Commonwealth v. Murray, 151 EDA 2019

Decision Date19 March 2021
Docket NumberNo. 151 EDA 2019,151 EDA 2019
Citation248 A.3d 557
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Josephe MURRAY, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Eileen J. Hurley, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Michael L. Erlich, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Lawrence J. Goode, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.



Appellant, Josephe Murray, appeals from his judgment of sentence of life imprisonment plus 26-52 years’ imprisonment for first-degree murder and related offenses. Appellant's principal contention is that the trial court erred in denying his challenge to the prosecutor's use of peremptory strikes against two prospective jurors under Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). We hold that (1) Appellant failed to establish prima facie evidence of a Batson violation, (2) the prosecutor gave reasonable, race-neutral reasons for excluding both prospective jurors, and (3) the record does not establish that the prosecutor engaged in purposeful discrimination. Accordingly, we affirm.

The victim, Thomas Watson, lived above a Häagen-Dazs ice cream store at 242 South Street in Philadelphia. He worked across town as a DJ at the Copabanana Club at 40th and Spruce Streets. At about 2:00 a.m. on May 11, 2013, after finishing work at the Copabanana, Watson texted James Weisbrod, who drove an unlicensed cab in Philadelphia, and asked Weisbrod to pick him up. Weisbrod picked up Watson and another man, co-defendant Ronnie Robinson,1 who worked as a security guard at the Copabanana. Weisbrod drove Robinson to an address in North Philadelphia. Weisbrod and Watson then stopped at a restaurant before driving to Watson's apartment. N.T. 10/10/18, at 94-97.

Weisbrod parked his Lincoln Town Car on American Street and then helped Watson unload his DJ equipment outside his apartment. The victim entered the closed Häagen-Dazs store, through which he had to walk in order to get to his second floor apartment. As Weisbrod was about to leave the area, he noticed that the victim had not moved his DJ equipment, which was still outside in the rain. Concerned, he returned to South Street and opened the door to the Häagen-Dazs store. Co-defendant Clarence Pone blocked Weisbrod's path and told him, "Get the fuck out of here." Id. at 98, 101-02.

Weisbrod got into his car, but instead of leaving the area, he circled the block and parked his car in front of the Häagen-Dazs store. When he heard two gunshots, Weisbrod got out of his car and walked into the store. As he entered, Appellant left the store. Weisbrod saw Watson lying on the ground behind the counter and called 911. Id. at 102-04.

At approximately 3:00 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officers Corson and Duffy were on patrol when they received a radio call for a robbery in progress at the Häagen-Dazs store. The officers entered the store and discovered Watson's body behind the ice cream counter. Officer Corson observed wounds to Watson's chest and head. While on the premises, the officers noticed signs of a struggle and heard a cell phone ringing, but they could not locate the phone. Id. at 75-79; 10/11/18, at 25-28.

Philadelphia Police Officer Coleman also heard the radio call for the Häagen-Dazs store robbery and learned that the suspects were last seen running down American Street wearing dark clothing. As he drove north on American Street, he noticed a discarded black hoodie and glove lying on the sidewalk. Officer Coleman covered the items with a heavy paper bag to protect them from the elements and turned them over to a crime scene investigator. Forensic testing later demonstrated that Watson's DNA was on the upper back portion of the hoodie. N.T. 10/11/18, at 53, 65, 68; 10/22/18, at 208.

Police officers reviewed camera footage from inside and outside the Häagen-Dazs store depicting the final moments of Watson's life. The video showed that one hour before the murder, two vehicles, a Honda and a green Ford Explorer, parked along the 200 block of South Street, where the drivers and occupants waited until Weisbrod and Watson arrived in Weisbrod's vehicle. As Watson entered the store, two men followed him inside and one produced a large handgun. Watson struggled with the two men, who kicked and beat him with the handgun. The video showed that Weisbrod attempted to enter the store but was stopped by an individual blocking his path. Watson was then shot. Weisbrod returned to the store, where a man with a bloodstained hoodie ran past him in the doorway and ran down the street. N.T, 10/11/18, at 159; 10/15/18, at 162-63, 168-79.

On May 12, 2013, one day after the shooting, Detective John Harkins recovered a Samsung TracFone (a pre-paid cellphone) from inside the store that had fallen underneath an ice cream machine. The officers submitted an exigent circumstances request for information to T-Mobile and learned that the phone had been shipped to a woman named Carmen Melton, who lived at 5718 Reedland Street. The officers reviewed the call logs to see if they could learn any information about the identities of individuals attempting to contact the phone. One telephone number was associated with a woman named Cheneka Jones, who lived at 5706 Reedland Street. The officers used a search database to determine who else was associated with that address. They saw a photo of Appellant and realized that he was one of the individuals in the video camera footage inside the Häagen-Dazs store. Detective Joseph Bamberski assembled a photo array that included Appellant's photograph and showed it to Weisbrod, who positively identified Appellant as the individual who had come to the door of the Häagen-Dazs store at the time of the shooting. N.T. 10/10/18, at 112, 116; 10/11/18, at 161-62; 10/15/18, at 81-87; 10/22/18, at 47.

