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Woodard v. Tennis

June 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Baxter


Petitioner, Maurice Woodard, is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Rockview, located in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Pending before the Court is his Amended Petition For Writ of Habeas Corpus [Docket No. 20], which he has filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Woodard's request for habeas relief is denied.


Between 11:00-11:30 p.m. on February 29, 2004, two masked men entered the unlocked front door of the apartment of James Allen and his girlfriend Kelly Phillips, located in Erie, Pennsylvania. (9/16/04 Trial Tr. at 20-23). The assailants were wearing black coats with hoods covering their heads. (Id. at 27, 37). Each assailant's face was covered from the nose down by a piece of cloth described at trial as a "do-rag." (Id. at 23, 26). At the time of the break-in, Allen and Phillips were playing cards at the kitchen table with Allen's mother, Ruth Ranson.

The first assailant had a gun and ordered Allen, Phillips, and Ranson to hand over all of their money and marijuana. (Id. at 24). That assailant grabbed Phillips and dragged her into the bedroom. (Id. at 29-30, 88). He hit her several times with the handle of his gun. Phillips begged him not to hurt her. She packed a stereo into a bag at his direction and gave him money. (Id. at 69). The first assailant then bound Phillips's eyes, mouth, and hands with duct tape and brought her out into the living room. (Id. at 69-76). In the meantime, the second assailant hit Allen several times and restrained him. (Id. at 25, 29-33, 40). After about 20-30 minutes, the assailants left the apartment through a back door. (Id. at 32). They stole the victims' money and cell phones, two purses, a gold necklace, and the stereo. (Id. at 77).

The victims immediately called the police and Officer Craig Stoker responded to the scene by 11:34 p.m. Allen and Phillips knew Woodard and told Officer Stoker that he was the first assailant. They could not identify the second assailant. Ruth Ranson could not identify either assailant. (Id. at 132-33, 139-41).

The police arrested Woodard on March 3, 2004, at a motel in Millcreek, Pennsylvania. They found among his possessions a black coat and a "do-rag." (Id. at 137-41). Woodard was charged with unlawful restraint; burglary; criminal conspiracy to commit burglary and robbery; three counts of robbery; three counts of simple assault; and, three counts of terroristic threats. He hired Dennis V. Williams, Esquire, to represent him.

Woodard's two-day trial commenced on September 16, 2004. The Honorable Ernest J. DiSantis presided. Allen, Phillips, Ranson, and Officer Stoker testified for the Commonwealth. The defense presented no witnesses.

Allen testified that there was no doubt in his mind that Woodard was the first assailant. (Id. at 28). He stated that he had known Woodard for about 10-12 years;*fn3 that Woodard is "not a stranger to me"; and, that he had seen Woodard about 5-6 times in the past several years and in fact had seen him as recently as a few days before the February 29, 2004, incident. (Id. at 25-28, 55-57, 61-62). Allen explained that although the assailants' faces were masked from the nose down, he immediately recognized Woodard by his voice and his walk. (Id. at 25-28, 61-62). He also testified that the second assailant called the first assailant "Moe," which is Woodard's nickname. (Id. at 61). Allen stated that the do-rag and coat that the police had recovered from Woodard's motel room looked like the same items that the assailants wore during the robbery. (Id. at 27-28).

Phillips also testified that Woodard was the first assailant. She said that she recognized him when his do-rag slipped down and she saw his eyes and nose. (Id. at 71-72, 96-97). Phillips said that, like Allen, she heard the second assailant call the first assailant by Woodard's nickname "Moe." (Id. at 76). She testified that she had known Woodard for a couple of months, that he had been "at our house. a couple of times[,]" and that he had been there as recently as a week before the incident. (Id. at 73, 87, 113). Phillips stated that the do-rag recovered from Woodard's motel room matched the one that the first assailant had been wearing during the robbery and that the coat that was recovered resembled the one that the second assailant had been wearing. (Id. at 67).

Officer Stoker testified that in his interview with Allen immediately after the incident, Allen "was very confident" that the first assailant was Woodard. (Id. at 139). He also testified that Phillips told him during his interview of her the night of the incident that "the guy with the gun.was the defendant, Maurice Woodard." (Id. at 132-33).

