Commonwealth v. Woodard

Citation129 A.3d 480
Decision Date03 December 2015
Docket NumberNo. 692 CAP,692 CAP
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Aric Shayne WOODARD, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Dawn Marie Cutaia, Esq., Jeffrey Charles Marshall, Esq., York, Marshall & Smith, PC, for Aric Shane Woodard.

Thomas L. Kearney III, Esq., Duane Ramseur, Esq., York County District Attorney's Office, Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.



Justice BAER.

This is a direct appeal from a sentence of death imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of York County upon Aric Shayne Woodard (Appellant) following his conviction of first degree murder of a two-year-old boy.1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of sentence of death.

The record establishes that on Sunday, November 6, 2011, at approximately 1:00 p.m., Hayley Twinn, the mother of two-year-old Jaques Twinn, left him and his baby sister in Appellant's care. At nineteen years of age, Hayley was overwhelmed with being a mother and relied upon Appellant to watch her children on occasion. While Hayley thought of Appellant as a friend, the two had previously been intimate and Appellant desired more than friendship. Hayley had assured Appellant that she would retrieve her children later that day, but did not do so. When Hayley still had not come to pick up her children the next morning, November 7, 2011, Appellant grew angry and called his neighbor, Niesha Mayes, looking for Hayley. In a very agitated tone, Appellant told Mayes that Hayley better come get her children or she would be sorry.

At approximately 2:21 p.m. that afternoon, the York City Police responded to a 911 dispatch to 169 West Maple Street, where a two-year-old male was under cardiac arrest

.2 Officer Ryan Anderson arrived a few minutes later and observed Appellant on the porch of the residence, holding Jaques, who was wet, naked, and smelled strongly of feces. Both Officer Anderson and emergency medical technicians, who arrived shortly thereafter, attempted CPR on the child, who was then transported to York Hospital.

While at the hospital awaiting word on Jaques's fate, Appellant stated that Hayley had dropped off the children the day before to stay with him for a few hours, but never returned and did not respond to his attempts to contact her. He explained that because Jaques had defecated and smeared it on the kitchen floor, Appellant had "popped him," suggesting that he struck the child, pulled him up by his ear, and sent him upstairs to the bathtub to clean himself. Appellant indicated that he found Jaques slumped over and unresponsive in the bathtub minutes later.

The first person to examine Jaques at the hospital was registered nurse Emily Huggins, who specialized in child abuse cases, and created a "body map" of the injuries she observed on his body, which was later admitted at trial. Dr. Daniel Carney, the trauma surgeon on duty, also examined Jaques, finding him to be cold with a distended abdomen and showing no signs of life. Life-saving measures ultimately ceased and Jaques was pronounced dead at 3:05 p.m.

In the meantime, at the crime scene, Officer Roy Kohler had previously heard Appellant say that he had been caring for more than one child. Accordingly, while Appellant was at the hospital, the officer entered his residence for the sole purpose of checking on the welfare of any children left behind. Officer Kohler did not find any children in the home, did not move or collect any evidence, and did not take photographs. Shortly thereafter, neighbor Della Smith informed Officer Kohler that she was caring for Jaques's baby sister and needed to go into Appellant's home to get diapers for the baby. Officer Kohler thereafter reentered the home and did a cursory look for diapers, finding none. Again, the officer took no evidence or photographs and did not manipulate anything in the home. At 5:20 p.m., officers obtained a search warrant, purportedly for Appellant's home. Prior to executing the warrant, however, the officers realized that the address on the warrant was not Appellant's, but rather was that of the neighbor's home from where the 911 call was made. A corrected search warrant was obtained and executed at 5:40 p.m. At that time, police took photos of the crime scene and recovered, inter alia, pieces of a leather belt, a bong and baggie containing a leafy green substance, clothing, paperwork, a mobile phone, and a laptop.

After Appellant left the hospital, he went to the York City Police Department and police interviewed him. He explained to detectives why he was caring for Hayley's children and denied that he hurt Jaques intentionally. Appellant admitted, however that he slapped the child for defecating himself, pulled him up by his ear, and directed him to go to the bathtub. He stated that he found the child slumped over and unresponsive in the bathtub less than ten minutes thereafter.

