Branch v. Commonwealth

In Branch v. Commonwealth, 225 Va. 91, 300 S.E.2d 758 (1983), witnesses saw Branch burn the contents of the victim's wallet fifteen to twenty minutes after the fatal shooting. Branch and a friend drove the victim's corpse to another location, where they left it. See 225 Va. at 93, 300 S.E.2d at 759. Branch attacked the robbery indictment, arguing that "the evidence 'was insufficient . . . to establish specific intent to steal the wallet contemporaneous with the shooting.'" Id. at 94, 300 S.E.2d at 759. Branch asserted that "'the clear motive of removing the wallet and identification cards was to thwart police efforts in identification of the corpse' -- an intention not formulated until well after all violence against the victim had been consummated and the victim was dead." Id. The Supreme Court stated: Here, as in Whitleyv. Commonwealth, 223 Va. 66, 286 S.E.2d 162 (1982), and Wm. Pattersonv. Commonwealth, 222 Va. 653, 283 S.E.2d 212 (1981), the question is whether robbery was the motive for the killing. Branch's conduct, both before and after the killing, negates any inference that he had conceived an intent to rob at the time he shot his victim. Up to that point, Branch had actually offered the victim money in an effort to resolve an argument and "to get the victim out of my house." The effort failed, the argument continued, and the killing occurred. Branch's conduct thereafter shows that he was motivated by no other purpose than to cover up the crime he had committed. He personally supervised and participated in the group's efforts to find and destroy the victim's identification documents and to dispose of his body. The record shows that the violent killing and the unlawful taking were two separate acts, performed for entirely different reasons. Because it is clear that Branch possessed no intent to steal at the moment the shooting occurred, we hold that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support his conviction of robbery. 225 Va. at 95-96, 300 S.E.2d at 760.