People vs. Claudio Teehankee, Jr.
G.R. Nos. 111206-08, 6 October 1995
Jussi Olavi Leino was taking Maureen Hultman to her home in Dasmarinas Village, Makati. Roland John Chapman went with them. A block away from her house, she wanted to walk the rest of the way as she did not want her parents to know that she was going home late. Leino offered to walk with her while Chapman stayed in the car and listened to the radio.
While Leino and Maureen were walking, a Mitsubishi box-type Lancer car came up from behind them and stopped on the middle of the road. Accused alighted from his car, approached them, and asked about their identities. Leino handed his ADB I.D., the accused did not bother looking at it as he just grabbed his wallet and pocketed it.
Chapman upon seeing the incident came to them and asked “Why are you bothering us?” Accused pushed Chapman, dug into his shirt, pulled out a gun and fired at him. Chapman crumpled on the sidewalk. Leino knelt beside Chapman to assist him but accused ordered him to get up and leave Chapman alone. Maureen came to her senses and became hysterical and started screaming for help. When accused managed to make Maureen finally sat beside Leino on the sidewalk, the accused turned his back from the two and then faced them again and shot Leino who was hit on the upper jaw. Leino heard another shot and saw Maureen fall beside him. He lifted his head to see what was happening and saw accused return to his car and drive away. Leino struggled to his knees and shouted for help. He noticed at least 3 people who saw the incident.
It was found out that the person was Claudio Teehankee, Jr. and was charged of Murder of Hultman and Chapman, and a charge of frustrated murder on Leino.
Accused denied he was not the person as he was in his house in Pasig. While he admitted to owning a box-type Mitsubishi Lancer, he however claimed that the car ceased to be in good condition, although admitted that it could still be used.
In the trial court, Teehankee assails the credibility of his out-of-court identification by the witnesses trying to discredit the eyeball account of Leino contending that his identification of Teehankee was highly irregular, and that he only saw his pictures on television and newspapers, that the hospital interview of Leino was not put in writing, the cartographic sketch of Teehankee was suppressed by the NBI, and that the shooting only lasted for 5 minutes which is highly improbable for the witness to remember as his senses were dull due to the 5 bottles of beer he imbibed that night.
1. Whether the killing of Hultman constitutes murder
2. Whether or not an out-of-court identification is a valid method of identifying an accused.
1. Yes. Treachery clearly attended the commission of the crimes. The evidence shows that after shooting Chapman in cold blood, the accused ordered Leino to sit on the pavement. Maureen became hysterical and wandered to the side of appellant’s car. When the accused went after her, Maureen moved around his car and tried to put some distance between them. After a minute or two, the accused got to Maureen and ordered her to sit beside Leino on the pavement. While seated, unarmed and begging for mercy, the two were gunned down by the accused . Clearly, the accused purposely placed his two victims in a completely defenseless position before shooting them. There was an appreciable lapse of time between the killing of Chapman and the shooting of Leino and Hultman – a period which the accused used to prepare for a mode of attack which ensured the execution of the crime without risk to himself.
2. It is understandable for appellant to assail his out-of-court identification by the prosecution witnesses in his first assignment of error. Eyewitness identification constitutes vital evidence and, in most cases, decisive of the success or failure of the prosecution. Yet, while eyewitness identification is significant, it is not as accurate and authoritative as the scientific forms of identification evidence such as the fingerprint or DNA testing. Some authors even describe eyewitness evidence as “inherently suspect.” The causes of misidentification are known, thus:
Identification testimony has at least three components. First, witnessing a crime, whether as a victim or a bystander, involves perception of an event actually occurring. Second, the witness must memorize details of the event. Third, the witness must be able to recall and communicate accurately. Dangers of unreliability in eyewitness testimony arise at each of these three stages, for whenever people attempt to acquire, retain, and retrieve information accurately, they are limited by normal human fallibilities and suggestive influences.
