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[U] Commonwealth v. Bradley

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 25, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
TRACEY RAYNARD BRADLEY, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered October 29, 2012, In the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-67-CR-0004137-2010.

BEFORE: DONOHUE, SHOGAN and MUSMANNO, JJ.

MEMORANDUM

SHOGAN, J.

Appellant, Tracey Raynard Bradley, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered following his conviction of first-degree murder and related crimes. We affirm.

Appellant's convictions stem from the death of Lee Choppin ("the Victim"). The Victim had been staying at a Motel 6 in York, Pennsylvania. A motel employee discovered the Victim's body on the floor in his room on May 26, 2010. Appellant, who was staying at the same Motel 6 at the same time, was arrested on unrelated charges. He admitted to entering the Victim's room seeking money and to putting the victim in a "sleeperhold."

On September 11, 2012, a jury convicted Appellant of the crimes of first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, theft by unlawful taking (motor vehicle), and receiving stolen property (motor vehicle). On October 29, 2012, the trial court sentenced Appellant to serve a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder conviction. The trial court sentenced Appellant to serve a term of incarceration of eight and one-half to seventeen years on the robbery conviction. The trial court sentenced Appellant to serve a term of incarceration of five to ten years on the burglary conviction. For the convictions of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, the trial court sentenced Appellant to pay the costs of prosecution. The trial court indicated that all sentences were to run consecutively.

Appellant filed post-sentence motions on November 7, 2012. On November 20, 2012, Appellant filed a motion for extension of time to file a brief in support of his post-sentence motions. In an order filed on November 27, 2012, the trial court granted Appellant an additional thirty days in which to file his brief in support of his post-sentence motions. The order also indicated that, as a result of the extension, the trial court would have an additional thirty days in which to render a decision on Appellant's post-sentence motions, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 720(B)(3)(b). Appellant filed his brief on December 26, 2012. Likewise, on January 14, 2013, the Commonwealth sought a fifteen-day extension of time in which to file a response to Appellant's post-sentence motions. The trial court granted the Commonwealth's request. The Commonwealth then filed its response to Appellant's post-sentence motion on January 30, 2013. The trial court denied Appellant's post-sentence motion on April 8, 2013.[1] This timely appeal followed.

Appellant presents the following issues for our review:
I. Did trial court err in holding that the verdict was legally sufficient despite evidence the decedent could have died from natural causes and despite failing to prove the Appellant intended to commit the act of murder?
II. Did the trial court err in holding that the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence and that it shocked the Court's sense of justice?
III. Did the trial court err by permitting into evidence a taped confession by the Appellant where the confession occurred after the Appellant had requested and was denied counsel?
IV. Did the trial court err by permitting the use of the Appellant's taped confession after the Appellant was arrested on a warrant which lacked probable cause to arrest?
V. Did the trial court err by denying the Appellant's request for a new jury pool when it was discovered that the jury pool consisted entirely of members of a different racial makeup then [sic] the Appellant?
VI. Did the trial court err by sentencing the Appellant to a consecutive prison term following his life sentence considering the consecutive prison term would serve no legitimate purpose?

Appellant's Brief at 5.

Appellant's first issue challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. We observe that, within this argument, Appellant repeatedly contends that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to support his various convictions outside of his allegedly inadmissible confession.

However, we do not review an allegation challenging the sufficiency of the evidence based upon a diminished record. Rather, we consider all evidence adduced, even that which Appellant claims should be suppressed. Commonwealth v. Koch, 39 A.3d 996, 1001 (Pa.Super. 2011) (stating that "in conducting our [sufficiency] analysis, we consider all of the evidence actually admitted at trial and do not review a diminished record").

Moreover, when reviewing challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, we evaluate the record in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Commonwealth v. Duncan, 932 A.2d 226, 231 (Pa.Super. 2007) (citation omitted). "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." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Brewer, 876 A.2d 1029, 1032 (Pa.Super. 2005)). However, the Commonwealth need not establish guilt to a mathematical certainty, and it may sustain its burden by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Id. In addition, this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the factfinder, and where the record contains support for the convictions, they may not be disturbed. Id. Lastly, we note that the finder of fact is free to believe some, all, or none of the evidence presented. Commonwealth v. Hartle, 894 A.2d 800, 804 (Pa.Super. 2006).

Appellant first argues that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to support his various convictions, including first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property. Initially, Appellant contends that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the Victim did not die of natural causes, but rather died of asphyxiation caused by Appellant. Appellant asserts that there was a "disconnect between the two experts" which shows that the Commonwealth was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Victim died by asphyxiation, let alone that Appellant intended to commit a murder. Appellant's Brief at 21.

Murder is defined, in relevant part, as follows:
§ 2502. Murder
(a) Murder of the first degree.--A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502(a). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has discussed the elements of first-degree murder as follows:

To convict a defendant of first degree murder, the Commonwealth must prove: a human being was unlawfully killed; the defendant was responsible for the killing; and the defendant acted with malice and a specific intent to kill.

Commonwealth v. Houser, 18 A.3d 1128, 1133 (Pa. 2011) (internal citations omitted.)

A killing is intentional if it is done in a willful, deliberate and premeditated fashion. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502. The period of reflection needed to establish deliberation and premeditation may be as brief as a fraction of a second. Commonwealth v. Rivera, 983 A.2d 1211, 1220 (Pa. 2009). Indeed, the deliberation and premeditation needed to establish intent exist whenever the assailant possesses the conscious purpose to bring about death. Id. The Commonwealth may use circumstantial evidence to establish the elements of first-degree murder, including the element of intent. Id. Furthermore, our Supreme Court has stated that "death by manual strangulation [is] sufficient to establish that the perpetrator acted maliciously and with a specific intent to kill." Commonwealth v. Cooper, 941 A.2d 655, 662 (Pa. 2007).

Appellant's argument is flawed in that he views the evidence in the light most favorable to himself, and he fails to acknowledge the evidence supporting the verdict. Under our standard of review in a sufficiency challenge, we must view the evidence and all of its reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner. Applying this standard, the jury was presented with evidence upon which it could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Appellant manually strangled the Victim and caused his death. As previously stated, "[D]eath by manual strangulation [is] sufficient to establish that the perpetrator acted maliciously and with a specific intent to kill." Cooper, 941 A.2d at 662. The evidence, therefore, was sufficient to support Appellant's conviction of first-degree murder. Moreover, the jury was free to disregard Appellant's theory concerning the manner and cause of the Victim's death. See Hartle, 894 A.2d at 804 (stating that the jury is free to believe all, part or none of the evidence). Because the evidence supports Appellant's conviction of first-degree murder, Appellant's argument lacks merit.

Further, Appellant challenges his conviction of robbery. Appellant argues that the Commonwealth failed to establish that a theft occurred from the Victim's motel room and that, if a theft was established, a fight or struggle occurred inside of the motel room.

Our legislature has defined the crime of robbery, in pertinent part, as follows:

§ 3701. Robbery.
(a) Offense defined.
(1) A person is guilty of robbery if, in the course of committing a theft, he:
(i) inflicts serious bodily injury upon another . . .

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3701(a)(1)(i).

With regard to whether a theft occurred, our review of the evidence indicates that the Commonwealth established that another motel patron observed Appellant exiting a first floor motel room and carrying various items including what appeared to be a laptop and other property identified as belonging to the Victim. N.T., 9/4-11/12, at 568-572. The Victim was registered to, and was discovered in, Room 128, on the first floor of the motel. Id. at 156-157. Appellant was registered to a room on the second floor, Room 228. Id. at 197. The Commonwealth further established that various items belonging to the Victim were sold at a pawnshop and also to the owner of a family-owned grocery store. Id. at 483-489, 493-496. This evidence established that a theft occurred in Room 128 of the motel.

With regard to whether serious bodily injury was inflicted upon another, there is no doubt that the Commonwealth presented medical evidence indicating that, apart from the various bruises and abrasions discovered on numerous parts of the Victim's body, the Victim died by strangulation. Id. at 791-809. These facts presented by the Commonwealth belie Appellant's contention that there was no evidence of an altercation. Accordingly, the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth reflects that Appellant, in the course of committing a theft, inflicted serious bodily injury upon the Victim. Thus, Appellant's contrary claim lacks merit.

Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction of burglary. We observe that the crime of burglary is defined, in relevant part, as follows:

§ 3502. Burglary.
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits the offense of burglary if, with the intent to commit a crime therein, the person:
(1) enters a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof that is adapted for overnight accommodations in which at the time of the offense any person is present;

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3502(a)(1).

The entirety of Appellant's argument in this regard is as follows:
Turning to the charge of burglary, the Appellant contends there is no evidence he entered the room outside of his own confession.4 Aside from the confession, the Commonwealth has no physical evidence the Appellant ever entered the room.
4 The Appellant's confession was used by the Commonwealth to provide proof of every offense charged, aside from the intent necessary for first degree murder. The Appellant provided a response to the confession. For the sake of brevity, the Appellant draws this Honorable Court's attention to the response for all charges.
Specifically, there was no DNA evidence, no fingerprints, no hairs or fibers or any other evidence linking the Appellant to the motel room. Furthermore, the only Commonwealth witness present at the scene saw the Appellant exit a motel room on the first floor but did not see which room the Appellant exited. The Appellant contends the Commonwealth has failed to establish the elements necessary to convict the Appellant of burglary. The Appellant submits the jury's verdict is so lacking that it shocks the sense of justice and warrants a new trial.

