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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WILLIAM HOLLAND (05/20/88)

decided: May 20, 1988.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
WILLIAM HOLLAND, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of a Death Sentence imposed by the Hon. Stanley Kubacki as of Nos. 1430, 1437, 1439 and 1441 of the October Term, 1984 of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, Trial Section, said sentence imposed February 7, 1986.

COUNSEL

Norris E. Gelman, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Deputy Dist. Atty., Ronald Eisenberg, Chief, Appeals Div., Helen Kane, Philadelphia, Robert A. Graci, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Stout, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Flaherty

[ 518 Pa. Page 409]

OPINION OF THE COURT

On June 12, 1985, in a trial by jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the appellant, William Holland, was found guilty of burglary, robbery, attempted deviate sexual intercourse, and murder of the first degree. In connection with the murder conviction, a separate sentencing hearing was held, as required by 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 9711, and appellant was sentenced to death. The instant direct appeal ensued.

I. BACKGROUND

The incident from which the convictions arose was one in which a seventy-one year old woman was viciously assaulted by a burglar in her home. Specifically, on August 11, 1984, at approximately 5:30 A.M., the victim's ground floor apartment in the Northeast section of the City of Philadelphia was forcibly entered through a window screen. Upon entry, the burglar ripped the telephone cord from the wall and proceeded to the victim's bedroom. A bizarre and brutal attack followed. Over a period of time, the victim was stripped, tied about the wrists and legs with a venetian blind cord, stabbed numerous times with an onion peeler and another knife, jabbed with straight pins about her feet, and sexually assaulted. The apartment was ransacked, and a small amount of money was taken. A neighbor, upon hearing the victim's cries for help, summoned the police. Two patrol cars soon arrived at the scene, whereupon one of

[ 518 Pa. Page 410]

    the police officers saw a man fleeing from beside the apartment building. The officer did not, however, succeed in apprehending the man at that time. Appellant was arrested and charged with the crime three days later. The victim died two weeks after the crime as a result of the injuries sustained.

II. TRIAL

Appellant has not challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for murder of the first degree. However, in Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26 n. 3, 454 A.2d 937, 942 n. 3 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 103 S.Ct. 2444, 77 L.Ed.2d 1327 (1983), we established that in each death penalty case a determination would be made by this Court as to whether there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction for murder of the first degree. In the instant case, the evidence of appellant's guilt is sufficiently strong as to leave no question that guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The evidence linking appellant to the crime consisted of, inter alia, the following. The police officer who was summoned to the crime scene and saw a man beside the victim's apartment building made a positive in-court identification of the man as appellant, and testified that the man ran away as soon as a police searchlight was aimed at him. The identification was based upon the officer's observation of the man for twenty seconds in the light of dawn, as well as light from the searchlight, at a distance of thirty feet. The observation included a frontal view of the man's face. At the time of the incident the officer described the man as a white male, of thin build, approximately 5'8" to 5'10" in height, with a receding hairline. That description corresponded to one later given by the victim, who described her attacker as a white male, of slight build, approximately 5'7" to 5'9" in height, wearing a mask.

A resident of an apartment building near the one where the attack occurred contacted police regarding the incident

[ 518 Pa. Page 411]

    and supplied information leading police to believe that an individual known to the resident as "Bill" could be regarded as a suspect. The resident reported that, just hours before the crime in question, she saw "Bill" looking through her apartment window. She told police that "Bill" resided in an apartment building behind that of the victim, and described "Bill" as a white man, weighing 140 pounds, approximately 5'7" to 5'9" in height, with a receding hairline. Plainclothes police officers went to the apartment building to examine the mailboxes, hoping to learn the surname of "Bill." While examining the mailboxes, one of the officers was approached by appellant, and appellant inquired about the officer's purpose in being there. The officer, realizing that appellant matched the description of "Bill," said he was looking for another individual, and gave as the name of the individual a name randomly selected from the mailboxes. Appellant offered to go and get the individual, but then disappeared behind a locked door and fled from the scene. The plainclothes officers gave pursuit, identifying themselves as police officers and ordering appellant to stop. Appellant ignored their commands, however, and escaped.

Subsequent investigation revealed that "Bill" was actually named William Holland, appellant herein, and that appellant resided in the apartment building with his mother. On August 14, 1984, three days after the crime, appellant was located by police at the nearby home of his grandmother. Appellant voluntarily accompanied police to a police station and made a number of incriminating statements, including two confessions that were later introduced at trial. The confessions included very detailed and complete admissions as to appellant's role in the crime. Based upon this evidence, it is clear that appellant's guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The first issue raised in this appeal concerns the trial court's instruction to the jury regarding the voluntariness of the confessions introduced into evidence. It is alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the instruction on voluntariness, inasmuch as it did not include

[ 518 Pa. Page 412]

    elements such as the burden of proof as to voluntariness, the duty to disregard statements involuntarily issued, etc. The charge given by the court was as follows:

There was some talk, too, about the statement that was given. Of course, a statement must be voluntary. Now, to be voluntary, a defendant's statement must be the product of an essentially free will and choice after being warned of his rights. If a defendant's will and ability to choose are overborn by physical or mental pressure, any statement which he then makes would be then involuntary.

There is no need, however, to discuss this charge in detail, for the circumstances of this case are such that no charge on voluntariness was required. Thus, any alleged inadequacies in the charge were necessarily of an inconsequential nature. Examination of the record reveals that the trial court provided the instruction relating to voluntariness merely as a comment upon some of the matters mentioned in counsel's arguments to the jury, ...


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