from the Judgment of Sentence November 21, 2014 in the Court
of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at
BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., RANSOM, J., and PLATT, J. [*]
Hillard Bethea, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed
following his jury conviction of rape, aggravated assault,
and related crimes. He claims the court erred in denying his
pre-trial motion to dismiss pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of
Criminal Procedure 600(A)(2)(e). Appellant also challenges
the trial court's grant of the Commonwealth's motion
in limine to preclude his counsel's continued
reference to him as "an innocent man" during
voir dire. We affirm.
derive the facts of the case from the trial court's
opinion and our independent review of the record.
(See Trial Court Opinion, 11/23/15, at 4-6).
underlying facts are not in direct dispute in this
appeal. During the early morning hours of
Thursday, March 13, 2008, Appellant left his home in Elkins
Park, Montgomery County and drove a stolen van into the
Kensington section of Northeast Philadelphia. There, he
solicited a prostitute, the victim. She agreed to provide a
combination of oral and vaginal sex (with a condom), for
forty dollars. (See N.T. Trial, 11/03/10, at
The two drove off in the stolen van, and after stopping at a
store for Appellant to buy the condom, they went to a nearby
having sex in the back of the van, Appellant removed the
condom he was wearing and proceeded to urinate on the victim
as well as continue vaginal intercourse, now unprotected. The
victim protested these and other related acts and began to
fight with Appellant. He punched her face with his fists.
(See id. at 14-15). When they heard another car
start up, the victim tried to get the attention of the other
motorist by kicking and yelling loudly. Appellant tied a rope
around her neck, knotted it, and pulled it from both sides,
choking her. (See id. at 17-18).
then ran to the front of the van and began to drive way. The
victim followed him to the front of the van. She tried to get
out, but the doors were locked. While driving erratically,
Appellant pulled out a thirteen-inch serrated commercial
grade kitchen knife and began stabbing at the victim over his
right shoulder. She suffered stab wounds to her left leg,
thigh, calf, buttock, and palm, right arm, and face. Color
photographs introduced by the Commonwealth as trial exhibits
confirm that the stab injuries were numerous, deep, and
severe. (See Commonwealth Exhibits C-9 through C-27;
see also N.T. Trial, 11/03/10, at 20-22; 29-30). The
victim testified that she thought she was going to die.
(See N.T. Trial, 11/03/10, at 21; see also
N.T. Trial, 1/28/14, at 14-15).
the victim saw a ballpeen hammer on the floor of the van. She
picked it up and began hitting Appellant with it in the area
of his right eye, until he crashed the van into a pole.
(See N.T. Trial, 11/03/10, at 22-23).The victim, naked
except for socks and sneakers, tried to retrieve her clothes,
but Appellant would not let her, punching her in the face. He
drove off, leaving her behind, naked and bleeding.
called the police, who found the van in an apartment parking
lot and confirmed it was stolen. They then traced Appellant
through the identification he had left in his wallet on the
floor of the van. The victim also identified Appellant from a
photo array. Cheltenham police arrested Appellant at his home
in Elkins Park on a warrant from the Philadelphia police.
November 1, 2010, Appellant waived his right to a jury and
proceeded to a bench trial. In the middle of the trial, on
November 4, 2010, the parties agreed to a negotiated open
plea in which Appellant would plead guilty to aggravated
assault, possession of an instrument of crime, and
unauthorized use of an automobile. In return, the
Commonwealth agreed to withdraw the charges of attempted
murder, rape, and aggravated indecent assault.
February 15, 2011, the trial court imposed an aggregate
sentence of not less than seven nor more than twenty years of
incarceration in a state correctional institution. Appellant
was extremely upset, and had to be subdued by the sheriff
staff. Appellant filed a pro se motion
to withdraw his plea of guilty on February 24, 2011. He
claimed, inter alia, that he had not been properly
informed of the maximum possible sentence, and in fact, had
been assured of a lighter sentence, the sixty-four
months' imprisonment. The trial court denied the motion
to withdraw the plea. Appellant appealed.