Also on May 12, 2013, Detective Theodore Hagan interviewed Appellant's co-defendant, Ronnie Robinson, the man who rode with Watson in Weisbrod's car. Robinson told the detective that he had left the Copabanana Club after work with Watson, who dropped him off at his house in North Philadelphia at approximately 2:45 a.m. Robinson also told Detective Hagan that Watson had been in a fight with someone on South Street. N.T. 10/15/18, at 43, 44, 49, 56.

Meanwhile, detectives continued to examine call records from Appellant's cell phone and learned that he had been in communication sixteen times on the night of the murder with a phone registered to co-defendant Larry Nelson. N.T. 10/15/18, at 89.

Detective Bamberski prepared warrants to arrest Appellant and search his residence at 5706 Reedland Street. On the morning of May 15, 2013, Appellant was arrested at his home. Police officers recovered a pair of camouflage shorts that looked like the ones worn by the shooter in the video and proof of residency from the house. Id. at 90-92.

After receiving Miranda warnings, Appellant gave an inculpatory statement to Detective Bamberski (redacted for trial) in which he admitted shooting and killing Watson. Appellant explained that he owed a guy $5,000 for marijuana, so he agreed to rob the victim, who was known to have drugs in his apartment. Appellant and another person waited for the victim to arrive at the Haagen Daz store. When Weisbrod dropped the victim off at the store, Appellant and another man ran to the store, grabbed the victim, and dragged him to the back of the store. Weisbrod returned to the store, but the other guy prevented him from entering the premises. Appellant, who was alone with the victim, hit him with his gun. Appellant asked him where the drugs were, but the victim continued to argue with him. Appellant got a call and was instructed to kill the victim. Appellant shot him in the head, ran out of the store, and discarded his hoodie and glove while he fled. He later met two of the other guys on 57th Street near Angora Terrace and returned the gun to one of the men. He also said that at the time of the shooting, he was using a TracFone he had purchased on the street. Id. at 98-119.

On the same day that Appellant was arrested, Detective Francis Graf picked up Ronnie Robinson at his home, told him the police had more questions for him, and brought him to the Homicide Division. Robinson gave a statement (redacted for trial) in which he said that he had met the victim, Watson, when they both worked together at the Copabanana Club. Robinson provided security for Watson and also picked up and dropped off money and drugs for him. Robinson stated that he knew the individual who was responsible for having Watson shot and killed. This individual came to the club on the night of the shooting and told Robinson that Watson possessed a lot of drugs, and they were going to get them that night. Robinson was instructed to call the guy and let him know what time Watson would be getting home. He also admitted that he knew the guy planned to rob Watson because he had talked about doing it before in March. Robinson claimed he told the guy he did not want anything to do with the plan, but the guy told him he would pay Robinson for calling him to tell him Watson's whereabouts. N.T. 10/23/18, at 23, 25, 40-43.

Robinson further stated that on the night Watson was killed, he left the Copabanana Club with Watson in a cab. After the cab dropped him off, he received a call from the guy and told him that Watson was on his way home in a dark-colored Lincoln. The next day he read on Facebook that Watson had been killed. Id. at 43-44.

Larry Nelson also was arrested on May 15, 2013. Philadelphia Police Officer Hindley was instructed to look for Nelson in the area of the 5400 block of Angora Terrace. Officer Hindley noticed Nelson's 1997 Ford Explorer parked in the neighborhood, a vehicle that looked the same as one seen waiting outside the store on the surveillance video. Officer Hindley saw Nelson approach the vehicle and placed Nelson under...

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3 cases
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    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • 26 Octubre 2023
    ...circumstances surrounding juror selection and determines whether the defendant has made out a case of purposeful discrimination." Murray, 248 A.3d at 568. "[A] trial court's decision on the ultimate of discriminatory intent represents a finding of fact of the sort accorded great deference o......
  • Commonwealth v. Culmer
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    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • 3 Diciembre 2021
    ...erroneous. The ultimate burden of persuasion regarding racial motivation rests with the opponent of the strike. Commonwealth v. Murray , 248 A.3d 557, 567 (Pa. Super. 2021) (some citations omitted). In Batson ,... the United States Supreme Court held that a prosecutor's challenge to potenti......
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    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • 3 Noviembre 2023
    ... ... that the error is harmless." Commonwealth v ... Murray , 248 A.3d 557, 576 (Pa.Super. 2021) (cleaned up) ... [A]n error cannot be held harmless ... APPREHENSION, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) ... Thus, we hold that the "uncontradicted evidence was so ... overwhelming that the ... ...

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