Commonwealth v. Ligons, 486 CAP.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation971 A.2d 1125
Docket NumberNo. 487 CAP.,No. 486 CAP.,486 CAP.,487 CAP.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Antoine LIGONS, Appellant. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Antoine Ligons, Appellee.
Decision Date27 May 2009
971 A.2d 1125
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Antoine LIGONS, Appellant.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant
Antoine Ligons, Appellee.
No. 486 CAP.
No. 487 CAP.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted November 8, 2007.
Decided May 27, 2009.

[971 A.2d 1131]

Victor J. Abreu, Jr., Esq., Angela S. Elleman, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Antoine Ligons (486 CAP).

Amy Zapp, Esq., Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (486 CAP).

Amy Zapp, Esq., Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (487 CAP).

Victor J. Abreu, Jr., Esq., Angela S. Elleman, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Antoine Ligons (487 CAP).



Justice BAER.

This case involves cross-appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, which denied Antoine Ligons' guilt phase claims under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546, but granted a new penalty hearing on the grounds that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate mitigating evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the denial of a new trial and reverse the grant of a new penalty hearing.

While the facts underlying Appellant's1 conviction of first degree murder are set

971 A.2d 1132

forth in our opinion affirming his judgment of sentence on direct appeal, Commonwealth v. Ligons, 565 Pa. 417, 773 A.2d 1231 (2001), a brief recitation thereof will facilitate an understanding of the issues raised herein.

On the evening of April 6, 1996, Appellant, then 19 years of age, was with his girlfriend, Irene Williams, on the porch of her home in West Philadelphia. Williams' home was located on the same street and within eyesight of Appellant's residence. Two brothers, Cecil and Edward Jackson, who lived next door to Williams, were also present at her home. At some point during the evening, Appellant left Williams' residence and returned to his own home. Shortly thereafter, he telephoned Williams and stated that he was going to do something and may not return. Williams then observed Edward Jackson carry an object wrapped in a jacket into Appellant's home. Moments later, Williams noticed Appellant leaving his residence, dressed entirely in black.

At nearly 10:45 p.m. that night, a caller telephoned Stavros Pizza to place an order to be delivered to an address located one block from Appellant's home.2 Clarence Johnson, the deliveryman for Stavros Pizza, left at 11:30 p.m. with the completed order and $10.00 with which to make change. Mr. Johnson's wife, Sonja, accompanied him on the delivery. When Mr. Johnson arrived at the given address, he parked his vehicle in the middle of the street, where his wife waited in the car. As Mr. Johnson approached the porch of the residence, Appellant emerged from an adjacent alley. Appellant was wearing all black clothing and a black ski mask that had a large opening around the eyes. Appellant approached Mr. Johnson from behind and pushed him onto the porch. While holding a gun to his head, Appellant stated, "You know what this is." When Mrs. Johnson opened the car door in an effort to help her husband, Appellant threatened to kill Mr. Johnson. Frightened, Mrs. Johnson remained in the car, which was parked seven to ten feet from where Appellant stood. Appellant demanded money and then pushed Mr. Johnson off the porch and into the alley. Mr. Johnson handed over the little cash he had and Appellant taunted him, repeatedly asking him whether he wanted to live. After Johnson pleaded for his life, Appellant fatally shot him in the back of his head and fled down the alley.

Upon hearing gunshots, nearby residents called the police, who arrived within minutes. Mr. Johnson was immediately taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Mrs. Johnson described the perpetrator to police as an African American male with a light complexion, hazel eyes, five feet eight inches in height, and weighing 150-160 pounds. She indicated that the robber wore a black ski mask, black Timberland boots, and black clothing. The police recovered a 9 mm. casing and a bullet that was consistent with either a .38 caliber or 9 mm. firearm.

