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[U] Commonwealth v. Blystone

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 7, 2014



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of April 8, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-26-CR-0000993-2011




Appellant, Jeffrey Allen Michael Blystone, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered on April 8, 2013. We affirm.

The trial court has provided us with a thorough and well-written summary of the underlying facts. As the trial court explained:

On April 18, 2011, a dilapidated farm house located on a 100-acre parcel of land owned by the Herman Family Trust and located near the village of Morrell in Dunbar Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, was the site of a fire which completely consumed the home. At the time of the fire, the home was vacant and was not serviced by any utilities.
On April 18, 2011, Mark Virgilio was the fire chief for the Morrell Volunteer Fire Department. According to Virgilio, the call relative to the fire came in at approximately 8:45 [p.m.] at which time he and other firefighters immediately responded to the scene. According to Virgilio, a total of six fire departments took part in fighting the structure fire with a total firefighting force of approximately 40 firefighters. The nearest fire hydrant to the structure was located approximately one-half mile away from the scene of the fire.
Ross Rock lives at 194 Morrell Road, Dunbar, in the last house on Morrell Road before you enter the Herman farm. From his home, [Mr. Rock] could view the house and barn on the Herman premises. On April 18, 2011, [Mr.] Rock was outside of his home working with his son to install a transmission in his truck. Before the fire occurred [Mr. Rock] observed [Appellant] and [a juvenile named E.G.] walking down around the area of the Herman property. He noted that [Appellant] had on a ball cap and a lime green coat and blue jeans.
As darkness was approaching . . . [Mr. Rock] entered his home and was alerted by his son of a glow in the sky coming from the Herman property. He immediately jumped into his truck and drove to the Herman house. He noted at that time that the fire was starting up through the second floor of the farm house and he immediately called [911]. [Mr. Rock] testified that he had observed [Appellant] and [E.G.] near the end of his driveway shortly before 8:30 [p.m.] and [that he had] called [911] to report the fire at 8:46 [p.m.]. He indicated that [the distance] from his driveway to the farm house is 750 feet.
On April 18, 2011, [E.G.] was [16 years old]. [On that date, Appellant] was visiting [E.G.'s] home[, ] which is located approximately [one-]quarter mile from the Herman farm house. [E.G.] and [Appellant] went for a walk up the back road past the Herman house. [As E.G. testified, ] he and [Appellant] walked past the Herman house, turned around and [Appellant] stopped to light a cigarette. [Appellant] then walked up the driveway . . . to the Herman house and came running back to where [E.G.] was walking. [E.G. testified that Appellant] kept looking back toward the Herman [house]. They then returned to [E.G.'s] residence. When they got back to [E.G.'s] residence[, ] they saw a glow in the sky. [E.G.] called [911] to report the fire.
When interviewed by Corporal Thomas Maher, the State Police Fire Marshall, [E.G.] at first said that [Appellant] had flicked a cigarette into the window of the home. Subsequently, [E.G.] told [Corporal Maher that Appellant] went into the home and had with him a green cigarette lighter.
Corporal Maher interviewed [Appellant] at the state police station. After providing [Appellant] with his [Miranda[1] warnings, [Appellant] at first stated that he flicked a lit cigarette from the street into one of the windows of the house. Subsequently [Appellant] changed his story and stated that [E.G.] went to the residence and lit it on fire. [Appellant] again changed his story [and declared] that he and [E.G.] went up to the residence. [Appellant declared] that he stood in the threshold of the rear door while [E.G.] entered the residence. [According to this version of the story, Appellant] tossed his lighter to [E.G.] and [E.G.] lit plastic garbage bags on fire. Once the fire began to grow[, ] he and [E.G.] ran from the residence back to [E.G.'s] residence.
[Appellant] then provided [Corporal Maher] with a written statement. [The statement declared:] "[E.G.] and [I were] at the old farm house in Morrell. [E.G.] was inside and I was in the doorway. [E.G.] asked me for a lighter. That's when he caught the garbage on the floor on fire that was inside the house."
When [Appellant] was apprehended he had a green disposable lighter in his possession.
Following a trial by jury, [Appellant] was found guilty of [arson endangering persons and reckless burning[2]. . . . [Appellant] was sentenced on the conviction for [a]rson to a term of incarceration of not less than one [] nor more than two [] years, and on the conviction for [r]eckless [b]urning to a concurrent term of incarceration of not less than one [] nor more than two [] years.

Trial Court Opinion, 8/26/13, at 1-5 (internal citations omitted).

Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal from his judgment of sentence and now raises the following claims:

[1.] Did the Commonwealth fail to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant was the person who[] started the fire in the instant case?
[2.] Did the [trial] court err in denying [Appellant's] motion for a mistrial when the Commonwealth attempted to introduce testimony about Appellant being removed from participation in the volunteer fire department?
[3.] Did the [trial] court err [in] failing to permit Appellant to introduce testimony of Appellant's statements over the phone at the time of the incident made to Kelly Newell?

Appellant's Brief at 7.

We have reviewed the briefs of the parties, the relevant law, the certified record, and the opinion of the able trial judge, the Honorable Ralph C. Warman. We conclude that there has been no error in this case and that the trial court's opinion, filed August 26, 2013, meticulously and accurately disposes of Appellant's claims on appeal. Therefore, we affirm on the basis of the trial court's opinion and adopt it as our own. In any future filings with this or any other court addressing this ruling, the filing party shall attach a copy of the trial court's opinion, with the name of the juvenile redacted.

Judgment of sentence affirmed. Jurisdiction relinquished.

Judgment Entered.

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