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Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 30, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DONALD EARL WILLIAMS, JR., Appellant

Submitted May 27, 2014

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County, Criminal Division, No. CP-06-CR-0004165-2009. Before KELLER, J.

Brie R. Halfond, Public Defender, Reading, for appellant.

Dennis J. Skayhan, Assistant District Attorney, Reading, for Commonwealth, appellee.

BEFORE: LAZARUS, STABILE, and MUSMANNO, JJ.

OPINION

STABILE, J.

Appellant, Donald Earl Williams, Jr., appeals from the trial court's September 20, 2013 judgment of sentence imposing life imprisonment and various concurrent and consecutive sentences for first-degree murder, rape, aggravated assault, two counts of arson, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse,

Page 355

indecent assault, and possessing an instrument of crime.[1] We affirm.

A jury found Appellant guilty of the aforementioned offenses on September 18, 2013. The trial court imposed life imprisonment for first-degree murder after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the penalty phase. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9711(c)(1)(v).[2] The trial court denied Appellant's post-sentence motions on October 15, 2013. Appellant filed this timely appeal on November 12, 2013. He argues that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence statements the victim made to neighbors and first responders shortly after the crimes occurred. The victim died prior to trial, and Appellant argues admission of her statements violated his right to confront witnesses guaranteed bye the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[3]

In assessing Appellant's pre-trial motion to exclude the victim's statements, the trial court made the following findings of fact:

1. On June 25, 2009, shortly after 11:00 a.m. Maria Serrano placed a telephone call to Berks County 9-1-1.
2. The telephone call was placed from 826 Lincoln Street in the City of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.
3. During the 9-1-1 call, Maria Serrano stated that [Appellant], her ex-boyfriend, had burned her in her home at 82 Lincoln Street, and that she was currently at the next-door neighbor's house.
4. Ms. Serrano said that she was burned " all over the place," stated that she was bleeding, and also indicated that there was a fire.
5. Ms. Serrano indicated that [Appellant] poured gasoline and lighter fluid onto her and then ignited the mixture, causing burns to her face, hair, feet, and arms.
6. She further stated that she felt " sick," " horrible," and that she was going to pass out.
7. In addition, she stated that [Appellant] had subsequently fled the home.
8. Katia Lopez, who resided at 828 Lincoln Street, testified that at approximately 11:00 a.m. on June 25, 2009, Maria Serrano (hereinafter the " victim" ) came out of 824 Lincoln Street screaming.
9. Ms. Lopez stated that the resident of 826 Lincoln Street, whom she knew only as " Juana," took the victim into that residence.
10. The 800 block of Lincoln Street consists of a series of connected row homes. 824 Lincoln Street is located in the middle of the block

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with residential units connected on both sides.
11. Ms. Lopez testified that the victim was bleeding and screaming for help. She further stated that the victim was wearing " only a bra and a piece of a pair of pants or a skirt, whatever she had on the bottom."
12. Ms. Lopez also testified that the victim " was completely burned" and that she was " screaming frantically to please help her."
13. While at 826 Lincoln Street, the victim told Ms. Lopez that " Don-Don" had stabbed her with a screwdriver in the middle of her forehead and to the side of her head. Ms. Lopez observed wounds in that area of the victim's head.
14. The victim further confided that " Don-Don" took her to the basement, hit her on the ribs, poured gasoline on her, and then set her on fire.
15. Ms. Lopez knew " Don-Don" to be the victim's ex-boyfriend, whom she identified as [Appellant].
16. Finally, Ms. Lopez testified that after medical personnel arrived, she stepped outside and observed [Appellant] standing on Douglass Street and looking toward Lincoln Street.
17. Ms. Lopez began screaming to other people in the area about [Appellant], at which point he ran away from her location.
18. Donald Hirsch, a paramedic working for the City of Reading Fire Department, was dispatched to 824 Lincoln Street at 11:14 a.m. on June 25, 2009 due to a reported fire.
19. When Mr. Hirsch arrived, he observed that the victim was in pain and that she was screaming, " Help me." Mr. Hirsch testified that he would describe her emotional state as " very, very, very upset" and that she asked him numerous times if she were going to die.
20. On June 25, 2009, Officer Craig Hevalow of the Reading Police Department was also dispatched to 824 Lincoln Street due to a reported fire and domestic assault.
21. Officer Hevalow observed that blood spatter covered the victim's body. He also testified that the victim's legs were badly bruised, that her clothing was burned, and he described her as " high strung," " ...

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