Judges Opinions, — August 29, 2023 15:11 — 0 Comments

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, v. William Culbreath

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, v. William Culbreath

 

Criminal Action-Law-Criminal Homicide-Motion in Limine-Evidence-Admissibility-Prior Bad Acts-Proof of Character-Credibility-Conviction of False Identification to Law Enforcement-Uncharged Criminal Activity-Parole Status-Consciousness of Guilt-Flight-Motive-Prejudice-Reference to Decedent at Trial as “the Victim”-Right to Confrontation-Availability of Witness-Illness of Witness

 

William Culbreath (“Defendant”) was charged with First Degree Murder relating to the stabbing death of Travis Farrell (“Farrell”) outside of a bar that is alleged to have been motivated by a romantic relationship with which Farrell was having Defendant’s long term significant other.  Defendant and the Commonwealth have filed Motions in Limine seeking rulings regarding admissibility of prior bad acts, flight to another state after the crime and evidence of a romantic relationship between Farrell and Defendant’s significant other, as well as permission for an ill witness from another state to testify via video.

 

  1. Evidence of prior bad acts may be admissible in a criminal case to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or lack of accident if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice.

 

  1. Evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove the person acted in accordance with the character or trait on that particular occasion.

 

  1. Evidence that a witness has been convicted of a crime for the purpose of attacking credibility may be admitted if the crime involved dishonesty or a false statement.

 

  1. Pursuant to Pa.R.E. Rule 609(b), there is limitation against using evidence if more than ten (10) years have passed since the conviction or release from confinement, whichever is later.

 

  1. Evidence of a prior conviction is admissible only if the probative value of the prior conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect and the proponent provides reasonable written notice of intent to use it.

 

  1. Introduction of Defendant’s conviction of False Identification to Law Enforcement that occurred more than ten (10) years ago will not be permitted unless Defendant provides evidence of the offense or raises his own good character as a defense.

 

  1. Evidence of alleged drug dealing in another state with which Defendant has not been charged will not be admitted based upon the risk of unfair prejudice even through the activity may be related to Defendant’s flight and implies a motive to evade detection.

 

  1. Evidence of Defendant’s parole status will be permitted where Defendant’s parole helps to identify him as a potential culprit with regard to the instant offenses and to explain the reason for the alleged criminal conduct on the date in question.

 

  1. When a person commits a crime, knows that he or she is wanted with regard to the crime and flees or conceals himself or herself, such conduct is evidence of consciousness of guilt that may form a basis from which guilt can be inferred.

 

  1. Evidence of a defendant’s flight following the commission of a crime is admissible to show the guilt of the accused.

 

  1. Evidence establishing Defendant’s flight to another state after he learned that Farrell had died without notifying his parole officer of the same is admissible with regard to the issue of guilt.

 

  1. Evidence of motive always is relevant and admissible.

 

  1. Evidence showing ill will of a defendant toward a victim is admissible in any homicide case.

 

  1. Evidence of the romantic relationship between Defendant’s significant other and Farrell is admissible where there is sufficient evidence demonstrating that Defendant knew of the romantic relationship before Farrell’s death and other evidence exists that corroborates the possibility that the killing was motivated by jealousy about the relationship.

 

  1. The court is compelled to guard against utterances that unduly inflame and prejudice members of a jury because the jury tends to attach special importance to the Commonwealth’s arguments.

 

  1. The Commonwealth will be precluded from referring to Farrell as “the victim” at trial, as it is unfairly prejudicial to Defendant and undermines the presumption of innocence by implying the occurrence of a crime.

 

  1. Both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions provide a criminal defendant with the right to confront all witnesses testifying against that defendant.

 

  1. The Confrontation Clause does not provide an absolute right to a face-to-face meeting with a witness during trial.

 

  1. While the Confrontation Clause gives preference to in person testimony, that preference occasionally must give way to considerations of public policy and necessities of the case.

 

  1. Since the record establishes that a witness from North Carolina is too ill to travel, receives regular dialysis and extended travel would cause extreme disruption of treatment for a period of time, the witness may testify by alternative means during trial.

 

L.C.C.C.P. No. CP-38-CR-0001384-2020, Opinion by Charles T. Jones, Jr., Judge, October 4, 2022.

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

OF LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

 

CRIMINAL DIVISION

 

COMMONWEALTH OF                          :

PENNSYLVANIA                                     :

                                                                   :

  1. :                  CP-38-CR-1384-2020

                                                                   :

WILLIAM CULBREATH,                       :

Defendant.                                                 :

 

ORDER

AND NOW, this 4th day of October, 2022, after careful consideration of the record, the Commonwealth’s Motion in Limine is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and Defendant’s Motion in Limine is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.  More specifically:

 

1A.    The Commonwealth may not introduce or offer any evidence of Defendant’s conviction for the False Identification to Law Enforcement on March 28, 2006, without Defendant “opening the door” to reputation or character evidence.

