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Commonwealth v. Macias

March 17, 2009


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of December 21, 2007, in the Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-31-CR-0000235-2006.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowes, J.



¶ 1 Michael John Paul Macias challenges the discretionary aspects of the twenty-to-forty-year term of imprisonment that was imposed after he tendered a guilty plea to third degree murder. We affirm.

¶ 2 On March 19, 2006, the body of forty-six-year-old Doug Stenke was discovered in a motel room at the Huntingdon Motor Inn in Smithfield Township. The victim died as a result of multiple rib fractures that punctured his lungs and were inflicted by a heavy metal rod that had been removed from the closet in the motel room. He also suffered blows to the head. Several hours before the body was found, one of Appellant's co-defendants, Joseph Causey, had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Causey was driving Mr. Stenke's van and had Mr. Stenke's wallet in his rear pocket. Causey, who had been sharing a room with the victim, admitted to participating in the killing and informed police that Appellant and another co-hort, Rebecca Matthews, were also involved in the crime.

¶ 3 Appellant was arrested and after receiving Miranda warnings, made inculpatory statements to police. Appellant admitted that he, Causey, and Matthews planned to rob Mr. Stenke, that he and Causey beat Mr. Stenke to death "with fists and feet and a clothes rod which had been ripped down from the closet of the motel room," and that he and his two co-defendants proceeded to rob the victim of his money, credit cards, car, some drugs, and beer. N.T. Guilty Plea, 5/18/07, at 12. Police discovered Appellant's fingerprints on the rod utilized to inflict the fatal blows to the victim. While in jail, Appellant made telephone calls to a relative and "two other individuals," and during those calls, which were recorded, Appellant "admitted to those persons that he was involved in this crime." Id.

¶ 4 On March 20, 2006, Appellant, Causey, and Matthews were charged with first, second, and third degree murder and also with manslaughter, robbery, theft, and conspiracy. On May 18, 2007, Appellant tendered an open guilty plea to the charge of third degree murder and understood that he faced a sentence of twenty-to-forty-years imprisonment and that it was entirely within the sentencing court's discretion to impose such a sentence. Id. at 3, 14.

¶ 5 The case proceeded to sentencing on December 21, 2007. The sentencing court had a presentence report; Appellant had no corrections to that document. The court also possessed and considered a psychiatric report prepared on behalf of Appellant by Joseph Silverman. In mitigation, Appellant, who was diagnosed with a syndrome similar to Asperger's syndrome, maintained that Causey instigated the crime and that he was "gullible to suggestion." N.T. Sentencing, 12/21/07, at 7. Appellant also noted that he had a history of being physically abused and institutionalized due to his psychological problems.

¶ 6 The sentencing court elected to sentence Appellant to the statutory maximum sentence, which also was a standard range sentence under the sentencing guidelines, for these reasons:

The Court: [I'm] [n]ot going to repeat everything I've said this morning. I have to tell you, Michael, that some of the things you said to the probation officer as part of this report troubled me a great deal and it's not maybe important but I said this morning to Mr. Causey that in my humble opinion - - and I find your attorney for the first time in his legal career agreeing with me - - that if a jury were to hear all this evidence, I believe that had a jury - - a reasonable jury could have found all of you guilty of second-degree murder which carries a mandatory life sentence.

But there's something in your statement, Michael, that I believe could lead a prosecutor to seek a first-degree murder conviction and maybe even the death sentence. You told the officer - - and I'm reading what she reported you said -- you told her I was the last one to walk out. The dude was trying to get up. I went back and was going to help him but Becky grabbed me. No one could have made it the way he was laying. All of his air was blocked. No one could have breathed. He tried to get up and he'd fall and then she says you said, I didn't think they were as bad as they were and here I am a year later.

That's really frightening, Michael. If as you say you were the last one out of the room and if as you say you appreciated the seriousness of the condition this man was in, your failure to get him help is just unexcusable. And when I think about the three of you back at the Friendly Tavern drinking beer while this man's died in a motel room, it makes in my opinion the imposition of sentence rather easy. You have been given -- you and Mr. Causey -- a significant break. There will be a day down the road when you'll be a free man. Your victim won't but you will.

But the facts in this case -- there was another thing you said, by the way, and I don't know what you meant and I don't know that there's any evidence to back it up. I suspect sometimes when people are interviewed they tend to make themselves look better to Probation or say things to build themselves up, but you told her that you needed to score in order to buy heroin. And then you stated or she quotes you as saying you stated that you only rob people who owed you money. I am guessing that you didn't mean to use the word rob. I'm thinking maybe you were thinking of theft but I thought that a strange statement.

The sentence of the Court, Michael, is that you undergo imprisonment in a State Correctional facility for a period of not less than 20 or more than 40 years and we'll give you ...

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