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11/20/97 COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RONALD

November 20, 1997

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
RONALD COLLINS, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of Death entered on April 20, 1995 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Trial Division, at June Term, 1992, Nos. 1477, 1479 and 1482, and May Term, 1992, Nos. 2253 and 2254. JUDGE BELOW: Hon. Eugene Clarke, Jr.

Before: Flaherty, C.j., And Zappala, Cappy, Castille, Nigro And Newman, JJ. Mr. Justice Nigro files a Concurring opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman

MADAME JUSTICE NEWMAN

DECIDED: November 20, 1997

On October 21, 1994, a jury found Appellant Ronald Collins guilty of two counts of first degree murder, *fn1 and one count each of aggravated assault, *fn2 possession of an instrument of crime, *fn3 and recklessly endangering another person. *fn4 These convictions stem from an aggravated assault on Lisa Tyler and the murders of David Sisco and Dawn Anderson. After a penalty hearing, the jury concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and set the penalty at death for each count of first degree murder. *fn5 On April 20, 1995, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) formally imposed the sentence of death. The court also imposed concurrent prison sentences of ninety to one hundred-eighty months for aggravated assault, twelve to twenty-four months for possession of an instrument of crime, and twelve to twenty-four months for recklessly endangering another person. Collins filed post-sentence motions, which the trial court denied. He then appealed directly to this Court pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 722(4) and 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(1). For the reasons that follow, we affirm his convictions and judgments of sentence.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

In all cases where the death penalty has been imposed, this Court performs an independent review of the sufficiency of the evidence regardless of whether the appellant seeks such review. Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 500 Pa. 16, 26 n.3, 454 A.2d 937, 942 n.3 (1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 970, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1327, 103 S. Ct. 2444 (1983). When reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we view all of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner to determine if the evidence was sufficient to enable the fact finder to conclude that all of the elements of the offenses were established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Burgos, 530 Pa. 473, 610 A.2d 11 (1992). To sustain a conviction for first degree murder, the Commonwealth must prove that a human being was unlawfully killed; that the accused did the killing; that the killing was done with malice aforethought; and that the killing was willful, deliberate and premeditated, i.e., the defendant had a specific intent to kill. Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 528 Pa. 546, 599 A.2d 624 (1991). Specific intent to kill may be proven by circumstantial evidence, such as the accused using a deadly weapon on a vital part of the victim's body. Commonwealth v. Rivers, 537 Pa. 394, 644 A.2d 710 (1994), cert. denied, 134 L. Ed. 2d 217, 116 S. Ct. 1270 (1996).

Viewed with these standards in mind, the evidence clearly was sufficient to support Collins' convictions for first degree murder. The events in this case revolve around a second floor apartment at 643 North 60th Street in West Philadelphia, where drugs were regularly sold and consumed. Marc Sisco maintained the apartment and managed the drug trade that occurred on the premises. Marc's brother, David Sisco, also lived in the apartment. Collins was a regular visitor to the apartment and often sold cocaine from that location. Collins' associates, Shawn Wilson and Dawn Anderson, also frequented the apartment.

Early in the morning of March 28, 1992, Collins and Marc Sisco were in the apartment and began arguing. Collins pointed a gun at Marc Sisco and shot him five times. When police arrived at the apartment, they found Marc Sisco lying on the bathroom floor. Medical personnel transported him to a hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Police recovered one bullet from the bathroom floor in the apartment and two bullets from Marc Sisco's body at the hospital. Two bullets remain inside him. After the shooting, David Sisco assisted the police in their investigation. He discussed the incident with a detective at the police station and accompanied the detective to the apartment, where he described how the shooting occurred.

A few days after the shooting, Collins was at the nearby residence of Annie "Mom" Holloman talking to a group of people when he threatened to shoot anyone who spoke to the police about the incident. He specifically mentioned David Sisco as a potential target.

On April 2, 1992, Collins confronted a woman named Lisa Tyler on the porch of Holloman's house and accused her of stealing drug money from him. Tyler denied the accusation and informed Collins that Dawn Anderson had stolen the drug money. Anderson had recently been spending large amounts of money, which was unusual. Despite Tyler's professed innocence, Collins fired a gun at her. The bullet tore a hole in her coat but did not strike her body.

