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U.S. v. Bell

May 22, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

v.

ROBERTA RONIQUE BELL,

APPELLANT



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

(D.C. Criminal No. 95-163)

Before: GREENBERG, ALITO, and SEITZ, Circuit Judges

ALITO, Circuit Judge

Filed May 22, 1997

Argued: April 15, 1997

Opinion Filed: May 22, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Roberta Ronique Bell was convicted following a jury trial of conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 371; murder of a witness, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 1512(a)(1)(A) and (C); use of physical force and threats against a witness, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 1512(b)(1), (2), and (3); and use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 924(c)(1). She was sentenced to life imprisonment. These charges all relate to the killing of Doreen Proctor, who had been acting as an informant for the Tri-County Drug Task Force. Before Bell was indicted on these federal charges in June 1995, she had been acquitted in the Court of Common Pleas for Adams County of murder and witness intimidation charges arising out of the same events.

Bell's principal argument in this appeal is that her convictions on the witness tampering charges must be reversed because there was insufficient evidence that she intended to interfere with a federal proceeding or to prevent the communication of information to federal law enforcement officers. We hold that the jury was entitled to conclude (1) that Bell intended to prevent communications by Proctor to law enforcement officers and (2) that under United States v. Stansfield, 101 F.3d 909 (3d Cir. 1996), at least one of those communications would have been to a federal officer. Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

Doreen Proctor was an informant for the Tri-County Drug Task Force ("the Task Force"), which was comprised of local, state, and federal investigators operating in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Franklin Counties in Pennsylvania. The Task Force had developed federal as well as state criminal cases. Based on an investigation by the Task Force in which Proctor had provided information, David Tyler (who was Bell's boyfriend and colleague in the drug business) was on trial for drug offenses in state court. Proctor was scheduled to testify against Tyler on April 21, 1992, in the Court of Common Pleas for Cumberland County. In the early morning of April 21, at the direction of David Tyler, Bell and several others kidnapped Proctor, took her to an isolated location in Adams County, tortured her, and killed her. Bell drove Proctor to the place where she was killed, and fired the first shot, into Proctor's chest. Willie Tyler, David Tyler's brother, then shot Proctor in the head.

Several of Bell's co-conspirators were convicted in state court of murder and/or witness intimidation. Bell, however, was acquitted in April 1993. Federal authorities then began their own investigation into Proctor's murder, which culminated in the convictions that are the subject of this appeal. *fn1

Before trial, Bell moved to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy and related grounds. The district court denied this motion in September 1995. Following trial, Bell moved for judgment of acquittal or a new trial, renewing her double jeopardy argument and contending that there was insufficient evidence to sustain her convictions on the witness tampering charges because Proctor was not a federal witness. In addition to challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, Bell contended that the court erred in its charge to the jury on the issue of her intent to interfere with a federal proceeding or investigation. She also advanced the related argument that without a connection between Proctor and a federal proceeding or a federal investigation, the court lacked jurisdiction. The court denied this motion in a memorandum opinion filed in June 1996. At her sentencing hearing, Bell argued that it was error to use the first-degree murder guideline in computing her sentence on the 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 1512(a) intimidation count (as the pre-sentence report recommended) because the jury never determined that Bell committed first-degree murder. The court rejected this argument. (App. 21A-30A)

On appeal, Bell raises these same contentions. In evaluating Bell's sufficiency challenge, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government (the verdict-winner) and ask "whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Price, 13 F.3d 711, 731 (3d Cir. 1994). ...


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