11, 2012, a predecessor panel of this Court, noting
discrepancies in the maximum length of sentence stated in the
written and oral guilty plea colloquies, vacated
Appellant's judgment of sentence and remanded for trial.
(See Commonwealth v. Bethea, 55 A.3d 131 (Pa. Super.
2012) (unpublished memorandum)).
remand, the trial court held a hearing on various motions, on
May 2, 2013. These included a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(A)(2)(e) and (D) for lack of a prompt trial,
and a motion in limine to preclude reference to
prior convictions. Appellant also filed a motion for recusal.
After a lengthy discussion between the trial court judge,
counsel, and Appellant, he refused a renewed plea offer from
the Commonwealth and opted for a jury trial. (See
N.T. Motions Hearing, 5/02/13, at 18). The judge declined to
recuse herself, noting that in a jury trial the jury, not
she, would be the finder of fact. (See id. at 48).
bears noting, in light of Appellant's Rule 600 claims,
that the trial court judge offered a trial date on the
following Monday, (see id. at 13) ("So we can
set it for trial for Monday, if you want"), which would
have been May 6, 2013; or a month later, on June 3 (see
id. at 49). Newly appointed defense counsel declined,
asking for more time to review discovery. (See id.
trial court eventually set a tentative trial date of June 3
anyway, while recognizing that other trials might require a
postponement. In fact, the June 3 trial did not occur.
Because of other scheduled trials, the next available trial
date was in January of 2014.
January 27, 2014, the trial court began voir dire.
During voir dire, defense counsel introduced
Appellant as "an innocent man." The Commonwealth
made an oral motion in limine to preclude defense
counsel from further reference to Appellant as an innocent
man during voir dire. Defense counsel protested that
the grant of the motion infringed on Appellant's
constitutional presumption of innocence. The trial court
granted the Commonwealth's motion.
February 4, 2014, a jury convicted Appellant of aggravated
assault-attempt to cause serious bodily injury; aggravated
assault-causing serious bodily injury; rape; possession of an
instrument of crime; and unauthorized use of a motor
vehicle. (See Verdict Slip, 2/04/14).
trial court deferred sentencing several times for the
completion of a pre-sentence investigation report as well as
an assessment by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board. On
November 21, 2014, the trial court found Appellant to be a
sexually violent predator (SVP), requiring lifetime
registration,  and sentenced him to an aggregate term
of not less than twenty-three and a half years nor more than
forty-seven years of incarceration in a state correctional
institution. (See Order of Sentence,
11/21/14). Appellant timely appealed, on December
receipt of trial transcripts, Appellant timely filed a
statement of errors. The trial court filed an opinion on
November 23, 2015. See Pa.R.A.P. 1925.
raises two questions on appeal:
1) Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred by denying
[A]ppellant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule
600(A)(2)(e) of the Pa. Rule[s] of Criminal Procedure?
2) Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred by prohibiting counsel
for [A]ppellant from referring to [Appellant] as an innocent
man during voir dire?
(Appellant's Brief, at 4).
first contends that the trial court erroneously added
thirty-two days to the adjusted run date of January 19, 2014,
because that period was not attributed to the defense on the
record. (See id. at 13-14). He also argues that the
court did not certify on the record that its earliest
available jury trial date was January 27, 2014. He maintains
that the trial court erroneously extended the adjusted run
date to February 20, 2014. He assumes the correct adjusted
run date was still January 19, 2014. From this assumption,
Appellant posits that he was not brought to trial within the
time limits imposed by Rule 600. He argues his sentence
should be vacated and the case against him dismissed.
(See id. at 20). We disagree.
review Appellant's Rule 600 argument according to the
In evaluating Rule  issues, our standard of review of a
trial court's decision is whether the trial court abused
its discretion. Judicial discretion requires action in
conformity with law, upon facts and circumstances judicially
before the court, after hearing and due consideration. An
abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but
if in reaching a conclusion the law is overridden or
misapplied or the judgment exercised is manifestly
unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias,
or ill will, as shown by the evidence or the record,
discretion is abused.
The proper scope of review is limited to the evidence on the
record of the Rule  evidentiary hearing, and the
findings of the [trial] court. An appellate court
must view the facts in the ...