At approximately 8:00 p.m. on April 5, 1992, Anderson was at Holloman's house with Holloman and Tyler. She told Holloman that she was going to work "around the corner", which Tyler understood to mean that Anderson was going to assist with drug sales at Marc Sisco's apartment. Before Anderson left, she told Holloman that she would bring some drugs back "if they don't kill me." She also told Holloman that "they shot her in the elbow one time and they said they were going to shoot her in the head." Holloman understood Anderson's reference to "they" to mean Collins and Wilson.

Later that evening, Gwendolyn Oliver accompanied Collins and Shawn Wilson to Marc Sisco's apartment. After talking and drinking beer for a short time in the apartment, Oliver, Collins and Wilson decided to go to a hotel. Oliver left the apartment to make a call from a telephone booth before going to the hotel. While at the phone booth, Oliver heard approximately five gun shots come from the apartment. Collins then ran out of the apartment, called to Oliver, and hailed a cab. Wilson exited the apartment a few moments later and joined Collins and Oliver in the cab.

While riding in the cab, Collins boasted that he had "served" someone, which Oliver understood to mean that he had harmed someone. Wilson responded that Collins had given them what they deserved, and the two men exchanged a "high-five". Collins then asked Wilson if he had seen "the blood squirting out" and showed blood stains on his shirt sleeve to Wilson. The trio stopped at a delicatessen to purchase beer and then went to the house of a man named Lonnie Boo. When they arrived at Lonnie Boo's house, Collins told Lonnie Boo that "we just had some drama". Collins then gave his gun to Lonnie Boo for safekeeping. After drinking beer and playing cards, Collins and Wilson gave Oliver cab fare, told her to wait a few minutes before leaving, and then left Lonnie Boo's house.

On the morning of April 6, 1992, police arrived at Marc Sisco's apartment and discovered David Sisco unconscious and covered with blood on a bed. He had been shot approximately seven times and died at a hospital a few hours later. In another room, police found Dawn Anderson unconscious and covered with blood on a bed. She had been shot once in the head and died the following day. Police recovered two bullets from David Sisco's body, one bullet from Anderson's head and several bullets from the apartment.

Ballistics evidence showed that a single firearm had fired the two bullets recovered from David Sisco's body, the bullet recovered from Anderson's head, the bullets found in the apartment after David Sisco and Anderson were shot, the bullet found in the bathroom after Marc Sisco was shot on March 28, 1992, and at least one of the two bullets recovered from Marc Sisco's body. The other bullet recovered from Marc Sisco's body may have come from the same gun, but positive identification was not possible because the bullet became deformed after it was fired.

Based on the foregoing, there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Collins murdered David Sisco as a reprisal for cooperating with the police and that Collins murdered Dawn Anderson because she allegedly stole money from him. Burgos. We now turn to the issues that Collins raises.

Severance

At a pre-trial hearing, Collins made an oral motion to sever the charges relating to the shooting of Marc Sisco, the aggravated assault on Lisa Tyler, and the murders of David Sisco and Dawn Anderson. The trial court granted the motion in part. It ruled that the shooting of Marc Sisco was a separate criminal episode that should be tried individually. The court also ruled that the assault on Lisa Tyler and the murders of David Sisco and Dawn Anderson could be tried together. Further, the court held that the evidence of the Marc Sisco shooting was admissible at the trial on the latter charges to establish a motive for the murder of David Sisco, and to establish the identity of the murderer because the same gun was used to shoot Marc Sisco, David Sisco and Dawn Anderson.

Collins argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever the charge of aggravated assault concerning the shot fired at Lisa Tyler from the charges of first degree murder concerning the shootings of David Sisco and Dawn Anderson. We disagree. The decision to sever offenses is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only for a manifest abuse of that discretion. Commonwealth v. Paolello, 542 Pa. 47, 665 A.2d 439 (1995); Commonwealth v. Carter, 537 Pa. 233, 643 A.2d 61 (1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1005, 131 L. Ed. 2d 198, 115 S. Ct. 1317 (1995). Rules of Criminal Procedure 1127 and 1128 govern the joinder and severance of offenses and defendants, and provide in relevant part as follows:

Rule 1127. Joinder--Trial of Separate Indictments or Informations

A. Standards

(1) Offenses charged in separate indictments or informations may be tried together if:

(a) the evidence of each of the offenses would be admissible in a separate trial for the other and is capable of separation by the jury so that there is no danger of confusion; or

(b) the offenses charged are based on the same act ...


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