Satcher v. Com., s. 920247

CourtSupreme Court of Virginia
Citation421 S.E.2d 821,244 Va. 220
Docket NumberNos. 920247,920248,s. 920247
PartiesMichael Charles SATCHER v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia. Record
Decision Date18 September 1992

[244 Va. 225] John C. Youngs, Richard J. McCue, Arlington, for appellant.

Katherine B. Toone, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

[244 Va. 220] Present: All the Justices.

[244 Va. 225] CARRICO, Chief Justice.

In the first phase of a bifurcated trial conducted pursuant to Code §§ 19.2-264.3 and -264.4, a jury convicted Michael Charles Satcher of the robbery, assault and battery, and attempted rape of Deborah Abel and the robbery, rape, and capital murder of Ann Elizabeth Borghesani. 1 The jury fixed Satcher's punishment at imprisonment for life plus ten years and twelve months for the offenses against Ms. Abel and at two terms of life imprisonment for the noncapital offenses against Ms. Borghesani. In the second phase of the trial, the jury fixed Satcher's punishment for the killing of Ann Borghesani at death, based upon both statutory predicates of "future dangerousness" and "vileness."

After considering a postsentence report prepared by a probation officer, Code § 19.2-264.5, the trial court imposed the sentences fixed by the jury. Satcher is here for automatic review of his death sentence, and we have consolidated that review with his appeal of his capital murder conviction. Code § 17-110.1. We have also certified from the Court of Appeals Satcher's convictions for the offenses against Ms. Abel and the noncapital offenses against Ms. Borghesani. Code § 17-116.06. We have given the entire

Page 825

matter priority on our docket. Code § 17-110.2


The incidents involving Ms. Abel and Ms. Borghesani both occurred on March 31, 1990, on a bicycle path that runs alongside Lee Highway, past the Air Force Association building, in the Rosslyn section of Arlington County. The bicycle path at this location is hidden from the view of motorists and pedestrians proceeding along Lee Highway by a "sound barrier wall" some fifteen to twenty feet in height.

Shortly before 7:00 p.m. on March 31, Ms. Abel was riding her bicycle along the path and had just passed the Air Force Association [244 Va. 226] building when she saw a man walking toward her. As they passed one another, they "made eye contact." The next thing she knew, she was pulled off her bicycle, dragged on her stomach into a ditch that ran alongside the bicycle path, and "jumped on from behind."

Every time Ms. Abel turned her head to plead with her assailant or to get a look at him, he would hit her in the head and face. She told him there was money in her purse and begged him to "go get that" and not "hit [her] anymore." As he continued to beat her, he managed to get her "pants part way down."

Suddenly, Ms. Abel's assailant "stopped what he was doing." It turned out that another cyclist, Mark Polemani, happened to pedal past the scene and saw a mountain bike "off the bike trail." He also observed a man kneeling down "right off the path," and when he saw the man "throw a punch to the ground," he stopped and got off his bicycle. When the man saw Polemani, he picked up Ms. Abel's purse and ran. Polemani pursued him, but he escaped.

Polemani returned to the scene to retrieve his bicycle and, for the first time, saw Ms. Abel. Her face and her sweatshirt were covered with blood and her "pants and her panties were down at her ankles." He walked with her to an apartment complex and knocked on a door. The police were called, and Ms. Abel was transported to a hospital. Several days later, her purse was found at a nearby parking lot. It contained her personal belongings, but no money.

At 8:00 p.m. on the same evening, Ann Borghesani was to be the guest of honor at a belated birthday party given for her by a friend who lived in the Crystal City area of Arlington County. Ms. Borghesani lived in an apartment at Rosslyn. From her apartment, it was about a five minute walk along the bicycle path, past the Air Force Association building, to a Metro station, where Ms. Borghesani could have taken a train to Crystal City.

Ms. Borghesani was last seen alive about 7:10 p.m. by her roommate, Susan Cohen. As Ms. Cohen left the apartment to go to dinner with her fiance, Ms. Borghesani was ironing some clothes.

Ms. Borghesani never appeared at the birthday party. When she failed to appear, her friends instigated a search, and, when they could not find her, they called the police.

Ms. Borghesani's body was found the next morning at the bottom of a stairwell of the Air Force Association building. She was nude "from her midsection down," she had been raped, and her body bore multiple wounds, many inflicted with a weapon having a sharp-tipped blade. Her rings were missing, and earrings "she was [244 Va. 227] wearing [the night before] had been ripped from her ears." One of her shoes was found on the bicycle path. Later that day, her purse was found at the same parking lot where Deborah Abel's purse was found and, like Ms. Abel's, it contained no money.

