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[U] Commonwealth v. Wright

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 24, 2014



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence June 4, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0003580-2011




Keith Wright appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed on June 4, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. On February 3, 2012, a jury convicted Wright of murder of the second degree, burglary, and conspiracy to commit burglary.[1] Wright was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. On appeal, he raises sufficiency, weight, and legality of the sentence claims. Based upon the following, we conclude the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to support Wright's three convictions. However, as indicated and acknowledged by the trial court, it imposed an illegal sentence as to the burglary crime, and therefore, we vacate the judgment of sentence on the burglary conviction at count two.

The trial court set forth its findings of fact as follows:
On December 31, 2010, David Spence hosted a New Year's Eve party at his townhouse at 2305 Lincoln Avenue, Clairton, Allegheny County. Spence invited several of his friends, including the victim in this case, Tauvea Hurt. Shortly before midnight Spence went outside and encountered Lindsey Wright, Keith Wright's brother. Spence was aware that Keith Wright … was on very bad terms with Hurt.5 Lindsey inquired about attending the party, but Spence told Lindsey that he was not invited and that there was no one his age at the party. Lindsey walked away and Spence returned to the party.
5 I n October 2010, Hurt and three other individuals were involved in an incident in which Keith Wright was shot in the face and several items were stolen from his apartment. Based on information provided by Wright, arrest warrants were issued for Hurt and the other individuals. Hurt had never been apprehended.
Upon returning to the party Spence immediately approached Hurt and they went upstairs to talk with a few other friends. Spence and the others were concerned about Hurt's safety, and told him that it might be best for him to leave. Hurt stated that he had talked to the Wright brothers and that they were now on good terms. Reassured, everyone returned to the party.
Lindsey, however, immediately called [ Wright] and told him to hurry to Lincoln Avenue because Hurt was across the street. [ Wright] drove to Lincoln Avenue and the two brothers prepared to go across the street to shoot and kill Hurt. Shortly before 1: 00 A.M., [ Wright] and Lindsey Wright entered Spence's apartment, wearing masks, dark clothing, and baseball caps. Lindsey pushed people into the walls as he made a path to the living room. [ Wright] followed immediately behind Lindsey and positioned himself between the edge of the couch in the living room and the steps leading upstairs. Upon seeing Lindsey, Hurt tackled him onto the couch. Hurt and Lindsey fought while [ Wright] stood next to the couch. Lindsey pulled out a gun and shot Hurt once in the chest, causing him to fall to the ground at the base of the stairs. Lindsey stood over Hurt and shot him in the chest and arm s eight m ore times. All but two of the bullets passed through Hurt, and one actually struck [ Wright] in the foot as he stood next to the couch. [ Wright] and Lindsey fled out the back door.
Spence called 911 and a friend administered CPR to Hurt as he lay on the floor at the base of the steps. Emergency responders arrived within minutes and medics transported Hurt to the hospital, but efforts to save his life were to no avail. Hurt suffered a perforated lung, liver, and thoracic ascending aorta (the largest blood vessel from the heart). The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the trunk and extremities, and the manner of death was homicide.
After fleeing the immediate scene [ Wright] went to the hospital to have the gunshot wound to his foot treated. A bullet was removed from his shoe and eventually compared to bullets recovered during Hurt's autopsy, as well as bullets and casings found at the scene. The crime lab determined that the bullets and casings all matched each other and were discharged from the same firearm . The police investigation led to arrest warrants being issued for [ Wright] and Lindsey Wright. On January 4, 2011, both fled to Columbus, Ohio, where they were ultimately captured by the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force on January 18, 2011, and brought back to Allegheny County.

Trial Court Opinion, 7/ 11/ 2013, at 5- 7 (record citations and some footnotes omitted).

Wright was charged with multiple offenses relating to the incident. His case proceeded to a jury trial from January 31, 2012 to February 3, 2012. As noted above, the jury convicted him of murder of the second degree, burglary, and conspiracy to com m it burglary. On June 4, 2012, the trial court sentenced Wright to life imprisonment for the murder conviction, a consecutive term of two to four years' incarceration for the burglary crime, and a consecutive term of five to ten years' imprisonment for the conspiracy conviction. Wright filed a post-sentence motion on June 15, 2012, and an amended motion on October 4, 2012.[2] Both motions were denied on January 16, 2013. This appeal followed.[3]

In Wright's first issue, Wright challenges the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to his murder of the second degree, burglary, and conspiracy to com m it burglary convictions. Wright's Brief at 16. First, he states there was no evidence admitted at trial that would have supported his burglary conviction because the party was considered "open, " in that people came and left at their own will, including Wright, and therefore, without the underlying felony, there was nothing to support his second-degree murder conviction. Id. at 19. Second, he argues that only one witness, Ingram, testified that Wright was at the party, wore a black mask that covered everything but his eyes and that he was not blocking the front door, did not have a weapon, and did not fight or attempt to fight with anyone. Wright contends that Ingram observed no other identifying physical features.

Moreover, he asserts that Ingram was not a credible witness because she gave inconsistent statements to police, with whom she initially failed to identify the masked men but then two days later, she was able to tell them that Wright and his brother were the perpetrators.[4] Third, Wright argues that his version of the shooting establishes that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of the three crimes. He points to his account that he gave to police during his initial interview and another explanation that he gave during a subsequent interview and at trial: (1) that he was drinking at a bar and then saw that his cousin was having a party so he went inside to the kitchen, got himself a beer and immediately heard seven to eight gunshots, and then felt pain in his leg and ran from the house; and (2) that his brother, Lindsey, forced him to go to the party where Lindsey shot the victim and then shot Wright in the foot to keep him from telling anyone. Id. at 22-24. Fourth, Wright argues the evidence at trial did not establish that he conspired with Lindsey to commit the crimes because there was no evidence of an agreement to commit burglary or murder, a shared intent, or any overt act done by Wright in furtherance of a conspiracy. Id. at 24. Lastly, Wright claims there was no evidence that he acted as an accomplice to his brother because the testimony at trial demonstrated that Lindsey was the shooter and Wright was merely present and offered no assistance. Id. at 25.

Our standard of review regarding a sufficiency claim is well-settled:
A claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence presents a question of law. Commonwealth v. Widmer, 560 Pa. 308, 744 A.2d 745, 751 (Pa. 2000). We must determine "whether the evidence is sufficient to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Commonwealth v. Hughes, 521 Pa. 423, 555 A.2d 1264, 1267 (Pa. 1989). We "must view evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, and accept as true all evidence and ...

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