Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence October 13, 2010 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0006521-2008
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stevens, P.J.
BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., and ALLEN, J.
This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County after a jury convicted Appellant George Williams of second-degree murder,*fn1 criminal conspiracy,*fn2 and a violation of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA).*fn3 Appellant challenges the trial court's discretion in making certain evidentiary rulings and claims the trial court's jury instructions were improper. We affirm.
Appellant was charged in connection with the shooting death of Derrick Ralston (hereinafter "the victim"). The victim's body was discovered in an alley in the vicinity of Bridge and Granite Streets in Philadelphia, near Cappy's Bar. At Appellant's trial, two witnesses, Marcos Vinzenni and John Joseph Miller, testified to the events that occurred immediately prior to the victim's murder. Both Vinzenni and Miller were standing on the porch of Cappy's Bar in the early morning hours of October 19, 2007, when they saw three black males shouting at one white male in the middle of the street. The black males ordered the white male to strip off his clothes and two of the black males were pointing guns at the white male. Both Vinzenni and Miller recognized two of the black males, who they only knew by their nicknames "Killa" and "Stacks." Vinzenni and Miller testified that Killa and Stacks were the two men pointing guns at the victim. Miller testified that he heard the white male say "[w]e can work this out. I can take care of this. You don't have to do this." N.T. Trial, 10/7/10, at 71.
Despite the white male's pleading, Killa, Stacks, and the other black male chased the naked white male down the street. Miller testified that approximately seven seconds later, he saw gun flashes and heard eight to nine gunshots. Miller reported that he saw the black males run back in front the bar, where he witnessed Killa pick up the white male's clothes from the street and saw both Killa and Stacks holding guns. The three black men left the area. When Miller gave his statement to police, he identified Appellant as the man he knew as "Killa" from a photo array.
In another account, prosecution witness Vinzenni testified that he went back inside the bar after the black men chased the white male down the street. Vinzenni's friends followed him into the bar shortly thereafter and reported they heard gunshots. After making his statement to police, Vinzenni was shown photo arrays and also identified Appellant as the man he knew as "Killa."*fn4 As noted above, police discovered the naked body of a white male in an alley between Bridge and Granite Streets. The white male, who was identified as the victim, was lying on his side and had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
The victim's wife, Lauren Ralston, testified that a friend had
introduced her and the victim to "Killa" in 2005 or 2006. She did
not know Appellant by any other name than Killa until after the death
of her husband. The day before the victim was murdered, Lauren
discovered that the victim owed Appellant money after listening to
four or five messages that Appellant left on the victim's voicemail.
In this last message, Appellant told the victim "don't worry about
calling back because it's too late." N.T. Trial, 10/6/10, at 194.
When Lauren questioned the victim about the messages, the victim
admitted that he owed Killa money, but promised he would pay him back.
The victim's cell phone records showed that Appellant had called him
over 40 times that evening. Appearing nervous, the victim told
Lauren that he was going out to get Killa some "weed," left the
couple's home in Pottstown, and
took Lauren's SUV to meet Appellant. N.T. Trial, 10/6/10, at 197.
The victim never came home that evening.
After awaking in the early morning hours of October 19, 2007 and discovering the victim was not home, Lauren attempted to call Appellant to find out where the victim had gone. Appellant denied ever meeting the victim in Pottstown and denied knowing the victim's whereabouts. After the victim was gone for several hours, Lauren began desperately searching for him, driving around her hometown and calling local hospitals and the police to report his disappearance. Lauren called Appellant again to ask him to help her look for the victim and talk to the local police. Appellant again denied knowing the victim's whereabouts.
After Lauren told Pottstown detectives about "Killa," the Pottstown detectives contacted Appellant in order to speak with him about the victim's disappearance. Appellant arranged to meet Pottstown detectives near his home in Philadelphia. Before Pottstown detectives met with Appellant, they were notified that the victim's body had been found near Appellant's home. Appellant told Pottstown detectives that he had last seen the victim two or three days earlier. Shortly thereafter, Philadelphia detectives arrived to speak with Appellant and transported him to their headquarters.
Appellant gave the Philadelphia homicide detectives a different account, admitting that he was present when the victim was killed, but claimed to have no part in his murder. After learning the victim was struggling financially, Appellant set up a meeting so that the victim could sell drugs for "Raheem." When the victim did not pay Raheem for the drugs he sold, Appellant claimed that Raheem and Stacks threatened him at gunpoint and made him call the victim repeatedly to meet up with them in Pottstown. When they picked the victim up, Raheem and Stacks forced Appellant and the victim to go with them to Philadelphia, where they ordered both Appellant and the victim out of the car, ordered the victim to strip his clothes and shot the victim in a nearby alley. Appellant claims Raheem and Stacks forced him to go along with the abduction and warned him if he would "run his mouth" about the shooting, the same thing would happen to him. N.T. Trial, 10/7/10, at 177.
When the Philadelphia police told Appellant that his version of the shooting was not true, Appellant again changed his story. Appellant claimed the victim had told Raheem that he would "set up" three people who owed him money for drugs to repay the victim's debt to Raheem. On the evening of October 18, 2007, Raheem, Stacks, and Appellant went to the victim's home to execute this plan. The victim began to make excuses and claimed he wanted to be home with his wife as they were having problems. However, the victim ...