 

1B.    The Commonwealth may not introduce or offer any evidence of drug-dealing or other related crimes, but the Commonwealth will be allowed to state that the North Carolina police detained Defendant as explained in the attached Opinion’s discussion about Defendant’s alleged flight.

 

1C.    The Commonwealth may introduce or offer evidence of Defendant’s parole status without mentioning which crime or crimes were committed because the probative value of introducing this evidence does substantially outweigh the risk of unfair prejudice.

 

  1. The Commonwealth may introduce or offer evidence of Defendant’s flight from parole, of Defendant’s flight from Lebanon County, and of Defendant providing false information regarding his name and birthdate to police and running away after the police in North Carolina detained Defendant.

 

  1. The Commonwealth may present evidence Travis Farrell engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship with Crystal Shultz up until the time of the killing as evidence of motive for Travis Farrell’s killing.

 

  1. The Commonwealth may not refer to Travis Farrell as “Victim” during trial.

 

  1. The two police officers from North Carolina will have to testify in-person during the trial, but this Court will allow Robert Boyle to testify via video during the trial.

 

                                                                   BY THE COURT:

 

                                                                                                                   , J.

                                                                   CHARLES T. JONES, JR.

 

 

CTJ/adj

cc:     Pier Hess Graf, District Attorney

          Jeremy D. Williams, Esquire

Court Administration

          Anthony D. Juliani, Law Clerk

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

OF LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

 

CRIMINAL DIVISION

 

COMMONWEALTH OF                          :

PENNSYLVANIA                                     :

                                                                   :

  1. :                  CP-38-CR-1384-2020

                                                                   :

WILLIAM CULBREATH,                       :

Defendant.                                                 :

 

APPEARANCES

Pier Hess Graf, District Attorney                                 For the Commonwealth

Jeremy Williams, Esquire                                             For Defendant

 

OPINION BY JONES, JR., J.

This Opinion addresses Motions in Limine by both parties.  As set forth in the attached Order and for the reasons set forth below, the Commonwealth’s Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant’s Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part.

 

  1. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

William Culbreath (“Defendant”) is charged with murdering Travis Farrell (“Farrell”) on November 16, 2015.  On November 16, 2015, the Lebanon City Police responded to a 911 call for serious injuries sustained by Farrell in the area directly in front of the Silver Dollar Bar on North Ninth Street and Willow Street in Lebanon City.  When the police arrived, they found Farrell laying on his back, bleeding, and unable to speak or move.  Farrell’s upper body was covered with a large amount blood, and there was also blood spatter that extended several more feet into Willow Street.  An ambulance arrived and transported Farrell to the Hershey Medical Center, but Farrell died during transport.  The autopsy of Farrell’s body revealed a fatal injury to the right-side of his neck.  The pathologist opined Farrell sustained an “L” shaped stab wound which turned at a ninety-degree angle and penetrated his spine.

When the police arrived, they observed many people in front of the bar near Farrell’s body.  The police broke up a physical altercation between two women, Miosotis Marte (“Marte”) and Crystal Shultz (“Shultz”).  Police heard Marte blame Shultz for the stabbing.  Shultz admitted Farrell was her boyfriend, and she appeared at the scene after someone who was also known as “Q” told her of the stabbing.  Shultz left the scene after police arrival.  The police did not observe Defendant at the scene.  Items of possible evidentiary value were collected at the scene including the driver’s license of Defendant.  A witness at the scene, Antoine Ford (“Ford”), identified Defendant via the driver’s license as, “The man who stabbed [Farrell].”  Defendant’s physical address matched that of Shultz.  After the 911 dispatch, the police decided to travel to Shultz’s residence in hopes of finding Defendant.

Shultz would not answer her door for the police and lied as to her whereabouts. Shultz stated via a call to EMA dispatch that she left home to check on Farrell at the hospital.  Minutes later however, Shultz admitted she was inside her residence and opened the door.  The police then spoke with Shultz.  Shultz described Farrell as her boyfriend, and she described Defendant as her fiancé.  Shultz advised law enforcement that she and Defendant dated for at least a year prior to November 2015 and that they had one child together.  Shultz told the police that Defendant was recently released from prison, that he resided with her and their daughter, and that he knew of her affair with Farrell.  Shultz and Farrell became romantically involved while Defendant was incarcerated.  Shultz admitted Defendant recently learned she and Farrell continued their affair.  Shultz witnessed Defendant and Farrell in local bars several times after Defendant’s release, and there was animus between them.  The police obtained a phone number for Defendant and checked her residence. The police failed to find Defendant inside, but the police found Defendant’s cousin, Quincy Williams (“Williams”), inside Shultz’s residence.  Shultz admitted that Williams was the person who was also known as “Q” and told her of the stabbing.  Williams came to her apartment after the stabbing and informed her of what happened at the Silver Dollar Bar.  The police transported both Shultz and Williams to the Police Department for questioning.

Further interviews with Shultz revealed Defendant’s mother knew of the romantic situation with Shultz and Farrell.  Shultz stated Defendant’s mother spoke to Defendant about Shultz’s relationship and that led to ongoing issues.  Shultz admitted she continued to date Farrell after Defendant’s release from prison.

During Williams’ interview, Williams explained that he was Defendant’s cousin.  Williams traveled to Lebanon to visit Defendant, and the two men went to the Silver Dollar Bar on the night Farrell died.  Williams stated that Farrell was inside the Silver Dollar Bar and that he saw both Farrell and Defendant exit the bar.  Williams went to check on Defendant within minutes.  Williams observed Farrell on the ground profusely bleeding, Defendant standing next to him, and nobody else in sight.  Williams stated Defendant ran away in an unknown direction.

The police obtained video surveillance from the Silver Dollar Bar on the night in question.  Video showed Defendant and Williams at the far end of the bar as they drank beer.  Farrell and a male friend, Ford, enter and sit at the bar.  After some time passed, Defendant walks by Farrell and towards the bar’s front door.  Defendant stops and speaks to Farrell.  During his interview with the police, Ford stated Defendant stopped and said to Farrell, “Let’s talk outside.”  Farrell can be seen following Defendant out of the front door of the bar before Williams and several others exit the bar.  Defendant, Farrell, and Williams do not reenter the bar.  The remaining bar crowd thereafter had a visible reaction, and the bartender calls 911 for the police.

Ford further stated Farrell and Defendant were friendly until Shultz dated both men.  Ford explained that Shultz stayed at Farrell’s house overnight even after the Defendant’s release from prison.  Ford stated Shultz had Farrell at her shared house with Defendant whenever Defendant was not around.  Ford stated that Shultz repeatedly denied an ongoing affair to Defendant, but that everyone, including Defendant, knew the affair continued.

The bartender alleged when interviewed that Defendant often physically abused Shultz after his release from prison.  Shultz used Farrell as a safe haven, but she would then go back to Defendant.  The bartender observed that this caused issues between Farrell and Defendant.

Police interviewed Marte.  Marte explained she viewed Farrell like a brother, and Farrell lived with Marte until weeks prior to his death.  Marte told the police that Shultz dated Farrell and continued to see Farrell after Defendant was released from prison.  Weeks prior to Farrell’s death, Marte told Defendant that Shultz and Farrell continued their affair.

The police interviewed Farrell’s ex-girlfriend, Chastity Nadal (“Nadal”).  Nadal explained she dated Farrell for many years prior to his death.  When Farrell and Nadal broke up, Farrell then entered into a romantic relationship with Shultz; Defendant was in prison on a parole violation at that time.  Nadal stated prior to Farrell’s death, Farrell told her Defendant wanted to fight him due to his ongoing affair with Shultz.  Nadal knew Defendant and his family, and Nadal called Defendant’s mother in the week prior to Farrell’s death.  Nadal told Defendant’s mother of the ongoing issues with Shultz, Defendant, and Farrell.  Nadal asked Defendant’s mother to speak with Defendant and to ensure no violence would occur.  Defendant spoke to Nadal days later about the call.  Defendant expressed anger that Nadal spoke with his mother.

The police obtained Facebook and cellular telephone records from Defendant as part of their investigation.  Facebook records revealed a conversation between Defendant and his mother.  Defendant and his mother discussed Shultz, Shultz’s infidelity during Defendant’s incarceration, and how Defendant should not get upset and react to the news.  These messages occurred days prior to Farrell’s death.  Facebook records also revealed a picture of Defendant and Williams in the Silver Dollar Bar which was posted by Defendant hours before Farrell’s death.

The police tried to find Defendant.  The investigation revealed Shultz utilized a local cab driver, Robert Boyle (“Boyle”), to help Defendant leave Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  Shultz went to Boyle’s home the morning after Farrell’s death.  Shultz requested Boyle to pick Defendant up from their shared residence and drive him to Berks County.  Shultz paid Boyle to do so.  Shultz was criminally charged for this activity, and she pled guilty to two counts of Hindering Apprehension of a Fugitive.  Shultz has served jail time and completed her period of parole.

