Commonwealth v. Brown

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJustice ORIE MELVIN did not participate in the decision of this case.
Citation52 A.3d 1139
Decision Date21 August 2012
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Dwayne BROWN, Appellant.

52 A.3d 1139

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
Dwayne BROWN, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued Sept. 14, 2010.
Decided Aug. 21, 2012.


[52 A.3d 1142]


Paul M. George, McKinney & George, Philadelphia, for Dwayne Brown.

Peter Rosalsky, Defender Association of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, for Appellant Amicus Curiae, Defender Association of Philadelphia.


Hugh J. Burns Jr., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, Suzan Willcox, Plymouth Meeting, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

OPINION

Justice TODD*.

In this appeal, our Court is presented with two questions: (1) whether a defendant's convictions for first-degree murder and other crimes which rest solely on subsequently recanted out-of-court statements given to police violate the due process guarantees of either the United States or Pennsylvania Constitutions; and (2) whether the confessions of a former co-defendant should have been admitted as evidence as statements against interest under Pa.R.E. 804(b)(3). After careful consideration, we hold the recanting witnesses' out-of-court statements to the police were sufficient to sustain Appellant's convictions against a due process challenge. However, because we also find that the trial court erred by not allowing other portions of the co-defendant's confessions to be entered into evidence as statements against interest, we are constrained to vacate Appellant's convictions and remand for a new trial.

I. Background

The following pertinent factual and procedural history is necessary to understand the issues presented by this appeal. In the evening hours of December 4, 2000, at or around 8:43 p.m., a group of men were assembled outside the Cleveland Minimarket (“Minimarket”), located at the intersection of Cleveland and York Streets in the North Philadelphia neighborhood. Abutting the southern border of the Minimarket was a vacant lot. Immediately behind the Minimarket, adjoining its western side, was a six-foot-wide alleyway which exited onto York Street. The men congregated outside of the Minimarket were involved in a dice game, played on the sidewalk which lay between the eastern side of the Minimarket and Cleveland Street (“Cleveland Street sidewalk”).

As the dice game concluded, three of the players, Anthony “Manny” Williams, Keita “Ta Ta” Lacey, and Donald McCoy a/k/a “Don King,” walked up the Cleveland Street sidewalk and turned left onto the sidewalk which lay between the northern side of the minimarket and York Street (“York Street sidewalk”). The three men stopped near the corner of the two sidewalks

[52 A.3d 1143]

where a payphone was located, as McCoy decided to make a phone call. While McCoy was talking on the phone, with Williams and Lacey standing nearby, armed gunmen, who had covered the lower portions of their faces, rushed towards the trio and opened fire. All three men were struck during the ensuing hail of bullets. There was no evidence that any of the shooting victims fired back at their assailants during this episode.

After the shooters fled, bystanders used their cars to transport the victims to nearby Temple Hospital. Two of the injured men, Lacey and Williams, were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The Philadelphia Medical Examiner later determined, after examining a bullet taken from Lacey's body, that Lacey died of a gunshot wound to his left hip inflicted by a .44 caliber bullet. The Medical Examiner concluded that Williams died from heavy internal bleeding caused by a .38/.357 1 caliber bullet.2 McCoy was shot in the right side of his abdomen; additionally, a spent .44 caliber round was recovered from the inside of his jacket. McCoy underwent emergency surgery, and he subsequently made a full recovery.

Officer Kevin Conaway, who responded to the report of the shooting, found six spent shell casings at the scene. Ballistics testing revealed that all six empty cartridges were ejected by the firing of a single “9 mm” firearm, which Officer Lay opined was either a “Glock” or “Smith and Wesson” model. A 9 mm. semiautomatic pistol was also found by Officer Conaway, lodged underneath Williams' body as it lay on the sidewalk. Testing of this weapon indicated it was not the source of the spent 9 millimeter shell casings. Additionally, a bullet fragment of undetermined origin was discovered intermixed with the spent shell casings. Further, a bullet strike mark was observed by one of the investigating officers on the wall behind the payphone where McCoy was standing. Based on his examination of the totality of the recovered physical evidence, Officer Lay opined at trial that three separate guns had been discharged during the shooting episode. Officer Lay testified that the .44 caliber round recovered from McCoy's jacket and Lacey's body was most likely fired by the same .44 caliber revolver; the .38/.357 magnum round recovered from Williams' body was probably fired by a .38/.357 caliber revolver; and the spent 9mm cartridges were ejected during the firing of a semiautomatic weapon. 3 The actual guns used in the shootings were never recovered by the police.

