Commonwealth v. Mason

Decision Date29 December 2015
Docket NumberNo. 676 CAP.,676 CAP.
Citation130 A.3d 601
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Lenwood MASON, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

130 A.3d 601

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
Lenwood MASON, Appellant.

No. 676 CAP.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted Jan. 5, 2015.
Decided Dec. 29, 2015.


130 A.3d 610

Patrick Joseph Egan, Esq., Fox Rothschild, L.L.P., Patricia A. McKinney, Esq., Philadelphia, McKinney & George, for Lenwood Mason.

Hugh J. Burns, Esq., Tracey L. Kavanagh, Esq., Jeffrey Michael Krulik, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

SAYLOR, C.J., EAKIN, BAER, TODD, STEVENS, JJ.

OPINION

Justice STEVENS.

This is a collateral capital appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County dismissing Appellant Lenwood Mason's first petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541 –9546.1

Appellant's convictions arose from the June 19, 1994, stabbing death of Iona Jeffries. The underlying facts as adduced at trial were enunciated by this Court in affirming Appellant's conviction and sentence on direct appeal:

[O]n March 31, 1994, police were called to the 3800 block of Clearfield Street in Philadelphia. Officer Terry Brown observed Appellant walking on Clearfield Street, with Iona Jeffries close to his side. Noting a frightened look on Ms. Jeffries' face, the officer approached her and asked if she was all right. The officer noticed bruises on Ms. Jeffries' forehead, shoulder, neck and mouth. Although Appellant told the officer that Ms. Jeffries had been attacked by several other women, Ms. Jeffries informed the officer that Appellant had actually caused her injuries. Ms. Jeffries explained to the officer that she was reluctant to press charges against Appellant, as she feared he would kill her. Based on his [sic] own observations and Ms. Jeffries' statements, however, the officer placed Appellant under arrest.

Approximately three months later, on the evening of June 18, 1994, Ms. Jeffries was at a bar, Cadillac Slim's, with Appellant and several of her friends. Appellant had been released from prison two days earlier, on June 16, 1994. When Ms. Jeffries and her friends decided to leave Cadillac Slim's and go to another club, Ms. Jeffries asked that a male acquaintance drive Appellant home, as she did not want him to accompany her to the club. Upset by Ms. Jeffries' plans to exclude him, Appellant yelled, "You want it like that?" and ran out of the bar.

At approximately 9:30 the following morning, Ms. Jeffries' mother, Mrs. Wisteria Jeffries, was at her home when she heard Appellant banging on the
130 A.3d 611
door. As Wisteria Jeffries approached the door, she saw Appellant's hand protruding through the screen door. When Wisteria Jeffries asked Appellant what he wanted, he replied that he needed to speak with Ms. Jeffries. Wisteria Jeffries explained that Ms. Jeffries was asleep. After Appellant insisted that he speak with Ms. Jeffries, Wisteria Jeffries told Appellant to wait outside while she got Ms. Jeffries. She locked the door and went upstairs to Ms. Jeffries' room, where Ms. Jeffries was sleeping on a bed with her then three year-old son, Anthony. Ms. Jeffries refused to come downstairs. Wisteria Jeffries returned to the front door and told Appellant that Ms. Jeffries was sleeping and that he would have to wait to speak with her. Appellant then forced his way into the house, pushed past Wisteria Jeffries, and ran up the stairs. Wisteria Jeffries immediately called the police.

Wisteria Jeffries retrieved a knife from the kitchen and began to head upstairs, when she saw Appellant descending the steps. Appellant stated to Wisteria Jeffries, "I got her now." At that point, Wisteria Jeffries attempted to stab Appellant, but he pushed her aside and ran outside, where a neighbor, Greg Bell, saw Appellant placing what appeared to be a knife into the waistband of his pants. Wisteria Jeffries ran upstairs to Ms. Jeffries' bedroom and found Ms. Jeffries bleeding profusely from multiple stab wounds. Police and rescue units arrived and Ms. Jeffries was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.[2 ] Later that same day, Appellant surrendered to the police and was charged with murder in the first-degree, burglary and possessing an instrument of crime.

