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Watson v. Giroux

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 14, 2014

JAMES WATSON, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY GIROUX and the PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM

JOHN E. JONES, III, District Judge.

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MEMORANDUM IS AS FOLLOWS:

Petitioner James Watson ("Petitioner" or "Watson"), an inmate presently confined at the Albion State Correctional Institution ("SCI Albion") in Albion, Pennsylvania, initiated that above pro se action by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. (Doc. 1). He challenges his convictions in the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas for first degree murder, criminal conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping with intent to inflict bodily injury, criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, tampering with evidence, and person not to own or possess a firearm. ( Id. ). Watson has additionally filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 6) and a motion to place his petition for writ of habeas corpus in abeyance pending state court disposition, (Doc. 2). For the reasons discussed below, we shall grant Watson's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis for the sole purpose of filing the Petition, deny Watson's motion for stay, and dismiss the Petition without prejudice to allow the state courts time to complete their review of these claims.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In his Petition, Watson states that a jury found him guilty of the aforementioned charges on September 13, 2002. (Doc. 3, p. 7). Watson explains that he took a direct appeal after his trial and guilty verdict, and that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately denied his allowance of appeal in 2005. (Doc. 1, p. 3-4). Watson further explains that he filed his Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") Petition in the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas on May 18, 2005. ( Id. at 4). In his PCRA petition he raised the following grounds:

1. Did the district attorney's trial summation, as it pertained to the fact that [Petitioner], co-defendant Kenny Watson and an unindicted alleged co-conspirator and accomplice Michael Robinson, did not testify at trial, constitute prosecutorial misconduct warranting a new trial? (Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel)
2. Did [Petitioner's] trial attorney have a conflict of interest which prejudiced [Petitioner] when he represented [Petitioner] while and after and he also represented Rodney Watson, thus causing the need for a new trial? (Ineffective Assistance of Counsel)
3. Did recantation testimony of Myrna Taitts trial testimony, and pre-trial statements she gave the Pennsylvania State Police to the effect that [Petitioner] confessed to having committed the homicide at issue, warrant a new trial? (Newly Found Evidence)
4. Did Rodney Watson's post homicide behavior and statement establish that he was more than a witness to the victims murder, that he was actively criminally involved, so much so that [Petitioner] is entitled to a new trial? (Newly Found Evidence) (A) Rodney Watson statement that he didn't see [Petitioner] commit the homicide, (B) Rodney Watson's theft of a safe which predicated the homicide, (C) Rodney Watson said he wasn't going to spend his life in jail for the homicide at issue
5. Did trial counsel render ineffective assistance to [Petitioner], given that Janelle Prato, pre-trial, told defense attorney investigator that Jennifer Barr (who at trial testified that she was an eyewitness to the homicide and [Petitioner] told her that he killed [victim], TOLD HER [Petitioner] didn't kill victim? (Ineffective Assistance of Counsel)
6. Was [Appellant's] right to appeal violated? [Ineffective Assistance of Counsel]

(sic) ( Id. at 4-4A).

Watson's Petition was denied by the PCRA court on January 4, 2011. ( Id. ). On June 1, 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed in part and remanded in part, for further proceedings, the decision of the PCRA court. ( Commonwealth v. Watson , CP-08-CR-0000449-2001). The Superior Court affirmed the PCRA court's finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the district attorney's closing argument and was not ineffective regarding an alleged conflict of interest. Commonwealth v. Watson, No. 202 MDA 2011, p. 9-16 (Pa. Sup. June 1, 2012). The Superior Court also affirmed the PCRA court's decision to deny Watson's claims of after-discovered evidence. ( Id. at 16-24). Finally, the Superior Court remanded "the matter to the PCRA court for consideration of [Watson's] fifth issue as it relates to Janelle Prato's testimony, and [Watson's] sixth issue concerning counsel's consultation with [Watson] about his appellate issues" because these issues necessitated a credibility determination by the PCRA court. ( Id. at 24-26).

Watson filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was denied on August 22, 2013. ( See Commonwealth v. Watson, CP-08-CR-0000449-2001). The Bradford County Court of Common Pleas received the certificate of remittal/remand of record on August ...


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