FACTS: Victim Berbon of DZMM, was shot by unidentified malefactors who immediately fled on board a waiting car. Meanwhile, NBI arrested one Romeo Reyes for Illegal Possession of Deadly Weapon. Reyes confided he has vital information regarding the Berbon shooting. Reyes said he saw Espineli, accused herein and one Sotero Paredes board a red car, both were armed and that accused told Paredes “ayaw ko nang abutin pa ng bukas yang si Berbon.”  Reyes posted bail but later jumped bail and was never again heard of. NBI Agent Segunial testified on these facts during the trial. Trial court: convicted Espineli for murder; CA modified: homicide. Petitioner posits that the CA should not have affirmed the conviction by RTC as the latter erred: xxx 2. [in convicting] [petitioner] based on unproven, inadmissible (argued that conviction was based on Reyes statement implicating him which was hearsay here for lack of opportunity to cross) circumstantial evidence. Accused emphasizes that as found by the courts below, there was no direct evidence linking him to the crime; therefore, he wants the review of the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence upon which his conviction was based. OSG, representing the People, concurs with accused and recommends acquittal.

ISSUE:  Were the circumstantial evidence in this case sufficient to convict?

HELD: YES. Truly, “direct evidence of the commission of a crime is not the only basis from which a court may draw its finding of guilt.” The rules allow a trial court to rely on circumstantial evidence to support its conclusion of guilt. Circumstantial evidence, defined: that evidence “which indirectly proves a fact in issue through an inference which the fact-finder draws from the evidence established. S4, R133; circumstantial evidence sufficiency to convict; requisites: i) there is more than one circumstance; ii) the facts from which the inference is derived are proven; and iii) the combination of all circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.” Conviction based on circumstantial evidence can be upheld provided that the circumstances proved constitute an unbroken chain which leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion that points to the accused, to the exclusion of all others as the guilty person.

Here, circumstances found by CA as forming an unbroken chain leading to one fair and reasonable conclusion that petitioner, to the exclusion of all others, is the guilty person are the following:

1. In the morning of December 15, 1996, petitioner was heard telling his co-accused Sotero Paredes (Sotero) “ayaw ko nang abutin pa ng bukas yang si Berbon” before boarding a red car. Sotero was holding an armalite while petitioner was armed with a .45 caliber pistol;

2. The said red car was identified by prosecution witness Rodolfo to be the same car he sold to Sotero in September 1996;

3. The victim Alberto was fatally shot later in the day by unidentified gunmen who thereafter immediately fled riding a red car; and

4. Post-mortem examination showed multiple gunshot wounds which indicate that they were inflicted using high-powered guns, possibly an armalite rifle and .22 caliber pistol.

The circumstantial evidence relied upon by the Court of Appeals sufficiently support petitioner’s conviction. Several reasons deserve our acceptance of the circumstances upon which petitioner’s conviction was based, to wit:

First, NBI Agent Segunial testified that he had investigated Reyes and reduced into writing the latter’s statement (to the effect mentioned in the facts) (Accused says this is hearsay; HELD: NO. Independently Relevant Statement)

Second, the identification through photograph by Rodolfo of the car as the car he sold to Sotero.

Third, Victim was shot and killed and the gunmen immediately fled riding a red car which was identified as the same car previously sold by Rodolfo to Sotero.

Fourth, Doctor findings that the victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds and that the same were caused by high-powered guns, served as corroborative evidence and contributed in a significant way in establishing the level of proof that the law requires in convicting petitioner.

Lastly, petitioner’s escape from detention while the case was pending can also be considered as another circumstance since it is a strong indication of his guilt.

The incriminating circumstances, when taken together, constitute an unbroken chain of events enough to arrive at the conclusion that petitioner was responsible for the killing of the victim. Homicide in view of the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the alleged attendant circumstances of abuse of superior strength and nighttime.

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