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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. DEWITT CRAWLEY (05/27/87)

decided: May 27, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
DEWITT CRAWLEY, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Criminal Section, of Philadelphia County, Imposed on Information Nos. 155-166, February Session, 1984.

COUNSEL

Michael Stack, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellant.

Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Deputy Dist. Atty., Ronald Eisenberg, Chief, Appeals Div., Elizabeth Chambers, Philadelphia, Marion E. MacIntyre, Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Papadakos and McDermott, JJ., joined.

Author: Zappala

[ 514 Pa. Page 544]

OPINION

This direct appeal arises from Appellant Dewitt Crawley's convictions of three counts of first degree murder arising from the deaths of his two teen-age nieces, Terri and Leslie Smith, and the girls' father, David Smith. Sentences of death were returned by the jury on each of the murder charges. Appellant was also found guilty of three counts of robbery, and one count each of rape and possession of instruments of crime. He was acquitted of a burglary charge. Following the denial of post-trial motions, consecutive

[ 514 Pa. Page 545]

    sentences of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years on each count of robbery and rape and of 2 1/2 to 5 years on the weapons offense were imposed. We affirm the judgments of sentence.

The tragic events leading to the deaths of the three victims began when the Appellant was hired by his half-sister Kathleen Smith to perform carpentry work in her home. Kathleen Smith, the estranged wife of David Smith and the mother of Terri and Leslie, was fathered by the same man as was the Appellant, but did not have the same mother.

On December 19, 1983, the date on which the murders were committed, Mrs. Smith went to work, leaving her 18-year old daughter Terri at home. Terri did not attend school that day because she was ill. At approximately two p.m., Terri called her mother to tell her that the Appellant was at the house. When Mrs. Smith asked her why he was there, Terri said he had come to pick up his carpentry tools. Concerned that Appellant would be angry when he discovered he had been replaced by another carpenter hired to complete the work, Mrs. Smith asked Terri if he was mad. Terri only cried and was told by her mother to call again once he left. She called her mother shortly thereafter to say that he had gone and everything was fine.

After leaving work, Mrs. Smith stopped at the house of her mother, Mary Elizabeth Crawley, at 8:30 p.m. to hide Christmas presents which she had purchased for her daughters. Mrs. Crawley's house was located on the same block as the Smith residence. An half-hour later, the Appellant appeared at Mrs. Crawley's house to tell Mrs. Smith that he wanted to pick up his tools which were in her house. Surprised because Terri had said earlier that he had already done that, Mrs. Smith questioned him about that afternoon. He denied having retrieved his tools. He stated that he had first stopped at her house before coming to Mrs. Crawley's, but that no one had answered the door.

Despite his resistance and unexplained nervousness, Mrs. Smith decided to accompany him back to the house so he could collect his tools. She unlocked her front door, noticing

[ 514 Pa. Page 546]

    as she did that the door opened wider than usual. Movement of the door was ordinarily hampered by a sofa and table stored in the enclosed porch area. That night, however, the door swung back freely and the furniture appeared to be pushed back. They entered the house which was dark except for the light of the living room lamp. The tools had been placed on the floor.

After Appellant left, feeling no reason for concern, Mrs. Smith went back to her mother's house. She did not expect her daughter to be home because her mother had told her that Terri was planning on shopping with a girlfriend. Her mother had also said that she had sent Leslie, Mrs. Smith's 16-year old daughter, to the house to turn out a basement light earlier, but that she had not returned. Neither woman was alarmed by Leslie's failure to return because she had a girlfriend who lived in the area.

Mrs. Smith returned home at ten o'clock. Beginning to relax, she heard a faint voice, the source of which was a radio. She found the radio, which never left Terri's room, on top of the sofa stored on the enclosed porch. Her view of the radio was blocked by sheet rock which was positioned across the sofa, rather than propped against the sofa as it had been left. She began to notice many unusual things -- a misplaced ceiling tile, clothes hung over the edge of steps leading upstairs, and a sewing machine moved to the hallway floor. She went into Terri's room and saw that all of the dresser drawers were pulled out and clothes were strewn everywhere. Leslie's room was as it had been left, except that a bed looked as though it had been knocked down. She went next to her own room, but could not open the door because it was blocked by whatever was on the floor.

