Argued October 15, 2013
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Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered on April 24, 2012 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-41-CR-0001061-2008. Trial Court Judge: Nancy L. Butts, President Judge.
For Maurice Patterson, Appellant: Kyle W. Rude, Esq. Schemery Zicolello, P.C., Michael J. Rudinski, Esq.
For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee: Eric Ross Linhardt, Esq., Kenneth A. Osokow, Esq., Lycoming County District Attorney's Office, Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General.
CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Messrs. Justice Saylor, Eakin and Baer, Madame Justice Todd and Messrs. Justice McCaffery and Stevens join the per curiam opinion.
Maurice " Boo" Patterson (" Appellant" ) appeals the judgment of sentence of death imposed after he was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy, and criminal solicitation. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The charges against Appellant arose from the fatal shooting of Eric " Bop" Sawyer (" victim" ) by Sean " Raydar" Durrant, in an alleyway in the city of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on March 30, 2007. Durrant confessed to shooting the victim, but claimed he did so at the behest of Appellant, who had been incarcerated in the Lycoming County Prison since March 1, 2007. At Appellant's trial, Durrant testified that he first met Appellant while the two were previously incarcerated. In or around July 2006, after both men had been released from prison, they ran into each other in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Appellant introduced Durrant to Javier " Little Man" Cruz-Echevarria (" Cruz" ). Subsequently, Appellant, Cruz, and the victim went to Durrant's house on two separate occasions to discuss drug dealing, but Durrant told the men he wasn't interested in working with the victim because he didn't know him. Several weeks later, Durrant asked Cruz why he hadn't seen Appellant and Cruz " hanging around" with the victim for a while, and Cruz told Durrant that the victim was working as a police informant. At some point thereafter, Appellant and Cruz told Durrant they wanted the victim killed because he was a " snitch," and Durrant agreed to do the killing.
Durrant further testified that, during the week prior to the murder, Cruz brought a 12-gauge shotgun, with the butt partially sawed off, to Durrant's house for use in killing the victim. Durrant went to a Lowes store to purchase a hacksaw, which he then used to further saw down the barrel of the gun. On the evening of March 30, 2007, Durrant told Cruz to call the victim and ask him to meet in an alleyway under the pretense of arranging a drug deal. When the victim arrived in the alleyway, Durrant, who had been waiting for him, shot the victim twice in the head, killing him. Durrant and Cruz fled the alleyway in Cruz's vehicle, and the
police immediately gave chase. After several blocks, Cruz stopped the vehicle, at which time Durrant exited the car, dropped the shotgun in the road, and unsuccessfully attempted to run away. Durrant pled guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 to 60 years imprisonment in exchange for his agreement to testify against Cruz and Appellant.
In order to establish a conspiracy among Durrant, Cruz, and Appellant, the Commonwealth introduced, inter alia, a handwritten letter, dated March 25, 2007, that Appellant sent Durrant from prison. Durrant testified that he received the letter on March 27, 2007, and that he and Cruz read the letter together. The letter provided:
What's up bro hows both of my brothers doing out there. It's time to smash the myth. When the heads gone the body falls that's bullshit. I know sometime it seem like am comin down on ya'll niggaz. But you know its kind of hard yah mean to run a business from in here. Jav your my little brother but rite now Vegas is lookin at the whole team. That move down in Miami you already know what it is. To you Raydar you my little big brother and you know that. I really can't tell you how proud I am of the both of ya'll. Oh yeah I came cross a little homie in here from Newark. When he get out look out for em. Now on to business, I see ya'll numbers is gettin higher. You know am wit anything thats gonna make me more money. Raydar you should have the word by the end of this week. About that Hit record. When I gave the word tear that ass out the frame. Don't make it a personal job its only business. Little Man you already know whats up make sure that move is taken care of. Yeah tell ya chick little man to make show them pics come out real nice. Raydar and Jav tell my sisters I said whats up. And kiss my nephews and nieces for me. Little man make sure that bank account gets open. If need be little man get another phone. We ain't tryin to repeat last week.
