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Laughman v. Commonwealth

March 17, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane United States District Judge


Before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Adams County, Adams County District Attorney's Office, and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioners Walp, Hazen, and Evanko. (Doc. Nos. 5, 14, 17, 21.) The motions have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons discussed below, the motions will be granted.

I. Background*fn1

This action arises out of the events surrounding the investigation and trial of Plaintiff, Barry Laughman, for the 1987 rape and murder of Edna Laughman.On August 13, 1987, eighty-five year old Edna Laughman was found raped and murdered in her home in Oxford Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania. A neighbor, Royce Emerson, told the State Police that he had seen a stranger walking behind his home on the morning of August 13, 1987. Emerson reported that he saw the stranger walk off in the direction of Edna Laughman's home. He added that he personally knew Barry Laughman, and that Plaintiff was not the man he encountered that morning. Based on Emerson's statements, the State Police drew a sketch of the stranger and began stopping cars on Route 94 asking motorists if they had seen him. The State Police never identified the man described by Emerson.

On August 27, 1987, Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Holtz and Blevins questioned Plaintiffregarding Edna Laughman's rape and murder. Under questioning, Plaintiff said that he had been drinking beer with his brother the evening before the victim was found and that he could not go to bed because another brother was in the room they shared with the brother's girlfriend. Plaintiff told the police that he fell asleep on the couch that evening and did not get up until his father awoke him the next morning to go to work.

On September 8, 1987, Troopers Holtz and Blevins requested that Plaintiff and his father return for more questioning. When Plaintiff and his father arrived, Trooper Holtz took Plaintiff into an interview room alone. At the time of this second questioning, Plaintiff was twenty-four years old with an IQ of 69-71, which was lower than 97.5 % of the population. He was classified as "a moron" under then existing mental health classifications.*fn2

After approximately an hour of interrogation, Troopers Holtz and Blevins claim Plaintiff confessed to the rape and murder. Although Trooper Holtz had a tape recorder, Plaintiff's confession was not recorded. Rather, Trooper Holtz is heard reading the confession statement to Plaintiff and asking whether it is correct. Plaintiff's voice is only heard on the tape saying "yes."

Pursuant to a criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause executed by Trooper Blevins, on September 8, 1987, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, robbery and burglary. Janice Roadcap, a chemist for the Pennsylvania State Police, tested evidence found at the scene of the crime and concluded that the assailant was a person of type-A blood. After his arrest, Plaintiff's blood was tested and Roadcap determined that he was a type-B secretor. Upon learning of the incongruous lab results, Roadcap added writing in the margins to her original lab notes indicating that swabs taken of the semen "were moist when placed in vials. Breakdown of B antigens could have occurred." Roadcap returned the evidence back to Troopers Holtz and Blevins, who stored it in an evidence locker for eight months where it degraded and was rendered useless for further testing by the defense.

Plaintiff was convicted of first-degree murder, rape, robbery and burglary. On August 15, 1990, he was sentenced to life in prison.Plaintiff filed a timely appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Judgment of the sentence was affirmed by the Superior Court on July 12, 1991. A timely petition for allowance of appeal was filed with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and denied on March 26, 1992.

Between March of 1992 and May of 2003, Plaintiff filed numerous unsuccessful Post-conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") petitions.*fn3 On June 18, 2003, new attorneys for Plaintiff filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543.1. On June 20, 2003, the motion was granted and the DNA evidence was ordered to be tested and compared to samples taken from Plaintiff. In a report dated November 5, 2003, the DNA analyst concluded that, "Barry Laughman is excluded as a source of the DNA obtained from this sample."

On November 12, 2003, Plaintiff filed a PCRA petition. Following a bail hearing on November 21, 2003, Plaintiff was ordered released from prison after sixteen years of imprisonment. Without opposition from the Commonwealth, on August 26, 2004, Plaintiff was granted a new trial, the charges against him were dismissed, and his immediate discharge was ordered.

Plaintiff subsequently brought this civil action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Pennsylvania Constitution, and state law for damages arising out of alleged malicious prosecution, unlawful incarceration, and cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff also seeks relief under state law claims of fraud, false imprisonment, and conspiracy.The moving Defendants*fn4 have all filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that he has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn5

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint and views them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). The plaintiff is required to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). A court should grant a motion to dismiss only if it appears the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle ...

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