Boyle also spoke with police.  Boyle stated that Shultz came to his home on the morning after Farrell’s death.  Shultz asked Boyle to drive the Defendant out of town.  Boyle left his home, drove Shultz to her home, and picked Defendant up in front of her home.  Boyle drove Defendant to Berks County bus station.  While in the car, Defendant stated he was in a “tussle” the night before and he believed the police were actively searching for him.  Defendant asked Boyle to check with Shultz as to other man’s condition.  Defendant phoned Boyle after the transport and inquired as to Farrell’s status.  Boyle told Defendant that Farrell was, “Not coming back, like forever, [Farrell was] gone.”

The police charged Defendant with Criminal Homicide in relation to Farrell’s death on November 16, 2015.  The police obtained an arrest warrant and immediately tried to take Defendant into custody.  The police contacted Defendant’s state parole agent and informed him of the warrant.  State parole issued a warrant and attempted to find Defendant.  The police attempted to track Defendant through the location and use of his cellular telephone, but the telephone went inactive after the night of Farrell’s death.  The police continued to check Defendant’s residence and question Shultz.  Defendant remained wanted on a homicide warrant and a State Parole detainer until his arrest in North Carolina on June 16, 2020.

In May of 2020, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department began an undercover investigation into Defendant’s sale of illegal narcotics.  On May 19, 2020, Defendant sold $100 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer.  Defendant used the name “Dayday.”  On May 26, 2020, Defendant sold $250 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer.  Defendant again referred to himself as “Dayday.”  On June 16, 2020, Defendant again sold crack cocaine to an undercover police officer.  The police then decided to end their investigation and arrest Defendant.  The police approached Defendant on the street after the drug sale.  Defendant provided a false name, provided a false social security number, and told police he was from South Carolina.  When the police were unable to confirm Defendant’s identity, Defendant fled from the police on foot. The police gave chase and arrested Defendant.

Once in custody, the police transported Defendant to their Department.  Defendant gave his name as “John Doe.”  The police continued to ask Defendant his name and told Defendant they intended to fingerprint him for identification.  Defendant thereafter stated his real name.  The police ran Defendant through their database and identified him as wanted for the Lebanon County Criminal Homicide of Travis Farrell.  North Carolina did not prosecute Defendant for any of the alleged offenses involving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

In July 2020, the police transported Defendant from North Carolina to Lebanon County, Pennsylvania to answer for his Criminal Homicide charge and warrant.  Defendant elected to dispose of his case by the way of a criminal jury trial.  The Honorable Samuel A. Kline (“Judge Kline”) was previously attached.  This case was set for the December 2021 Criminal Jury Trial Term.  Prior to commencement of trial however, counsel for Defendant explained that he would be unavailable for trial in December 2021 due to a private family medical issue.  The Commonwealth was ready to proceed during the December Trial Term; all witnesses were available except for Boyle.  The Commonwealth requested to receive Boyle’s testimony via video because Boyle has extensive medical and overall health issues.  Boyle currently receives regular dialysis treatments, and any extended travel would cause extreme disruption or potentially discontinuation of his dialysis for a period of time.  Judge Kline allowed Boyle’s testimony via video for a prior Pre-Trial Habeas Hearing.  Judge Kline further granted the Commonwealth’s motion to present Boyle’s testimony via video during trial itself.  On June 1, 2022, however, Defendant, through his counsel, filed an objection to the motion for Boyle’s testimony via video during the trial itself.  Judge Kline issued an Order dated June 13, 2022, and entered on June 14, 2022, that stated that he would address Defendant’s objection during the Motions in Limine Hearing originally scheduled for June 27, 2022.  Judge Kline continued Defendant’s trial until the October 2022 Criminal Jury Trial Term with all time to run against Defendant.  Lastly, Judge Kline directed both sides file Motions in Limine in June of 2022.

Once Judge Kline moved this case from December 2021 to October 2022 for trial, the Commonwealth undertook efforts to prepare and secure witnesses.  The Commonwealth subpoenaed all witnesses and phoned for their availability restrictions.  The Commonwealth learned later that both police officers from North Carolina who would testify to Defendant’s false name, Defendant’s lies to police upon arrest, and Defendant’s flight were unavailable for in-person testimony during the October 2022 trial.  One police officer was mandated for military training which meant he was out of the state and per se unavailable.  The other police officer scheduled vacation, and the police officer’s travel and accommodations for his entire family were booked on the date Judge Kline moved the case to October 2022.  However, these two police officers are now able to testify in-person.

