(This is a digest of People vs. Claudio Teehankee, Jr., G.R. Nos. 111206-08, 6 October 1995)
In 1991, Jussi Olavi Leino was taking Maureen Hultman to her home at Campanilla Street, Dasmarinas Village, Makati. Roland John Chapman went with them. When they entered the village, Maureen asked Leino to stop about a block away from her house, as she wanted to walk the rest of the way for she did not want her parents to know that she was going home that 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 light-colored Mitsubishi box-type Lancer car, driven by accused Claudio Teehankee, Jr., came up from behind them and stopped on the middle of the road. Accused alighted from his car, approached them, and asked: “Who are you? (Show me your) I.D.” When Leino handed his I.D., the accused grabbed and pocketed the I.D., without bothering to look at it.
Chapman saw the incident. He stepped down on the sidewalk and asked accused: “Why are you bothering us?” Accused pushed Chapman, dug into his shirt, pulled out a gun and fired at him. Chapman felt his upper body, staggered for a moment, and asked: “Why did you shoot me?” Chapman crumpled on the sidewalk. Leino knelt beside Chapman to assist him but accused ordered him to get up and leave Chapman alone. Accused then turned his ire on Leino. He pointed gun at him and asked: “Do you want a trouble?” Leino said “no” and took a step backward.
The shooting initially shocked Maureen. When she came to her senses, she became hysterical and started screaming for help. She repeatedly shouted: “Oh, my God, he’s got a gun. He’s gonna kill us. Will somebody help us?” All the while, accused was pointing his gun to and from Leino to Maureen, warning the latter to shut up. Accused ordered Leino to sit down on the sidewalk. Leino obeyed and made no attempt to move away. Accused stood 2-3 meters away from him. Maureen continued to be hysterical. She could not stay still. She strayed to the side of accused’s car. Accused tried but failed to grab her. Maureen circled around accused’s car, trying to put some distance between them. The short chase lasted for a minute or two. Eventually, accused caught Maureen and repeatedly enjoined her to shut up and sit down beside Leino. Maureen finally sat beside Leino on the sidewalk.
For a moment, the accused turned his back from the two. He faced them again and shot Leino. Leino was hit on the upper jaw, fell backwards on the sidewalk, but did not lose consciousness. 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.
As a result of the incident, 3 separate criminal cases were filed against accused Claudio Teehankee, Jr. Initially, he was charged with: MURDER for the killing of ROLAND CHAPMAN, and two (2) FRUSTRATED MURDER for the shooting and wounding of JUSSI LEINO and MAUREEN HULTMAN. When Hultman subsequently died after 97 days of confinement at the hospital and during the course of the trial, the Information for Frustrated Murder was amended to MURDER.
Accused relied on the defense of denial and alibi. Accused claimed that during the shooting incident, he was not anywhere near the scene of the crime, but in his house in Pasig. Accused averred that he only came to know the 3 victims in the Dasmarinas shooting when he read the newspaper reports about it. Accused admitted ownership of a box-type, silver metallic gray Mitsubishi Lancer, with plate number PDW 566. He, however, claimed that said car ceased to be in good running condition after its involvement in an accident. Until the day of the shooting, his Lancer car had been parked in the garage of his mother’s house in Dasmarinas Village. He has not used this car since then. Accused conceded that although the car was not in good running condition, it could still be used.
Eyewitness identification and out-of-court identification.
The accused was convicted on the strength of the testimonies of 3 eyewitnesses who positively identified him as the gunman. However, he vigorously assails his out-of-court identification by these eyewitnesses.
He starts by trying to discredit the eyeball account of Leino, the lone surviving victim of the crimes at bar. Appellant urges: First, that Leino’s identification of him outside an unoccupied house in Forbes Park was highly irregular; Second, that Leino saw his pictures on television and the newspapers before he identified him; Third, that Leino’s interview at the hospital was never put in writing; Fourth, that the sketch of appellant based on the description given by Leino to the CIS agents was suppressed by the NBI. It is surmised that the sketch must have been among the evidence turned over to the NBI when the latter assumed jurisdiction over the investigation; and, lastly, that Leino could not have remembered the face of the accused. The shooting lasted for only five (5) minutes. During that period, his gaze could not have been fixed only on the gunman’s face. His senses were also dulled by the five (5) bottles of beer he imbibed that night.
It is understandable for the accused 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.
Accused 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 accusedt. 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 accused cannot likewise capitalize on the failure of the investigators to reduce to a sworn statement the information revealed by Leino during his hospital interviews. It was sufficiently established that Leino’s extensive injuries, especially the injury to his tongue, limited his mobility. The day he identified appellant in the line-up, he was still physically unable to speak. He was being fed through a tube inserted in his throat. There is also no rule of evidence which requires the rejection of the testimony of a witness whose statement has not been priorly reduced to writing.
The SC also rejected the accused’s contention that the NBI suppressed the sketch prepared by the CIS on the basis of the description given by Leino. There is nothing on the record to show that said sketch was turned over by the CIS to the NBI which could warrant a presumption that the sketch was suppressed. The suspicion that the sketch did not resemble the accused is not evidence. It is unmitigated guesswork.
