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Commonwealth v. Thomas

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 3, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
KHALIF THOMAS Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 27, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0004334-2016

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., OLSON, J., and STEVENS, [*] P.J.E.

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant, Khalif Thomas, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County after a jury convicted him of one count each of murder in the first degree, carrying a firearm without a license, and possessing an instrument of crime.[1] Sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life in prison on the murder charge, with an aggregate sentence of 4 ½ to 12 years' incarceration on the remaining charges, Appellant raises challenges to the admission of evidence, to the court's application of Pa.R.E. 106 during trial, and to the sufficiency and the weight of the evidence. We affirm.

         The trial court's Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion sets forth the pertinent facts of the case, as follows:

At trial, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Philadelphia Police Officers Christopher Noga, Crain Perry, Ann Brown, Darnell Jessie, Kevin Palmer, Robert Stott, Vincent Luu, and Maurice Smith, Philadelphia Police Detectives Darryl Pearson and Laura Hammond, Philadelphia Police Sergeant Francis Kelly, Philadelphia Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Albert Chu, and Dianna Garfield, Shatyrah Garfield, Karee Freeman, Eric McDowell, and Khalil Hall. Defendant [hereinafter "Appellant"] presented no testimony, but offered into evidence a letter written by Karee Freeman. Viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, the evidence established the following.
During the evening hours of December 30, 2015, Appellant, the victim, Naeem Garfield, and a few other men were playing dice on the corner of Salford and Market Streets in Philadelphia. N.T. 3/21/17 at 207. Eventually, the men moved their game a short distance away to Redfield Street. Id; N.T. 3/22/17 at 67. During the game, some players became angry that Garfield was cheating and winning. N.T. 3/21/17 at 135; N.T. 3/22/17 at 40. At one point, a player, Eric Flowers, angrily walked away from the game, and Appellant went over to him and said, "It's cool, man. It's cool. We gonna handle it man." N.T. 3/21/17 at 135, 147.
Sometime after, while Garfield was bending over to roll the dice, Appellant fired a shot at him from behind, causing him to fall to the ground. Id. at 207-208; N.T. 3/22/17 at 70, 77-78. Appellant then shot Garfield two more times in his face. N.T. 3/21/17 at 208. Multiple witnesses were on the scene at the time of the shooting. They included Karee Freeman, who was a participant in the dice game and just down the street, and Eric McDowell, who was across the street, approximately a half-block away. N.T. 3/21/17 at 207-208; N.T. 3/22/17 at 66, 102.
At the time of the shooting, Philadelphia Police Officers were responding to a burglary call on the 100-block of Redfield Street, when they heard gunshots coming from the south on Redfield. N.T. 3/21/17 at 74. Officers proceeded to the scene and found Garfield [lying] on his back in front of 43 North Redfield, suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the head. Id. Garfield was in fact shot three times: twice in the head and once in the back of the neck. N.T. 3/22/17 at 11-13. Philadelphia Police Officers transported him to Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, where he was later pronounced dead. N.T. 3/21/17 at 67, 75.

Trial Court Opinion, filed 10/20/17, at 2-4.

         Following Appellant's conviction, sentencing, and the denial of his post-sentence motion, he filed this timely notice of appeal.[2] The trial court directed Appellant to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal, and Appellant complied. In turn, the trial court has supplied us with its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion.

         In Appellant's brief submitted to this Court, he presents the following questions for our consideration:

I. [DID] THE COURT ERR[] IN ADMITTING EVIDENCE THAT HAD A PREJUDICIAL EFFECT THAT FAR OUTWEIGHED ANY PROBATIVE VALUE[?]
II. [DID] THE COURT ABUSE[] ITS DISCRETION APPLYING THE RULE OF COMPLETENESS[?]
III. [WAS] THE VERDICT . . . AGAINST THE SUFFICIENCY AND/OR WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE[?]

Appellant's brief, at 1.

         In Appellant's first issue, he charges error with the court's admission of evidence, over defense objection, that Karee Freeman and he were incarcerated in the same jail two months before trial. Allowing such evidence "created an inference that Appellant had a criminal background making him appear more likely than not the person responsible for Mr. Garfield's murder because he was incarcerated[, ]" Appellant maintains. Appellant's brief at 3. Also unfairly prejudicial, Appellant contends, was the question put to Mr. Freeman about whether "prisoners look favorably on a fellow prisoner like you testifying for the Commonwealth?" N.T. 3/21/17, at 244-47.

         The Commonwealth sought to admit this evidence in response to Freeman's written recantation of his earlier videotaped statement in which he had described, in detail, how he witnessed Appellant shoot and kill Garfield. Specifically, the Commonwealth argued the timing of Freeman's letter of recantation, which he made within one month of his placement in the same institution as Appellant, supported the inference that the recantation was the product of Appellant's intimidation of a key Commonwealth witness. As such, the Commonwealth claimed the evidence was ...


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