Appeal from the Order Entered February 22, 2012 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Criminal Division, at No: CP-36-CR-0000423-1992.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Strassburger, J.:
BEFORE: MUSMANNO, OLSON, and STRASSBURGER,*fn1 JJ.
OPINION BY STRASSBURGER, J.:
Lisa Michelle Lambert (Appellant) appeals from the order entered February 22, 2012, dismissing her petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has previously summarized the factual and procedural history of this case:
[Appellant] is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for first degree murder. Judge Lawrence Stengel of the Court of Common Pleas for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania imposed the sentence on [Appellant] after he found [Appellant] guilty at a bench trial held in July of 1992.
[Appellant] initially appealed her conviction in the Pennsylvania state courts, which rejected her claims on direct appeal. She thereafter filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. After holding a hearing over the course of three weeks, Judge Stewart Dalzell of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found [Appellant] "actually innocent" and granted her petition. He specifically barred any retrial.
[Appellant] was released into the custody of her attorneys on April 16, 1997, but her freedom was short-lived. Less than a year later, [the Third Circuit] vacated the District Court's judgment due to [Appellant's] failure to exhaust her available state court remedies, namely collateral review pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"). [Appellant]
consequently returned to state court, where a PCRA Court (again Judge Stengel) held a six-week hearing and determined in a comprehensive opinion that relief under the PCRA was not warranted.
After the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the PCRA Court's decision, [Appellant] not surprisingly re-filed her federal habeas petition. Judge Dalzell held that the state courts' findings were null and void because they lacked jurisdiction to hear [Appellant's] PCRA petition. He then reinstated his findings from the 1997 habeas hearing and gave the parties a month to request additional testimony on topics that the Court had not addressed in 1997. In the meantime, the Commonwealth sought Judge Dalzell's recusal.
Judge Dalzell eventually acquiesced to the Commonwealth's efforts at recusal, and the case was assigned to Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Brody dismissed [Appellant's] habeas petition after determining, contrary to Judge Dalzell's ruling, that the PCRA Court's findings were not null and void and were entitled ...