The SC was also not impressed with the contention that it was incredible for Leino to have remembered the accused’s face when the incident happened within a span of 5 minutes. Five minutes is not a short time for Leino to etch in his mind the picture of the accused. 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. Most often, the face end body movements of the assailant create an impression which cannot be easily erased from their memory. 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 SC 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 SC found nothing in the records to suspect that Mangubat would perjure himself.
2. Proof beyond reasonable doubt
According to the the accused, the trial court erred in not holding that the prosecution failed to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. First, he claims the trial court erred in citing in its Decision his involvement in previous shooting incidents. Second, the NBI failed to conduct an examination to compare the bullets fired from the gun at the scene of the crime with the bullets recovered from the body of Chapman. Third, the prosecution eyewitnesses described the gunman’s car as white, but the trial court found it to be silver metalic gray. Fourth, the accused could not have been the gunman, for Mangubat said that he overheard the victim Hultman plead to the gunman, thus: “Please, don’t shoot me and don’t kill me. I promise Mommy, Daddy.” The accused also contends that a maid in a house near the scene of the crime told Makati police Alberto Fernandez that she heard Maureen say: “Daddy don’t shoot. Don’t.” Fifth, the NBI towed accused’s car from Dasmarinas Village to the NBI office which proved that the same was not in good running condition. Lastly, the result of the paraffin test conducted on appellant showed he was negative of nitrates.
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 MONTAÃ‘O, another resident of DasmariÃ±as Village, who had a white Lancer car, also bearing license plate number 566.
The accused, however, cannot hope to exculpate himself simply because the trial judge violated the rule on res inter alios acta when he considered his involvement in previous shooting incidents. This rule has long been laid to rest. The harmless error rule is also followed in our jurisdiction. In dealing with evidence improperly admitted in trial, the court examines its damaging quality and its impact to the substantive rights of the litigant. If the impact is slight and insignificant, the court disregards the error as it will not overcome the weight of the properly admitted evidence against the prejudiced party.
In the case at bar, the reference by the trial judge to reports about the troublesome character of appellant is a harmless error. The reference is not the linchpin of the inculpatory evidence appreciated by the trial judge in convicting the accused. As aforestated, the accused was convicted mainly because of his identification by 3 eyewitnesses with high credibility.
The NBI may have also failed to compare the bullets fired from the fatal gun with the bullets found at the scene of the crime. The omission, however, cannot exculpate the accused. The omitted comparison cannot nullify the evidentiary value of the positive identification of the accused.
There is also little to the contention of the accused that his Lancer car was not in running condition. Allegedly, this was vicariously proved when the NBI towed his car from DasmariÃ±as Village where it was parked to the NBI office. Again, the argument is negated by the records which show that said car was towed because the NBI could not get its ignition key which was then in the possession of the accused. Clearly, the car was towed not because it was not in running condition. Even the accused’s evidence show that said car could run. After its repairs, the accused’s son, Claudio Teehankee III, drove it from the repair shop in Banawe, Quezon City to Dasmarinas Village, in Makati, where it was parked.
Nor was the SC impressed by the alleged discrepancies in the eyewitnesses’ description of the color of the gunman’s car. Leino described the car as light-colored; Florece said the car was somewhat white (“medyo puti”); Mangubat declared the car was white; and 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.
The accused’s attempt to pin the crimes at bar on Anders Hultman, the adoptive father of Maureen Hultman, deserves scant consideration. The accused 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. 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.
3. The right to an impartial trial.
The the accused blames the press for his conviction as he contends that the publicity given to his case impaired his right to an impartial trial. He postulates there was pressure on the trial judge for high-ranking government officials avidly followed the developments in the case (as no less than then Vice-President Estrada and then DOJ Secretary Drilon attended some of the hearings and, President Aquino even visited Hultman while she was still confined at the hospital). He submits that the trial judge failed to protect him from prejudicial publicity and disruptive influences which attended the prosecution of the cases.
The SC did not sustain the accused’s claim that he was denied the right to impartial trial due to prejudicial publicity. It’s true that the print and broadcast media gave the case at bar pervasive publicity, just like all high profile and high stake criminal trials. Then and now, we rule that the right of an accused to a fair trial is not incompatible to a free press. To be sure, responsible reporting enhances an accused’s right to a fair trial for, as well pointed out, “a responsible press has always been regarded as the handmaiden of effective judicial administration, especially in the criminal field . . . The press does not simply publish information about trials but guards against the miscarriage of justice by subjecting in the police, prosecutors, and judicial processes to extensive public scrutiny and criticism.”
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.
4. The presence of treachery
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 Informations 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.
As to the wounding of Leino and the killing of Hultman, 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.
Penalties:(Note: Mr. Teehankee was pardoned in 2008)
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
(4) In all three cases, to pay each of the 3 offended parties the sum of P1,000,000, or a total of P3,000,000, for attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation; and
(5) To pay the costs in all 3 cases.