Although a crowd gathered near the scene in the shooting's immediate aftermath, no one came forward to offer police any information. Consequently, the investigation was at a standstill for over a month and a half, until, on January 23, 2001, an individual called the police station and requested to speak with the homicide detective who was overseeing the investigation into the shootings—Detective Gerald Lynch. After the individual on the

[52 A.3d 1144]

phone told Detective Lynch that he was an eyewitness to the shooting, and, also, that he knew one of the victims, Williams, Detective Lynch asked him to come to the homicide division and talk with him about the investigation. The individual complied—presenting himself to Detective Lynch as “John Garvin,” N.T. Trial, 2/2/06, at 157; however, the individual was not, in fact, John Garvin, but, rather, his younger brother David Garvin.

Detective Lynch testified at trial that he took Garvin upstairs to an interview room and asked him a series of questions, which the detective memorialized in his own handwriting, along with Garvin's answers. Detective Lynch had Garvin sign the bottom of each page of the statement, in addition to an “adoption attestation form” at the end of the statement, which is an affirmance by the signatory that he has read the statement and agrees it is true and correct. In each place Garvin signed, he used the name “John Garvin.” N.T. Trial, 2/1/06, at 275–279.

In the statement, Garvin related that the following series of events occurred on the night of the shooting: Around 8:43 p.m., he was walking up York Street in the direction of the Minimarket, and he stopped outside a convenience store located across from the Minimarket. While standing there, Garvin looked down Cleveland Street and saw Appellant and Jasaan Walker, both of whom he had known for two years, walking up Cleveland Street towards York Street. He noticed them enter the vacant lot on the southern side of the Minimarket and then, very shortly thereafter, saw two people come out from the alley behind the Minimarket and onto York Street. Although both of these individuals wore masks around their mouth and nose, Garvin was confident that they were Appellant and Walker because of the short duration between his observation of them going into the lot and the appearance of the two masked men on York Street. According to Garvin, once Appellant and Walker emerged from the alley onto York Street, both began shooting at Williams, Lacey, and McCoy. Garvin heard approximately five or six shots; Appellant carried a nine millimeter handgun, and Walker had a “Glock 40;” and the entire episode lasted 10 or 15 seconds.

Detective Lynch testified that, after Garvin provided him with this information, he showed Garvin two computer generated photo arrays. Garvin selected Appellant's picture from the first array, chose Walker's photo from the second array, and identified both as the individuals he saw shoot the victims. Garvin printed the name “John Garvin” and the date on a copy of both photo arrays underneath each of the photos he had chosen. N.T. Trial, 2/1/06, at 276–279.

One week after Detective Lynch's interview of Garvin, on January 30, 2001, Lynch and another detective transported Lionel Lawrence from his home to the police station for questioning, as one of the bystanders at the shooting had supplied Lawrence's name to the police. Detective Lynch, who recorded the interview by hand, recalled that Lawrence, who had moved from the neighborhood shortly before the interview, was upset the detective wanted to talk to him about the murders and said he was “concerned for his well-being.” N.T., Trial, 2/6/06, at 124, 127. According to Lawrence's statement, on the night of the shootings, he was traveling along York Street and turned left onto Cleveland Street when he observed Lacey, whom he knew, standing near the payphone at the corner of York and Cleveland Streets with Williams, McCoy and others, and he decided to stop to talk. When traffic began to back up due to his stopped vehicle, he decided to circle the block. When he prepared to turn again onto

[52 A.3d 1145]

Cleveland Street from York Street, he saw two men, wearing dark jackets and with their mouths covered by masks, approach the Minimarket on the York Street sidewalk and shoot Lacey, Williams, and McCoy. He accelerated down Cleveland Street out of fear, but then, after the shooting ceased, he backed up Cleveland Street to the corner. McCoy got into Lawrence's car, and Lawrence drove him to Temple Hospital and helped him into the emergency room.

