Tequilla Fields
Deaths of two children occurred: July 11,1990
Arrested: 2005 (Note 15 year hiatus)
Convicted: October 2005
Sentence: LWOP Second degree murder
Homicide Denied

Ajax Loader Gif

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Tequilla Fields a/k/a Tequilla Newsome

Claim of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

1. Defendant was convicted of second degree murder and arson for setting grandmother’s dog on fire. The dog ran into the home and set house on fire killing two children. Defendant and son lived with grandmother despite son’s allergy to the dog. Grandmother refused to give dog away.

2. Defendant raised claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure of counsel to raise defense of justification in setting dog on fire to protect son’s health. Court found that justification was not applicable to fact situation and rejected claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

(William F. Barker) Michael W. Streily for the Commonwealth.

Defendant pro se. No. CC200503061 and 200505726. In the Court of Common

Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division.


O’Toole, J., June 9, 2009—The Defendant, Tequilla Fields a/k/a Tequilla Newsome, was charged with Criminal Homicide (2 counts), 18 Pa.C.S.A. §2501, Arson— Endangering Persons (2 counts), 18 Pa.C.S.A. §3301(A), Arson—Endangering Property, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §3301(C), Causing a Catastrophe, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §3302, Cruelty to Animals: Killing, Maiming or Poisoning, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §5511, and Criminal Conspiracy, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §903. After the Court denied the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress and granted the Co-Defendant’s Motion to Sever, the Defendant proceeded to a trial by jury on October 17, 2005. At the conclusion of the trial on October 19, 2005, the Defendant was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree and all other counts. On the same day, the Court sentenced the Defendant to life

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imprisonment. A direct appeal was filed. In a Memorandum Opinion

dated January 22, 2007, the Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence and the convictions for Murder in the Second Degree, Arson—Endangering Persons, Arson— Endangering Property, and Criminal Conspiracy. The con- victions for Causing a Catastrophe and Cruelty to Animals were overturned.

A Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Supreme Court was denied on June 26, 2007.

On May 10, 2008, the Defendant filed a pro se Petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. In said Petition, the Defendant specifically refused the appointment of counsel, stating that she desired to represent herself. At a Grazier hearing on September 12, 2008, the Court held an on-the- record colloquy and granted the Defendant’s request to rep- resent herself. The Defendant then filed a Petition, to which the Commonwealth filed an Answer. After review of the Petition, Answer, and the court record, the Petition was dis- missed without a hearing on March 26, 2009.

The facts of this case, as set forth in our previous Opinion and adopted by the Superior Court in its opinion, can briefly be summarized as follows:

Detective J.R. Smith, of the City of Pittsburgh Police Department, testified that he and his partner, Detective Timothy Rush, were assigned to the “cold case” homicide squad in 2004. They were assigned to reinvestigate seven old unsolved homicide cases, including the within case, which involved the death of two young children in a house fire in the early morning hours of July 11, 1990. After reviewing the old files from 1990, the detectives contacted the Defendant’s Mother, Sharon Fields, on February 8, 2005, who put them in contact with the Defendant. The Defendant was very happy that the case was being reopened and she offered her assistance in finding the “killers of her babies.”

After doing additional investigation and other inter- views, the detectives contacted the Defendant again on February 15, 2005. They requested that she provide them with photographs and accompany them to their office for an interview. The Defendant was advised of her constitutional rights and the detectives began to question her. The Defendant stated that she and her children were living on the north side of the City of Pittsburgh with her grandmoth- er (Minnie Bivins), who had a dog named Fay Lou. The Defendant’s son, Montelle, was allergic to the dog, but her grandmother would not agree to get rid of the dog. So, she and a friend, Lachan Russell (the Co-Defendant), who was dating her brother, plotted how to get rid of the dog. Initially, they took the dog to a convenience store downtown, but he found his way home. Then, they decided that they would douse the dog with kerosene and set the dog on fire until it died.

Late in the evening on July 10, 1990, the Defendant and the Co-Defendant took a bus to the home of the Defendant’s mother, who resided in the Hill District section of the city. They picked up the Defendant’s two young children and took another bus to the home of the Defendant’s grandmoth- er, arriving after midnight. While on the bus, the two Defendants decided to carry out their plan that evening. When they arrived at the home of the Defendant’s grand- mother, the front door was locked and they had to pound on the door to awaken Ms. Bivins. While the Defendant was pounding on the door, the Co-Defendant poured kerosene on the dog, who was tied up on a leash on the front porch. Ms. Bivins opened the door and they went into the house. The Defendant bathed the children and put them to bed— Montelle in a bedroom on the second floor and Charita with

Ms. Bivins. As the two Defendants left the residence pur- portedly to go to the store, they set the dog on fire. Both Defendants ran toward “the city steps.” The dog tried to fol- low them, but he was tethered on the porch. Very quickly, the entire house was engulfed in flames. The two Defendants returned to the house, where they spoke with Ms. Bivins, who was standing outside. They attempted to rescue the children, but were unable to do so. The Defendant’s brother, Andre, jumped out a third story win- dow. Once the emergency and fire vehicles arrived, the Defendants met and they made a “street pact” never to tell anyone how the fire started.

In her PCRA Petition, the Defendant claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the defense of jus- tification and for failing to raise an evidentiary issue. Our Supreme Court, in Commonwealth v. Kimball, 724 A.2d 326, 333 (Pa. 1999), set forth the standard to be used in assessing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a PCRA Petition as follows:

The petitioner must still show, by a preponder- ance of the evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel which, in the circumstances of the par- ticular case, so undermined the truth-determin- ing process that no reasonable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place. This requires the petitioner to show: (1) that the claim is of arguable merit; (2) that counsel had no reasonable strategic basis for his or her action or inaction; and (3) that, but for the errors and omissions of counsel, there is a rea- sonable probability that the outcome of the pro- ceeding would have been different.

If Petitioner fails to meet one of the three prongs of the test, he has not overcome the presumption of effectiveness of counsel and an evidentiary hearing is not required. Id.

First, the Defendant claims that trial counsel was ineffec- tive in failing to raise the defense of justification. Specifically, the Defendant claims that she was justified in her actions because she was protecting her son, Montelle, who suffered from asthma and was allergic to her grand- mother’s dog. While the Court understands that the Defendant wished to prevent her son from having an allergic reaction to her grandmother’s dog, setting the dog on fire, in the middle of the night, on the front porch of her grandmoth- er’s residence, in which four people (including her two young children) were sleeping, was not an appropriate way to do so. In fact, the Defendant would not have been justified in harming the dog in any manner to protect her son from an asthma attack; rather, the Defendant should have protected her son by moving him from her grandmother’s residence to a residence in which a dog was not present. As such, the Court does not find any ineffectiveness of counsel in failing to raise this defense.

The Defendant’s second allegation is that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to raise a claim that the Commonwealth did not prove the chain of custody of certain evidence. At trial, Mary Kay Perrott, a police investigator, testified that she collected samples at the scene and removed several items, including the dog. She transported the sam- ples to the Allegheny County Crime Lab for analysis. Joseph Abati, a chemist at the Crime Lab, listed the items of evi- dence that he received and from whom they were received. This testimony was more than adequate to demonstrate the chain of custody of the evidence taken from the scene and analyzed at the Crime Lab. Therefore, the Court finds that trial counsel was not ineffective in failing to raise this issue.

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For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the Defendant’s PCRA Petition was properly dismissed without a hearing.

BY THE COURT: /s/O’Toole, J.