Weight of the Evidence; Juvenile Court Adjudication; Homicide By 11-Year-Old

In The Interest of J.B., 147 A. 3d 1204(Pa. Super. 2016), 31 WAP 2017


J.B., an eleven year old who lived with his father, his father’s fiancée (K.M.H.), and K.M.H.’s daughters aged four and seven, was adjudicated to have committed the homicide of K.M.H and homicide of K.M.H.’s unborn child.  K.M.H. was eight months pregnant at the time of her death in 2009.  In an initial appeal, in which J.B contended for the first time on appeal that the disposition was against the weight of the evidence, the Supreme Court remanded to the juvenile court to permit the filing of post-dispositional motions nunc pro tunc.  In re J.B., 106 A.3d 76 (Pa.2014). The juvenile court conducted a hearing on the nunc pro tunc post-dispositional motions and denied them, reaffirming the original disposition.

J.B. appealed and Superior Court affirmed.  All of the evidence against J.B. was circumstantial.  On the morning of the murder, J.B. and K.M.H’s seven year old left the house  to board their school bus at 8:15 am, after J.B.’s father had gone to work.  Workers arrived at the house at 9 am and discovered K.M.H.’s four year old crying and K.M.H apparently dead of a shotgun wound to the neck; death was later confirmed by police and medical personnel. There was testimony that J.B. and his father were hunters, and that J.B. kept guns, including the shotgun that killed K.M.H., in his room. J.B’s clothes and hands tested positive for what appeared to be recently-deposited gunshot residue, but only one deposit that was conclusively so, and there were no bloodstains. When tested, J.B.’s father’s hands and clothes were residue-free. A shell casing that appeared to be the shell that was used to kill K.M.H. was found in the driveway, but it lacked either fingerprints or DNA evidence. Other potential suspects included K.M.H.’s former boyfriend, who was subject to a protection from abuse order and had made death threats to K.M.H. as recently as the previous evening.  J.B. also testified that when he was leaving for school there was a black van he did not recognize parked in the driveway, a fact no other evidence corroborated.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur to address:

(1) Did the Superior Court err in holding that the evidence adduced at [J.B.’s juvenile adjudication hearing], when viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant J.B. committed the crimes in question?

(2) Did the Superior Court err in holding that the juvenile court committed no palpable abuse of discretion in finding that Appellant J.B. committed the crimes in question, when the verdict was against the weight of the evidence introduced at [his juvenile adjudication hearing]?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.