Thinking that light from her son's television radio would be useful, she went to her son's room. Unable to find the radio, she became scared at the thought that the house had been ransacked. After leaving his room, she tried to open the bathroom door. When the door would not open, she noticed it was smudged. What she did not know then was

[ 514 Pa. Page 547]

    that the smudge was blood. She went downstairs to call her mother, telling of her fears and requesting a flashlight because the lights were not working.

Her mother arrived with a flashlight and suggested that they check the switches in the basement. Using the flashlight, they went down the stairs in the basement. A lightbulb was loose in the socket and once it was turned, the light came on. They saw that sleeping bags and other camping equipment were pulled out. In the corner of the basement was a pile of things forming a semi-circle. Investigating further, they found a quilt belonging to one of the girls. Mrs. Smith reached down to pick the quilt up, but could not do it. She pushed other things away and pulled hard on the quilt. As the quilt came up, the body of one of her daughters was revealed.

The nude body could not be identified immediately as Terri because duct tape had been wrapped around her entire face, covering all but one eye. Mrs. Smith thought first that it was Leslie's body because she had been sent to the house to turn off the basement light. An electrical cord was wrapped around Terri's neck and hands, which were bound near her neck. Believing she heard Terri moan, Mrs. Smith turned the body towards her. Sadly, the moan was only imagined. Blood everywhere, she frantically tugged at the tape on Terri's face. Unable to remove the tape, she ran upstairs to get a knife. She gave it to her mother who cut the wire around Terri's hands. She left to call an ambulance once the tape was removed, seeking a neighbor's assistance as shock made her unable to dial the telephone.

In the meantime, Mrs. Crawley had contacted the police. Officers Louis Ricci and Ronald Byrne did not immediately enter the house when they responded to the call because a second radio call directed them to the neighbor's house from which Mrs. Smith's call was made. They accompanied her back to the house and directed her to remain in her living room. She began to realize that the dining room and kitchen were in complete disarray. Officer Byrne went to the basement. As he checked Terri's body for vital signs,

[ 514 Pa. Page 548]

    he noticed that rigor mortis had already started. He noticed bruises on her leg and a gaping wound in her cheek. Leaving the basement, he joined Officer Ricci on the second floor. What had blocked Mrs. Smith's entrance to the bathroom was the partially submerged dead body of her daughter Leslie. The tub was filled with bloody water. Leslie's legs, bound by electrical cord, hung over the side of the tub. Blood was found on the floor and door of the bathroom and in the hallway.

Officer Byrne proceeded downstairs. While on the enclosed porch, he saw for the first time David Smith's legs jutting out beneath the sofa. Byrne uncovered the body. Protruding from the back of Smith's head were scissors and an awl which had been deeply embedded. A nail had been driven into his mouth. Mrs. Crawley was unable to identify the body even after the officer turned Smith's face towards them. Byrne noticed also that several ceiling tiles appeared to be missing, and that the tile appeared to be smeared with blood as though someone had tried to wipe it away.

Dr. Halbert Fillinger, the forensic pathologist on duty that evening, was called to the crime scene. He observed that a grooved pattern was marked around Terri Smith's neck. The pattern corresponded to the type of injury which results when a ligature or line has been placed around the neck and pressure has been applied. Directly above the area where the body lay, he noticed a nail in the rafter which was bent downward. The post-mortem examination which was subsequently conducted by Dr. Fillinger disclosed bruising and tearing of the scalp due to multiple blunt impacts, facial stabs wounds and bruises, strangulation, and vaginal tearing. The cause of death was multiple injuries of the head and neck. His medical opinion was that Terri Smith was alive when the ligature was placed around her neck and hung from the rafters.

