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Commonwealth v. Britt

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 20, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
JORI BRITT, Appellant

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence February 2, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0011734-2009.

BEFORE: BOWES, DONOHUE, and OTT, JJ.

OPINION

BOWES, J.

Jori Britt appeals from the judgment of sentence of life imprisonment with a consecutive five to ten years incarceration that was imposed after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime ("PIC"), and carrying an unlicensed firearm and the court found him guilty of persons not to possess a firearm. We affirm.

Appellant shot and killed Terrill Gillette on April 8, 2007, with a .50 caliber handgun outside a Chinese take-out restaurant on the 5800 block of Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia. The victim was shot seven times in his head and back. Police Officer Rahsaan Price was in the area speaking with a fellow officer, Officer Anagbogu, when he heard two loud shots. Officer Price responded in his vehicle and while driving heard approximately six or seven additional shots. As he approached the scene, Officer Price observed two males fleeing the area and broadcast this information over police radio. He exited his vehicle to pursue the men but stopped after two women exited the Chinese establishment screaming and other officers arrived. He directed Officer Israel Miranda to follow the men as he and Officer Anagbogu secured the scene. The officers discovered the victim lying dead face down in a pool of blood. Seven .50 caliber fired cartridges and one projectile were recovered.

Meanwhile, Officer Miranda and two other officers, Officer George Marko and Officer Joseph Kelly, stopped the two men seen running from the vicinity by Officer Price. Neither of the individuals, Sheldon Cardwell and Shahiem Groover, possessed a weapon, nor were they identified as the shooter; however, they had been present in the Chinese take-out restaurant. Each man was interviewed by police on multiple occasions and provided signed written statements.

Mr. Groover informed police that he was at the Chinese store and witnessed Appellant arguing with the victim outside. He then heard a shot that sounded as if it came from a cannon and saw the victim fall. Mr. Groover told police that Appellant then stood over the victim, fired four or five additional rounds into him, and fled. On April 25, 2007, Mr. Groover also identified a photograph of Appellant as the person who shot the victim. During the trial, Mr. Groover experienced a sudden memory loss and denied seeing Appellant shoot the victim, signing his written statements, or performing photographic identification. Mr. Cardwell also originally identified Appellant as the shooter. However, Mr. Cardwell did not appear at trial and his written statement to police was read to the jury.[1]

An additional witness inside the Chinese take-out business, Marlon McGriff, informed police that while he was awaiting his food, he saw Appellant shoot the victim. Mr. McGriff described the sound emanating from the weapon as the loudest noise he had ever heard. At trial, however, Mr. McGriff claimed that police forced him to state that Appellant shot the victim. Mr. McGriff provided police with a second written statement in the presence of his attorney. He maintained that the second statement also was procured under duress. According to Mr. McGriff's trial testimony, he did not know Appellant or sign his written statements to police, was intoxicated at the time he gave his initial statement to police, and could not remember what happened.

Police also recovered a videotape from the Chinese take-out restaurant that depicted the incident. The video revealed that neither Mr. Groover nor Mr. Cardwell was the shooter. It showed Mr. Groover and Mr. McGriff inside the restaurant when the shooting occurred.

Police also interviewed the two women at the scene. One woman, Chafarra Clemons, could not be located for trial and did not testify. Her interview with police was read to the jury by the officer who questioned her.[2]Ms. Clemons' statement indicated that the shooter fired six or seven shots and was wearing a dark brown coat.

Police did not capture Appellant for approximately two years, until he was ultimately arrested in New York. Prior to trial, Appellant submitted a pro se motion for continuance complaining of trial counsel's representation. Specifically, he averred that trial counsel had not adequately met with and interviewed him or any potential witnesses. Appellant averred that trial counsel did not meet with him until July 7, 2011, despite the court's June 2010 appointment of him. He maintained that his family was unable to contact counsel for that period and his attorney did not interview any witnesses, including an alibi witness.[3]

The court addressed the pro se filing on the record with trial counsel before commencement of trial on July 11, 2011. Trial counsel set forth that he had met with his client in October of 2010, spoke with his client on July 10, 2011 regarding the alibi witness and that his investigator was attempting to locate the witness. Counsel related that he was prepared for trial, and trial proceeded. During trial, counsel presented the testimony of his investigator as well as Appellant's former girlfriend. Appellant did not testify after an on-the-record colloquy and indicated that he was satisfied with counsel's advice related to his decision not to testify. However, he reiterated that his earlier complaints remained.

Following a six-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict for the charges of first-degree murder, PIC, and carrying an unlicensed firearm on July 18, 2011. After the jury verdict, the court also adjudged Appellant guilty of the charge of persons not to possess a firearm. The court permitted trial counsel to withdraw on September 20, 2011, and continued the sentencing. New counsel was appointed on September 26, 2011. The court sentenced Appellant to the mandatory term of life imprisonment on February 2, 2012, and an additional five to ten years incarceration for the conviction of persons not to possess a firearm. Current counsel entered an appearance on February 28, 2012, and filed this timely appeal.

The court directed Appellant to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal on May 24, 2012. Appellant sought, and was granted, two extensions and submitted his concise statement on September 12, 2012. The court authored its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) decision and the matter is now ...


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