Detective Lynch next showed Lawrence two photo arrays, and Lawrence selected Appellant's photo from the first array as one of the individuals he saw shooting the victims, and selected Walker from the second array as the...

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114 practice notes
  • State v. Jones, No. 52
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 28 Agosto 2019
    ...App. 2016); State v. Keller, 256 S.E.2d 710, 714 (N.C. 1979); State v. O'Dell, 543 N.E.2d 1220, 1225 (Ohio 1989); Commonwealth v. Brown, 52 A.3d 1139, 1165 (Pa. 2012); State v. Pona, 66 A.3d 454, 471 (R.I. 2013); State v. Hicks, 185 S.E.2d 746, 749 (S.C. 1971); State v. Dana, 10 A. 727, 729......
  • Commonwealth v. Frein, No. 745 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 26 Abril 2019
    ...fundamental fairness, let alone the robust one heretofore recognized in Pennsylvania. See generally , Commonwealth v. Brown , 617 Pa. 107, 52 A.3d 1139, 1162 (2012).Here, Frein was informed that he had the right to consult an attorney before waiving his constitutional rights. What he did no......
  • Jones v. State, No. 1988
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 8 Agosto 2018
    ...App. 2016); State v. Keller, 256 S.E.2d 710, 714 (N.C. 1979); State v. O'Dell, 543 N.E.2d 1220, 1225 (Ohio 1989); Commonwealth v. Brown, 52 A.3d 1139, 1165 (Pa. 2012); State v. Pona, 66 A.3d 454, 471 (R.I. 2013); State v. Hicks, 185 S.E.2d 746, 749 (S.C. 1971); State v. Dana, 10 A. 727, 729......
  • State v. Stricklan, No. 20180944
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • 15 Octubre 2020
    ...explanation for making the prior statement" and weigh the credibility of the "in-court recantation." Commonwealth v. Brown , 617 Pa. 107, 52 A.3d 1139, 1167 (2012). When the recanting witness is available to testify, and the prior statement is otherwise admissible as substantive evidence, t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
115 cases
  • State v. Jones, No. 52
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 28 Agosto 2019
    ...App. 2016); State v. Keller, 256 S.E.2d 710, 714 (N.C. 1979); State v. O'Dell, 543 N.E.2d 1220, 1225 (Ohio 1989); Commonwealth v. Brown, 52 A.3d 1139, 1165 (Pa. 2012); State v. Pona, 66 A.3d 454, 471 (R.I. 2013); State v. Hicks, 185 S.E.2d 746, 749 (S.C. 1971); State v. Dana, 10 A. 727, 729......
  • Commonwealth v. Frein, No. 745 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 26 Abril 2019
    ...fundamental fairness, let alone the robust one heretofore recognized in Pennsylvania. See generally , Commonwealth v. Brown , 617 Pa. 107, 52 A.3d 1139, 1162 (2012).Here, Frein was informed that he had the right to consult an attorney before waiving his constitutional rights. What he did no......
  • Jones v. State, No. 1988
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 8 Agosto 2018
    ...App. 2016); State v. Keller, 256 S.E.2d 710, 714 (N.C. 1979); State v. O'Dell, 543 N.E.2d 1220, 1225 (Ohio 1989); Commonwealth v. Brown, 52 A.3d 1139, 1165 (Pa. 2012); State v. Pona, 66 A.3d 454, 471 (R.I. 2013); State v. Hicks, 185 S.E.2d 746, 749 (S.C. 1971); State v. Dana, 10 A. 727, 729......
  • State v. Stricklan, No. 20180944
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • 15 Octubre 2020
    ...explanation for making the prior statement" and weigh the credibility of the "in-court recantation." Commonwealth v. Brown , 617 Pa. 107, 52 A.3d 1139, 1167 (2012). When the recanting witness is available to testify, and the prior statement is otherwise admissible as substantive evidence, t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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