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Commonwealth v. Knoble

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 24, 2018


          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence February 1, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-48-CR-0001405-2015



          DUBOW, J.

         Appellant, Jeffrey Scott Knoble, Jr., appeals from the Judgment of Sentence imposed after a jury convicted him of two counts each of Terroristic Threats and Firearms Not to be Carried Without a License, and one count each of First-Degree Murder, Criminal Mischief, and Unauthorized Use of an Automobile. Appellant challenges the court's joinder of three separate criminal dockets for trial and the denial of his Motion to Suppress. After careful review, we affirm.

         The facts and relevant procedural history, as gleaned from the record, are as follows. On March 10, 2015, at 7:53 AM, Octavia Douglas, Appellant's then-girlfriend, contacted Phillipsburg Police to report that Appellant had taken her rental car without permission. She also called Appellant's mother, Ms. Knoble, and told her that Appellant was going to crash the rental car. Ms. Knoble contacted Appellant and Appellant threatened to shoot police officers. Ms. Knoble convinced Appellant to stop driving Ms. Douglas's car and arranged to pick him up in Easton.

         When Ms. Knoble arrived in Easton, Appellant left Ms. Douglas's car running with the door open and entered Ms. Knoble's car, laying a firearm across his lap. Appellant told Ms. Knoble that he had shot and killed someone, and continued to threaten to shoot police officers. Ms. Knoble told Appellant that she would not permit him in her home and subsequently drove him to his grandmother's house in Riegelsville, Pennsylvania.

         A few hours later, Pennsylvania State Police received a report of an abandoned vehicle and discovered Ms. Douglas's rental vehicle running and unoccupied. The vehicle had been shot four times: three times in the driver's side front door and one time in the driver's side passenger door.

         On March 11, 2015, at approximately 2:00 AM, Appellant began communicating with Andrew "Beep" White (the "Victim"). Because Ms. Knoble refused to let Appellant in her house, Appellant requested to stay at the Victim's apartment for the night, but the Victim refused. Ultimately, the Victim agreed to rent a room for Appellant at the Quality Inn in Easton.

         Later that morning, Appellant again contacted Ms. Knoble and asked her to pick him up on Northampton Street in Easton. When Ms. Knoble arrived, Appellant entered her car and reported that he had shot and killed someone and that "they were safe now." Trial Ct. Op., 3/10/16, at 2. Ms. Knoble told police that Appellant showed her a cell phone video that depicted Appellant in a room along with the body of a nude male surrounded by blood.[1]

         About an hour later, Ms. Knoble contacted the Easton Police Department ("EPD") to report that Appellant had told her that he had killed someone and that, based on Appellant's statements to her, she believed he intended to shoot and kill police officers. The EPD began searching for Appellant. During their search, Ms. Knoble informed police that Appellant continued to contact her via text messages and phone calls and repeatedly threatened to shoot police officers. As a result of this information, when the EPD arrested Appellant, the Commonwealth charged him with two counts of Terroristic Threats at Docket No. CP-48-CR-0001405-2015 ("Docket No. 1").[2]

         During the course of their search for Appellant, [3] EPD obtained information that Appellant was in Ms. Knoble's Easton home. Police converged on the home and, through negotiations, Appellant surrendered that afternoon. Police then conducted a protective sweep and, with Ms. Knoble's consent, subsequently searched the home. They seized two cell phones: the Victim's white Samsung S5 cell phone; and Appellant's Kyocera cell phone, which he had used to communicate with Ms.Knoble and on which he had shown her the video of himself with the Victim's deceased body. Police officers also seized a semi-automatic .40-caliber firearm; a dark-colored pea coat; a cell phone charger; a backpack; a ball cap; various clothes; and ammunition.

         Later in the day on March 11, 2015, EPD received a call from Priscilla High, reporting that she was concerned about her friend, the Victim. After receiving a report that the Victim was last seen the previous night entering the Quality Inn in Easton, EPD officers went to the Quality Inn. The desk clerk confirmed that the Victim had checked in to Room 418, and provided police with a copy of the Victim's driver's license and his room receipt. Police proceeded to Room 418 and found the Victim's naked body. An autopsy determined the Victim had died from a single gunshot wound to the head. The coroner ruled his death a homicide.

         Surveillance video from the fourth floor of the Quality Inn showed Appellant and the Victim entering Room 418 together in the early hours of the morning of March 11, 2015. The video also showed Appellant leaving the room at approximately 8:00 AM wearing the grey coat the Victim had been wearing earlier that night. The surveillance footage shows that no one other than Appellant entered or exited the room until the arrival of police later that day.

         Based upon this evidence, and the evidence indicating that the firearm found in Ms. Knoble's home was the weapon used to commit the homicide and to shoot Ms. Douglas's rental car, EPD arrested Appellant pursuant to a warrant on March 18, 2015. The Commonwealth ultimately charged Appellant with First-Degree Murder, Robbery, and two counts of Firearms Not to be Carried Without a License at Docket No. CP-48-CR-0001413-2015 ("Docket No. 2").[4]

         On April 13, 2015, EPD obtained a warrant to search the contents of Appellant's cell phone. That same day, EPD Inspector Dan Reagan provided Appellant's cell phone to Jonathan Langton, a digital forensic analyst assigned to the Petzold Digital Forensics Laboratory. Using forensic software, Langton extracted data from it, identifying multiple still images. One photo of particular note depicted the Victim lying face down on a bed in a pool of blood with a wound on his head.[5] At that time, the software did not uncover any video images on Appellant's cell phone.

         On June 24, 2015, the Commonwealth filed a Motion for Joinder of the Informations filed at Docket No. 1 and Docket No. 2. On July 24, 2015, Appellant filed a Response to the Motion for Joinder and an Omnibus Pretrial Motion. After a hearing, on September 9, 2015, the court issued an Order joining Docket No. 1 and Docket No. 2 for trial. Appellant subsequently filed two Supplemental Pretrial Motions requesting, inter alia, the suppression of the photographic evidence obtained from the search of his cell phone.

         On September 16, 2015, the court arraigned Appellant on separate charges of Possession of a Firearm Prohibited, Criminal Mischief, and Unauthorized Use of an Automobile[6] at Docket No. CP-48-CR-0003844-2015 ("Docket No. 3") arising from his actions on the morning of March 10, 2015.

         On December 15, 2015, the Commonwealth filed a Motion for Joinder of Informations seeking to join Docket No. 3 with the previously-joined Docket No. 1 and Docket No. 2. After a hearing, on March 7, 2016, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's Motion for Joinder. It denied Appellant's Omnibus Pretrial Motions on March 10, 2016.[7]

         Meanwhile, on December 16, 2015, Appellant requested that the Commonwealth provide digital copies of the data retrieved from Appellant's cell phone, in April 2015, to his expert. The Commonwealth informed Appellant that it had already turned over all requested materials and advised that Appellant could arrange with Inspector Reagan to conduct their own examinations of certain cell phones. Thus, in early January 2016, at the request of Barry Golazeski, Appellant's expert, Inspector Reagan asked that Langton provide the raw data he extracted from Appellant's cell phone to Golazeski.[8] Langton attempted to provide Golazeski with the raw data, but was unable to because the hard drive where he had stored the data had crashed.

         Langton believed that the only way to comply with the request of Appellant's expert was to re-extract the data from Appellant's cell phone. Thus, on January 8, 2016, Inspector Reagan took the cell phone, which had continuously been in police custody since its seizure in March 2015, back to the Petzold Laboratory where Langton conducted a second ...

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