Three Kings for Life
N.T. Trial, 5/19/10, at 61 (Commonwealth Exhibit 33A) (Reproduced Record (" R.R." ) Vol. 3, at 1077A). Durrant testified at trial that phrase " [Raydar] [y]ou should have the word by the end of this week about that hit record" was a reference to " putting a hit out and killing Eric Sawyer." N.T. Trial, 5/19/10, at 65-66.
The Commonwealth also introduced recordings of a number of telephone calls Appellant made from prison to other individuals on the days leading up to the murder, as well as a recording from a prison visitation, including the following:
March 24, 2007, 9:23 p.m. Appellant called his girlfriend, Kendra Burrage, and instructed her to tell Cruz to be at Burrage's mother's house with Durrant at 2:00 p.m. the next day.
March 25, 2007, 1:58 p.m. Appellant called Burrage's phone in order to speak
with Durrant and Cruz. At one point, Durrant asked Appellant to let him " take care of [the victim,]" to which Appellant responded " hold fast on that" because he needed to " check on some other paper work." N.T. Trial, 5/19/10, at 74-75. Appellant then told Durrant that, once he gave the word, Durrant could kill the victim. Later during the call, Appellant and Cruz are laughing, and Appellant states " Raydar, he wants that bull bad. He wants that bull bad, but I can't sanction that just yet." Id. at 78. Appellant tells Cruz that he'll " have the word by Tuesday [March 27, 2007].
March 27, 2007, 5:58 p.m. During a prison visit with Cruz, Appellant told Cruz that Eric Sawyer had to be " done by" Saturday [March 31, 2007]. Id. at 80.
March 27, 2007, 7:58 p.m. Appellant had the following conversation with Cruz and Durrant:
Cruz: Yeah, I made that call about you know that other boy, and I told him you know it's done you know I need you know I wanna pass the tourch over basically. So you know. I'm gonna meet him tomorrow.
Appellant: On what note?
Cruz: What do you think on gettin' the numbers, gettin' the numbers up.
Appellant: where Radar at?
Cruz: Here you go.
Durrant: I got your kite today. yeah. yeah you know. everything is everything. He told me what's up with that other thing alright so that's goin' be tookin care of. I'm goin up to Lowe's and get your saw joint and break him down a little bit more.
Appellant: Okay, I feel that.
Durrant: And, I'm gonna handle that.
Appellant: Listen. when that's taken care of we all can breath alot easier cuz you know I did business with that chump.
Durrant: Right. [T]hat's the man I was talkin' too.
Appellant: Yeah, I did some business with that chump and I don't need that. I don't need that and the rest of the organization do not need that comin' back on nobody. There's three kings and you one of um baby so you know we all in this mother fuckin' boat together.
Durrant: I'm gonna make sure ain't nothin' goin come back while I'm livin'.
Appellant: Okay, that's what's up baby.
March 30, 2007, 8:53 p.m. In speaking with Appellant, Cruz says: " [A]bout that other king that's going to be handled tonight." Appellant replies " [W]hich one?" and Cruz responds " [W]ho do you think? The other king." Appellant states " [T]here's only three of us dog," to which Cruz replies " [W]ell, the fake one." N.T. Trial, 5/19/10, at 88-89.
March 30, 2007, 9:27 p.m. Appellant calls Cruz and tells him " listen, don't force it if it ain't clickin tonight don't force it." Id. at 91.
In addition to Durrant's testimony, and the recordings identified above, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of David Lehman, who testified that, in December 2006, when he was living with a woman named Marion Diemer, several
firearms, including a shotgun, were stolen from his home. Lehman identified the gun dropped by Durrant in the middle of the road after the victim was shot as the shotgun stolen from his home, although he noted it was full-length when it was stolen. N.T. Trial, 5/18/10, at 18-22.
