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Santiago v. Beard

May 5, 2008

SALVADOR SANTIAGO, PETITIONER,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL. RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

In September 1992, a jury empaneled by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sentenced Petitioner Salvador Santiago ("Santiago") to death for murdering Patrick Huber during a 1985 robbery of the Minuteman Press, located on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Santiago filed with this court a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in which he argues that the proceedings against him were infected with federal constitutional error and that he is entitled to a new trial or, at a minimum, a new sentencing hearing. In support, he raises twenty claims and numerous sub-claims for relief.*fn1

Santiago contends that he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the following five claims: his due process rights were violated because he was tried while incompetent (Claim 1.A); his defense attorneys provided him with constitutionally ineffective assistance with respect to the competency issue (Claim 1.B); his defense attorneys provided him with constitutionally ineffective assistance because they did not reasonably investigate his life history and mental illness, resulting in the failure to present available mental health defenses at the guilt phase of his trial (Claim 14) and weightier and additional available mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing (Claim 3); and, his constitutional rights were violated because the judge who presided over his trial and his subsequent state post-conviction proceeding, the Honorable Jeffrey A. Manning of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, was biased (Claim 21).

For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant Santiago's request for an evidentiary hearing on Claim 3 and Claim 14, and deny his request for a hearing on Claim 1.A, Claim 1.B, and Claim 21.

II. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania twice tried Santiago for the murder of Patrick Huber and for robbery. The Honorable John L. Musmanno, who at the time was a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, presided over the first trial in April 1986. In support of its case, the Commonwealth introduced a confession that Santiago had given to the police. Santiago presented a mental infirmity/insanity defense and a psychiatrist, Robert Wettstein, M.D., testified to support this defense. The jury found Santiago guilty of first degree murder and robbery. Following a separate penalty hearing, he was sentenced to death.

On direct appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that Santiago's confession was obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. Commonwealth v. Santiago, 599 A.2d 200 (Pa. 1991) ("Santiago I"). It overturned his convictions and awarded him a new trial.

The Commonwealth retried Santiago in September 1992 in a jury trial presided over by Judge Manning (hereinafter the "1992 retrial"). James Schwartz, Esquire, ("Schwartz") and Lawrence O'Toole, Esquire, ("O'Toole") represented Santiago.*fn2 Schwartz was responsible for handling the guilt phase of Santiago's trial, and O'Toole was responsible for handling the sentencing phase.

In contrast to his first trial, at his 1992 retrial Santiago did not present a mental infirmity/insanity defense. He challenged the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence against him. The jury credited the Commonwealth's case and found Santiago guilty of first degree murder and robbery. Following a separate penalty hearing, he was sentenced to death. John Elash, Esquire, ("Elash") was appointed to represent Santiago on direct appeal. On June 20, 1995, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed his judgment of conviction and sentence. Commonwealth v. Santiago, 662 A.2d 610 (Pa. 1995) ("Santiago II"). The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari on January 8, 1996. Santiago v. Pennsylvania, 516 U.S. 1053 (1996).

In or around August 1996, Santiago, through Robert Dunham, Esquire, ("Dunham") and Billy Nolas, Esquire, ("Nolas") then of the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Defender Organization, filed a petition for collateral relief in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 PA.CONS.STAT. § 9541 et seq. (the "PCRA"). (Commonwealth Ex.*fn3 45). Judge Manning presided over the PCRA proceeding.

In his PCRA petition, Santiago contended, as he does in Claim 1.A and Claim 1.B of the his federal habeas petition, that his due process rights were violated because he was not competent to stand trial at his September 1992 retrial, and that his defense counsel provided him with ineffective assistance for failing to develop and present available evidence of his incompetency. (Id. at 4-30, 129). He also contended, among other things, that his defense counsel failed to investigate reasonably his life history and mental illness and that as a result they failed to present available mental health defenses at the guilt phase of his trial and weightier and additional mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing (Claim 14 and Claim 3, respectively, of his federal habeas petition). (Id. at 126-31).

Santiago requested an evidentiary hearing on all disputed issues of material fact relating to the disposition of the claims raised in the PCRA petition. (Id. at 1, 152). The Commonwealth acknowledged that Santiago was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his competency claim and on his related ineffective assistance of counsel claim. (See Commonwealth's Answer to Post-Conviction Petition*fn4 at 16, 31-66, 118, 149). The Commonwealth, however, contended that Santiago's remaining PCRA claims should be denied without a hearing. The PCRA court granted Santiago's request for an evidentiary hearing on his claims that he was incompetent at the time of the 1992 retrial and that his defense counsel were ineffective in their handling of the competency issue. It denied Santiago's request for a hearing in all other respects and ruled that it would dismiss Santiago's other PCRA claims. (Commonwealth Exs. 46, 62; PCRA Hearing Tr., Vols. 1-3).

The PCRA evidentiary hearing was held on February 5-7, 1997. Santiago's counsel, Nolas, called the following six mental health experts as witnesses: (1) Jonathan M. Himmelhoch (a forensic psychologist who first interviewed Santiago in 1985 and who testified at the 1992 retrial sentencing hearing); (2) Henry L. Dee (a psychologist who evaluated Santiago to support the PCRA petition); (3) Fred Gallo (a psychologist who evaluated Santiago in 1985 for the purpose of determining his competency in an unrelated criminal trial that had been held in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County); (4) Lawson F. Bernstein (a psychiatrist who treated Santiago at the time of his 1992 retrial); (5) Robert Wettstein (the psychiatrist who evaluated Santiago prior to his first trial, whose prior testimony was admitted by the prosecution at the 1992 retrial during the guilt phase, and who testified at the 1992 retrial sentencing hearing); and, (6) Robert Fox (a psychiatrist who examined ...


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