APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 02-cv-09034) District Judge: Honorable Michael M. Baylson
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry, Circuit Judge
Argued: September 30, 2010
Before: BARRY, HARDIMAN and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges
Opinion Filed: February 7, 2011
We have approached this case with the utmost seriousness. We are humbled by the fact that over a twenty-eight-year period of time, the case has progressed through courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the U.S. District Court without James Lambert having been granted relief. We, nonetheless, must decide this case consistent with what we believe our obligation to be, while according the utmost respect to the standard of review that we are required to apply. Having done so, we now vacate the judgment of the District Court dated July 24, 2007, and remand this matter to the District Court, which is directed to conditionally grant the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. If, within 120 days of the date of this Opinion and Order, the Commonwealth fails to retry Mr. Lambert, he shall be released.*fn1
It is not an overstatement to say that the procedural history of this case is extensive in the extreme, as would be expected in a case that has spanned more than twenty-eight years. We have carefully examined the numerous issues Lambert has raised over these many years and how the various courts have resolved those issues. We, however, decide this case on one issue, an issue under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and find it unnecessary to address the other issues raised to us or the issues raised to the courts that preceded us. So, too, only a summary of the procedural history that does not pertain to the Brady issue will suffice.
James Lambert and Bruce Reese were arrested and charged with murder, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime based on what the Commonwealth had been told by one Bernard Jackson, who subsequently testified for the Commonwealth in exchange for an open guilty plea to third-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, and several unrelated crimes. On April 25, 1984, Lambert was convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree murder as well as the other crimes with which he was charged, and was sentenced to death. Reese was convicted of second-degree murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lambert moved for a new trial and to vacate the judgment, motions which were denied. He appealed, and in a 3-2 decision with two Justices not participating, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld his conviction and affirmed the sentence of death. See Commonwealth v. Lambert, 603 A.2d 568 (Pa. 1992) ("Lambert I"). Lambert next filed a pro se Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") petition, which was amended by counsel on January 30, 1997, and twice supplemented thereafter. On January 29, 1998, the PCRA court denied the petition without a hearing. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded for the PCRA court to write an opinion, which it did on March 4, 2000. Lambert again appealed, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in an opinion signed by two Justices, with two Justices concurring in the opinion, one concurring in the result, and two dissenting. See Commonwealth v. Lambert, 797 A.2d 232 (Pa. 2001) ("Lambert II"). Lambert then filed a second PCRA petition raising, for the first time, a claim under Brady, based on recently discovered exculpatory evidence. That petition was denied as well, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again affirmed. See Commonwealth v. Lambert, 884 A.2d 848 (Pa. 2005) ("Lambert III").
In 2002, Lambert filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania raising twenty-four claims of constitutional error, most of which were accompanied by related allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel.*fn2 The District Court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing and denied relief on all claims, but granted a certificate of appealability ("COA") on one guilt-phase claim relating to the Commonwealth's alleged discriminatory use of peremptory challenges at jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), and one sentencing-phase claim relating to whether there had been a violation of Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988). See Lambert v. Beard, No. 02-9034, 2007 WL 2173390 (E.D. Pa. July 24, 2007).
We then expanded the COA to include the following issues: (1) whether the Commonwealth's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence and misrepresentation of the bargain given to its key witness in exchange for his testimony violated Brady; (2) whether Lambert was denied his right to present a defense, call witnesses on his behalf, and confront the evidence against him when he was barred from introducing evidence that Jackson and Reese had a history of committing robberies together and without him; (3) whether Lambert was denied his right to due process and a fair trial when the trial court allowed a witness called by Reese to identify Lambert for the first time in court; (4) whether Lambert was denied his right to due process when the trial court refused to sever his trial from Reese's trial; (5) whether the trial court misled the jury about the role ...