Commonwealth v. Mason, 559 Pa. 500, 507–08, 741 A.2d 708, 712 (1999).

Attorney Thomas W. Moore, Jr., Esq., undertook Appellant's representation, hiring an investigator, interviewing Appellant and his mother, and retaining Dr. Allan Tepper, an expert in the field of forensic and clinical psychology, to perform a psychological evaluation of Appellant and to provide testimony during the guilt and sentencing phases of trial. As part of his evaluation, Dr. Tepper conducted a clinical interview of Appellant, administered intelligence tests, interviewed Appellant's mother, and reviewed police discovery materials along with Philadelphia School District records and past drug treatment records. Letter from Dr. Allan Tepper to trial counsel, dated 3/28/95; Declaration and Affidavit of Dr. Allan Tepper, dated 10/29/07, filed 11/1/07.

A jury trial before the Honorable C. Darnell Jones was conducted in February 1996. As we noted on direct appeal, the trial included the following testimony:

Appellant testified on his own behalf, claiming that he had been drinking and doing drugs, including PCP for the first time, at the bar on the night before the murder. He testified that after he smoked the PCP, everything went blurry and that he did not recall leaving Cadillac Slim's or going to Ms. Jeffries' house on the morning of her murder. He further maintained that he did not regain his senses again until late in the evening on the day of the murder, when he was already in jail. Appellant's mother and brother [Kevin Mason] also testified in Appellant's defense. Essentially, they claimed that when they saw Appellant on the day of the murder, he
130 A.3d 612
was under the influence of drugs and that his condition was unlike any "high" that they had ever seen him experience.

Mason, 559 Pa. at 509, 741 A.2d at 713. On February 15, 1996, the jury found Appellant guilty of first-degree murder, burglary, and possessing an instrument of crime. At the penalty phase of trial, Judge Jones instructed the jury with regard to three aggravating circumstances and four mitigating circumstances.3 All the evidence presented on Appellant's behalf during the guilt phase of trial was incorporated during the penalty phase, and Appellant's mother, his uncle, Larry Lawhorn, and Dr. Tepper provided additional testimony to support the mitigating circumstances.4 Following the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death after finding two aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances.5 Judge Jones formally imposed the death sentence on February 20, 1996.

Following Appellant's conviction and sentence, trial counsel was replaced by Gerald Stein, Esq., who filed a direct appeal on Appellant's behalf. Appellant initially challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's verdict of first-degree murder on the grounds that (1) there was insufficient evidence to establish that Appellant acted with the necessary premeditation; (2) the jury erred in failing to find that Appellant was acting under the "heat of passion" when he fatally stabbed Ms. Jeffries; and (3) the jury erred in finding a specific intent to kill because Appellant presented evidence to show that he was intoxicated at the time of the killing. See Mason, 559 Pa. at 509–511, 741 A.2d at 713–714. This Court found no merit to Appellant's sufficiency claims, determining that: (1) the circumstances of the case did not, as a matter of law, foreclose a finding of premeditation; (2) the record did not support a heat of passion claim since Appellant claimed that he was so intoxicated at the time of the stabbing that he could not remember whether words were exchanged which would give rise to a heat of passion defense, there was no evidence that the victim did anything immediately before the stabbing to provoke Appellant, and the victim's son testified that his mother was just lying on the bed when Appellant came into the room and began stabbing her; and (3) it was well within the power of the jury to make a credibility

130 A.3d 613

determination and disbelieve the evidence presented by Appellant to establish that intoxication prevented him from forming a specific intent to kill. Id., 559 Pa. at 510–512, 741 A.2d at 713–714.6

Appellant's direct appeal additionally alleged that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance during the guilt phase of Appellant's trial by (1) failing to properly consult with Appellant prior to trial; (2) failing to conduct an adequate pre-trial investigation, which would have revealed corroborative evidence that Appellant and the victim reconciled and spent time together in the days immediately before the murder; and (3) referring to the stabbing as a heinous crime during his guilt phase closing argument. Id., 559 Pa. at 513, 515, 518, 741 A.2d at 715, 716, 718. This Court determined, however, that Appellant had failed to show that counsel was ineffective. Specifically, we...

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