Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered on September 17, 2012 in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, Criminal Division, No. CP-06-CR-0003085-2011
BEFORE: SHOGAN, ALLEN and MUSMANNO, JJ.
Jaquil James Blake ("Blake") appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed following his convictions of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, carrying a firearm without a license, possessing an instrument of crime and reckless endangerment. We affirm.
The trial court has set forth the relevant underlying facts in its Opinion, as follows:
On April 14, 2011, around 6:00 p.m., witnesses saw an argument ensue between two men in the Glenside Housing Project, located in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. One of the men, [Blake], was dressed in ripped jeans, black sneakers, and a dark hooded sweatshirt; the other, whose name was Alexis Rosario ["Rosario"], was wearing a white tee shirt and basketball shorts. Suddenly, [Blake] opened fire on Rosario, who backed away and tried to run. Rosario couldn't run away much, however, because he fell between two parked cars. [Blake] then proceeded to fire at least five additional shots at Rosario after he fell. While bystanders fled the area, [Blake] ran from the scene, climbed into a red truck parked nearby, and quickly departed from the neighborhood. The red truck was driven by Dean Schappell ["Schappel"], of Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Schappell was in the city that evening to purchase illegal drugs from [Blake]. [Schappell] had previously met up with [Blake] downtown, and [Blake] asked Schappell to drive him to the Glenside neighborhood, which he did. [Blake] exited the vehicle and asked Schappell to wait for him. While Schappell waited, he heard gunshots, then turned his head and saw [Blake] with a gun, shooting a man in the street. After [Rosario] had been shot numerous times, [Blake] returned to Schappell's truck and said "let's go." Schappell complied and drove [Blake] to an Econolodge hotel located approximately three miles away. At that location, Schappell purchased six bags of cocaine from [Blake], who exited the vehicle and went inside the hotel. Schappell then returned to his home in Hamburg.
Meanwhile, police were called and began an investigation into the shooting. Officer Adana Linderman arrived at the scene and found a large crowd of people at the scene of the crime. He found  Rosario, lying facedown, bleeding, between two vehicles. While rendering first aid, Officer Linderman noted at the time that Rosario had suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Rosario was pronounced dead at 8:18 p.m. [Rosario's] body was transported that evening to the morgue at the Reading Hospital, where an autopsy was performed the next morning. The autopsy report identified ten distinct gunshot wounds to [Rosario].
Investigators found eight spent cartridge casings at the scene of the crime. They found two divots in the asphalt underneath [Rosario's] body, as well as numerous bullet holes in [his] clothing. Additional bullet fragments and projectiles were found inside and around [Rosario's] body.
Police subsequently interviewed witnesses[, ] whose statements named [Blake] as the person who shot Rosario. A warrant to search [Blake's] apartment was executed on May 13, 2011. When police arrived at the apartment, they found [Blake's] belongings, which had been placed in trash bags and were located outside the apartment in a carport. Inside one of the bags, police found a brass casing containing the same identifying markings as the casings found at the scene of the crime.
Trial Court Opinion, 4/24/13, at 3-4 (citations and some quotation marks omitted).
Blake was subsequently arrested, and proceeded to a jury trial in September 2012. After hearing the evidence, the jury found Blake guilty of the above-referenced crimes. The trial court sentenced Blake to an aggregate sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Blake filed no post-sentence motions, instead filing a Notice of appeal. The trial court directed Blake to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement, and Blake complied.
On appeal, Blake raises the following questions for our review:
1. [Whether the evidence was insufficient to support] the [jury's] verdict [that Blake was] guilty [of] murder in the first degree ?
2. [Whether] the [jury's] verdict [that Blake was] guilty [of] murder in the first degree [was] against the weight of the evidence?
3. [Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion at trial by] overruling a defense objection to [the] testimony [of] a prosecution witness [that Blake] was in custody[?]
4. [Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion at trial by] overruling a defense objection to redirect testimony [of] a prosecution witness which reinforced [Blake's] role in the distribution of controlled substances, wholly unrelated to the charges at hand[?]
5. [Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion at trial by] denying a defense request for a mistrial after a prosecution witness was questioned by the prosecution concerning trial spectators[?]
6. [Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion at trial by] overruling a defense objection to a prosecution witness reviewing a prior written statement  without a proper foundation[?]
7. [Whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion at trial by] permitting certain exhibits to go out with the jury during their deliberations[?]
Brief for Appellant at 4 (issues reordered for clarity).