Four days later, on November 11, 2011, Appellant went to the police station voluntarily and was interviewed by Detective Alan Clarkson. The detective informed Appellant that he was not under arrest and that the interview would be audio and video recorded. After Appellant sat down, he told Detective Clarkson that he had spoken to Attorney Alan Rutt on an unrelated matter two days before and that Attorney Rutt had warned him not speak to the police without an attorney present. Transcript of Interview, Nov. 11, 2011, at 2, 59. Appellant did not, however, request that Attorney Rutt or any other attorney be present during the interview, nor did he indicate that he did not want to speak with police without an attorney present.

When Appellant began discussing his general view on disciplining children, Detective Clarkson interrupted and read him Miranda3 warnings, reiterating, however, that Appellant was not under arrest at that time. Appellant indicated that he understood his rights and stated, "[b]elieve me, there's no reason for a lawyer here."

Id. at 16. He then began to explain the events that took place on November 7, 2011. Specifically, Appellant stated that he slapped Jaques for defecating on the floor, pulled him by the ear to lead him upstairs for a bath, id. at 25–26, filled the tub with a few inches of water, and left Jaques in the bathtub alone. Id. at 29. Appellant explained that when he returned to the bathtub a few minutes later, Jaques was slumped over and unresponsive. Id. at 30. He stated that it did not look like Jaques's face was in the water. Id. at 31. Appellant explained that when he retrieved the child from the bathtub, Jaques vomited. Id. at 35.

Frightened, Appellant stated that he carried Jaques to his neighbor's house across the street, and had someone call 911. Pursuant to the 911 responder's direction, Appellant stated that he administered CPR on Jaques, and medical emergency personnel arrived and continued the CPR. Id. at 45–46, 50. When asked how he believed Jaques died, Appellant responded that he thought the child must have drowned in the bathtub because no abuse occurred. Id. at 113. When the interview concluded, Detective Clarkson asked Appellant to take a voice stress test, which the detective explained "senses deception," and Appellant refused, asserting that he wanted to speak to Attorney Rutt first. Id. at 120, 122–23.

Appellant was not arrested for Jaques's murder until more than four months later on March 20, 2012, after police received the autopsy report, which indicated that the cause of Jaques's death was blunt force trauma and that the manner of death was homicide. While still handcuffed after the arrest, Detective Clarkson again interviewed Appellant. The detective read Miranda warnings and Appellant reiterated that he understood his rights. When asked if he wanted to make a statement, he responded, "I'll answer whatever you want, you know, I could care less. I already told you that." Interview Transcript, Mar. 20, 2012, at 3. Appellant then reiterated the events of the day of the murder, as outlined above. When the detective confronted Appellant with the findings in the autopsy report, he denied any physical abuse or wrongdoing. After the interview was completed and Appellant was told what would happen to him later that evening, Appellant stated that his attorney was Clarence Allen, and that he had just seen Attorney Allen at the corner barber shop. Id. at 27.

Prior to trial, Appellant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made during the police interviews conducted on November 11, 2011, and March 20, 2012, in which he admitted to caring for Jaques during the time the fatal injuries were inflicted and acknowledged that he had struck Jaques for defecating on the floor. Appellant also sought to suppress all physical evidence seized from his home. The trial court conducted a suppression hearing on October 23, 2012, and November 1, 2012, after which it denied Appellant's suppression motion, finding that he waived his right to counsel and voluntarily made the statements to police. The trial court further held that no physical evidence was seized from Appellant's residence until after a valid search warrant had been obtained. Additionally, Appellant filed a pretrial motion seeking dismissal of the charge of first degree murder for lack of evidence of a specific intent to kill, which the trial court denied. He further filed a pretrial motion to quash the aggravating circumstance of torture for lack of evidence, which the trial court also denied after conducting an evidentiary hearing.

The Commonwealth subsequently filed a pretrial motion in limine, seeking to admit various autopsy photos. Appellant objected to the admission of the photos, contending that any probative value in determining the nature of the victim's injuries and the cause of death was outweighed by the photos' prejudicial impact. Following a hearing where expert medical testimony was presented, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's...

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