Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Dwight Echols, Jr. v. Superintendent T. Bickell

January 28, 2013

DWIGHT ECHOLS, JR.
v.
SUPERINTENDENT T. BICKELL, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Slomsky, J.

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is the Petition of Dwight Echols, Jr. ("Petitioner") for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) Petitioner seeks relief based on alleged violations of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. For purposes of this Opinion, the Court has considered the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. No. 1), District Attorney of Chester County's ("Respondent") Answer to the Petition (Doc. No. 7) and accompanying Appendices ("Resp.'s Appx."), Petitioner's Motion for Leave to Respond to Notice of Report and Recommendation Filed by Respondent (Doc. No. 10), United States Magistrate Judge David R. Strawbridge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 11), Petitioner's Reply to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 15), and the pertinent state court record.

Following a review of the filings by the parties and the pertinent record, Magistrate Judge Strawbridge issued a Report recommending that the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied and that a certificate of appealability not be issued. (Doc. No. 11.) Petitioner filed a Reply to the Report and Recommendation containing his objections. (Doc. No. 15.) For reasons that follow, the Court will approve and adopt Magistrate Judge Strawbridge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 11) and deny the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. No. 1).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On April 5, 2007, Petitioner received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas after a jury found him guilty of first degree murder, third degree murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a criminal instrument. (Doc. No. 11 at 1-2.) The state court described the facts of the case as follows:

In the early morning hours of May 22, 2005, Keith Shelton was shot to death in the vicinity of the Elks Club in the City of Coatesville, Chester County, Pennsylvania. According to witnesses he was shot from a distance, less than the width of a street, and at point blank range. [Petitioner] was identified by two witnesses as the assailant. [Petitioner] was represented by privately retained counsel at his preliminary hearing where he was held for court on criminal homicide and related charges. Due to financial issues[,] private counsel withdrew and the Public Defender of Chester County undertook [Petitioner]'s representation on December 12, 2005. Loreen M. Kemps, Esquire was assigned to represent [Petitioner] and proceeded to file appropriate motions, etc.

Prior to trial [Petitioner] expressed dissatisfaction with Ms. Kemps' stewardship [by filing a motion to dismiss her as his counsel] of his case prompting [Judge Gavin] to conduct an on the record colloquy. After considering [Petitioner]'s comments and his pro se Motion to Dismiss and/or Appoint Counsel, [Judge Gavin] denied same.

The case proceeded to trial on April 2, 2007. [Petitioner] was convicted on all counts on April 4, 2007. On April 5, 2007, [Judge Gavin] sentenced him to the mandatory life sentence for first degree murder. (Doc. No. 11 at 2-4 (internal citations omitted) (quoting Commonwealth v. Echols, No. CP-15-CR-0005078-2005 at 1-2 (Chester Ct. Comm. Pl. Aug. 12, 2009).)

After his trial, Petitioner sought relief, pro se, under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9541-46 ("PCRA"). (Resp.'s Appx. G; Doc. No. 11 at 5.) In his PCRA Motion, Petitioner alleged that Loreen Kemps, Esquire ("trial counsel"), was ineffective for "[d]enying [P]petitioner his right to testify, not presenting evidence to support involuntary manslaughter, failing to interview witnesses, not requesting mistrials on [the] record, and failing to perform to the standards of Strickland." (Resp.'s Appx. G at 3; Doc. No. 11 at 5-6.)

On December 5, 2008, the PCRA court appointed Robert P. Brendza, Esquire ("Mr. Brendza") to represent Petitioner. (Resp.'s Appx. A at 21.) Mr. Brendza subsequently filed an amended PCRA Petition alleging three reasons why Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective: (1) trial counsel "pursued a defense theory that was unsound and therefore tactically and strategically unreasonable[;]" (2) [Petitioner] "wanted to testify at trial on his own behalf but was prevented from doing so because of the defense theory used by trial counsel[;]" and (3) "Trial counsel failed to call . . . witnesses to testify at trial," after Petitioner provided their names to trial counsel and explained that they were willing to testify on his behalf. (Resp.'s Appx. H ¶ 6.)

On June 17, 2009, Judge Gavin held an evidentiary hearing on the amended PCRA petition and denied it on August 12, 2009. (Doc. No. 11 at 6-7.) The Superior Court affirmed denial of the amended PCRA petition on December 14, 2010. (Id. at 7.) Petitioner subsequently filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court on May 19, 2011. (Doc. No. 1.) The Petition sets forth two general grounds for relief: (1) Petitioner was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel when trial counsel chose to pursue an actual innocence defense rather than a self-defense strategy; and (2) Petitioner was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to allow him to testify on his own behalf. (Doc. No. 1 at appended pages 9-10.) In his reply brief, Petitioner has expanded the list to four, rather than two, grounds for relief: (1) trial counsel's failure to act as a loyal advocate; (2) trial counsel's pursuance of an unreasonable and deficient trial strategy; (3) trial counsel's failure to allow Petitioner to testify on his own behalf; and (4) trial counsel's failure to call witnesses for the defense. (Doc. No. 10 at 3.) In his Report and Recommendation, Judge Strawbridge found that these four claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were sufficiently subsumed under Petitioner's two general grounds for relief listed in his original petition. (Doc. No. 11 at 11-12.) This Court agrees.

Respondent argues that the petition should be denied as the state court proceedings "did not result in a decision that was contrary to, or involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law[.]" (Doc. No. 7 at 9.) According to Respondent, Petitioner failed to establish that trial counsel's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.