Appellant's Brief at 23-24.

To the extent that Appellant asserts that his confession was not properly admitted and considered by the jury, we reiterate that in addressing challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, we do not consider a diminished record, but all of the evidence admitted at trial. See Koch, 39 A.3d at 1001. Moreover, when challenging the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, an appellant must specify the element or elements upon which the evidence was insufficient in order to preserve the issue for appeal. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 959 A.2d 1252, 1257-1258 (Pa.Super. 2008) (finding waiver of sufficiency of evidence claim where the appellant failed to specify in Rule 1925(b) statement the elements of particular crime not proven by the Commonwealth). See also Commonwealth v. Gibbs, 981 A.2d 274, 281 (Pa.Super. 2009) (holding sufficiency claim waived under Williams for failure to specify either in Rule 1925(b) statement or in argument portion of appellate brief which elements of crimes were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt). Here, Appellant has failed to specify in his appellate brief the elements of the crime of burglary which allegedly were not established. Rather, as previously noted, Appellant's argument consists of claims that there was no evidence outside of his own confession. Consequently, Appellant's non-specific claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, which fails to specify the elements of the crime of burglary allegedly not proven by the Commonwealth, is waived. Williams.

Appellant also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions of theft and receiving stolen property. Each of these crimes is defined, in relevant part, as follows:

The relevant statute regarding theft provides that "[a] person is guilty of theft [by unlawful taking or disposition] if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof." 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3921(a). Proof of theft by unlawful taking requires three elements: (1) unlawful taking or unlawful control over movable property; (2) movable property belongs to another; and (3) intent to deprive. Criminal intent may be inferred from surrounding circumstances. Commonwealth v. McConnel, 436 A.2d 1201 (Pa.Super. 1981). Movable property is defined as "property the location of which can be changed." 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3901. Deprivation occurs if a person: (1) "withholds property of another permanently;" or (2) "disposes of the property so as to make it unlikely that the owner will recover it." Id.

The crime of receiving stolen property is defined as follows:
(a) A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally receives, retains, or disposes of movable property of another knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen, unless the property is received, retained, or disposed with intent to restore it to the owner.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3925(a). In order to convict a defendant for receiving stolen property, the Commonwealth must prove: "(1) the property was stolen; (2) the defendant was in possession of the property; and (3) the defendant knew or had reason to believe the property was stolen." Commonwealth v. Foreman, 797 A.2d 1005, 1011 (Pa.Super. 2002).

[A] permissible inference of guilty knowledge may be drawn from the unexplained possession of recently stolen goods without infringing upon an accused's right of due process or his right against self-incrimination, as well as other circumstances, such as the accused's conduct at the time of arrest. Nonetheless, the mere possession of stolen property is insufficient to prove guilty knowledge, and the Commonwealth must introduce other evidence, which can be either circumstantial or direct, that demonstrates that the defendant knew or had reason to believe that the property was stolen. This additional evidence can include the nature of the goods, the quantity of the goods involved, the lapse of time between possession and theft, and the ease with which the goods can be assimilated into trade channels. Further, whether the property has alterations indicative of being stolen can be used to establish guilty knowledge. Finally, even if the accused offers an explanation for his possession of stolen property, the trier of fact may consider the possession as unexplained if it deems the explanation unsatisfactory.

Foreman, 797 A.2d at 1012-1013 (citations omitted). In addition, "[w]e have previously held that possession of a vehicle twelve days after it had been stolen allowed for an inference of guilty knowledge." Commonwealth v. Marrero, 914 A.2d 870, 873 (Pa.Super. 2006) (citing Commonwealth v. Williams, 362 A.2d 244, 250 (Pa. 1976)).

The complete argument presented by Appellant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support the convictions of theft and receiving stolen property is as follows:

Turning to [the] charge of theft of moveable property, the Appellant contends there was no evidence of theft beyond his confession. Specifically, the Appellant contends the items found by the police which were associated with the decedent were pawned by a co-defendant. The Appellant contends the only witness to link the property from the Appellant to the co-defendant was a co-defendant herself who testified to benefit her own criminal case and to avoid taking responsibility for her criminal actions.
Turning to the charge of receiving stolen property, the Appellant contends he was never in possession of any stolen property. Aside from his own confession, the only evidence he was in possession of any property came from a co-defendant who failed to identify the property beyond the property's color.
The Appellant notes, the co-defendant witness failed to witness the Appellant with all of the stolen property mentioned and failed to identify the laptop as the specific laptop stolen from the decedent. Furthermore, the co-defendant's testimony must be subject to ...

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