Commonwealth v. Padilla

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation80 A.3d 1238
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Miguel A. PADILLA, Appellant.
Decision Date31 October 2013

80 A.3d 1238

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Miguel A. PADILLA, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued April 14, 2010.
Resubmitted Sept. 20, 2013.

Decided Oct. 31, 2013.

[80 A.3d 1242]

Jules Epstein, Esq., Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, Philadelphia, J. Alexander Hershey, Esq., Thorp Reed & Armstrong, L.L.P., Pittsburgh, for Miguel A. Padilla.

[80 A.3d 1243]

Marc Alan Bookman, Esq., Robert Brett Dunham, Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Government of The United Mexican States.

Jackie Atherton Bernard, Esq., Richard A. Consiglio, Esq., Blair County District Attorney's Office, Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.



Justice McCAFFERY.

This is a direct appeal from the judgment of sentence of death on three counts of first-degree murder. We affirm the judgment of sentence.

In the very early morning hours of August 28, 2005, Appellant fatally shot three men outside of the United Veterans Association (“UVA”), a private social club in Altoona, Blair County, after he and two friends, Travis Shumaker and Shirley Shumaker, were denied admission. The victims were Alfred Mignogna, the owner of the club; Frederick Rickabaugh, the bouncer; and Stephen Heiss, a bystander/patron of the club. Shortly after the shootings, Appellant called 911 and told the operator that he thought he had hurt someone. Police found Appellant at the Shumaker residence and took him into custody approximately an hour after the shootings. Appellant was charged by information with three counts of criminal homicide; one count of aggravated assault, felony of the first degree; one count of aggravated assault, felony of the second degree; and one count each of recklessly endangering another person and illegal alien not to possess/use a firearm.1 At trial, which was held in Blair County before a jury chosen from citizens of Cumberland County, defense counsel acknowledged that Appellant had shot the three men, but he attempted to introduce a defense of diminished capacity due to alcohol- and marijuana-induced intoxication. On September 12, 2006, the jury found Appellant guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count each of aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. Following a penalty phase hearing, on September 14, 2006, the jury found three aggravating circumstances and three mitigating circumstances,2 determined that the former outweighed the latter, and voted to impose the death penalty for each murder conviction. On February 1, 2007, the court sentenced Appellant to death. Appellant now appeals to this Court, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(1),3 raising the following six

[80 A.3d 1244]

issues for our review, which we reproduce verbatim:

[1.] Did the trial court err in denying—over the course of the trial proceedings—several motions to appoint new counsel for Mr. Padilla when his appointed counsel were plagued by debilitating conflicts of interest?

[2.] Did the trial court err in refusing for over a month to appoint counsel for an unpopular and indigent defendant charged with three counts of first-degree murder?

[3.] Did the trial court violate international law in interfering with Mexico's efforts to provide consular assistance to Mr. Padilla?

[4.] Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that there was no evidence of diminished capacity when a psychiatric expert testified that Mr. Padilla had consumed a great deal of alcohol, smoked marijuana, and lacked the capacity to form a specific intent to kill?

[5.] Did the trial court err in refusing to vacate the death sentence and impose a life sentence when there was no proof of two aggravating circumstances during the penalty phase and the predicate “felony” for a third aggravating circumstance was a misdemeanor?

[6.] Did the trial court err in denying post-trial motions filed on Mr. Padilla's behalf?

Appellant's Brief at 4 (“Statement of Questions Involved”).4


Before addressing Appellant's claims, we must independently review the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support his first-degree murder convictions, as we do in all cases in which a sentence of death has been imposed. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Briggs, 608 Pa. 430, 12 A.3d 291, 306 (2011). In a sufficiency review, we determine whether the evidence presented at trial and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict-winner, are sufficient to establish all the elements of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

The elements of first-degree murder are as follows: (1) a human being was unlawfully killed; (2) the defendant was responsible for the killing; and (3) the defendant acted with malice and a specific intent to kill. 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a); Commonwealth v. Houser, 610 Pa. 264, 18 A.3d 1128, 1133 (2011).

First-degree murder is an intentional killing, i.e., a “willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a) and (d). Specific intent to kill as well as malice can be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon upon a vital part of the victim's body. Houser, supra at 1133–34;Briggs, supra at 306–07;Commonwealth v. Wright, 599 Pa. 270, 961 A.2d 119, 130–31 (2008). Recently, in Briggs, supra at 307, we concluded that the appellant's deliberate and repeated use of a firearm to shoot the victims in the chest and/or abdomen established his specific intent to kill.

