The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie, Chief Judge Middle District of Pennsylvania
Petitioner David Tyler is a Pennsylvania inmate in custody at the Huntingdon State Correctional Institution ("SCI-Huntingdon"), in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Currently before me is Tyler's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt Entries 1 and 4.) Tyler has paid the $5.00 filing fee in this matter. For the reasons discussed below, I conclude that Tyler's habeas petition is barred by the one-year period of limitations set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).
In 1992, Tyler was facing narcotics trafficking charges in connection with a recorded drug sale to Doreen Proctor, the murder victim in the conviction he is presently challenging. (Dkt. Entry 4-1.) A tape recording of the sale was introduced at Petitioner's preliminary hearing on the narcotics charge, and Proctor was expected to testify at Tyler's trial. However, on the same day Tyler's drug trial was to commence, Doreen Proctor was found shot to death on a road outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Dkt. Entry 11-3, at 5.)
Originally six people were implicated and charged in Ms. Proctor's murder (Mary Jane Hodge, Roberta Ronique Bell, Willie James Tyler (Petitioner's brother), David and Jerome King, and Petitioner).*fn1 (Id.) On April 8, 1993, after a jury trial in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas, Petitioner was convicted of one count of first degree murder and six counts of conspiracy (conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to intimidate a witness, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, conspiracy to carry firearms without a license, and conspiracy to possess prohibited offensive weapons). (Dkt. Entry 11-3, at 12, 36.) Tyler's co-defendant, Ms. Bell, was acquitted of all charges. On February 23, 1994, Tyler received a life sentence for the first degree murder conviction and a consecutive term of five to ten years imprisonment for the six conspiracy counts, which were consolidated into one count for sentencing purposes. (Dkt. Entry 11-3, at 36.)
On March 23, 1994, Tyler filed a notice of appeal, arguing that the trial court erroneously denied his motion for severance from co-defendant Roberta Ronique Bell and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. On December 6, 1994, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Judgment of Sentence. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. 00161 (Pa. Super. Ct. Dec. 6, 1994) (Dkt. Entry 11-3, at 36-45). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Tyler's Petition for Allowance of Appeal on May 11, 1995. Pursuant to 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 9545(b)(3), Tyler's judgment of sentence became final on August 9, 1995, 90 days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of appeal. (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 99.)
On June 14, 1995, Tyler filed his first of four petitions for collateral relief under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §§ 9541 et seq., and its predecessor, the Post-Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA"). The initial petition claimed ineffective assistance of trial counsel for having entered into a stipulation with the Commonwealth that the defense would withdraw its request for a DNA expert to analyze blood and tissue samples found at the crime scene and under the victim's fingernails if the Commonwealth promised not to offer expert testimony that a blood enzyme, common to Tyler's blood type, was found on the victim. On December 20, 1995, following a hearing, the court denied Tyler's petition. (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 14.) On January 24, 1996, the PCRA court issued a statement pursuant to PA. R. APP. P. 1925, in which it noted that Tyler's co-defendant, Roberta Ronique Bell, who was acquitted by the jury that convicted Tyler, was "recently" convicted in federal court on charges relating to Proctor's murder.*fn2 (See Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 14.) On July 15, 1996, the Pennsylvania Superior court affirmed the denial of Tyler's initial PCRA petition. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. 00081 HBG 96 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 15, 1996) (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 25). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's Allowance for Appeal on May 30, 1997. Commonwealth v. Tyler, 695 A.2d 786 (Pa. 1997) (table).
Tyler took no additional action to challenge his conviction for more than one (1) year. On April 8, 1999, Tyler filed a motion for new trial based on after discovered evidence. The motion was later amended and treated as a second request for post conviction relief. (See Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 42, 51, 52.) Tyler, with the assistance of counsel, asserted that Mark Spotz committed perjury when he testified on the Commonwealth's behalf and provided incriminating testimony at Petitioner's trial. (Id.) On or about August 23, 1999, after Spotz refused to testify, the PCRA proceedings were terminated. (See Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 57.)
Tyler did not take any other action to contest his conviction until June 11, 2001, when he filed his third PCRA petition. Tyler claimed that testimony during the 1996 federal murder trial of Roberta Ronique Bell exculpated him of conspiring to have Proctor murdered.
Recognizing that the threshold question was whether the latest PCRA proceeding was barred by the applicable one year limitations period, the Adams County Court of Common Pleas nonetheless considered the substance of the federal court testimony to determine whether it was truly exculpatory. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. CC-551-92 (Adams Cty. Aug. 15, 2001) (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 58-63). In an Opinion and Order dated August 15, 2001, the state trial court found that the testimony, in fact, was not exculpatory and dismissed the PCRA petition without addressing the limitations question. The court concluded that, even though the offered testimony revealed that Bell had admitted to others that she and Tyler's brother, Willie, had participated in killing Proctor, the testimony did not exonerate Tyler from having participated in the conspiracy to murder Proctor. In arriving at this conclusion, the state trial judge observed that the federal court testimony did not undermine the evidence that Tyler had a motive to prevent Proctor from testifying against him, he had made a statement to the effect that Proctor had to die, he had purchased and possessed the murder weapon, and he had devised a plan to lure Proctor from her apartment. Id. at 5 (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 62.) The court observed that that statements introduced at the federal trial of "Bell's admissions do not exonerate [Tyler], nor do they diminish or dispute considerable evidence establishing his participation in the murder." Id.
On August 31, 2001, the state trial court vacated its earlier Order for the purpose of determining whether it had jurisdiction to consider the third PCRA petition in view of the apparent expiration of the applicable limitations period. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. CC-551-92 (Adams Cty. Aug. 31, 2001) (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 64). On October 22, 2001, the court dismissed the third PCRA petition, finding that Tyler had failed to exercise due diligence in presenting his allegation of newly discovered evidence. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. CC-551-92 (Adams Cty. Oct. 22, 2001) (Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 75-76.) In this regard, the state court referenced its PA. R. APP. P. 1925 statement issued in January of 1996, which had mentioned Bell's conviction of murder in federal court. That statement had been attached to the April 8, 1996 Brief of Appellant filed in the Superior Court and to the August 14, 1996 Petition for Allowance of Appeal filed on behalf of Tyler. Thus, Tyler's claim that he could not have learned of the testimony in Bell's trial until 2001 was belied by the state trial court record.
Tyler did not file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging the dismissal of his third PCRA petition. Instead, on April 15, 2002, Tyler filed a fourth PCRA petition, seeking allowance to file an appeal of the dismissal of his third PCRA petition nunc pro tunc. On October 10, 2002, the Adams County Court of Common Pleas granted Petitioner's request and reinstated his appeal rights with respect to the denial of his most recent PCRA petition, citing Tyler's possible confusion as to the procedural status of his petition as well as the possibility that Tyler never received a copy of the order dismissing his petition. (See Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 77, Commonwealth v. Tyler, CC-551-92 (Adams Co. 2002).)
In his appeal Tyler argued that the trial court made three errors when it : (1) failed to appoint him counsel; (2) found Bell's federal trial testimony not exculpatory; and (3) ruled his petition untimely. (See Dkt. Entry 11-4, at 81-97.) On July 29, 2003, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the October 10, 2002 Order and quashed Tyler's appeal, concluding that the trial court had lacked jurisdiction to restore Petitioner's appeal rights because any PCRA review was untimely. Commonwealth v. Tyler, No. 1769 MDA 2002 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 29, 2003) (Dkt. Entry 11-4,p. 98). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ...