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[U] Commonwealth v. Stovall

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 7, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order entered January 14, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Criminal Division, at No(s): CP-46-CR-0000936-1984.




William Stovall ("Appellant") appeals from the order denying his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"). 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.

The PCRA court summarized the "relevant facts and tortured procedural history" as follows:

While on his way to the Montgomery County Courthouse from Graterford State Correctional Institution to testify as a witness in another case, [Appellant] escaped by force from police custody on February 2, 1984. Detectives apprehended [Appellant] twenty-five (25) days later and arrested him at a house in Philadelphia.
On the morning of the first day of trial, [Appellant] announced that he wished to dismiss his court-appointed attorney, Thomas Keenan, Esquire of the Montgomery County Public Defender's Office, and requested court- appointed counsel from outside the Public Defender's Office. The Honorable Samuel W. Salus, II denied [Appellant's] request. Following a lengthy, thorough colloquy, Judge Salus permitted [Appellant] to proceed pro se with Attorney Keenan present as standby counsel. [Judge Salus determined that Appellant's claim of a conflict was "created by [Appellant's] personal and subjective assertions and not on the basis of the record." N.T., 11/14/84, at 4. Judge Salus also noted that Appellant's eleventh hour motion was one more attempt to delay his trial.] Attorney Keenan turned over to [Appellant] the discovery he had received from the Commonwealth, as well as copies of the case law Attorney Keenan, the Commonwealth and Judge Salus all agreed was relevant.
Immediately preceding [Appellant's] case in chief, the Commonwealth stipulated that they would not use [Appellant's] record of crimen falsi crimes should [Appellant] choose to testify. In addition, the Commonwealth requested an offer of proof which would meet the parameters of the defense of duress before [Appellant] would be permitted to present such a defense. [Appellant] proffered his testimony in limine, after which Judge Salus informed [Appellant] that he had failed to make out the legal requirements for the defense of duress. [Judge Salus] did, however, allow [Appellant] to testify as [Appellant] did in his proffer as to the events in question and to explain the reasons for his actions as his defense. Moreover, the trial court gave a jury instruction on the four elements required for the defense of duress.
On cross-examination, [Appellant] conceded that he had not reported any of the alleged threats on his life to prison authorities, he had never requested a transfer to solitary confinement or to another prison, officers arrested him in an apartment where they found three (3) weapons including the Sheriff's 357 magnum revolver [Appellant] took during his escape, and [Appellant] had made no effort whatsoever to return to custody in the twenty-five (25) days since his escape. At the close of the two (2) day trial, the jury convicted [Appellant] of Escape, Weapons or Implements for Escape, Kidnapping, Possessing Instruments of Crime, Robbery, Theft of Movable Property and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle.
On May 1, 1985, Judge Salus held a post-trial evidentiary hearing on [Appellant's] Rule 1100 (now Rule 600) waiver claim. Both Attorney Keenan and [Appellant] provided testimony regarding their understanding of [Appellant's] request for a trial postponement. Judge Salus determined [Appellant's] claim lacked merit and denied relief. Attorney Richard J. Hodgson (subsequently Judge Hodgson) represented [Appellant] during the post-trial stage and on appeal. After receiving [Appellant's] presentence report and conducting a sentencing hearing, the court entered [Appellant's] judgment of sentence on May 23, 1985. [Appellant] received an aggregate sentence of fifteen (15) to thirty-four (34) years' incarceration consecutive to [Appellant's] existing Pennsylvania sentence.
[Appellant] filed a notice of appeal, and Judge Salus filed his opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) on August 8, 1985. The Superior Court affirmed [Appellant's] judgment of sentence by Memorandum Opinion. Commonwealth v. Stovall, 512 A.2d 1292 (Pa.Super. 1986). Attorney Hodgson did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ("Supreme Court").
[Appellant] filed his first [PCRA petition] on January 9, 1997. Judge Salus dismissed the petition without a hearing by order entered October 19, 2001. [Appellant] appealed the decision, and Judge Salus issued his 1925(a) opinion on November 28, 2001. The Superior Court affirmed the October 19, 2001 order denying PCRA relief by Memorandum Opinion. Commonwealth v. Stovall, [808 A.2d 252 (Pa.Super. 2002)]. On November 27, 2002, the Supreme Court issued a Per Curiam Order denying [Appellant's] pro se Petition for an Extension of Time and Appointment of Counsel to File a Petition for Allowance of Appeal. Commonwealth v. Stovall, 205 MM 2002 (Pa. filed November 27, 2002).
On January 28, 2003, [Appellant] filed a petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in which he alleged that his conviction and sentence were obtained and imposed in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and in violation of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair, neutral, and impartial judge. The United States Magistrate Judge recommended that the Writ be denied and dismissed. The Honorable Linda K. Caracappa determined that there was nothing in the record demonstrating that "the trial judge was anything but fair and impartial." (Report and Recommendation[)] (C.A. No. 03-5879, 10/13/04, at 8). In addition, Judge Caracappa concluded that "All court proceedings were and have been proper, and [Appellant] is lawfully confined pursuant to a valid judgment and order of a court of competent jurisdiction." (Id.)
On April 19, 2005, the Honorable Paul S. Diamond issued his Memorandum Opinion. (William Stovall v. Warden, New Jersey State Prison, District Attorney of Montgomery County, PA, 2005 WL 913331, U.S. Dist. Ct. C.A. No. 03-5879 (E.D.Pa. April 19, 2005)). Judge Diamond agreed with Judge Caracappa's assessment of the trial court proceedings. He determined that "[t]he trial court's actions were clearly reasonable" and "the trial judge conducted a detailed colloquy". (Id. at 6, 8). As Judge Diamond noted, "[s]ignificantly, throughout the colloquy, [Appellant] actively discussed with the court his rights and obligations as they were explained to him." (Id. at 8). However, Judge Diamond also held, and the Commonwealth conceded, that [Appellant] was entitled to relief on his claim for ineffectiveness of appellate counsel for failing to seek allocatur. (Id. at 10). Accordingly, Judge Diamond granted [Appellant] the right to file a petition for allowance of appeal nunc pro tunc and denied the remainder of the claims without prejudice.
[Appellant] filed a petition for allowance of appeal to [our] Supreme Court on June 3, 2005. [Our] Supreme Court denied the petition by Per Curiam Order dated November 3, 2005. On October 17, 2006, or eleven and one-half (11 ½) months later, Appellant filed another PCRA Petition pro se. [The PCRA court appointed counsel, and on] November 6, 2006, [PCRA] Counsel filed an Amended Petition. This Amended Petition contained many of the same claims raised in the previous PCRA petition albeit with a slightly different spin.
In an abundance of caution, this Court held a video PCRA hearing on June 26, 2007. [Appellant participated in the hearing by video from the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.] Cheryl J. Sturm, Esquire represented [Appellant] at the Hearing. Attorney Sturm called two witnesses in support of [Appellant's] amended petition, Attorney Thomas Keenan and [Appellant]. Attorney Sturm questioned Attorney Keenan concerning the Rule 1100 wavier and whether there was a conflict between himself and [Appellant]. Attorney Keenan did not recall a conflict. After a thorough review of the Notes of Testimony, the entire trial and appellate record, the post hearing briefs filed by Counsel, having heard oral argument and this court's review of the relevant and applicable case law, [this Court] denied [Appellant's] Amended PCRA Petition by order docketed on January 14, 2013.

PCRA Court Opinion, 7/9/13, at 1-7 (citations and footnotes omitted). This timely appeal followed. Both Appellant and the PCRA court ...

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