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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JESSIE BELL GROVE (05/18/87)

filed: May 18, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JESSIE BELL GROVE, APPELLANT



Appeal from Judgment of Sentence entered September 24, 1984 in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania at Nos. 2137-81, 2137-81A.

COUNSEL

John R. Merrick, Public Defender, Murray K. Smith, Assistant Public Defender, West Chester, for appellant.

Thomas J. Wagner, Assistant District Attorney, Phoenixville, for Com., appellee.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Montemuro and Kelly, JJ.

Author: Kelly

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 331]

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8, 1981, appellant, Jessie Bell Grove, entered the master bedroom of her home where her husband, Israel Grove, lay drunk and asleep. Appellant removed approximately four hundred dollars from his trouser pocket and then shot her husband in the back with a twelve gauge shotgun. She then tied his legs together, poured gasoline about his body and ignited it. The fire charred Israel Grove's remains, and destroyed the family residence. Appellant's daughter, Diane Denise Grove, assisted her mother in the commission of these acts. The next day, appellant went to Lukens Steel Company, her husband's employer, and asked about receiving his back pay, vacation pay, and insurance benefits. During her initial contacts with the police, she lied about her activities on the night of her husband's death. However, appellant eventually confessed to the murder in a sworn statement to the Pennsylvania State Police.

On October 4, 1982, following a jury trial, appellant was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy. She was acquitted of a charge of arson. Post-verdict motions raising fifty-seven allegations of error were filed and denied. On September 24, 1984, appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment on her first-degree murder conviction and a consecutive sentence of five to ten years imprisonment on the conspiracy conviction. A timely notice of appeal was

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 332]

    filed. Appellant's motion for reconsideration of sentence was filed, argued and denied.

On appeal, appellant contends that: the trial court improperly prevented appellant from presenting her self-defense claim; the trial court erred in failing to suppress appellant's statements to the police; the jury charge was unclear, inadequate, and inaccurate; the trial court abused its discretion with regard to adverse rulings made throughout appellant's trial; and the sentence imposed on the conspiracy charge was excessive and illegal. Upon review of the voluminous record, the briefs of the parties, the relevant caselaw, and the thorough and well-reasoned opinion by the Honorable John E. Stively, Jr., we find no merit in this appeal, and accordingly affirm judgment of sentence.

I.

Appellant's theory of self-defense was that she actually and reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to protect herself and her daughter from death or serious bodily injury. She based her claim upon her allegation that throughout her twenty-two year marriage, she and her children were physically abused by the victim, Israel Grove, her husband. Appellant contended that her perception of danger on the day of this incident was directly affected by the cumulative impact of years of abuse. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence of specific violent acts of the victim as well as evidence of his general reputation for violence. Appellant argues that this evidence was essential to establish both the sincerity and reasonableness of appellant's fear of death or serious bodily injury. (Appellant's Brief at 8). We cannot agree.

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 333]

"The trial judges of this Commonwealth exercise broad powers while presiding at the trial of cases assigned to them. These powers include ruling on the admission or exclusion of evidence and controlling the scope of examination and cross-examination of witnesses. Such matters are committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Commonwealth Page 333} v. Pittman, 320 Pa. Super. 166, 172-173, 466 A.2d 1370, 1373 (1983) (citation omitted). Decisions regarding such matters will not be reversed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Sisco, 484 Pa. 85, 398 A.2d 955 (1979); Commonwealth v. Jackson, 336 Pa. Super. 609, 486 A.2d 431 (1984).

The trial court held that while there was a possible basis for a self-defense claim, the excluded evidence was, nonetheless, inadmissible under the two-prong relevancy test announced in Commonwealth v. Amos, 445 Pa. 297, 284 A.2d 748 (1971). The court reasoned that because appellant admitted that the victim was asleep, no evidence of the victim's violent propensities (acts or reputation) could be admitted to establish that the victim was the aggressor. The court further reasoned that evidence of the victim's violent propensities (acts or reputation) would only be admissible to establish the reasonableness of appellant's perception of an actual threat if she knew of the acts or the reputation at the time she used the deadly force. Applying this reasoning to the appellant's various proffers, the Court concluded that some but not all of appellant's evidence was admissible; the remainder was excluded because appellant failed to establish a proper foundation for its admission. See Trial Court Opinion at 13-19. While we agree with the trial court's analysis and application of the rule in Commonwealth v. Amos, supra, we do not find such analysis necessary. Instead, we would find that the evidence was properly excludable because self-defense was not properly at issue in this case.*fn1

In Commonwealth v. Brown, 491 Pa. 507, 421 A.2d 660 (1980), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated:

'While there is no burden on the defendant to prove a claim of self-defense, it is nevertheless required that before such a defense is properly in issue at trial, there

[ 363 Pa. Super. Page 334]

    must be some evidence, from whatever source, to justify such a finding.'

491 Pa. at 512, 421 A.2d at 662. (Citations omitted) (emphasis omitted and added).

In Commonwealth v. Simmons, 504 Pa. 565, 475 A.2d 1310 (1984), our Supreme Court stated:

Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. ยง 505(a):

The use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.

Additionally a claim of self-defense is further proscribed by the following conditions:

(1) The slayer must have been free from fault in provoking or continuing the difficulty which resulted in the killing;

(2) The slayer must have reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that there was a necessity to kill in order to save himself therefrom;

(3) The slayer must not have violated any duty to retreat or ...


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