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Commonwealth v. Lyons

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

October 30, 2013

GLENN LYONS, Appellant

Submitted November 20, 2012.

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Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered on June 8, 2011 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Berks County at No. CP-06-CR-0000869-2009. (Post Sentence Motions denied on December 14, 2011. Trial Court Judge: Paul M. Yatron, Judge.

For Lyons, Glenn, APPELLANT: Timothy Alan Biltcliff, Esq., Berks County Public Defender's Office.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, APPELLEE: Jonathan H. Kurland, Esq., Berks County District Attorney's Office; Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General.

BEFORE: MADAME JUSTICE TODD. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Messrs. Justice Saylor, Eakin, Baer, McCaffery and Stevens join the opinion.


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Glenn Lyons appeals the judgment of sentence of death imposed on July 15, 2011 by the Court of Common Pleas of [622 Pa. 100] Berks County after a jury convicted him of first-degree and third-degree murder. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Factual and Procedural History

This matter arises from the May 1, 2008 disappearance and death of Kathy Leibig in Berks County, Pennsylvania. That evening, Leibig's husband returned home from work to find her missing, and, when she did not return by morning, he reported her disappearance to police. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 171-81. In the ensuing investigation, officers reviewed Leibig's mobile telephone records, discovering over 100 calls, including her most recent call, between her mobile telephone and two numbers registered to Appellant. Id. at 181-83, 255-57. The officers sought to contact Appellant via telephone and at his Reading apartment concerning Leibig's whereabouts, but to no avail. Id. at 257-58.

Subsequently, on May 4, 2008, a bystander spotted Leibig's car in a Berks County parking lot. Her husband rushed to the scene, where he discovered her body in the bloodied cabin of her car, naked from the waist down and apparently dead

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from numerous stab wounds to her head and upper body. Id. at 19-27, 65-90, 167-69; N.T., 5/30/11-6/2/11, at 199-217. Officers processed the crime scene, taking numerous photographs depicting the area, the car, and the location and position of the body, prepared various items for forensic testing, and recovered two broken kitchen knives apparently used in the attack. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 38-43, 65-90.

Later that day, Trooper Thomas Weaver took a statement from Betsy Rupp, who identified herself as Appellant's girlfriend, and who had previously worked with both Leibig and Appellant at a local candy store. Id. at 218-19, 223. Rupp indicated that Leibig and Appellant were involved in a relationship and that, the previous day, Appellant had called her in distress. Id. at 219, 224-26. Rupp told Trooper Weaver that, during the call, she asked why Appellant had not called her, and he responded that he was " on the run" in Northeast Philadelphia, would not be returning to Reading, and that she [622 Pa. 101] could have anything she wanted from his apartment. Id. at 225-28.

At 11:25 p.m., Trooper James Biever, the lead investigator assigned to the case, sought and obtained a warrant to search Appellant's apartment for evidence related to Leibig's death. N.T., 8/14/09, at 68; see also id. at 232-36. In addition to the foregoing facts, Trooper Biever indicated in the affidavit of probable cause in support of his warrant request that he suspected that Appellant had killed Leibig, and that, in his experience, the perpetrators of such gruesome crimes often unwittingly transfer trace evidence to their homes. Id. He further averred that " most residences contain . . . knives." Id. at 234.[1] At approximately 11:42 p.m., Trooper Biever and several other officers executed the warrant, finding Appellant's lights and television were still on, and recovering, inter alia, two kitchen knives from Appellant's dish strainer. Id. at 235; N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 46-51.

Meanwhile, Appellant fled from Reading to Lebanon, where he saw Justin Grube dealing drugs on the street. Id. at 372-73. Appellant asked to buy some cocaine, and Grube indicated he would have to obtain it from the nearby home of a friend. Id. at 374-75. Appellant agreed to that arrangement and, while awaiting Grube's return, he threw a bag into a nearby dumpster, an act which was partially captured on a nearby surveillance camera. Id. at 375-82. That bag was later revealed to contain Leibig's personal effects and a grey, bloodstained sweatshirt. N.T., 5/30/11-6/2/11, at 41-54, 76-80.

Grube returned with cocaine and, throughout the next several days, Appellant and Grube engaged in a lengthy drug binge that included two trips to the Philadelphia region and numerous visits with Grube's associates. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 316-20, 323-26, 330-37, 343-50, 353-56, 372-74, 386-92. Relevant to Appellant's defense, discussed below, [622 Pa. 102] none of the individuals they visited observed him with any scratches, bruises, or other injuries. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 319-20, 326, 330, 349, 356, 378.

On May 8, 2008, Appellant was apprehended in Philadelphia and taken into custody at the Pennsylvania State Police - Belmont Barracks, where Trooper Biever and Trooper William Moyer, Jr. interviewed him about Leibig's death. N.T., 8/14/2009, at 50-51, 72-73. The troopers advised Appellant

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that they wanted to talk about the crime and advised him of his Miranda rights, and Appellant indicated that, while he wanted to talk about what had happened, he did not want to sign a waiver form because he distrusted police. Id. at 74-75. Appellant explained that, in his view, he had been wrongfully accused and convicted of various crimes in the past. Id. Trooper Biever responded that, in order for them to conduct the interview, he had to be advised of his rights. Id. at 75. Thereafter, he reappraised Appellant of those rights, and the officers continued to talk about his distrust of police, but, after approximately 20 minutes, Appellant agreed to waive his Miranda rights in writing. Id. at 75-78.

