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[U] Commonwealth v. Elias

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 23, 2013

CRAIG ELIAS, Appellant


Appeal from the PCRA Order February 17, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0005482-2002, CP-02-CR-0005909-2002, CP-02-CR-0005952-2002




Craig Elias appeals from the February 17, 2012 order denying him PCRA relief. We affirm.

Appellant was found guilty following a joint jury trial with Jared Henkel and Jared Lischner of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count each of robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, and abuse of a corpse. The convictions arose from Appellant's participation in the abductions and beatings of Anthony Brownlee and Andrew Jones. During the criminal episode, Jones was strangled and killed. The trial court provided a comprehensive outline of the events, which we will summarize.

The three co-defendants and two victims were all involved in a joint drug dealing enterprise. In 2002, Henkel rented 220 Sycamore Street, Pittsburgh, to store drugs and money, which were placed in two safes. Henkel, Appellant and Jones had keys to the house. On March 22, 2002, Henkel discovered that the safes had been taken from the stash house. Henkel then called Jones, who was with Brownlee, and told Jones and Brownlee to come to Sycamore Street. Meanwhile, Appellant, Henkel, and Lischner met Matthew Henkel, Jared Henkel's brother. Matthew Henkel was in possession of duct tape, which he had been asked to obtain. Appellant, Jared Henkel, and Lischner took the tape and proceeded to Sycamore Street, where they met Brownlee and Jones. The five men discussed the missing safes and possible robbery suspects.

Appellant pointedly asked Brownlee who had stolen the safes, and, when Brownlee responded that he did not know, Appellant knocked him to the floor, began to beat him, and dragged him down the steps and into the kitchen. Jones was already in that room and was being held face down on the floor by Lischner. Henkel and Lischner bound Jones' hands and feet with the duct tape while Appellant did the same to Brownlee. The two victims were then taken upstairs and placed in different rooms, where they were questioned by all three defendants for several hours.

Appellant beat and threatened the two men and demanded that they disclose the location of the two safes. Appellant also choked Brownlee three times with a rope. Eventually, Brownlee was allowed to call a friend, who brought the three defendants $4, 000 to secure his and Jones' release. After receiving the cash, the three co-defendants still refused to let Brownlee and Jones leave.

Jared Henkel called his brother Matthew Henkel and asked him to borrow a pick-up truck and bring it, along with cement, to the Sycamore residence. Matthew obtained the truck but did not have money for the cement. He went to the Sycamore house with that vehicle and waited on the first floor with his brother Jared. While there, Matthew observed

Appellant and Lischner repeatedly traveling up and down the stairs. Jared told Matthew that the three defendants believed that someone from inside the drug enterprise had stolen the safes. At one point, the three co- defendants conversed on the first floor. They all agreed that Jones was a dangerous person who would seek revenge for his torture if released but that Brownlee was not a threat to their safety. Brownlee was freed.

Appellant told Matthew to obtain weights from his father's house and return with them, and Matthew complied by obtaining a fifty-pound weight. At Appellant's command, Matthew went upstairs and helped Appellant wrap Jones' body in garbage bags. Appellant and Matthew loaded the body into the pick-up truck, and traveled to Steubenville, Ohio. During the drive to Ohio, Appellant admitted to Matthew that he had killed Jones. Appellant and Matthew disposed of Jones' body, which was weighed down with chains and the weight, by throwing it over a bridge. In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Matthew Henkel became a cooperating witness, showed police where Jones' body was thrown from the bridge in Ohio, and testified at trial against Appellant, Jared Henkel, and Lischner.

At trial, counsel for the three co-defendants delved heavily into matters concerning Matthew Henkel's mental health. Following Appellant's convictions, we affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Henkel, 938 A.2d 433, 436-37 (Pa.Super. 2007) (citations omitted). We rejected Appellant's claims that the trial court erred in refusing to order a pre-trial mental health evaluation of Matthew Henkel, in concluding that Matthew was competent to testify, and in refusing to compel disclosure to Appellant of Matthew's mental health treatment records. In that decision, we noted that Appellant's arguments were premised, in part, upon factual averments that, just prior to trial, Matthew was suicidal and was hospitalized for depression. On August 25, 2008, our Supreme Court denied Appellant's petition for allowance of appeal. Commonwealth v. Elias, 955 A.2d 356 (Pa. 2008).

Appellant filed a timely PCRA petition, counsel was appointed, and counsel filed an amended petition. Following a hearing, the PCRA petition was denied on February 17, ...

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