After the shooting, Appellant telephoned Williams and explained that he may have just killed someone who had pulled a gun on him. In the days that followed, Appellant warned Williams not to report the incident and threatened her by stating, "I took a life and don't you think that I won't kill again." Fearing that Appellant might act on his words, Williams and her mother left the Philadelphia area to stay with Williams' cousin, Keith Wright, in Salisbury, Maryland. Upon learning of Williams' departure, Appellant telephoned Wright, whom he had previously known, in an attempt to speak with Williams. Appellant

971 A.2d 1133

admitted to Wright that he had killed a man, and said that his motive was to obtain money to impress Williams. Appellant acknowledged that a woman (Mrs. Johnson) witnessed the crime, but stated that he was not concerned because he had worn a mask during the incident.

Wright contacted the police, who traveled to Salisbury to interview him and Williams. Both Williams and Wright made statements to police in which they indicated that Appellant confessed to Johnson's murder. Williams additionally explained that a day or two before the murder, she overheard Edward Jackson mention that he had a gun and, on the night of the murder, saw Jackson carry an object wrapped in a jacket into Appellant's residence. Based upon this information, police obtained an arrest warrant for Appellant and search warrants for the residences of both Appellant and Edward Jackson. A search of Appellant's residence revealed a pair of black boots and a matchbook with the telephone number of Stavros Pizza written on the cover. Menus from Stavros Pizza were also recovered from the Jackson residence.

Appellant was subsequently arrested and charged with murder, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime.3 When questioned by police following his arrest, Appellant admitted that he robbed Johnson. He explained that he and his girlfriend had an argument, and that he thought that his girlfriend would stay with him if he gave her money. Appellant further stated that he needed money to pay his grandmother's medical bills. He asserted that, on the night of the murder, Cecil Jackson placed the pizza order and Edward Jackson supplied the gun. Appellant described the clothing that he wore during the commission of the crime, which was consistent with that reported by Mrs. Johnson. Appellant also claimed that he pointed his gun toward Mr. Johnson's head because Mr. Johnson threatened him with a gun. He stated that the next thing he knew, his gun discharged. Appellant denied taking any money.

Prior to trial, Appellant moved to suppress the statement he gave to police detectives on the grounds that the detectives fabricated the statement and beat him until he signed it, causing injuries which required medical treatment. The trial court denied suppression, crediting the testimony of the police detectives that Appellant had the alleged injuries when he arrived for questioning, and that no physical force had been used by the detectives in eliciting Appellant's confession.

During voir dire, Appellant, who is African American, did not raise any claims of racial discrimination in jury selection under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). At trial in 1999, the Commonwealth presented Appellant's statement and the testimony of Williams, Wright, Mrs. Johnson,4 and police detectives involved in the investigation. On direct examination, Williams recanted portions of her previous statement relating to Appellant's confession of the murder and the Commonwealth introduced her prior statement through the detective who interviewed her. Additionally, the Commonwealth presented expert testimony, establishing that Mr. Johnson died from a single gunshot wound, with the gun being fired from six to twelve inches from his

971 A.2d 1134

head. The defense did not present any witnesses. Instead, the defense attacked the identification evidence linking Appellant to the crime, arguing that someone other than he committed the murder. On March 22, 1999, the jury found Appellant guilty of first degree murder, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime.

During the penalty hearing on March 23, 1999, the Commonwealth alleged one aggravating circumstance, that Appellant committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony, robbery, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(6) ("perpetration of a felony aggravator"). In support of this aggravator, the Commonwealth incorporated the record from the guilt phase of the trial and presented no additional evidence.

As mitigating circumstances, Appellant offered his lack of a significant history of prior criminal convictions, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(e)(1) ("lack of significant criminal history mitigator"), his age at the time of the crime, id. at 9711(e)(4) ("age mitigator"), and other evidence of mitigation, i.e, life history and extenuating circumstances concerning the character and record of the defendant and the circumstances of his offense. Id. at § 9711(e)(8) ("catch-all mitigator"). In support of these mitigating circumstances, as discussed in detail infra, Appellant first presented the testimony of Williams, his mother, and his grandmother. Williams testified that she had a child with Appellant; that Appellant was a good father; and that he had never been violent. Appellant's mother testified about Appellant's difficult childhood in a crime-ridden neighborhood; his car thefts, which led to his being adjudicated a delinquent; his later success when in a structured environment, and his difficulties arising...

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