In his first claim, Blake contends that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury's verdict that Blake was guilty of first-degree murder. Id. at 10-11. Specifically, Blake contends that the Commonwealth failed to establish that he intended to kill Rosario. Id. at 10. Blake further claims that the jury ignored trial testimony that, prior to the shooting, he and Rosario were arguing, and that Blake felt "jeopardized" by Rosario. Id.
[O]ur standard of review of sufficiency claims requires that we evaluate the record in the light most favorable to the verdict winner giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Evidence will be deemed sufficient to support the verdict when it establishes each material element of the crime charged and the commission thereof by the accused, beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth need not establish guilt to a mathematical certainty. [T]he facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not be absolutely incompatible with the defendant's innocence. Any doubt about the defendant's guilt is to be resolved by the fact finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that, as a matter of law, no probability of fact can be drawn from the combined circumstances.
Commonwealth v. Franklin, 69 A.3d 719, 722 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
In order to prove first-degree murder, the Commonwealth must establish that (1) a human being was killed; (2) the accused caused the death; and (3) the accused acted with malice and the specific intent to kill. Commonwealth v. Staton, 38 A.3d 785, 789 (Pa. 2012). The Commonwealth may sustain its burden by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Commonwealth v. Cousar, 928 A.2d 1025, 1032 (Pa. 2007). Moreover, a defendant's deliberate use of a deadly weapon on a vital part of the victim's body raises a permissible inference of malice and a specific intent to kill. Commonwealth v. Lee, 626 A.2d 1238, 1241 (Pa.Super. 1993).
The trial court addressed Blake's sufficiency of the evidence claim and concluded that it is without merit. See Trial Court Opinion, 4/24/13, at 4-6. We adopt the trial court's sound reasoning for the purpose of this appeal. See id.
In his second claim, Blake contends that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence because there was "substantial direct evidence … that [he] may have been acting out of fear or anger, and not with the fully formed intent of killing  Rosario." Brief for Appellant at 11-12. Blake points out the evidence that, prior to the shooting, he and Rosario were arguing and that he felt jeopardized by Rosario, and, therefore, the jury should not have found him guilty of first degree murder. Id. at 12.
Pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 607, a claim that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence must be raised with the trial judge in a motion for a new trial before sentencing or in a post-sentence motion. Here, Blake did not raise his weight of the evidence claim at any time before sentencing or in any post-sentence motion. Accordingly, this issue has been waived. See Commonwealth v. Filer, 846 A.2d 139, 142 (Pa.Super. 2004).
Blake's third and fourth claims involve rulings by the trial court regarding the admissibility of testimony at trial. Thus, we will address them together. In his third claim, Blake argues that the trial court should not have permitted his landlady, Mary Shealer ("Shealer"), to testify that she was going to "have all [of Blake's] things put into the car port" as "he wouldn't be coming back to the apartment because he was detained … by the police." Brief for Appellant at 13. In his fourth claim, Blake contends that the trial court should not have permitted Schappell to testify, on redirect examination, that he acted as a taxi-driver to a drug dealer, namely, Blake. Id. at 13-14.
The standard of review employed when faced with a challenge to the trial court's decision as to whether or not to admit evidence is well settled. Questions concerning the admissibility of evidence lie within the sound discretion of the trial court, and a reviewing court will not reverse the trial court's decision absent a clear abuse of discretion. Abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but rather where the judgment is manifestly unreasonable or where the law is not applied or where the record shows that the action is a result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will.
Commonwealth v. Young, 989 A.2d 920, 924 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citations omitted).
Here, the trial court addressed Blake's admissibility claims, and concluded that they are without merit. See Trial Court Opinion, 4/24/13, at 6-8. We adopt the trial court's sound reasoning for the purpose of this appeal. See id.
In his fifth claim, Blake contends that the trial court erred by not granting a mistrial after the prosecution asked a witness if he knew four gentlemen who had just walked into the courtroom. Brief for Appellant at 14-15.
Our review of a trial court's denial of a motion for a mistrial is limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. See Commonwealth v. Fletcher, 41 A.3d 892, 894 (Pa.Super. 2012). A trial court may grant a mistrial only where the incident upon which the motion is based is of such a nature that its unavoidable effect is to deprive the defendant of a fair trial by preventing the jury from weighing and rendering a true verdict. Id. Likewise, a mistrial is not necessary where cautionary instructions are adequate to overcome any possible prejudice. Id.
Comments by the district attorney do not constitute reversible error unless the unavoidable effect of such comments would be to prejudice the jurors, forming in their minds fixed bias and hostility toward the defendant, so that they could not weigh the evidence objectively and render a true verdict. Commonwealth v. Purcell, 589 A.2d 217, 225 (Pa.Super. 1991). The determination as to whether the ...