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Commonwealth v. Roney

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

October 30, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
CHRISTOPHER RONEY, Appellant

Submitted April 15, 2011.

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Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County at No. CP-51-CR-0208663-1996 dated April 20, 2009.

JUSTICE McCAFFERY. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Mr. Justice Stevens did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Mr. Chief Justice Castille, Messrs. Justice Eakin and Baer and Madame Justice Todd join the opinion. Mr. Chief Justice Castille files a concurring opinion. Mr. Justice Saylor files a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

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[622 Pa. 11] McCAFFERY, JUSTICE.

Christopher Roney (" Appellant" ) appeals from the denial of his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act[1] (" PCRA" ), following his conviction of first-degree murder and other offenses,

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the imposition of a sentence of death, and this Court's affirmance of his judgment of sentence. We affirm the order of the PCRA court.

The relevant facts of this case are as follows.[2] On January 2, 1996, at approximately 8:20 a.m., Appellant and another man, subsequently identified as Mark Canty, entered a PNC Bank branch located on Rising Sun Avenue in Philadelphia and ordered the employees to open the vault. Canty forced two of the female employees toward the vault at gunpoint, and Appellant remained near the front of the building with the bank manager, Loretta Johnson. While the employees were attempting to open the vault, Canty shouted " here comes the heat," and Appellant responded " don't worry, I'll take care of [622 Pa. 12] them." Commonwealth v. Roney, 581 Pa. 587, 866 A.2d 351, 353 (Pa. 2005). Philadelphia Police Officer Lauretha Vaird, the first officer to respond to a report of a robbery in progress, then entered the bank via the front door, and Appellant fatally shot her in the abdomen. Appellant fled through the front door, heading toward a waiting green van driven by a third perpetrator, Warren McGlone. As Appellant was running to make his escape, he encountered Officer Donald Patterson, the second police officer to arrive on the scene. Officer Patterson fired his weapon at Appellant, but Appellant managed to enter the van and McGlone then sped away from the scene. Canty also escaped, fleeing from the bank building via a side door.

The get-away van was found abandoned later the same day in Philadelphia. At the crime scene, specifically on the sidewalks near the bank, police discovered two loaded firearms: a 9 millimeter handgun and a silver .380 caliber Lorcin revolver. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (" ATF" ) traced both firearms: the 9 millimeter handgun to one Richelle Parker, who had purchased the gun for McGlone, a friend of hers, and the Lorcin revolver to one Anthony Brown, a relative of Canty. Canty and McGlone both gave inculpatory statements to police admitting their involvement in the robbery.

Appellant, Canty, and McGlone were charged with multiple crimes and tried together. Appellant presented a misidentification/alibi defense. On October 30, 1996, a jury convicted Appellant of first-degree murder, three counts of robbery, and one count each of conspiracy, aggravated assault, burglary, and possession of an instrument of crime (" PIC" ).[3] McGlone and Canty were each convicted of second-degree murder and related crimes. In the penalty phase of Appellant's trial, the jury found three aggravating circumstances: 1) the victim was a law enforcement officer killed in the performance of her duties; 2) the killing was committed during the perpetration of a felony; and 3) Appellant knowingly created a grave risk [622 Pa. 13] of death to another person.[4] In addition, the jury found two mitigating circumstances: 1) Appellant had no significant criminal history; and 2) other mitigating character evidence.[5] Determining that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, the jury returned a verdict of death. On March 3, 1997, the trial

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court formally imposed the sentence of death and additionally imposed a sentence of not less than 32 1/2 years and not more than 65 years of incarceration for the other offenses. This Court affirmed Appellant's judgment of sentence on January 20, 2005. Roney, supra.

On January 6, 2006, Appellant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition; counsel was appointed and filed an amended petition on November 1, 2006. However, upon Appellant's request, and before the Commonwealth could respond, attorneys from the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (" Federal Defenders" ) entered their appearance. See PCRA Court Opinion, dated 4/20/09,[6] at 1; see also Notes of Testimony (" N.T." ), 3/1/07, at 3-5. The court formally appointed the Federal Defenders as counsel for Appellant on April 25, 2007, and they filed a supplemental amended PCRA petition on December 3, 2007. The parties agreed that many of Appellant's issues did not require a hearing; and the PCRA court determined that, of the remaining issues, only the issue of ineffectiveness of trial counsel for failing to investigate mitigating evidence required an evidentiary hearing.[7] PCRA Court Opinion at 2; N.T., 12/8/08, at 21.

The PCRA court conducted a hearing concerning this single issue from March 3-5, 2009, with argument on March 10, 2009. [622 Pa. 14] Following its issuance of a notice of intention to dismiss Appellant's PCRA claims pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 909,[8] the PCRA court denied Appellant's petition in a 74-page opinion filed on April 20, 2009. In the interim, i.e., on April 17, 2009, Appellant filed a motion to supplement his petition based on allegedly newly discovered evidence, to wit, a report on forensic evidence by the National Academy of Sciences. The PCRA court denied this additional claim in a supplemental opinion dated April 29, 2009. This appeal followed.[9]

Appellant has raised nine issues, most of which include sub-issues and allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. Although we have reordered Appellant's issues for ease of discussion, they are reproduced verbatim below:

I. Did the PCRA Court Err by Denying Appellant's Claim that Trial Counsel Was Ineffective ...

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