No. 80-1-57, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Pennsylvania, at No. 557 of 1979.
J. David Ungerman (Court-appointed), Erie, for appellant.
Michael J. Veshecco, Dist. Atty., Shad Connelly, Asst. Dist. Atty., Erie, for appellee.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Flaherty, J., joined in this opinion and filed a separate concurring opinion. Nix, J., concurred in the result.
Appellant, Angel Santo Baez ("Baez"), was convicted of murder of the first degree after a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County. Post verdict motions were denied, a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed, and this appeal followed.*fn1 Baez contends that the trial court erred in permitting the Commonwealth to read directly from a hearsay statement in an effort to impeach his credibility on cross-examination. We agree and, accordingly, vacate and remand for a new trial.
The relevant facts are as follows. On March 23, 1979, at approximately 2:00 a. m., Clark Harris ("Harris") was stabbed and killed in an all night restaurant. Baez was arrested and charged with first degree murder. At trial, the Commonwealth's case in chief was supported by the testimony of several eyewitnesses to the incident, all of whom
testified that Baez had stabbed Harris.*fn2 Their testimony varied, however, with respect to what, if anything, had occurred inside the restaurant between Harris and Baez immediately prior to the stabbing. Some witnesses testified that before the stabbing Harris had called Baez a "hippie"; others testified that no words had been exchanged between the two. One witness testified that Harris had first grabbed Baez by the shirt, while others testified that there was no physical contact prior to the stabbing.
Baez argued that he acted in self-defense, or, in the alternative, that Harris had provoked the incident by harassing, grabbing, and threatening him. He testified that on the night in question, two of his friends, Reinaldo Castillo ("Castillo") and Angel Rivera ("Rivera"), drove him to the restaurant, parked across the street, dropped him off, and then drove away. He contended that the events leading up to the stabbing began outside the restaurant, alleging that as he approached the restaurant, two "guys" who were bigger than he and whom he had never seen before, pushed him and called him names, and that one of them, Harris, threatened to kill him.*fn3 He further testified that once inside the restaurant, he walked over to the two men and told them he did not "want any trouble"; that Harris then grabbed him by the shirt, lifted him in the air, and again threatened to kill him; that as a result, he "lost [his] mind," took the knife out, and after that his mind went "blank"; and finally, that he remembered leaving the restaurant and going home, but did not remember stabbing Harris.
On cross-examination of Baez, the Commonwealth, over defense objection, was permitted to read directly from a written statement allegedly given by Castillo to police Detective Richard Runstedler shortly after the incident.*fn4 Castillo's statement made no reference to any conflict between Harris and Baez outside the restaurant. It thus contradicted Baez' testimony with respect to the name calling, pushing and threats, which he contended had occurred on the sidewalk. Moreover, Baez had testified that after Castillo and Rivera dropped him off near the restaurant, they immediately drove away. Castillo's statement, however, asserted that he and Rivera did not immediately drive away, but rather remained in front of the restaurant. It further recounted that "two white guys" came over to the car, one ...