Nicholas A. Clemente, Philadelphia, for appellant.
F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, 1st Asst. Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Eagen, J., concurs in the result. Jones, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion.
Appellant Michael Stewart was tried by a jury for the homicide of Ernest Hilton. The jury found appellant guilty of murder in the first degree and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. This appeal ensued.*fn1 We reverse the judgment of sentence and grant a new trial.
The only evidence introduced at trial of what transpired the night of the killing was appellant's statement to the investigating police officers and his own testimony at trial. According to appellant's statement, appellant came home from work and went to a neighborhood playground in West Philadelphia to drink wine with some friends. After drinking for a short time, he accompanied a companion to the companion's home where they procured a sawed-off shotgun, the weapon that fired the fatal shot. Thereafter, they returned to the playground. In the meantime, the Market Street Gang had come to the playground to negotiate a peace treaty with the Lex Street Gang of which appellant was a former member. Apparently, the negotiations broke down, a commotion began, and a cry went out that the Market Street Gang was "warring." Appellant continued his statement:
"Then I got up and was going across the field and somebody handed me the shotgun. 'Market Street' was jumping around in the field, saying something. And then I had the shotgun and I went over to the fence and I just shot. The shotgun jumped out of my hands and fell on the ground, and then I just left it and ran . . ."
Appellant's testimony at trial varied from his statement to the police. He testified that when the fracas began, the Market Street Gang jumped over a fence between
that gang and himself and charged in his direction. Appellant claimed that he heard a member of that gang say, "'Kill one of those motherfuckers.'" Appellant panicked, grabbed the shotgun and ran. As he ran the gun went off.
Appellant asserts that the trial court erred by ruling that testimony about the nature and extent of gang activity in appellant's West Philadelphia community was irrelevant.*fn2 Appellant argues that this evidence was relevant to establish that he lacked the intent required for a conviction of murder in the first degree.
Determination of the relevancy of evidence offered at trial requires a two-step analysis. It must be determined first if the inference sought to be raised by the evidence bears upon a matter in issue in the case and, second, whether the evidence "renders the desired inference more probable than it would be without the evidence[.]" McCormick's Handbook of the Law of Evidence § 185 (2d ed. E. ...