Out-of-court identification is conducted by the police in various ways. It is done thru show-ups where the suspect alone is brought face to face with the witness for identification. It is done thru mug shots where photographs are shown to the witness to identify the suspect. It is also done thru line-ups where a witness identifies the suspect from a group of persons lined up for the purpose. Since corruption of out-of-court identification contaminates the integrity of in-court identification during the trial of the case, courts have fashioned out rules to assure its fairness and its compliance with the requirements of constitutional due process. In resolving the admissibility of and relying on out-of-court identification of suspects, courts have adopted the totality of circumstances test where they consider the following factors, viz: (1) the witness’ opportunity to view the criminal at the time of the crime; (2) the witness’ degree of attention at that time; (3) the accuracy of any prior description given by the witness; (4) the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the identification; (5) the length of time between the crime and the identification; and, (6) the suggestiveness of the identification procedure.
Using the totality of circumstances test, the alleged irregularities cited by the accused did not result in his misidentification nor was he denied due process. There is nothing wrong in Leino’s identification of the accused in an unoccupied house in Forbes Park. The records reveal that this mode was resorted to by the authorities for security reasons. The need for security even compelled that Leino be fetched and escorted from his house in Forbes Park by U.S. embassy security officials and brought to the house where he was to make the identification. The Leinos refused to have the identification at the NBI office as it was cramped with people and with high security risk. Leino’s fear for his safety was not irrational. He and his companions had been shot in cold blood in one of the exclusive, supposedly safe subdivisions in the metropolis.
There is no hard and fast rule as to the place where suspects are identified by witnesses. Identification may be done in open field. It is often done in hospitals while the crime and the criminal are still fresh in the mind of the victim.
Appellant can’t also gripe that Leino saw his pictures and heard radio and TV accounts of the shooting before he personally identified him. The records show that while Leino was still in the hospital, he was shown 3 pictures of different men by the investigators. He identified the accused as the gunman from these pictures. He, however, categorically stated that, before the mug shot identification, he has not seen any picture of accused or read any report relative to the shooting incident. The burden is on accused to prove that his mug shot identification was unduly suggestive. Failing proof of impermissible suggestiveness, he cannot complain about the admission of his out-of-court identification by Leino.
There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the accused’s identification by Leino. The scene of the crime was well-lighted by a lamp post. The accused was merely 2-3 meters away when he shot Leino. The incident happened for a full 5 minutes. Leino had no ill-motive to falsely testify against the accused. His testimony at the trial was straightforward. He was unshaken by the brutal cross-examination of the defense counsels. He never wavered in his identification of the accused. When asked how sure he was that the accused was responsible for the crime, he confidently replied: “I’m very sure. It could not have been somebody else.”
The Court rejected the contention that the NBI suppressed the sketch prepared by the CIS on the basis of the description given by Leino. There is no record showing that said sketch was turned over by the CIS to the NBI. The suspicion that the sketch did not resemble the accused is not evidence but is an unmitigated guesswork.
The Court was not impressed with the contention that it was incredible for Leino to have remembered the accused’s face in a span of 5 minutes. Experience shows that precisely because of the unusual acts of bestiality committed before their eyes, eyewitnesses, especially the victims to a crime, can remember with a high degree of reliability the identity of criminals. The natural reaction of victims of criminal violence is to strive to see the appearance of their assailants and observe the manner the crime was committed. In this case, there is absolutely no improper motive for Leino to impute a serious crime to the accused. The victims and the accused were unknown to each other before their chance encounter. If Leino identified the accused, it must be because the accused was the real culprit.
The Court also gave credence to the testimony of the other two witnesses. As to the testimony of Cadenas, his initial reluctance to reveal to the authorities what he witnessed was sufficiently explained during the trial – he feared for his and his family’s safety. The Court has taken judicial notice of the natural reticence of witnesses to get involved in the solution of crimes considering the risk to their lives and limbs. In light of these all too real risks, the court has not considered the initial reluctance of fear-gripped witnesses to cooperate with authorities as an authorities as an indicium of credibility. As to the testimony of Mangubat, the Court found nothing in the records to suspect that Mangubat would perjure himself.
The accused points to other possible suspects, viz:. ANDERS HULTMAN, since one of the eyewitnesses was quoted in the newspapers as having overheard Maureen plead to the gunman: “Huwag, Daddy.”; and, (b) JOSE MONTANO, another resident of Dasmarinas Village, who had a white Lancer car, also bearing license plate number 566.
