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[U] Commonwealth v. Anderson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 26, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
BRIAN K. ANDERSON Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence July 26, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-23-CR-0005632-2011

BEFORE: BOWES, J., PANELLA, J., and FITZGERALD, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

PANELLA, J.

Appellant, Brian K. Anderson, appeals from the judgment of sentence, pursuant to a conviction for first-degree murder, entered on July 26, 2012, by the Honorable Kevin F. Kelly, Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County. After careful review, we affirm.

In a recorded statement to police investigators on April 22, 2011, Anderson admitted that in the evening of April 19, 2011, he had hit the victim, Toby Gale, Jr., in the head with a hammer. Anderson stated that he delivered the blow because he believed that Gale was trying to rob him and was reaching for a firearm. It is undisputed that Gale did not have a firearm at the time.

Anderson then wrapped Gale, who may have still been alive at the time, in trash bags sealed with duct tape. Anderson placed Gale in the trunk of his vehicle, and dumped him in a vacant lot in the City of Chester. Anderson then disposed of the hammer in a dumpster behind a market in Chester. He was subsequently arrested by Chester police officers and charged with murder.

After trial, a jury found Anderson guilty of first-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime, tampering with physical evidence, and abuse of a corpse. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced Anderson to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive sentence of one to two years' imprisonment on the abuse of a corpse charge. Anderson filed post-sentence motions, which he subsequently withdrew. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Anderson challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for first-degree murder.[1] In particular, Anderson contends that the evidence cannot, as a matter of law, be sufficient to overcome his claimed excuse of imperfect self-defense: "As [Anderson] actually but unreasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to defend himself, the evidence was sufficient to prove Voluntary Manslaughter (i.e., "imperfect self-defense") but not Murder of the First Degree." Appellant's Brief, at 6.

Our standard of review of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a conviction is well-established:

The standard we apply in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence is whether viewing all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying the above test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our judgment for the fact-finder. In addition, we note that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant's guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence . . . Finally, the trier of fact while passing on the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence produced, is free to believe all, part or none of the evidence.

Commonwealth v. Knox, 50 A.3d 749, 754 (Pa.Super. 2012) (citations omitted). The concept of malice is inconsistent with self-defense. Therefore, when the defense is raised, the Commonwealth bears the burden of disproving such a defense beyond a reasonable doubt in order to sustain a murder conviction. See Commonwealth v. Bullock, 948 A.2d 818, 824 (Pa.Super. 2008). Specifically, when a defendant raises the issue of self-defense, the Commonwealth must establish one of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

(1) that appellant did not reasonably believe it was necessary to kill in order to protect himself against death or serious bodily harm, or that appellant used more force than was reasonably necessary to save himself from ...

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