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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES HENRY CARPENTER (09/25/86)

decided: September 25, 1986.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES HENRY CARPENTER, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of Death entered on January 20, 1984 by the Court of Common Pleas of York County at No. 2014, CA 1983

COUNSEL

C.N. Patterson, York, for appellant.

H. Stanley Rebert, Dist. Atty., York, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ.

Author: Larsen

[ 511 Pa. Page 431]

OPINION OF THE COURT

James Henry Carpenter, appellant, brings this appeal from his conviction for murder of the first degree and from the judgment of sentence of death imposed by a jury upon

[ 511 Pa. Page 432]

    that conviction.*fn1 The record of his trial in the Court of Common Pleas of York County disclosed the following.

On September 30, 1983, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Jimmie Lee Taylor (the victim) was stabbed in the heart with a knife on South Penn Street in the City of York. The victim was intoxicated and had a blood alcohol content of .356 per cent. He was pronounced dead at the York Hospital at 10:58 p.m. that evening.

The Commonwealth's principal witness, Helen Ruth Emmil (Ms. Emmil), appellant's girlfriend at the time of the stabbing, testified that appellant had stabbed the victim. Ms. Emmil testified that she, appellant and another couple had been drinking in a bar until just before the stabbing. The four left to go to another bar, and were walking on South Penn Street when the victim crossed the street carrying a six-pack of beer and asked the group if anyone wanted some beer.

The victim was known to appellant and Ms. Emmil and there was animosity between them. Ms. Emmil had previously been the victim's girlfriend, but left him and began to live with appellant. The victim harassed her after that, and threatened her on several occasions. Appellant had spoken with the victim, who had a bad reputation for violence in the community, in an attempt to get him to quit harassing Ms. Emmil, but to no avail. Near the end of May, 1983, appellant was involved in a serious altercation with the victim wherein the latter, without apparent provocation, hit appellant in the face with a hatchet, knocking appellant unconscious and fracturing his jaw. Appellant was hospitalized and had to have his jaw wired in place.

When the victim approached the group on South Penn Street on September 30, 1983 at about 9:30 p.m., Ms. Emmil proclaimed "I hope there don't be no shit," whereupon the other couple, fearing an altercation, went on ahead to the bar, while appellant, Ms. Emmil and the victim stayed behind. According to Ms. Emmil, appellant took a knife

[ 511 Pa. Page 433]

    from his pocket and, without provocation, stabbed the victim in the chest. The four inch blade of the knife pierced through his sternum and severed the top of his heart, and the victim fell to the sidewalk unconscious and died shortly thereafter.

Appellant then wiped off the blood from the knife with a handkerchief, closed the knife and tossed it and the handkerchief over a fence and into the back yard of a nearby house. The owner of the house happened to be the attorney for the City of York. He found the knife and handkerchief in his tomato garden the following morning and turned the items in to the police; they had not been there earlier on the evening of September 30, 1983. Appellant and Ms. Emmil then met the other couple at the bar as planned, and had some drinks.

After the stabbing, appellant threatened to kill Ms. Emmil if she told anyone what happened, and to add credibility to his threats told her that he had killed his ex-girlfriend. Initially, Ms. Emmil was frightened and did not tell the police what she knew about the stabbing when first questioned, but eventually she told them that appellant had stabbed the victim. Appellant was arrested and charged with murder.

Another Commonwealth witness testified that, in July, 1983, appellant offered him $500.00 to kill the victim. Appellant was aware that this witness had also been involved in a fight with the victim.

Appellant testified that Ms. Emmil (who was a large woman) had stabbed the victim without provocation on the evening of September 30, 1983, and that she had wiped the knife with a handkerchief and had thrown the objects over the fence. Appellant said that he did not go to the police because he wanted to cover up for his girlfriend, Ms. Emmil. He further stated that after the stabbing, he had asked a friend to purchase a knife similar to the one used by Ms. Emmil to confuse the police who, he was sure, would suspect him for the stabbing because of his known animosity toward the victim. Appellant admitted that he had had

[ 511 Pa. Page 434]

    ill feelings towards the victim and that he had threatened revenge shortly after the victim had broken his jaw with the hatchet, but that his desire for revenge had subsided with the passage of time and that he eventually decided to forget about the incident. According to appellant, however, Ms. Emmil could not forget about the incident or the victim's harassment of her, and she became increasingly more distraught and fearful of the victim.

The jury believed Ms. Emmil's version of the stabbing, and returned a verdict of guilty of murder of the first degree on January 20, 1984. Pursuant to the Sentencing Code, a sentencing hearing was conducted immediately thereafter before the same jury. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(a). The Commonwealth introduced evidence to establish only one aggravating circumstance, that the appellant had "a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person." 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(d)(9). This significant history consisted of a felony conviction for murder of the third degree and a felony conviction (arising from a separate incident) for assault by a prisoner. 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2502(c) and 2703, respectively. The jury was instructed as to three possible mitigating circumstances, namely that "the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance," that "the defendant acted under extreme duress . . . or acted under the substantial domination of another person," and "other evidence of mitigation concerning the character and record of the defendant and the circumstances of his offenses." 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(e)(2, 5 and 8, respectively). The jury found that appellant had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person, which aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances, and sentenced appellant to death. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(c)(1)(iv).

Post-trial motions were filed and denied by the Court of Common Pleas of York County on June 13, 1984 and appellant was formally ...


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