Different witnesses claim different colors of the car. Leino described it as light-colored, Florence said the car was somewhat white, Mangubat claimed it was white, Cadenas testified it was silver metallic gray. These alleged discrepancies amount to no more than shades of differences and are not meaningful, referring as they do to colors white, somewhat white and silver metallic gray. Considering the speed and shocking nature of the incident which happened before the break of dawn, these slight discrepancies in the description of the car do not make the prosecution eyewitnesses unworthy of credence.
Appellant’s attempt to pin the crimes at bar on Anders Hultman, the adoptive father of Maureen Hultman, deserves scant consideration. Appellant cites a newspaper item where Maureen was allegedly overheard as saying to the gunman: “Huwag, Daddy. Huwag, Daddy.” The evidence on record, however, demonstrates that Anders Hultman could not have been the gunman. It was clearly established that Maureen could not have uttered said statement for two (2) reasons: Maureen did not speak Tagalog, and she addressed Anders Hultman as “Papa,” not “Daddy.” Moreover, Leino outrightly dismissed this suspicion. While still in the hospital and when informed that the Makati police were looking into this possibility, Leino flatly stated that Anders Hultman was NOT the gunman. 168 Leino is a reliable witness.
The accused cannot also capitalize on the paraffin test showing he was negative of nitrates. Scientific experts concur in the view that the paraffin test has “. . . proved extremely unreliable in use. The only thing that it can definitely establish is the presence or absence of nitrates or nitrites on the hand. It cannot be established from this test alone that the source of the nitrates or nitrites was the discharge of a firearm. The person may have handled one or more of a number of substances which give the same positive reaction for nitrates or nitrites, such as explosives, fireworks, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and leguminous plants such as peas, beans, and alfalfa. A person who uses tobacco may also have nitrate or nitrite deposits on his hands since these substances are present in the products of combustion of tobacco.” In numerous rulings, we have also recognized several factors which may bring about the absence of gunpowder nitrates on the hands of a gunman, viz: when the assailant washes his hands after firing the gun, wears gloves at the time of the shooting, or if the direction of a strong wind is against the gunman at the time of firing. In the case at bar, NBI Forensic Chemist, Leonora Vallado, testified and confirmed that excessive perspiration or washing of hands with the use of warm water or vinegar may also remove gunpowder nitrates on the skin. She likewise opined that the conduct of the paraffin test after more than seventy-two (72) hours from the time of the shooting may not lead to a reliable result for, by such time, the nitrates could have already been removed by washing or perspiration. In the Report on the paraffin test conducted on appellant, Forensic Chemist Elizabeth Ayonon noted that when the accused was tested for the presence of nitrates, more than 72 hours has already lapsed from the time of the alleged shooting.
Pervasive publicity is not per se prejudicial to the right of an accused to fair trial. The mere fact that the trial of appellant was given a day-to-day, gavel-to-gavel coverage does not by itself prove that the publicity so permeated the mind of the trial judge and impaired his impartiality. For one, it is impossible to seal the minds of members of the bench from pre-trial and other off-court publicity of sensational criminal cases. The state of the art of our communication system brings news as they happen straight to our breakfast tables and right to our bedrooms. These news form part of our everyday menu of the facts and fictions of life. For another, our idea of a fair and impartial judge is not that of a hermit who is out of touch with the world. We have not installed the jury system whose members are overly protected from publicity lest they lose their impartiality. Our judges are learned in the law and trained to disregard off-court evidence and on-camera performances of parties to a litigation. Their mere exposure to publications and publicity stunts does not per se fatally infect their impartiality.
At best, the accused can only conjure possibility of prejudice on the part of the trial judge due to the barrage of publicity that characterized the investigation and trial of the case. The SC had previously rejected this standard of possibility of prejudice and adopted the test of actual prejudice as we ruled that to warrant a finding of prejudicial publicity, there must be allegation and proof that the judges have been unduly influenced, not simply that they might be, by the barrage of publicity. In the case at bar, the records do not show that the trial judge developed actual bias against appellant as a consequence of the extensive media coverage of the pre-trial and trial of his case. The totality of circumstances of the case does not prove that the trial judge acquired a fixed opinion as a result of prejudicial publicity which is incapable of change even by evidence presented during the trial. The accused has the burden to prove this actual bias and he has not discharged the burden. There is no evidence showing that the trial judge allowed the proceedings to turn into a carnival. Nor did he consent to or condone any manifestation of unruly or improper behavior or conduct inside the courtroom during the trial of the case at bar.
Parenthetically, the accused should be the last person to complain against the press for prejudicial coverage of his trial. The records reveal he presented in court no less than 7 newspaper reporters and relied heavily on selected portions of their reports for his defense. The defense’s documentary evidence consists mostly of newspaper clippings relative to the investigation of the case at bar and which appeared to cast doubt on his guilt. The press cannot be fair and unfair to appellant at the same time.
Finally, it would not be amiss to stress that the trial judge voluntarily inhibited himself from further hearing the case, but the SC, nothing in the conduct of the proceedings to stir any suspicion of partiality against the trial judge, directed the trial judge to proceed with the trial to speed up the administration of justice.
The accused claims that treachery was not present in the killing of Hultman and Chapman, and the wounding of Leino for it was not shown that the gunman consciously and deliberately adopted particular means, methods and forms in the execution of the crime. The accused asserts that mere suddenness of attack does not prove treachery.
The 3 pieces of information charged the accused with having committed the crimes with treachery and evident premeditation. Evident premeditation was correctly ruled out by the trial court for, admittedly, the shooting incident was merely a casual encounter or a chance meeting on the street since the victims were unknown to the accused and vice-versa. It, however, appreciated the presence of the qualifying circumstance of treachery.
On the other hand, the prosecution failed to prove treachery in the killing of Chapman. Prosecution witness Leino established the sequence of events leading to the shooting. He testified that for no apparent reason, the accused suddenly alighted from his car and accosted him and Maureen Hultman who were then walking along the sidewalk.
Appellant questioned who they were and demanded for an I.D. After Leino handed him his I.D., Chapman appeared from behind Leino and asked what was going on. Chapman then stepped down on the sidewalk and inquired from appellant what was wrong. There and then, the accused pushed Chapman, pulled a gun from inside his shirt, and shot him. The gun attack was unexpected. “Why did you shoot me?” was all Chapman could utter. Concededly, the shooting of Chapman was carried out swiftly and left him with no chance to defend himself. Even then, there is no evidence on record to prove that the accused consciously and deliberately adopted his mode of attack to insure the accomplishment of his criminal design without risk to himself. The accused acted on the spur of the moment. Their meeting was by chance. They were strangers to each other. The time between the initial encounter and the shooting was short and unbroken. The shooting of Chapman was thus the result of a rash and impetuous impulse on the part of the accused rather than a deliberate act of will. Mere suddenness of the attack on the victim would not, by itself, constitute treachery. Hence, absent any qualifying circumstance, the accused should only be held liable for Homicide for the shooting and killing of Chapman.
Accused was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide for the shooting of Roland John Chapman. He was sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of 8 years and 1 day of prision mayor as minimum to 14 years, 8 months and 1 day of reclusion temporal as maximum, and to pay the heirs of the said deceased the following amounts: P50,000 as indemnity for the victim’s death; and, P1,000,000 as moral damages.
Accused was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder, qualified by treachery, for the shooting of Maureen Navarro Hultman. He was sentenced to suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua, and to pay the heirs of the said deceased the following amounts: P50,000 as indemnity for her death; P2,350,461.83 as actual damages; P564,042.57 for loss of earning capacity of said deceased; P1,000,000 as moral damages; and P2,000,000 as exemplary damages.
Accused was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Frustrated Murder, qualified by treachery, for the shooting of Jussi Olavi Leino, and sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of 8 years of prision mayor as minimum, to 14 years and 8 months of reclusion temporal as maximum, and to pay the said offended party the following amounts: P30,000 as indemnity for his injuries; P118,369.84 and equivalent in Philippine Pesos of U.S.$55,600.00, both as actual damages; P1,000,000 as moral damages; and, P2,000,000 as exemplary damages.