On August 18, 1990, four and one-half months after the Borghesani murder, Satcher was observed on another bicycle path in Arlington County. He was arrested for offenses he had committed that day. Nothing was said to him concerning the Borghesani rape and murder, but, as he was being transported to police headquarters, he told an officer that the police were "trying to frame [him] for a murder or something or a rape or something."

Page 826

In the glove compartment of Satcher's car, police found an awl. 2 Satcher admitted he owned the awl on the date of the murder. In the medical examiner's opinion, the awl was "consistent with [Ann Borghesani's] wounds." Scientific tests matched semen removed from Ms. Borghesani's body with blood taken from Satcher.


In a motion filed below, Satcher sought to "prohibit the imposition of the death penalty against him on the grounds that the Virginia death penalty statutes [violate] the Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Sections Eight, Nine and Eleven of the Constitution of Virginia." The trial court denied the motion, and Satcher assigns the denial as error.

All the arguments Satcher makes on appeal in support of the motion have been answered by previous decisions of this Court. He has not advanced sufficient reason to justify a departure from the views previously expressed, and we can perceive of none. Accordingly, we will reaffirm our earlier decisions and reject Satcher's arguments. The arguments Satcher makes and the decisions answering them are as follows:

A. Virginia's "vileness" predicate for imposition of the death penalty is unconstitutionally vague as applied and the "future dangerousness" predicate is unreliable and vague because the jury's discretion is not limited or guided in any way. Answered by M. Smith v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 476-78, 248 S.E.2d 135, 148-49 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 967, 99 S.Ct. 2419, 60 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1979).

[244 Va. 228] B. Due process is violated by the use of evidence of unadjudicated acts of misconduct to prove "future dangerousness" without an instruction requiring proof of such acts beyond a reasonable doubt. Answered by Stockton v. Commonwealth, 241 Va. 192, 210, 402 S.E.2d 196, 206, cert. denied, 502 U.S. 902, 112 S.Ct. 280, 116 L.Ed.2d 231 (1991). 3

C. The death penalty is imposed arbitrarily and discriminatorily where, as in this case, the victim is white and the defendant is black. Answered by Townes v. Commonwealth, 234 Va. 307, 335, 362 S.E.2d 650, 666 (1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 971, 108 S.Ct. 1249, 99 L.Ed.2d 447 (1988).

D. The death penalty is excessive and repugnant to society's evolving standards of decency and, hence, is violative of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Answered by M. Smith, 219 Va. at 476, 248 S.E.2d at 148.

E. The manner in which the jury receives evidence and instructions on the subject of mitigation is constitutionally improper. Answered by Watkins v. Commonwealth, 229 Va. 469, 490-91, 331 S.E.2d 422, 438 (1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1099, 106 S.Ct. 1503, 89 L.Ed.2d 903 (1986).

F. The death penalty statutes are unconstitutional as applied because a defendant cannot secure either a meaningful appellate review of the predicates of "vileness" and "future dangerousness" or an objective determination whether his sentence is the product of passion and prejudice or is disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Answered by R. Smith v. Commonwealth, 239 Va. 243, 253, 389 S.E.2d 871, 876, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 881, 111 S.Ct. 221, 112 L.Ed.2d 177 (1990). 4

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Motion for Separate Trials

By pretrial motion, Satcher sought separate trials of the offenses involving Deborah Abel and those involving Ann Borghesani. After [244 Va. 229] argument, the trial court denied the motion. Satcher assigns the denial as error.

As pertinent here, Rule 3A:10(b) provides that all offenses pending against an accused may be tried at one time "if justice does not require separate trials and ... the offenses meet the requirements of Rule 3A:6(b)." Under Rule 3A:6(b), joinder of offenses is permissible if they "are based on the same act or transaction, or on two or more acts or transactions that are connected or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan."

Satcher argues that the "interests of justice required separate trials because identity was the key issue in both cases" and consolidation "allowed the Commonwealth to take weak identity evidence from two cases in an effort to identify [him] although there was no evidence that the same assailant attacked both women." Furthermore, Satcher says, "the offenses were not connected or part of a common scheme or plan." Hence, Satcher concludes, the denial of his motion for separate trials constituted a violation of Rules 3A:10(b) and 3A...

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