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Commonwealth v. Rushing

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

August 18, 2014


Argued May 7, 2014

Page 417

Appeal from the Order of Superior Court dated June 28, 2013 at No. 898 MDA 2011 affirming/reversing and vacating in part the judgment of sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Criminal Division, dated October 4, 2010 at No. CP-35-CR-2572-2008. Trial Court Judge: Vito P. Geroulo, Judge; Intermediate Court Judges: Correale F. Stevens, President Judge, Mary Jane Bowes, Gene Strassburger, Judges.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant: Andrew John Jarbola, III, Esq., Jennifer Lyn McCambridge, Esq., Lisa Ann Swift, Esq., Eugene M. Talerico, Jr., Esq., Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office.

For Randal R. Rushing, Appellee: Robert Michael Buttner, Esq., Luzerne County Conflict Counsel.

BEFORE: MADAME JUSTICE TODD. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Messrs. Justice Saylor, Eakin, Baer, McCaffery and Stevens join the opinion.


Page 418


In this appeal by allowance, we consider the offense of kidnapping as set forth in Pennsylvania's Crimes Code, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2901(a), and address the singular question of whether the victims herein were confined in a " place of isolation" to support a conviction under that statute. For the reasons that follow, we find that the victims, although imprisoned in their home, nevertheless, were confined in a place of isolation, thereby satisfying our Commonwealth's definition of kidnapping. Thus, we reverse the order of the Superior Court and reinstate Appellee Randal Rushing's judgments of sentence.

The facts underlying the disturbing events in this case, which involve three murders, are lengthy and complex, but a recitation of them is necessary to the resolution of this appeal. By way of background, Wes and Cynthia Collier lived in a home in Scranton, Pennsylvania with their children and step-children: 16-year-old Leslie Collier; 19-year-old Samantha Hintz; 22-year-old Dustin Hintz; and 22-year-old Matthew Collier, who was handicapped and could not walk.

Appellee, then 25-years-old, moved into the Collier home on January 1, 2008. At the time, he and Samantha were boyfriend and girlfriend, and they lived in her bedroom. Between May and June 2008, Samantha and Appellee were no longer getting along, so Appellee was given his own bedroom in the basement.

The events leading to the murders began on July 12, 2008. On this date, five days before the murder, Appellee became angry when he found Justin Berrios, age 22, Samantha's former boyfriend and the father of her 2-year-old child Tristan, sitting on Samantha's bed with her. Four days later, on July 16, 2008, Cynthia Collier drove Appellee to T.J. Maxx in Pittston, Pennsylvania, his place of employment, to work his 6:00 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. shift. Samantha worked the same shift, but drove herself to work. After working their shifts, Samantha gave Appellee a ride home. At 10:30 p.m., Appellee left for a friend's house, and Cynthia retired for the evening at 11:00 p.m. This evening, Justin was at the Collier home watching Tristan.

In the early hours of July 17, 2008, Appellee returned to the Collier home and stabbed Justin to death. Later, it was determined that Justin had died due to 14 stab wounds, 7 of which were to the neck. Thereafter, between 4:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., Leslie awakened his mother Cynthia, and told her that someone had run into his room and stabbed him, and that he was bleeding profusely. Cynthia went to the kitchen to call 911 when she discovered the telephone was not in the kitchen. Dustin ran up from the basement after hearing his mother, and helped his brother to the floor in the hallway. Appellee then appeared from the living room with a gun and ordered everyone onto the floor. When Cynthia asked Appellee what he was doing, he replied " I'm giving Samantha something she'll remember." N.T., 9/27/10, at 185. Appellee took Leslie into the kitchen, where he ultimately died from his wounds, while Cynthia and Dustin were on the floor of the hall holding one another. Appellee returned and ordered Cynthia into her son Matthew's room. Appellee ordered Cynthia to lie on the floor, which she did. Appellee then handcuffed Cynthia's hands behind her back. Appellee also ordered Dustin into Cynthia's bedroom and told him to lie on the floor. Cynthia could hear Appellee beating Dustin. Cynthia began to vomit, and Appellee reentered Matthew's bedroom, put a gun to her head, and told her to " shut the fuck up" or he would kill her.

Page 419

Id. at 193. He then tightened her handcuffs. Appellee then took a shirt from Matthew's dresser and tied Matthew's hands with the shirt and his feet with a computer cable. Cynthia observed Appellee take a red hammer from a toolbox, then leave Matthew's bedroom, then she heard Appellee began to strike Dustin with the hammer. Ultimately, Dustin died of blunt force trauma to the head. Appellee returned numerous times to Matthew's room to check on Matthew and Cynthia.

After showering, Appellee came back into Matthew's room and obtained Cynthia's and Matthew's bank cards and PIN numbers and Cynthia's ring. He also turned on the air conditioner and covered Cynthia and Matthew with blankets, threatening them that they better be quiet when Samantha returned home.

Samantha arrived home at approximately 5:40 a.m. Appellee greeted her and told her to go to her son's room for a surprise. Samantha checked on her son, and then Appellant instructed her to go to her bedroom. Upon entering the bedroom, Appellee forced her onto the bed and lifted up a sheet and displayed Justin's dead body, which was lying next to the bed. Appellee stated, " Do you know what happened to Justin? He didn't make it." N.T., 9/28/10, at 59. Appellant then tried to force Samantha onto her stomach on the bed, and, when she resisted, he put his gun to her head and told her to " get on [your] fucking stomach." Id. at 56. Appellee tied Samantha's hands behind her back with a necktie and tied her feet with a belt. He climbed on top of Samantha, kissed her, ran his fingers through her hair, and told her that he loved her. After leaving and then returning to the bedroom, Appellee said that he should rape her. He sat next to her and grabbed her left breast and gave her a " hickey" on the right side of her neck.

Subsequently, Appellee took Samantha's car keys. Before leaving, he remarked: " Well, I've already bodied some other people and now I've just bodied some more." Id. at 70. He indicated that if the police did not find him, he was going to kill three individuals from work. At some point, Appellee also entered Matthew's room and told Matthew and Cynthia that Wes Collier would be the next person in the house and that they could yell for help when he arrived. He then stated, " No, fuck it. It's six o'clock now. If I ain't back by 6:30 you guys can do whatever the hell you want." N.T., 9/27/10, at 209.

Samantha, by sliding her cell phone off of Justin's body with her feet and onto the floor, and after multiple tries, was able to call 911 by dialing with her toe. When the police arrived at 6:53 a.m., Samantha, Cynthia, and Matthew were still bound. Leslie, Justin, and Dustin were dead. The police ultimately located Appellee, who was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder in conjunction with the killing of Justin, Leslie, and Dustin. He also was charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and robbery, and one count of indecent assault. The Commonwealth's charging of Appellee with second-degree murder was based upon the kidnappings, not the robbery charges, as the underlying felonies.

After Appellee waived his right to a jury trial, and the Commonwealth withdrew its notice to seek the death penalty, on September 13, 2010, a bench trial commenced in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County. Appellee was convicted of three counts each of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder; three counts each of kidnapping and robbery; and one count of indecent assault.

Page 420

The trial court, inter alia, found the evidence at trial sufficient to convict Appellee of kidnapping and second-degree murder based upon the kidnapping conviction, as Appellee tied the victims, and the victims were not able to leave the residence or call for help without endangering their lives or the lives of others. Even though in their own home, the court concluded that the victims were nevertheless confined for a substantial period " in a place of isolation," thus, satisfying the offense of kidnapping. 18 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 2901(a). The court sentenced Appellee to an aggregate ...

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