The Commonwealth’s Second Motion in Limine was filed on May 27, 2022.  The Defendant’s Motion in Limine was filed on June 1, 2022.  Judge Kline thereafter announced plans for retirement.  Judge Kline transitioned to Senior Judge Status in October of 2022.  Court Administration reassigned Defendant’s case and trial to this Court on June 28, 2022, as a result.

On July 7, 2022, this Court conducted a limited hearing to discuss each party’s Motions in Limine. The Court directed both sides to file briefs of their respective positions.  The Commonwealth filed their brief on August 5, 2022.  Defendant, through his counsel, filed his brief on August 11, 2022.  This matter is ripe for disposition.

 

  1. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND DISCUSSION

This Court considered multiple issues when reviewing the Motions in Limine from the parties.  Below is this Court’s analysis on each issue in turn.

 

  1. Whether the Commonwealth may introduce or offer any evidence

                   of Defendant’s conviction for the False Identification to Law

                   Enforcement on March 28, 2006, of drug-dealing or other crimes,

                   or of Defendant’s parole status?

Evidence of prior bad acts may be admissible in a criminal case to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice.  Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2).  The prosecutor must, however, provide reasonable notice in advance of trial, during trial if the court excuses pretrial notice on good cause shown, of the general nature of any such evidence the prosecutor intends to introduce at trial.  Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3).  Evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.  Pa.R.E. 404(a)(1).  Evidence of a witness’s character may, however, be admitted under Pa.R.E. 607, Pa.R.E. 608, and Pa.R.E. 609.  For the purpose of attacking the credibility of any witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime, whether by verdict or by plea of guilty or nolo contendre, must be admitted if it involved dishonesty or false statement.  Pa.R.E. 609(a).

Under Pa.R.E. 609(b), a limit is placed on using the evidence after ten years.  Pa.R.E. 609(b).  This applies if more than ten years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later.  Id.  Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if: (1) its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and (2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.  Id.  Additionally, under 42 Pa.C.S. Section 5918,

No person charged with any crime and called as a witness in his own behalf, shall be asked, or if asked, shall be required to answer, any question tending to show that he has committed, or been charged with, or been convicted of any offense other than the one wherewith he shall then be charged, or tending to show that he has been of bad character or reputation unless: (1) he shall have at such trial, personally or by counsel, asked questions of the witness for the prosecution with a view to establish his own good reputation or character, or has given evidence tending to prove his own good character or reputation; or (2) he shall have testified at such trial against a codefendant, charged with the same offense.

42 Pa.C.S. § 5918.  However, an Official Note of Pa.R.E. 609(a) states that evidence of a prior conviction or convictions of a crime or crimes admissible under Pa.R.E. 609(a) may be introduced in rebuttal after the defendant has testified.  Pa.R.E. 609(a).  Lastly, jurisprudence regarding the admission of other crimes and bad acts is as follows:

Evidence of distinct crimes is not admissible against a defendant being prosecuted for another crime solely to show his bad character and his propensity for committing criminal acts. However, evidence of other crimes and/or violent acts may be admissible in special circumstances where the evidence is relevant for some other legitimate purpose and not merely to prejudice the defendant by showing him to be a person of bad character.

Commonwealth v. Weakley, 972 A.2d 1182, 1189 (Pa. Super. 2009).

Here, the information charges that Defendant committed the crime of first-degree murder.  18 Pa.C.S. § 2501(a).  The Commonwealth provided Defendant with criminal history record information that revealed Defendant was convicted of False Identification to Law Enforcement resulting from an incident that was alleged to have occurred March 28, 2006.  The Commonwealth argues that this information satisfies Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3) and Pa.R.E. 609(a).  The Commonwealth also provided Defendant records from the Department of Corrections Board of Parole regarding Defendant’s parole status and from the Charlottte-Mecklenburg police regarding incident(s) alleged to have occurred in North Carolina involving Defendant selling drugs and providing a false name to satisfy Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3).

The False Identification to Law Enforcement conviction occurred over ten years ago.  Defendant, if called as a witness in his own behalf, shall not be asked, or if asked, shall not be required to answer, any question tending to show that he has committed, or been charged with, or been convicted of any offense other than the one with which he was charged unless he testifies on direct examination about said offense or unless he raises his own good character as a defense.  42 Pa.C.S. § 5918.  However, an Official Note of Pa.R.E. 609(a) states that evidence of a prior conviction or convictions of a crime or crimes admissible under Pa.R.E. 609(a) may be introduced in rebuttal after the defendant has testified.  Pa.R.E. 609(a).  Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if: (1) its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and (2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.  Pa.R.E. 609(b).  While the Commonwealth did provide notice to this issue, Defendant would need to “open the door” to reputation or character evidence for the Commonwealth to use Defendant’s False Identification to Law Enforcement conviction on rebuttal.  Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3); Pa.R.E. 609(a).  Therefore, the Commonwealth may not introduce or offer any evidence of Defendant’s conviction for the False Identification to Law Enforcement on March 28, 2006, without Defendant “opening the door” to reputation or character evidence.