In addition to the visual observations made by the police officer, Dr. Fillinger's examination of David Smith's body disclosed in excess of 13 blunt impacts to the head, as well as extensive tearing and shattering of the skull, and stab

[ 514 Pa. Page 549]

    wounds of the neck and back cutting into the muscles. The position of the injuries indicated that Mr. Smith had been attacked from behind. The cause of death was multiple injuries of the head, neck, and trunk. Leslie Smith's death resulted from multiple head injuries and drowning. She sustained blunt impacts to and lacerations of the head, as well as skull and jaw fractures.

At trial, the testimony of Angela Davis, Jerry Noville, and Jessie Lee Brown, III placed the Appellant inside of the Smith's residence between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m., several hours after Terri Smith had reassured her mother that he had left the house without incident. Mrs. Davis and Mr. Noville were neighbors of the Smith family at the time of the murders. The most damning testimony was elicited from Mr. Brown, who was working that day at his employer's home in the neighborhood. Mr. Brown knew Terri, who had introduced him to the Appellant. At approximately 5:00 p.m. he saw the Appellant walking on the street carrying what appeared to be a piece of metal and noticed that the Appellant was admitted into the Smith house. As he passed the house shortly thereafter, Mr. Brown heard an argument. He identified the voices as those of a man and a woman. Mr. Brown observed that Terri Smith walked into the front room of the house, followed by the Appellant. He then saw the Appellant strike the leftside of Terri's head with a pipe. Reluctant to become involved, Mr. Brown made no efforts to intervene on Terri's behalf. He testified that he felt relieved when David Smith arrived about five minutes later, parked his car, and went to the house. Presaging what he would soon learn about this chance encounter, Mr. Brown did not see David Smith again that day, but later observed the Appellant driving Smith's car. David Smith had never allowed anyone to drive his car.

Angela Davis testified that she saw the Appellant at the house for the first time that day between 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. as she walked past the house. She saw him later that day after 5:00 p.m. at which time she observed him on the porch, poking the ceiling with a stick. He then entered the house.

[ 514 Pa. Page 550]

Similarly, Jerry Noville testified that he saw the Appellant in the house during the course of several hours and also had seen him poking at the porch ceiling. He testified further that he had seen Leslie Smith coming from her grandmother's home and that the Appellant was still at the house at that time.

In his capacity as a forensic serologist, Special Agent William McInnis of the Federal Bureau of Investigation examined clothing of the victims and that which the Appellant was wearing when he was arrested. Each of the victims had blood typed as group B; the Appellant's blood was typed as group A. Typed blood from the jacket and pants of Leslie Smith indicated the presence of the A blood group. Although the presence of the A blood group eliminated each of the victims as the source of blood found on the garments, the blood could not be identified conclusively as that of the Appellant. The Commonwealth also introduced evidence that an inventory subsequently conducted by Mrs. Smith revealed that coin sets, a collection of pennies, and spending money which she had given her daughters on the morning of their deaths were missing.

The defense consisted of the testimony of two witnesses, Julia Postle, a neighbor of the Smiths who was called to contradict statements made by Mr. Brown, and Mr. Brown himself. Their testimony had a negligible impact on the prosecution's case.

The jury found the Appellant guilty of each of the crimes charged with the exception of the burglary count. For each of the homicides, the jury returned the death penalty based upon its finding of five aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances.*fn1 The aggravating

[ 514 Pa. Page 551]

    circumstances found by the jury were: (1) the victim was a prosecution witness to a murder or other felony committed by the defendant and was killed for the purpose of preventing his testimony against the defendant in any grand jury or criminal proceeding involving such offenses; (2) the defendant committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony; (3) the offense was committed by means of torture; (4) the defendant has a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person; and (5) the defendant has been convicted of another federal or state offense, committed ...


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