Commonwealth v. Baez

Citation554 Pa. 66,720 A.2d 711
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Orlando BAEZ, Appellant.
Decision Date23 November 1998
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

720 A.2d 711
554 Pa. 66

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
Orlando BAEZ, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued October 17, 1996.

Decided November 23, 1998.

Reargument Denied January 26, 1999.

720 A.2d 718
Thelia Jean Eaby, Lancater, for O. Baez

John A. Kenneff, Millersville, Robert A. Graci, Atty. Gen., for Com.



CASTILLE, Justice.

Following a jury trial in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, appellant was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Janice Williams.1 On March 27, 1993, following a sentencing hearing, the jury unanimously found two aggravating circumstances and further found that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the three mitigating circumstances.2 The jury then imposed the penalty of death. Subsequently, new counsel was appointed and post-verdict motions were filed. On February 5, 1996, the trial court denied appellant's post-verdict motions. Pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h), this Court has automatic jurisdiction to review the trial court's judgment of a sentence of death.

As in all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, this Court is required to independently undertake a review of the sufficiency of the evidence. 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). The standard for reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence is whether the evidence admitted at trial and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, is sufficient to support all the elements of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Carpenter, 511 Pa. 429, 435, 515 A.2d 531, 533-34 (1986).

Evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction for first-degree murder where the Commonwealth establishes that the defendant acted with a specific intent to kill, that a human being was unlawfully killed, that the person accused did the killing, and that the killing was done with deliberation. 18 Pa. C.S. § 2502(d); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 550, 599 A.2d 624, 626 (1991). After a review of the record, we find that the following evidence is sufficient to support appellant's conviction.

On the night of January 5, 1987, appellant and Henry Gibson ("Gibson") visited Janice Williams in her apartment on East King Street in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gibson testified that when he and appellant first arrived, they observed the victim's two children asleep on the couch. Subsequently, appellant asked to speak to Williams in the bedroom. Gibson, who remained in the living room, testified that approximately fifteen

720 A.2d 719
minutes later, he heard loud voices, a "thump," and the victim screaming, "he's killing me." Gibson immediately ran to the bedroom, where he saw appellant standing over the victim, stabbing her repeatedly with a knife. Gibson testified that both appellant and the victim were nude from the waist down. Upon noticing Gibson in the room, appellant threatened Gibson that if he did not leave, appellant would kill him as well. Gibson immediately exited the apartment

Approximately five minutes after Gibson exited the apartment and began walking towards his home, appellant caught up to him and tried to give him a knife with a broken handle. When Gibson refused to take the knife, appellant threw it down a nearby sewer drain. Appellant and Gibson walked together to appellant's residence, where appellant further threatened Gibson that if he ever said anything about what he had seen, appellant would implicate Gibson in the murder.

The next morning, the victim's young children discovered their mother's dead body and summoned a nearby pedestrian. After entering the apartment and observing the victim, the pedestrian called the police. The police arrived shortly thereafter and found the victim on her bed. An autopsy was conducted, revealing that the victim had suffered blunt force trauma injuries to her head and had been stabbed fifty-eight times in her chest, back and abdomen, fifteen times in her face, and twenty-eight times in her torso. Also, her throat had been slit.

On the front door of the victim's apartment, Lancaster County police officers collected a bloody fingerprint sample. Expert testimony established a match between this fingerprint and fingerprints that had been taken from appellant. During the autopsy of the victim, a pubic hair was recovered from the victim's vagina. Expert testimony established that this hair shared the same "microscopic characteristics" as hair samples taken from appellant in 1988 and 1992,3 and that it was "very unlikely" to find two individuals who shared the same microscopic characteristics. The testimony also established that the hair sample from the victim's vagina was inconsistent with Gibson's hair type.

In late 1991, over four years after the murder had occurred, Gibson informed police that appellant had killed the victim. Gibson testified that he reported the murder at that late date because he was tired of being threatened and afraid. In February of 1992, in spite of appellant's repeated denials of involvement and denials that he had ever been in the victim's apartment, appellant was arrested and charged with the murder. At the time of his arrest, appellant again denied that he had ever been in the victim's apartment or that he even knew the victim. However, at trial, appellant testified that he had engaged in consensual intercourse with the victim but that Gibson had subsequently killed her.

The aforementioned evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, is sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant deliberately stabbed the victim over one hundred times, including multiple stabbings on vital parts of the victim's body. In light of the overwhelming physical evidence, which corroborated Gibson's eyewitness testimony, the jury was entitled to disbelieve appellant's account of the night in question, which itself conflicted with appellant's prior accounts. The jury was entitled to infer appellant's specific intent to kill based on, inter alia, his use of a deadly weapon upon a vital part of the victim's body. See Commonwealth v. Butler, 446 Pa. 374, 378, 288 A.2d 800, 802 (1972). Thus, the evidence is sufficient to establish that appellant unlawfully and deliberately caused the victim's death. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(d); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 550, 599 A.2d 624, 626 (1991).


Appellant argues that the trial court erred by failing to suppress his post-arrest exculpatory statements denying the murder and professing his ignorance of the

720 A.2d 720
victim's address.4 Specifically, appellant urges that his post-arrest statements should have been suppressed because: (1) police detectives did not administer Miranda warnings to him before he made the statements in question; (2) the statements were involuntarily uttered; and, (3) the statements were improperly obtained after appellant specifically invoked his right to remain silent. In reviewing a ruling on a suppression motion, the standard of review is whether the factual findings and legal conclusions drawn therefrom are supported by the evidence. Commonwealth v. Bond, 539 Pa. 299, 305-07, 652 A.2d 308, 311 (1995). A suppression court's error regarding failure to suppress statements by the accused will not require reversal if the Commonwealth can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless. See Commonwealth v. Fay, 463 Pa. 158, 161, 344 A.2d 473, 474 (1975)

It is well established in Pennsylvania that volunteered or spontaneous utterances are admissible even though the declarant was not "Mirandized."5 Commonwealth v. Bracey, 501 Pa. 356, 369, 461 A.2d 775, 782 (1983); Commonwealth v. Yount, 455 Pa. 303, 314 A.2d 242 (1974); Commonwealth v. Clark, 454 Pa. 329, 311 A.2d 910, 913 (1973)(this Court held that statements were admissible when blurted out spontaneously while appellant was being given Miranda warnings).

Here, the record reveals that after Lancaster County police officers arrested appellant on February 24, 1992, they took him to the police station and placed him in a holding cell. Subsequently, officers moved appellant to an office in the detectives' division for questioning. As a detective began reading appellant his Miranda rights, appellant interrupted the detective, proclaimed his innocence and stated that he had never been to the victim's apartment. After this unsolicited statement, appellant made a telephone call lasting twenty-seven minutes. Subsequently, as detectives repeatedly tried to inform him that they could not discuss his case unless he knowingly waived his Miranda rights, appellant again proclaimed his innocence and asserted that he had never been to the victim's apartment. Although appellant's statements were made before he was fully "Mirandized," the record amply supports the suppression court's finding that the statements were spontaneously volunteered while investigators were attempting to give appellant his Miranda warnings and immediately after appellant completed his phone call. Therefore, the statements were properly admitted. Moreover, the trial court properly admitted several other exculpatory statements that appellant made to police before his arrest (and after he had been fully Mirandized) which were virtually identical in substance to the challenged statements. Hence, even if the challenged statements were improperly admitted, the error was harmless.

Appellant next argues that even if the statements were spontaneously uttered, they were nevertheless involuntarily uttered since they were the product of an inherently coercive environment. Specifically, appellant claims that the initial...

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