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Jason Michael Frazier v. David Diguglielmo

December 27, 2011

JASON MICHAEL FRAZIER, PETITIONER,
v.
DAVID DIGUGLIELMO, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cathy Bissoon

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Petitioner Jason Frazier ("Petitioner") filed this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on November 12, 2008. (Doc. 3 at 16-17). Petitioner challenges, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, his 2001 conviction in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on the charge of first degree murder, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2501, for which he currently is serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. For the reasons stated below, this petition will be denied.

I. The Crime

The facts presented at Petitioner‟s criminal trial were summarized by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania as follows:

On July 3, 2000, Pittsburgh Police received a report indicating a male had been shot at while he was changing a tire along Bennett Street. When police arrived at the scene, they discovered [Petitioner] in a highly agitated and angry state. [Petitioner] told officers, "Somebody is going to pay for this." When asked whether he knew who had shot at him, [Petitioner] told police "Kelly Street is responsible for this."

On the early morning of July 4, 2000, Sherdina Jones was shot and killed near the 7500 block of Kelly Street. Upon arrival, police were able to retrieve eight shell casings from the crime scene. Shortly after the shooting occurred, police received an anonymous tip indicating the murder weapon had been hidden in a dumpster situated along the 7300 block of Frankstown Road. Police searched the dumpster and recovered a modified semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle loaded with nine live rounds in the clip . . . . Subsequent analysis established that the eight casings recovered from the crime scene were fired from the .22 rifle recovered from the dumpster. Subsequent analysis further established that the bullet fragments recovered from Jones‟ body also had been fired from the .22 rifle.

On July 5, 2000, a homicide detective investigating the case went to [Petitioner‟s] residence and, after discovering [Petitioner] was not home, impounded [Petitioner‟s] vehicle for inspection. After learning his vehicle had been impounded, [Petitioner] went to the East Liberty homicide office to recover it. When [Petitioner] arrived at the office, a detective questioned him about the shooting death of Jones. [Petitioner] claimed he had no idea who killed Jones and also told the detective he was not in Pittsburgh on the night of the shooting. On July 21, 2000, [Petitioner] returned to the homicide office a second time to get his vehicle out of impound. Once [Petitioner] arrived at the office, detectives placed him under arrest. [Petitioner] was charged with criminal homicide later that day.

On July 25, 2000, [Petitioner‟s] girlfriend contacted police and informed them that [Petitioner] wanted to meet with homicide detectives in his holding cell. The next day, detectives met with [Petitioner] at the Allegheny County Jail and issued [Petitioner] his Miranda warnings. Initially, [Petitioner] confessed to purchasing a .22 rifle at K-Mart and then modifying the weapon by cutting off the stock. [Petitioner] then told detectives that on the early morning of July 4, 200[0], he had been with a few friends at a cookout and, later, went with these friends to a hotel room. He told the detectives that upon leaving the hotel, he and a friend named Geoffrey Warren decided to follow Warren‟s female acquaintance to see whether she was involved with anyone else. The pair followed the female to Kelly Street. [Petitioner] told the detectives that when he drove onto Kelly Street he noticed three men hiding in some weeds. [Petitioner] said he then told Warren to duck and, immediately upon doing so, heard two shots ring out.

[Petitioner] told detectives Warren pulled out the .22 rifle and shot at the men in the weeds eleven times. [Petitioner], however, quickly changed his story and admitted to detectives that when he turned onto Kelly Street he "felt something was about to happen" so he pulled out his .22 rifle, reclined the driver‟s seat, placed the rifle on the window sill, and shot eleven times in the direction of the three men hiding in the weeds. The detectives taped the interview and took notes. The detectives allowed [Petitioner] to review the notes at the conclusion of the interview and [Petitioner], after reviewing the notes, signed in five places.

PCRA Ap. Ct. Op. (Doc. 15-8 at 1-4) (internal citations to the record omitted).

