and a living room wall. 1

No forensic evidence linked Appellant to the murder, and police were unable to locate the murder weapon. The Commonwealth's sole direct evidence connecting Appellant to the murders was the testimony of Kim Ulrich. Mrs. Ulrich was Sherri's friend and neighbor. She testified that she was awakened by the telephone at 2:24 a.m. on August 22, 1991, and when she picked up the receiver the caller said “call an ambulance—Terry shot Greg and me.” Mrs. Ulrich recognized the caller's voice as Sherri Chamberlain's. When Mrs. Ulrich asked “Sherri?” the caller failed to respond. Mrs. Ulrich explained that the telephone call lasted approximately 2.5 seconds, and she did not hear any background noise. She further testified that she had spoken to Sherri on the telephone and face-to-face over 100 times within the last year and was certain the caller was Sherri. Mrs. Ulrich immediately told her husband about the telephone call. As Mrs. Ulrich called 911, Mr. Ulrich, a game warden, hurried to Sherri's and Greg Inman's residence, where he discovered the victims' bodies about five minutes after the telephone call. As he drove to the residence, which was 150 yards from his own home, Mr. Ulrich did not hear any gunshots or see anyone leaving the residence. According to his subsequent trial testimony, when he arrived at the home he could smell gunpowder in the air. He observed the telephone handset on the floor next to

[30 A.3d 391]

Sherri. Sometime after the state police and the coroner arrived at the scene to investigate, the coroner used the telephone that was next to Sherri's body, thus destroying any evidence that could have been obtained from the telephone's redial function, which, as explored later herein, became relevant to Appellant's defense. Police immediately apprehended Appellant at his home at 3:55 a.m., where they called him on the telephone, asked him to walk to the end of the driveway to surrender, and arrested him.

A criminal complaint was filed against Appellant alleging that he forcibly broke into the victims' home and murdered them by inflicting multiple gunshot wounds. On August 28, 1991, Appellant sought a dismissal of the complaint at a preliminary hearing because the Commonwealth failed to allege all of the essential elements of the crime; specifically, that the victims were human beings. Curiously, the district justice agreed with Appellant and dismissed the complaint. The Commonwealth immediately re-arrested Appellant. At a preliminary hearing held on September 6, 1991, the district justice granted Appellant's demurrer, finding that the Commonwealth failed to establish a prima facie case, and again dismissed the complaint.

The Commonwealth applied for the summoning of an investigative grand jury, and a grand jury was impaneled. On May 11, 1993, the Bradford County Investigating Grand Jury recommended that Appellant be charged with two counts of criminal homicide and one count each of burglary, criminal trespass, and possessing instruments of crime. Accordingly, on May 19, 1993, another criminal complaint was issued against Appellant, premised on the same conduct alleged in the prior two complaints and containing statutory references to the specific crimes with which the grand jury recommended Appellant be charged. Appellant was promptly arrested for the third time.

On March 25, 1994, about a month before trial was scheduled to begin, the trial court conducted a pre-trial conference at which defense counsel learned for the first time that although the police had requested DNA analysis of the blood evidence, such analysis had never been conducted. Appellant requested a continuance in order to pursue independent DNA testing of the blood evidence, which he surmised would take about six weeks. See Trial Ct. Opinion, Oct. 7, 1996, at 45. The Commonwealth responded that any blood evidence that was sent to the lab for blood typing was probably destroyed. The trial court denied Appellant's request, concluding that there was adequate time for Appellant to conduct DNA testing before the start of trial. Id. (noting that trial was scheduled to begin April 25, 1994, actually commenced May 3, 1994, and that the defense did not present evidence until May 6, 1994, “precisely six weeks after the defense admittedly knew that it might want to have DNA testing performed”); Trial Ct. Findings, Nov. 19, 2010, at 5 (“The court refused the continuance, concluding that the six weeks requested to obtain DNA testing could be accommodated by the existing trial schedule.”). At no time prior to trial, however, did the defense ask the trial court to order production of the blood evidence from the Commonwealth. See Trial Ct. Findings, Nov. 19, 2010, at 8, n. 1.2

[30 A.3d 392]

The case proceeded to trial. With regard to physical evidence in the victims' home, the Commonwealth presented evidence that each victim was shot and killed in a manner that suggested the shooter knew and bore ill will toward the victims. Additionally, the Commonwealth presented evidence that the killer fired multiple shots and then entered the bathroom to wash away blood, thus explaining how Sherri Chamberlain had the opportunity to place the telephone call to Mrs. Ulrich before the killer returned and delivered the fatal shots to her chest and head. The Commonwealth introduced ballistics evidence that a live round of ammunition found in the residence was from a .38 special Smith & Wesson and that all discharged shells and bullet fragments were fired from the same weapon. The Commonwealth did not introduce the blood evidence or rely on the results of the blood-type analysis.

Regarding the Commonwealth's evidence that Appellant was the murderer, the Commonwealth relied primarily on Kim Ulrich's testimony about the telephone call she received, and her husband's observations of the crime scene shortly thereafter. The Commonwealth also presented circumstantial evidence to corroborate the identification of Appellant as the killer. Specifically, the Commonwealth established that the murders occurred on the day before Sherri Chamberlain would have been eligible to obtain a no-fault divorce; her death on August 22, 1991, meant that all jointly owned property between Sherri and Appellant would be solely owned by Appellant. Further, Appellant's and Sherri's children were due to return to Sherri's physical custody for the school year. The Commonwealth also introduced evidence of Appellant's malice and ill-will toward Sherri and Greg Inman, including filings in the couple's divorce proceedings and the testimony of a former co-worker, James Janowsky. Mr. Janowsky testified that he informed Appellant that he knew an individual who may have been willing to use violence to convince Sherri and Mr. Inman to terminate their relationship. Specifically, Mr. Janowsky explained that he had used this individual's services in the past in connection with his own marital dispute, and at that time, this person had been willing to “have somebody ... put a pillow over ... [Mr. Janowsky's] wife's head” or “slap her around a little bit.” Trial Ct. Opinion, Oct. 7, 1996, at 8; N.T. May 3, 1994, Vol. XIII, at 188. Mr. Janowsky...

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    • 17 Diciembre 2013
    ...objections, which the trial court denied. We review the trial court's rulings for abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Chamberlain, 612 Pa. 107, 30 A.3d 381, 408 (2011). Appellant claims the alleged misconduct denied him due process and the right to a fair trial. We disagree. Although a pro......
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