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Commonwealth v. Reyes

January 23, 2009


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered on March 23, 2007 in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, at No. 1388-93.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Greenspan


ARGUED: October 20, 2008


This matter comes before this Court on direct appeal from the imposition of a sentence of death upon Appellant, Angel Reyes, for the first-degree murder of his four-year old daughter Marcia Reyes on May 25, 1993. We affirm.

The record establishes that Appellant and Julia Martinez moved in together and had a child, the victim Marcia Reyes. Ms. Martinez also had two sons, Javier and Louis, who were young adults with whom Appellant did not get along. In August of 1992, Appellant and Louis Martinez had a fight. When the altercation ended, Appellant grabbed Marcia's hand and led her to the edge of a body of water where, upon being confronted by Ms. Martinez, he remarked that if Ms. Martinez called the police and had him arrested, she would find Marcia in the river with her throat slashed. N.T. 11/17/93,147. Later, Appellant threatened to harm Marcia if Ms. Martinez even had contact with her son Louis or if she attempted to leave the city. Id.

On May 25, 1993, Ms. Martinez met her son Louis at the home of a relative who lived in Chester, Pennsylvania, in order to avoid Appellant. Appellant, however, saw Louis in Chester and confronted Ms. Martinez about whether Louis was in Chester. When Ms. Martinez indicated Louis had been in Chester, Appellant placed Marcia in his car and drove off with her. He returned approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes later without her. Upon returning, he stated, "I did it, it's all finished." N.T. 11/17/93, 55-59, 65.

Later that night, Appellant appeared at the Chester Police Station and admitted to both Sergeant Lawrence Platt and Detective Walter Loveland that he killed his daughter Marcia. Following Miranda warnings,*fn1 Appellant later told authorities that he drowned his daughter by dropping her into Ridley Creek off a bridge located in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. N.T. 11/17/93, 104-108. The decedent's body was recovered the next day. An autopsy revealed that she drowned and that the manner of death was homicide.

Appellant was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a), aggravated assault, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a)(1), and endangering the welfare of children, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4304. He was tried in November of 1993 by the Honorable Frank T. Hazel, sitting without a jury. At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Hazel found Appellant guilty of all charges. In January of 1994, a jury was empanelled for a penalty hearing. On January 13, 1994, the jury returned a verdict of death, finding one aggravating circumstance, namely, that the victim was a child under twelve years of age, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(16), and no mitigating circumstances. Appellant filed motions for reconsideration of sentence and/or a new sentence, which were denied. Appellant then filed a supplemental motion for a new sentencing trial, which was also denied. On July 19, 1994, the trial court imposed on Appellant a sentence of death for the first-degree murder conviction and a consecutive two and one-half to five year term of imprisonment for the conviction on endangering the welfare of children. Appellant filed a direct appeal in this Court,*fn2 and on July 31, 1996, the judgment of sentence was affirmed. Commonwealth v. Reyes, 681 A.2d 724 (Pa. 1996). Appellant then filed a petition seeking a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

On November 21, 1996, while the petition for writ of certiorari was still pending, Appellant filed a pro se petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546 (PCRA). In February of 1997, new counsel was appointed, and Appellant filed an amended PCRA petition. Both PCRA petitions were subsequently withdrawn.

On April 14, 1997, the United States Supreme Court denied Appellant's petition for a writ of certiorari. Reyes v. Commonwealth, 520 U.S. 1174 (1997). A death warrant was signed on May 6, 1997. On May 21, 1997, Appellant filed an emergency motion for stay of execution and asked that his prior PCRA petitions be reinstated. On May 23, 1997, Appellant's emergency motion was granted. New counsel was appointed, and on January 23, 1998, Appellant filed a second amended PCRA petition. The matter was assigned to Judge Hazel for disposition. Following several evidentiary hearings, Judge Hazel issued a clarifying order, dated July 26, 2001, which vacated Appellant's death penalty and granted him a new sentencing hearing, but denied Appellant relief from his convictions.

Appellant thereafter appealed to this Court. After reviewing Appellant's substantive claims, this Court affirmed the order of the PCRA court denying Appellant's request for a new trial and granting him a new penalty hearing. Commonwealth v. Reyes, 870 A.2d 888, 892-893 (Pa. 2005). On remand, a new penalty hearing was held in March 2007 before Judge Hazel and a jury. The Commonwealth presented evidence with respect to the aggravating circumstance set forth at 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(16).*fn3 The evidence showed that Appellant murdered his four-year-old daughter by intentionally throwing her off a bridge into Ridley Creek.

In mitigation, Appellant testified that he grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico, with ten other siblings, in a one or two room home that lacked electricity, plumbing, and furniture. He also averred that when he was a child, his father abused him by beating him regularly and by depriving him of necessities. This narrative was corroborated by several of Appellant's relatives. Appellant conceded that the abuse occurred more than thirty years prior to the killing of his daughter and, despite the abuse, he still loved his father.

Dr. Pedro Ferrerra, an expert in the field of forensic psychology, testified that he examined Appellant at the behest of Appellant's counsel. Dr. Ferrerra related that his examination revealed Appellant to be of low-average intelligence. Dr. Ferrerra explained that, with respect to the killing of his daughter, Appellant repressed the anger he felt toward his father and this repressed anger became manifest after Ms. Martinez disobeyed him and saw her son. According to Dr. Ferrerra, the anger Appellant felt towards Ms. Martinez was expressed in the killing of his daughter. N.T. 3/19/07, 111-113. Finally, Dr. Ferrerra opined that Appellant's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct and/or conform it to the law was substantially impaired. N.T. ...

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