As mentioned above, the only issue at trial was whether Appellant had the requisite malice and intent to kill, as the defense conceded that Appellant shot the victims. See Notes of Testimony (“N.T.”), 9/6/06, at 31; Appellant's Brief at 19 (“There was no dispute at the guilt-phase trial that [Appellant] shot and killed three people.”). The evidence that Appellant acted with malice and with specific intent to kill the victims was substantial. Harry Kamerow, M.D., a pathologist who performed autopsies on the three victims at the request of the Blair County Coroner's Office, testified as follows regarding his

[80 A.3d 1245]

findings. Mr. Mignogna suffered three separate gunshot wounds: one to the left side of the chest, one to the left flank, and one to the right thigh; his death was caused by the gunshot wound to his chest, which ruptured the left and right ventricles of his heart. N.T., 9/6/06, at 109, 115, 133. Mr. Rickabaugh suffered four gunshot wounds: one to the left side of the chest, one to the left upper back, one to the right midback, and one a graze wound to the left side of the chest; his death was caused by the penetrating gunshot wound to the chest, which resulted in severe avulsion of the right lobe of the liver. Id. at 120, 124, 127–28, 130, 132–33. Mr. Heiss was killed by a single gunshot wound to the right side of the chest, which ruptured the right atrium of his heart. Id. at 105–07, 133. Similar to Briggs, supra, the manner in which Appellant killed the victims established his specific intent to kill.

Other testimony, by persons who were standing outside the UVA club when the murders took place, provided further evidence of the deliberate, intentional nature of the shootings. Mark Hott testified that, at the beginning of the confrontation, Mr. Shumaker argued with Mr. Mignogna and Mr. Rickabaugh after being denied entry to the club. N.T., 9/6/06, at 139–46. Then, Mr. Hott testified, Appellant walked away from the group to a car parked near the club, fumbled around in the passenger side of the car, walked back with something in his hand, approached Mr. Rickabaugh from the back, aimed, and fired three shots into Mr. Rickabaugh. Id. at 147–48, 156–57. Next, Mr. Hott testified, Appellant turned slightly to the left and fired more shots, hitting Mr. Mignogna, who was standing next to Mr. Hott. Id. at 149–50. At this point, Mr. Hott ran inside the club, but he continued to hear gunshots. Id. at 150. Mr. Hott estimated that Appellant was approximately six feet from Mr. Rickabaugh and twelve to fifteen feet from Mr. Mignogna when he shot the men. Id. at 157.

Michael Bryant, another club patron on the night of the murders, provided testimony consistent with that of Mr. Hott. Mr. Bryant testified that he saw a small altercation outside the UVA club between Mr. Mignogna and Mr. Shumaker, and he tried to separate the two arguing men. N.T., 9/7/06 at 24–29. Then, Mr. Bryant testified, Appellant came from the parking lot carrying a firearm, which he raised in front of him with both arms, pointed, and fired multiple times. Id. at 33–35, 45, 52. The gunfire prompted Mr. Bryant to run from the scene, around the back of the UVA club building, at which point he realized that Appellant was also running in that direction. Id. at 35–37. Mr. Bryant testified that although he was fearful that Appellant was coming after him, Appellant ran past him. Id. at 38–40. Mr. Bryant also testified that Appellant ran normally, was not unsteady, and did not stumble or stagger. Id. at 52–53.

Two other patrons at the UVA club on the night of the murders testified similarly. Matt Neymeyer and Tanya Kline were standing close to one or more of the victims when they saw Appellant point a gun at the victims and fire multiple times. Id. at 97–103, 128–34.

Ed Perino, who lives near the UVA club, was walking in the neighborhood when the murders took place. He testified that he heard gunshots; ran into Appellant coming from the area of the UVA club; recognized him as someone he had seen with some frequency in the neighborhood, especially at the Shumakers' residence; and asked him what was going on. Id. at 155–58. Mr. Perino testified that Appellant was running in a straight line, not stumbling, nor weaving back and forth, and did not appear to be drunk. Id. at 162–63, 166–67.

Three officers from the Altoona Police Department testified that they found Appellant

[80 A.3d 1246]

in front of the Shumakers' residence...

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