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Beasley v. Horn

February 17, 2009

LESLIE CHARLES BEASLEY, PETITIONER,
v.
COMM'R MARTIN HORN, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Petitioner Leslie Charles Beasley filed this habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, collaterally attacking his sentence and asking the Court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. In the evaluation of the instant petition, the Court will employ a two part analysis. First, the Court will consider Respondents' argument that the petition is procedurally barred from the Court's review. Second, the Court will evaluate the merits of the petition. This memorandum addresses part one only.

Respondents argue that the petition is procedurally barred for two reasons: (1) failure to comply with the time bar of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1); and (2) failure to exhaust claims at the state level, as required by the AEDPA. For the reasons that follow, both arguments will be rejected.

I. BACKGROUND

The procedural history of the instant habeas petition is summarized as follows. On April 3, 1981, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime. During the penalty phase following the trial, Petitioner was sentenced to death for first degree murder and a consecutive term of two and one-half to five years imprisonment for possession of an instrument of crime.*fn1 The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction on direct appeal. [Hereinafter, the direct appeal proceeding, Commonwealth v. Beasley, 475 A.2d 730 (Pa. 1984), is referred to as Beasley-1].

Petitioner filed a timely petition for collateral relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (PCHA), predecessor of the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). The Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas denied relief; the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed and vacated the death sentence; and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again reversed and reinstated the death sentence.*fn2

[Hereinafter, the PCHA state post-conviction proceeding, Commonwealth v. Beasley, 541 A.2d 1148 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1988), rev'd, 568 A.2d 1235 (Pa. 1990), is referred to as Beasley-2].

Upon the conclusion of Beasley-2, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus review in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Honorable Judge Cahn appointed counsel for Petitioner and an amended petition was filed. Thereafter, counsel found that the petition contained unexhausted claims for which state remedies were available. The federal proceedings were placed in suspense to allow Petitioner to exhaust his state court remedies. Beasley v. Fulcomer, No. 90-4711, 1991 WL 64586 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 1991).

Accordingly, Petitioner sought state post-conviction relief under the PCRA, raising his unexhausted arguments. The Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas denied relief and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the denial.*fn3 [Hereinafter, the first PCRA state post-conviction proceeding, Commonwealth v. Beasley, 678 A.2d 773 (Pa. 1996), is referred to as Beasley-3].

Upon the conclusion of Beasley-3, Petitioner filed the instant petition for habeas corpus review in this Court on January 16, 1997. The Court appointed counsel and thereafter counsel discovered that compelling constitutional claims remained which had not been previously presented to the state courts. The Court dismissed the petition, without prejudice, to allow Petitioner to exhaust his state court remedies. Beasley v. Fulcomer, No. 90-4711, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23601 (E.D. Pa. November 5, 1997). Notably, on the same date that Petitioner filed the above federal habeas petition, he filed a second PCRA petition in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in order to exhaust any unexhausted issues in his federal habeas petition. Consequently, when the Court dismissed Petitioner's petition to allow him to exhaust his state court remedies, Petitioner had already initiated a second PCRA petition.

The Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas denied relief, without the necessity for a hearing. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the denial on December 9, 1999, and held that Petitioner's claims were time barred under the PCRA. [Hereinafter, the second PCRA state post-conviction proceeding, Commonwealth v. Beasley, 741 A.2d 1258 (Pa. 1999), is referred to as Beasley-4]. Petitioner filed a timely motion for re-argument.*fn4 While this motion was pending, on January 7, 2000, Petitioner filed the instant petition for habeas corpus relief in this Court.

Pursuant to the parties' request, on July 12, 2001, the case was placed into suspense pending the Third Circuit's decision in Whitney v. Horn (civil case no. 00-9003).*fn5 The case was returned to the active docket in 2004, upon the parties' joint request.*fn6 Thereafter the Court requested briefing on outstanding issues of exhaustion and procedural default. Numerous continuances were sought by both Respondents and Petitioner. Ultimately, the case became ripe for review in November 2007.

III. RESPONDENTS' PROCEDURAL DEFAULT ARGUMENTS

Respondents assert that Petitioner's habeas petition is procedurally barred for two reasons. First, Respondents argue that the petition is time barred under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996. 28 U.S.C. ยง 2244(d)(1). Second, Respondents argue that even if Petitioner's claims are not time barred, the Court's review of the merits of Petitioner's claims is blocked by the doctrine of procedural default because ...


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