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Videotape Evidence Properly Admitted in Prisoner's Beating Trial

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, affirming the U.S. District Court,
Western District of Pennsylvania, held that the district court did not err
in admitting a videotape of the location where an attack took place, and
that even if admitting the tape was error, the error was harmless.
Muntu Akili, a federal prisoner at the McKean Federal Correctional
Institution, attacked his cellmate, Frank Garner, with a hot water fixture
from a water fountain while Garner was sleeping, seriously injuring Garner.
The government tried Akili for the assault. At trial, the district court
admitted into evidence, over defense objections, a videotape taken by
prison officials showing the fountain area, the cell and the bed where
Garner slept. Blood was visible on the pillow. Neither Garner nor Akili
appeared in the videotape. Akili was convicted and sentenced for the
assault, and he appealed.

Citing Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the Third Circuit held that the
videotape was properly admitted. It had more probative value than
prejudicial effect, it showed the area where the assault took place shortly
after the assault occurred, and it was relevant to the case before the court.

However, even if it was error to admit the videotape, the appeals court
held, such error was harmless. The evidence of Akili's guilt was
"overwhelming" and he was properly convicted of assaulting Garner.
The district court's judgment was affirmed. This case is published in the
Federal Appendix and is subject to rules governing unpublished cases. See:
United States v Akili, 56 Fed.Appx. 562 (3rd Cir. 2002).

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Related legal case

United States v. Akili

[U] United States v. Akili, 56 Fed.Appx. 562 (3d Cir. 12/18/2002)


[2] No. 01-4413

[3] 56 Fed.Appx. 562, 2002

[4] December 18, 2002


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal No. 01-cr-00002E) District Court Judge: Honorable Maurice B. Cohill, Jr.

[7] Before: Sloviter, Rendell and Greenberg, Circuit Judges

[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rendell, Circuit Judge.


[10] Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) on December 17, 2002


[12] In a pro se brief, Muntu Akili appeals his conviction for assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Specifically, he appeals the District Court's admission into evidence of a videotape of the crime scene, claiming it was unfairly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. We find that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the tape, and furthermore, that even if the admission were error, the error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of Akili's guilt.

[13] The District Court had jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. §3231 (2001), and we exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1291 (2002). We review the District Court's decision to admit the videotape for abuse of discretion. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Albert, 231 F.3d 344, 347 (3d Cir. 2001). We will not overturn that decision unless it was arbitrary or irrational. Id.

[14] Akili was convicted of assault on Frank Garner, one of Akili's cell-mates at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution. According to testimony at trial, Akili attacked Garner with a hot water plumbing fixture from a drinking fountain. Garner received extensive injuries to his head and face. A videotape was made immediately after corrections officers arrived at the crime scene. The tape is approximately five minutes in length and depicts the cell and the drinking fountain area. The tape also shows some blood on the pillow where Garner was sleeping when attacked. Neither Garner nor Akili appears on the tape, and the audio commentary of the officers making the tape was turned off when it was shown during the trial.

[15] We find that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the tape. Rule 403 allows the District Court to exclude relevant evidence whose probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. After viewing the tape, the Court found that it was probative regarding the seriousness of Garner's injuries and not exceedingly inflammatory in light of Albert, in which we affirmed the District Court's admission of a videotape that depicted a bloody crime scene and the victim's gruesome injuries. Albert, 241 F.3d at 349. This decision was neither arbitrary nor irrational.

[16] Additionally, even if admission of the tape were error, there is such overwhelming evidence of Akili's guilt, including the testimony of Garner and the eye-witness account of Corrections Officer Pam Garcia, that any error was harmless. See United States v. Pavelko, 992 F.2d 32, 35 (3d Cir. 1993).

[17] Accordingly, we will affirm Akili's conviction.

[18] Marjorie O. Rendell Circuit Judge