The defense strategy was to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors by discrediting Allen's and Phillips's identifications during cross-examination. Petitioner's Attorney, Dennis Williams, had some success exposing weaknesses in Phillips's identification. Although Officer Stoker testified that Phillips had identified Woodard the night of the incident, Phillips stated on cross-examination that she did not immediately tell the police that Woodard was the first assailant. (Id. at 79-85, 98-101). Williams also highlighted a written statement that Phillips had given to the police on March 1, 2004,*fn4 in which she did not mention Woodard's name. (Id.) Phillips also left open the possibility that she may have told her friend Renee Jethro that she could not identify the first assailant. (Id. at 107-11). And, she admitted factors that may have affected her ability to make an accurate identification, such as: she had been very upset when she spoke with Officer Stoker; she had suffered a concussion as a result of the blows to the head that she had received at the hands of the first assailant; she had been taking anti-depressant medication and sleeping pills at the time of the incident; and, she did not know Woodard well. (Id. at 86-89, 97-104).

Allen's identification was less susceptible to attack. He was sure that Woodard was the first assailant. He knew Woodard well and had confidently identified him to Officer Stoker the night of the incident. There was no apparent motive for Allen to lie about Woodard's participation in the crimes.

On September 17, 2004, the jury announced its verdict. It found Woodard guilty on all charges. On December 2, 2004, he was sentenced to serve an aggregate term of imprisonment of 12-36 years. Woodard did not file a direct appeal.

On March 21, 2005, Woodard (through new counsel Elliot J. Segel, Esquire) filed a motion for collateral relief (SCR No. 12) pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-46, which he supplemented on May 5, 2005 (SCR No. 14). He raised several claims in his PCRA motion, one of which is relevant to the instant habeas proceeding. Woodard claimed that he was at the home of Heather Garczynski at the time the crimes occurred and that Attorney Williams was ineffective for failing to investigate and present that as an alibi defense. As part of this claim, Woodard asserted that Attorney Williams should have called Garczynski, her 10-year-old son, and his girlfriend Maggie Smith as alibi witnesses. According to Woodard, they would have testified that he was at the Garczynski home at the time the crimes were committed.

A PCRA evidentiary hearing was conducted on June 9, 2005. Garczynski, Williams, and Dennis Lagan testified.*fn5 Lagan is the private investigator that Attorney Williams retained around March 5, 2004, to assist with trial preparation. (PCRA Hearing Tr. at 10-11). It was established that Woodard initially had thought that he was being charged with committing the crimes around 1:30 a.m. on March 1, 2004. (Id. at 50-51; see also 3/25/04 Facsimile, Def's PCRA Ex. C, RR at 447a-49a). Attorney Williams visited Woodard in jail as soon as he was hired, and at the time of this first meeting neither Woodard nor Williams had seen a copy of the criminal complaint, which indicated that Woodard actually was being charged with committing the crimes two hours earlier -- at 11:30 p.m. on February 29, 2004. (Id. at 51, 60-61). Woodard and Williams discussed a possible alibi defense, and Woodard gave Williams a list of potential alibi witnesses. (Id. at 51-53, 67-75, 81-82). Apparently, Woodard did not indicate that he may have been at Garczynski's home at or around the relevant time period.*fn6 (Id. at 51-53, 67-75, 81-82).

Lagan testified that by the time he met with Woodard on March 22, 2004, Woodard had become aware that he was being charged with committing the crimes at approximately 11:30 p.m. on February 29, 2004. Woodard explained to Lagan at that meeting that the "alibi witnesses originally provided [to Williams] were no longer relevant." (3/25/04 Facsimile, Def's PCRA Ex. C, RR at 448a). He told Lagan that he was at Garczynski's home at the time the crimes were committed and he asked Lagan to interview her. (Id.)

Lagan interviewed Garczynski that same day (on March 22, 2004), and she gave him a written statement that Woodard and Maggie Smith were at her residence from around 8:00 p.m. on February 29, 2004, until around 1:00-1:30 a.m. on March 1, 2004. Garczynski also wrote in the statement that her 10-year-old son could testify that Woodard and Smith were at her home that night. (PCRA Hearing Tr. at 12-13; see also Garczynski's 3/22/04 Statement, Def.'s PCRA Ex. D, RR at 450a). On March 25, 2004, Lagan faxed to Williams a summary of Garczynski's statement. (Id. at 12-13; 3/25/04 Facsimile, Def's PCRA Ex. C, RR at 447a-49a).

Garczynski testified at the PCRA hearing that she was willing and available to testify at Woodard's trial. She said that she anticipated that Williams was going to contact her and call her as a witness for the ...

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