Regarding the alleged drug dealing, Defendant was not charged with drug-dealing in North Carolina.  Furthermore, the Information in this case charges Defendant committed the crime of first-degree murder.  18 Pa.C.S. § 2501(a).  As such, 42 Pa.C.S. Section 5918 applies to these circumstances as well.  42 Pa.C.S. § 5918.  Additionally, this Court finds that neither Pa.R.E. 404(a)(1), involving character evidence, nor Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2), involving reasons that allow prior bad acts into evidence, sufficiently applies to the evidence of alleged drug-dealing under these circumstances even though the Commonwealth provided notice.  Pa.R.E. 404(a)(1); Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2); Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3).  This Court finds that while the alleged criminal activity may be related to Defendant’s flight and implies a motive of evading detection, the Commonwealth will not be allowed to risk unfairly prejudicing the jury against Defendant by introducing evidence of Defendant’s possible drug-dealing.  This Court is not convinced the possible explanation of secretively making money to evade detection is enough to tip the scales in favor of admission.  Criminal activity is risky, and many legal jobs would allow Defendant to earn money in ways that are difficult to detect.  Therefore, the Commonwealth may not introduce or offer any evidence of drug-dealing or other related crimes, but the Commonwealth will be allowed to state that the North Carolina police detained Defendant as explained in the discussion about Defendant’s alleged flight.

Regarding Defendant’s parole status, the Commonwealth will be allowed to introduce or offer evidence of Defendant’s parole status.  Defendant’s recent parole helps identify Defendant as a potential culprit, helps explain why this crime took place on November 16, 2015, and the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice.  Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2).  The affair between Shultz and Farrell began while Defendant was incarcerated, and Farrell died soon after Defendant was released.  As stated above, the Commonwealth did provide the required notice.  Pa.R.E. 404(b)(3).  However, providing information about the prior crime committed is not necessary here.  Therefore, the Commonwealth may introduce or offer evidence of Defendant’s parole status without mentioning which crime or crimes were committed because the probative value of introducing this evidence does substantially outweigh the risk of unfair prejudice.

 

  1. Whether the Commonwealth may introduce or offer any evidence

                   of Defendant’s flight from parole, of Defendant’s flight from

                   Lebanon County, or of Defendant providing false information

                   regarding his name and birthdate to police and running away after

                   the police in North Carolina detained Defendant?

When a person commits a crime, knows that he is wanted, and flees or conceals himself, such conduct is evidence of consciousness of guilt, and may form the basis in connection with other proof from which his guilt may be inferred.  Commonwealth v. Coyle, 203 A.2d 782, 789 (Pa. 1964).  A long-settled legal principle is that evidence of a defendant’s flight following the commission of a crime is admissible evidence to show the guilt of the accused.  Commonwealth v. Myer, 200 A. 143, 146 (Pa.Super. 1938).  Evidence of flight or concealment may be established through various means such as eyewitness testimony.  Commonwealth v. Hudson, 955 A.2d 1031, 1036 (Pa.Super. 2008).  The jury may use such evidence to draw the inferences they choose such as the defendant was aware of his fugitive status.  Id.

Here, Defendant is alleged to have committed the murder of Farrell.  The Commonwealth has eye-witness testimony to demonstrate Defendant having consciousness of guilt and that Defendant knew a crime was committed, that he knew he was wanted for it, and that he fled the area.  Commonwealth v. Coyle at 789; Commonwealth v. Hudson at 1036.  Following Farrell sustaining serious injuries, Defendant left Lebanon County without informing any parole officers despite his recent parole.  Defendant knew that Farrell had died from his injuries because Boyle told him.  This evidence suggesting flight is admissible evidence to prove Defendant’s guilt.  Commonwealth v. Myer at 146.

The Commonwealth has further evidence of Defendant’s consciousness of guilt available based on Defendant’s actions in North Carolina.  Without referencing any drug-dealing, the Commonwealth will be able to show through eye-witness testimony that Defendant still provided false information regarding his name and birthdate to police and that Defendant ran away from the police after police in North Carolina detained him.  Commonwealth v. Hudson at 1036.  Therefore, the Commonwealth may introduce or offer evidence of Defendant’s flight from parole, of Defendant’s flight from Lebanon County, and of Defendant providing false information regarding his name and birthdate to police and running away after the police in North Carolina detained Defendant.

