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Robert J. Ledwith v. Ms. Brooks

August 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norma L. Shapiro, J.


Before the court is the amended petition of Robert J. Ledwith ("Ledwith") for a writ of habeas corpus. Ledwith was convicted in state court for corrupting the morals of a minor and attempted indecent assault in 2003 and remains incarcerated in a state correctional facility. He filed his initial pro se petition for habeas relief in 2006.

This action has a complex procedural history including two petitions, two reports and recommendations from U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart, and multiple sets of objections and responses. In February 2007, in his objections to Magistrate Judge Hart's Supplemental Report and Recommendation, Ledwith raised a new claim alleging his incompetency. The court placed this action in suspense from 2008--09 pending an expert report concerning Ledwith's competency and later permitted Ledwith to file a counseled, amended habeas petition (paper no. 59) to clarify his claims. In the amended petition, Ledwith set forth two new claims: (1) the state court mistakenly found him competent to stand trial and violated his due process right not to be tried while incompetent; and (2) his state court attorneys failed to request a competency hearing and violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The court considers these claims only and deems the others asserted in the original petition withdrawn. The court will deny the amended petition on the merits.

I. Facts

Ledwith, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, fractured his skull in a service-related car accident in 1988. In 1994, Ledwith was diagnosed with an organic brain injury, impaired memory, and impaired perceptual organization. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found the accident caused Ledwith to have a 50% mental disability affecting his speech, thinking, relationships, and judgment.

In July 2000, police arrested Ledwith after he attempted to pull a 9-year-old boy into his car. On February 11, 2003, Ledwith waived his right to a jury trial. Ledwith's counsel did not request a competency hearing.

At trial, the 9-year-old boy testified he and his 13-year-old brother had been to Ledwith's house about five times before Ledwith attempted to pull him into the car. See Supp. R&R (paper no. 21) at 4--5. During these visits, Ledwith showed the boys pornographic movies, attempted to sexually assault the 9-year-old, and chased the boys around the room with his pants down. The state court judge, the Honorable Sheila Woods-Skipper, convicted Ledwith of 1 count of corruption of the morals of a minor and 1 count of attempted indecent assault, and sentenced him to 21/2 --5 years' imprisonment followed by 5 years' probation.

i. Pre-trial psychological evaluations

On April 26, 2002, before trial, Ledwith was evaluated by James G. Jones, M.D., who found Ledwith was psychotic and intermittently paranoid. Dr. Jones concluded Ledwith was not competent to stand trial and recommended psychiatric treatment within the Philadelphia Prison Mental Health Unit. Ledwith did not receive that treatment.

Ledwith was evaluated on July 15, 2002, by Robert W. Stanton, M.D. Dr. Stanton found Ledwith bizarre but oriented, eccentric but not delusional, and able to cooperate with counsel.

Dr. Stanton concluded that Ledwith, "in spite of his psychopathology, does appear capable of taking part in legal proceedings." Pet'r's Proposed Findings of Fact (paper no. 103) ¶ 9. Dr. Stanton evaluated Ledwith again on February 3, 2003, and reached the same conclusion. Id. ¶ 12. A third doctor, Christos A. Ballas, M.D., evaluated Ledwith on July 18, 2002, and found him competent. Id. ¶ 10. In all, Ledwith received 4 psychological evaluations before his trial: 1 finding him incompetent, and 3 finding him competent. After the state court received all 4 evaluations, Judge Woods-Skipper held Ledwith was competent and proceeded with the trial.

ii. The court colloquy

On February 11, 2003, before Ledwith waived his right to a jury trial, Judge Woods-Skipper asked Ledwith about his mental health:

THE COURT: Have you even been confined to a mental institution or been treated for a mental illness?

THE DEFENDANT: I was-I did have-I was in Coatesville, Your Honor, at Coatesville Veterans Hospital. I suffered injuries in the military, and based on a skull fracture and some orthopedic injuries, I was diagnosed as having some issue, debilitating.

THE COURT: Are you still receiving treatment at this time?

THE DEFENDANT: No, I'm doing fine.

THE COURT: Are you taking any medication?


THE COURT: I will note for the record that I did order a forthwith psychiatric examination on February 3 and the doctor did indicate that Mr. Ledwith is competent to proceed.

Response Pet'r's Supp. Obj. (paper no. 48) at Ex. C, p. 5. Both of Ledwith's attorneys-Nino Tinari, Esq., and Todd Henry, Esq.-confirmed Ledwith understood the colloquy. Id. at 7--8. Judge Woods-Skipper asked the attorneys whether there was any reason that Ledwith should not be permitted to proceed, and Mr. Tinari said, "None whatsoever, Your Honor." Id. at 8.

During the trial, Judge Woods-Skipper informed Ledwith of his right not to testify. Ledwith not only waived his right to testify but also conferred with counsel before doing so:

THE COURT: Have you had the opportunity to speak with your lawyers about whether or not you ...

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