Marion Diemer testified that, in December 2006, she did, in fact, remove several guns, including a shotgun, from Lehman's residence, with the intent of trading them for drugs. Diemer stated that she took the weapons to Gregory Ricks' house, and that Ricks made a phone call to a man named " B." Thereafter, Ricks and Diemer drove to a gas station with the shotgun. As they sat in the car, an individual Diemer subsequently identified as Appellant got into the back seat of the vehicle, whereupon Ricks showed him the shotgun and exchanged it for drugs. Id. at 35-51.
Police Agent Leonard Dincher testified that, on May 21, 2008, he obtained a warrant for Appellant's arrest. The following day, Agent Dincher and several other officers, including Captain Raymond Kontz, went to SCI-Smithfield to execute the warrant. Appellant was brought to an inmate meeting room, where Agent Dincher and another officer read Appellant his Miranda rights. During the interview, Appellant indicated that he first learned of the victim's death on the morning of March 31, 2007, when someone in his cellblock told him that someone had been killed with a shotgun. N.T. Trial, 5/20/10, at 116. Appellant also indicated that the victim was a friend of his, and was going to be in Appellant's wedding. Id. at 117. When Agent Dincher asked Appellant why Cruz and Durrant would have wanted to kill the victim, Appellant initially claimed he could not think of any reason, but then suggested it was because the victim was going to be put in charge of the drug operation. Id. at 120-22. Agent Dincher then showed Appellant a copy of the March 25, 2007 letter Appellant sent to Durrant. Appellant admitted that all of the words were his own, but that his cell mate, Sean Comier, wrote it for him because Appellant's hand was " messed up." N.T. Trial, 5/20/10, at 127. Appellant further claimed that the letter " was about the drug business." Id. at 150. At one point, Agent Dincher told Appellant that Durrant was claiming that Appellant ordered the victim's killing; thereafter, Appellant threatened, at three separate times, to kill Durrant. Id. at 129. Appellant also indicated that he had " touched the murder weapon." Id. at 131.
Appellant took the stand in his own defense, and admitted that he dealt drugs, but denied that he wanted the victim killed. Appellant instead suggested there was animosity between Durrant and the victim, primarily because Durrant was " getting high" and had " messed up some of [the victim's] money." N.T. Trial, 5/21/10, at 115. Appellant further maintained that the March 25, 2007 letter referred to drugs, and not to any plan to hurt the victim. Id. at 137-45.
During the prosecutor's cross-examination of Appellant, the Commonwealth played a number of additional prison recordings of telephone conversations and visitations involving Appellant, including a call between Appellant and Burrage wherein Appellant states " say it ain't so," and asks Burrage " [w]here is my little brother?" N.T. Trial, 5/24/10, at 11, 14. The Commonwealth also introduced recordings of the following conversations:
March 31, 2007, 5:56 p.m. During a visitation with Burrage, Appellant told her that " [i]f you all two got to tear that fuckin house up looking for the money
find that money." N.T. Trial, 5/24/10, at 31. Appellant testified at trial that he had instructed Burrage to go with Tamika Simpson, Cruz's girlfriend, to retrieve from Cruz's house money that had been collected by Cruz, but belonged to Appellant.
March 31, 2007, 7:32 p.m. Appellant called Burrage and told her and Simpson, who was with Burrage at the time, to count the money. Appellant told them he was going to call them back at 8:00 p.m. with further instructions. Id. at 35. Appellant further told Burrage to make contact with Nicole Durrant, but when Burrage indicated that the police were around Durrant's house, Appellant advised her to stay away. Id. at 36-38.
March 31, 2007, 7:58 p.m. Appellant spoke with Burrage, who was with Simpson and Nicole Durrant. Appellant told Burrage " I feel a little bit better cause if Raydar is saying that, you know, if the Bull is saying, you know, that might keep Little Man safe." Id. at 65. Appellant also told Burrage to " [a]sk her [Nicole Durrant] in his own words did he tell them that he was the hitter?" Id. at 68. Appellant instructed Burrage to tell Nicole that they will " ...