 

  1. Whether the Commonwealth may present evidence Farrell

                   engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship with Shultz up until

                   the time of the killing as evidence of motive for Farrell’s killing?

Evidence of motive is always relevant and admissible.  Commonwealth v. Ward, 605 A.2d 796, 797 (Pa. 1992).  Actions before and after a crime may be admitted to prove both motive and malice.  Commonwealth v. Kaster, 446 A.2d 286, 288 (Pa.Super. 1982).  Evidence to show ill will on the part of a defendant towards a victim is admissible in any homicide case.  Commonwealth v. Chism, 389 A.2d 1041, 1048 (Pa. 1978).  In Commonwealth v. Foley, 38 A.3d 882 (Pa.Super. 2012), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held testimony by a witness that the victim had sex with his next-door neighbor to show that the neighbor’s husband was the murderer was irrelevant where there was no evidence that the neighbor’s husband knew of the supposed intimate acts and there was no other evidence to corroborate that the killing was motivated by jealousy.  Commonwealth v. Foley at 886-887.

Here, the Commonwealth wants to introduce evidence that Shultz engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship with both Farrell and Defendant as evidence of motive for Farrell’s killing.  Motive evidence is usually admissible.  There is sufficient evidence that demonstrates that Defendant knew of the supposed intimate acts between Farrell and Shultz before Farrell’s death and there is other evidence that corroborates the possibility that the killing was motivated by jealousy.  As such, this case is distinguishable from Commonwealth v. Foley.

First, Facebook records revealed a conversation between Defendant and his mother.  Defendant and his mother discussed Shultz, Shultz’s infidelity during Defendant’s incarceration, and how Defendant should not get upset and react to the news.  These messages occurred days prior to Farrell’s death.  Additionally, weeks prior to Farrell’s death, Marte told Defendant that Shultz continued her affair with Farrell.  Nadal stated prior to Farrell’s death, Farrell told her Defendant wanted to fight him due to his ongoing affair with Shultz.  Nadal knew Defendant and his family, and Nadal called Defendant’s mother in the week prior to Farrell’s death.  Nadal told Defendant’s mother of the ongoing issues with Shultz, Defendant, and Farrell.  Nadal asked Defendant’s mother to speak with Defendant and to ensure no violence would occur.  Defendant spoke to Nadal days later about the call.  Defendant expressed anger that Nadal spoke with his mother about the situation.  Shultz told the police that Defendant was recently released from prison, that he resided with her and their daughter, and that he knew of her affair with Farrell.  Shultz and Farrell became romantically involved while Defendant was incarcerated.  Shultz admitted Defendant recently learned she and Farrell continued their affair.  Shultz also stated Defendant’s mother spoke to Defendant about Shultz’s relationship and that led to ongoing issues.  Lastly, Ford stated that Shultz repeatedly denied an ongoing affair to Defendant, but that everyone, including Defendant, knew the affair continued.  As such, this Court finds that there is plenty of evidence establishing that Defendant knew of the ongoing romantic relationship between Farrell and Shultz.

Second, the Commonwealth provided additional corroborating evidence.  Ford stated Farrell and Defendant were friendly until Shultz dated both men.  Ford explained that Shultz stayed at Farrell’s house overnight even after the Defendant’s release from prison.  Shultz witnessed Defendant and Farrell in local bars several times after Defendant’s release, and there was animus between them.  Shultz stated that ongoing issues resulted from when Defendant’s mother spoke to Defendant about Shultz’s relationship.  The bartender alleged when interviewed that Shultz used Farrell as a safe haven, but she would then go back to Defendant.  The bartender observed that this caused issues between Farrell and Defendant.  As such, this Court finds that there is plenty of other corroborating evidence regarding Defendant’s possible motive.  Therefore, the Commonwealth may present evidence Farrell engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship with Shultz up until the time of the killing as evidence of motive for Farrell’s killing.

 

  1. Whether the Commonwealth may refer to Travis Farrell as

                   “Victim” during trial?

The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.  Commonwealth v. Neal, 426 A.2d 576, 578 (Pa. 1981).  To implement the presumption, courts must be alert to factors that may undermine the fairness of the fact-finding process.  Id.  In the administration of criminal justice, courts must carefully guard against dilution of the principle that guilt is to be established by probative evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt.  Id.

A prosecutor must have reasonable latitude in presenting her case and must be free as well to make her arguments with logical force and vigor.  Commonwealth v. Johnson, 533 A.2d 994, 996 (Pa. 1987).  A prosecutor must be free to argue that the facts of record establish every element of the crime charged and must be free to respond fairly to the arguments of the defense.  Commonwealth v. Clancy, 192 A.3d 44, 65 (Pa. 2018).  Additionally, a prosecutor’s opening statements may refer to facts that she reasonably believes will be established at trial.  Commonwealth v. Begley, 780 A.2d 605, 626 (Pa. 2001).