In the ensuing dialogue, Appellant told the officers that, on the morning of Leibig's death, the two had eaten breakfast together and become intimate in Leibig's car, when a man in a yellow hooded sweatshirt opened the door, attacked him, and knocked him out. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 281-82. Appellant claimed that he awoke in his own car, scratched and bruised, and returned to Leibig's car, where he found her lying down with her eyes open. Id. at 283. Appellant indicated that he hugged her, kissed her, turned off the car, and blacked out again. Id. He indicated that he had been wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt during the attack and, when asked directly, denied killing Leibig. Id. at 283-85. After listening to Appellant's account, Corporal Moyer indicated that, if there were surveillance tapes at the parking lot, they would not show a man in yellow sweatshirt, and Appellant responded " well, you know what happened" and indicated he was " sticking to [his] story." Id. at 286. Subsequently, the officers asked him to review his statement for accuracy, but Appellant indicated he [622 Pa. 103] would not do so, and invoked his privilege against self-incrimination, terminating the interview. N.T., 8/14/09, at 82.

On December 29, 2008, Appellant was charged with first-degree murder, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502(a), and third-degree murder, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502(c), and the Commonwealth subsequently filed notice of its intent to seek the death penalty, citing aggravating factors of torture, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(d)(8), and a significant history of violent felonies, Id. § 9711(d)(9). Appellant filed an omnibus pretrial motion seeking, inter alia, (1) suppression of the evidence gleaned from the search of his apartment on the ground it was obtained via a warrant lacking probable cause and, in the alternative, on the ground it was obtained via a warrant executed in violation of the night-time search requirements of Pa.R.Crim.P. 203(E); and (2) suppression of the foregoing statements to Troopers Biever and Moyer on the ground they were obtained via an involuntary waiver of his Miranda rights. The trial court held a hearing on the motion and denied relief of both claims. Appellant also filed a motion in limine to preclude or otherwise limit the introduction of 14 crime scene and autopsy photographs, arguing that their probative value was outweighed by their prejudicial effect. The trial court held another hearing and, thereafter, granted partial relief, precluding the admission of two of the challenged photographs and ruling that the others be introduced only in black and white format.

On May 25, 2011, Appellant proceeded to a jury trial before the Honorable Paul M. Yatron of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County. Relevant to the instant appeal, the principal dispute was whether Appellant or the alleged yellow-hooded man had committed the crime. Accordingly, the Commonwealth sought in various ways to discredit the notion of an alternate perpetrator. Most directly, the Commonwealth presented testimony that, after the crime, Appellant admitted to committing the murder. Justin Grube testified that,

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during their drug binge, Appellant hinted at hurting Leibig numerous times and indicated that he took her personal effects to make the crime look like a robbery. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 392- [622 Pa. 104] 95. Similarly, Ivory Perkins, who had come to know Appellant in jail, testified Appellant had outright confessed, explaining that he had killed Leibig because she wanted to end their affair. Id. at 312-13.

In addition to these inculpatory statements, the Commonwealth elicited evidence linking the murder weapons discovered in Leibig's car to the knives recovered from Appellant's apartment. To this end, it called Clyde Liddick, an expert in trace evidence analysis, who testified at length as to his comparison of the knives, noting they shared many common characteristics and opining that they may reasonably be part of the same set. N.T., 5/26/11-5/27/11, at 140-43, 158. Liddick explained that the murder weapons and Appellant's knives had identical blade width, blade thickness, blade serrations, handle length, handle width, handle chemical composition, and handle pigment composition. Id. at 155-59. Liddick further indicated that the murder weapons' blade length was identical to one of the Appellant's knives, and roughly a centimeter shorter than the other. Id. On cross examination, Liddick agreed that he was unaware of the total number of similar knives in circulation, and that he was not absolutely certain that the knives were from the same manufacturer and set. Id. at 160-63.

The Commonwealth also sought to demonstrate that the discarded grey sweatshirt bore a mixture of Leibig's and Appellant's DNA and that Leibig's assailant wore it during the murder. Lisa Shutfuski, a Commonwealth expert in DNA analysis, opined that the sweatshirt contained a mixture of two individuals' blood and, by quite long odds, likely established Leibig and Appellant as the sources. N.T., 5/30/11-6/2/11 at 143-45. Specifically, Shutfuski indicated that the odds that the DNA profiles present on the sweatshirt would appear randomly in the population would be somewhere between 1 in 980 quadrillion to 1 in 600 quintillion for Leibig's profile and between 1 in 42,000 and 1 in 120,000 for Appellant's profile. Id.[2] Similarly, Dr. Mark Perlin, another Commonwealth expert [622 Pa. 105] in DNA analysis, applied a different method of statistical analysis and determined those odds were roughly 1 in 127 trillion for Leibig's profile and 1 in 946 billion for Appellant's profile. Id. at 178-80.[3]

Appellant sought to rebut the Commonwealth's evidence in principally two ways. First, he presented the testimony of his own DNA expert, Laura Keller, who indicated Leibig's fingernails did not contain Appellant's DNA. N.T., 5/30/11-6/2/11, at 240-42. Second, in an apparent attempt to explain the DNA mixture on his sweatshirt, Appellant testified that, consistent with his prior statement, he had hugged Leibig after the attack and bloodied his clothes, which he subsequently threw away. Id. at 253-62, 279.[4]

Notably, however, the Commonwealth presented testimony tending to undermine both lines of rebuttal. Dr. Neil Hoffman, the ...

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