A suppression hearing regarding Petitioner‟s taped confession was held on January 11 and 12, 2001. See (Doc. 39).*fn1 At this hearing, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of various individuals, including the arresting officer, Detective McGee. Detective McGee testified that, prior to Petitioner‟s appearance at the East Liberty homicide office on July 21, 2000, a squad meeting took place. Id. at 54. At that meeting, McGee was informed by other police officers that Donta Wilson*fn2 -- a purported eyewitness to the shooting of Sherdina Jones -- had accused Petitioner of being responsible. Id. at 54-55, 70-71. A decision was made at that time to arrest Petitioner, without a warrant, when he appeared at the homicide office. Id. at 69-72. Based on the testimony at the suppression hearing, the trial judge held that Petitioner‟s warrantless arrest on July 21, 2000, had been supported by probable cause, and that Petitioner knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights when interviewed by the police on July 25, 2000. Id. at 182.

Petitioner‟s criminal trial commenced at the conclusion of the suppression hearing on January 12, 2001, and lasted until January 19, 2001, at which time Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder. Trial Tr. of Jan. 18-19, 2001, at 115. Plaintiff initially was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on January 19, 2001, almost immediately after the verdict was rendered. Id. at 115-16. However, this sentencing order was vacated on January 23, 2001, and a new sentence of life imprisonment without parole was imposed, in order to allow Petitioner to exercise his right of allocution. See Sentencing Hr‟g Tr.

Petitioner filed a post-sentence motion on January 30, 2001, which was denied by the trial court the following day. Petitioner perfected a timely direct appeal, which was denied by the Superior Court on February 13, 2003. See (Doc. 15-3 at 1-25). Allocator was denied by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on July 24, 2003. Id. at 28.

Petitioner timely filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 et seq., on April 29, 2004. Petitioner, with the aid of counsel, filed an amended PCRA petition on January 25, 2007. This was denied by the trial court without an evidentiary hearing on August 30, 2007. (Doc. 15-5 at 8). Petitioner filed notice of appeal on September 11, 2007, and the trial court‟s decision was affirmed by the Superior Court on March 10, 2008. (Doc. 15-8 at 20). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied allocator on August 25, 2008. Id. at 23. Petitioner executed the petition for writ of habeas corpus sub judice on November 12, 2008. (Doc. 3 at 16).

II. Claims

Petitioner raises the following claims for relief:

1. The state court‟s determination that the presentation of character evidence was irrelevant and unwarranted was contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law, or was based on an unreasonable factual determination. (Doc. 3 at 17). In his amended petition, Petitioner characterizes this as a deprivation of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. (Doc. 21 at 16).

2. Counsel at trial and on direct appeal were ineffective in failing to preserve and litigate Petitioner‟s claim that he was arrested without probable cause. (Doc. 3 at 17); (Doc. 21 at 17-18).

3. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a mistrial due to comments made by the prosecutor, which Petitioner characterizes as the prosecutor‟s "personal opinion and beliefs about Petitioner‟s guilt and credibility." (Doc. 21 at 18-19); (Doc. 3 at 17-18).

4. The state court‟s finding that Petitioner‟s July 3, 2000, statements regarding "Kelly Street‟s" responsibility for a shooting on that date, as well as his statement that someone would pay for the shooting, were excited utterances, was contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law. (Doc 3 at 18). In his amended petition, Petition further argues that this decision also was based on an unreasonable factual determination, and violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. (Doc. 21 at 19-20).

5. The state court‟s determination that an evidentiary hearing was not required regarding several affidavits obtained by Petitioner after his criminal trial was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, and based on an unreasonable factual determination. (Doc. 3 at 18-9). In his amended petition, Petitioner characterizes this as a violation of his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 21 at 21-22).

III. Procedural Issues

Before this Court can address the merits of Petitioner‟s claims, it will briefly address whether this petition fulfills the applicable procedural requirements, as set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA").

A. AEDPA's Statute of Limitations

The first consideration in reviewing a federal habeas corpus petition is whether the petition was timely filed under the one-year limitations period applicable to such petitions. In this regard, the federal habeas corpus laws impose a one-year limitations period applicable to state prisoners. 28 U.S.C. ยง 2244(d) (as amended). Respondents here concede that all of ...


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