However, a prosecutor’s opening statements must be based on evidence that she plans to introduce at trial and must not include mere assertions designed to inflame the jury’s emotions.  Id.  A prosecutor cannot base her summation on a personal belief that the defendant is guilty.  Commonwealth v. Johnson at 996.  Such assertions of personal opinion are blatantly improper because they invade the province of the jury which alone bears the duty of determining criminal culpability.  Id.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided that there are lines of permissible conduct which cannot be crossed in the interests of basic fairness and justice.  Id.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stated they are compelled to guard against utterances which unduly inflame and prejudice members of a jury because a jury tends to attach special importance to the Commonwealth’s arguments.  Id.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth cited Commonwealth v. Williams, 439 A.2d 765 (Pa.Super. 1982), for support.  While the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Commonwealth v. Williams held that reference to the prosecutrix in a rape case as “the victim” was not an expression of the judge’s opinion as to the guilt of the defendant, the case is distinguishable from this case because Commonwealth v. Williams was about the judge calling the prosecutrix “the victim” rather than the prosecutor doing so.  Commonwealth v. Williams at 768.  Additionally, while the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Commonwealth v. Williams stated that Pennsylvanian courts have ruled that the use of more aggravating terminology constituted harmless error, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania also stated that perhaps, in hindsight, continuing to refer to the prosecutrix as “the alleged victim” or “the prosecutrix” would have been more appropriate than referring to her as “the victim.”  Id.

Here, this Court is determined to preserve Defendant’s presumption of innocence and is alert to factors that may undermine the fairness of the fact-finding process.  Commonwealth v. Neal at 578.  This Court finds the word “victim” often begs the question.  The “victim” of what?  Using the word “victim” implies that a crime has indeed occurred which the Commonwealth has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  As such, using the word “victim” is unfairly prejudicial to Defendant and undermines his presumption of innocence.  Id.  This Court finds that the use of the word “victim” poses a risk of unfairly prejudicing the jury against Defendant as the word implies that a crime has occurred.  See Id.; Commonwealth v. Johnson at 996; Commonwealth v. Williams at 768.  Therefore, the Commonwealth may not refer to Farrell as “Victim” during trial.

 

  1. Whether the Commonwealth may present witnesses via video

                   testimony during trial?

Both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provide a criminal defendant the right to confront all witnesses who testify against him.  Pa. Const. art. I, § 9; U.S. Const. amend. VI.  The United States Confrontation Clause includes the right of a defendant to personally examine a witness, that a witness provides his testimony under oath, that the witness submits to cross examination, and the jury observe the witness’ demeanor during testimony.  Commonwealth v. Atkinson, 987 A.2d 743, 746 (Pa.Super. 2009).  As stated in Commonwealth v. Atkinson, the Confrontation Clause does not provide an absolute right to a face-to-face meeting with witnesses during trial.  Id. at 747.  The Superior Court of Pennsylvania went on to explain the Confrontation Clause gives preference to in-person testimony, but the Superior Court of Pennsylvania noted the preference must occasionally give way to considerations of public policy and the necessities of the case.  Id., citing Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 849 (1990).  In cases where a party seeks testimony in a means other than in-person appearance, the trial court must determine whether to allow alternative testimony based on the facts of the case and the necessity for the alternative.  Commonwealth v. Atkinson at 748.  In addition to cases involving child witnesses, there appear to be two other situations in which courts have considered the use of video testimony for adult witnesses: when a witness is too ill to travel and when a witness is located outside of the United States.  Id.

Here, the Commonwealth originally requested to have three people testify via video.  Notably, the Commonwealth informed this Court recently that the two police officers from North Carolina are now able to testify in-person.  As such, there is no longer a necessity for these two police officers to testify via video.

The Commonwealth however still requests to have Boyle testify via video during the trial itself.  Boyle is too ill to travel.  Boyle currently receives regular dialysis treatments, and any extended travel would cause extreme disruption or potentially discontinuation of his dialysis for a period of time.  Alternative means appears to be a necessity to have Boyle testify in this case.  Id.  Furthermore, Judge Kline has allowed Boyle to testify via video for a prior Pre-Trial Habeas Hearing in the past.  Therefore, the two police officers from North Carolina will have to testify in-person during the trial, but this Court will allow Boyle to testify via video during the trial.

 

III.    CONCLUSION

Therefore, as set forth in the attached Order and for the aforementioned reasons, the Commonwealth’s Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant’s Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part.

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