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Luyster v. Wayne County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2014

CLARISSA ANN LUYSTER, Petitioner
v.
WAYNE COUNTY, et al., Respondents

MEMORANDUM

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, Sr., District Judge.

Before the court is petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed by Petitioner Clarissa Ann Luyster, a state prisoner incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) In the petition, Petitioner challenges her 2008 conviction and sentence in the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County, Pennsylvania ("trial court" or "Wayne County court"). For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Background

On March 12, 2008, Petitioner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit homicide in the Wayne County court. (Doc. 11 at 4.) The Pennsylvania Superior Court summarized the relevant facts as follows:

On April 14, 2007, Appellant's father was shot and killed in the driveway of the family's residence. The Commonwealth charged Appellant, who was seventeen years old at the time of the crime, with criminal homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide.[] Appellant presented a motion to decertify the case to the juvenile court, and following a hearing, the trial court denied relief on February 26, 2008. On March 12, 2008, Appellant entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit homicide.[] On May 8, 2008, the trial court sentenced Appellant to 15 to 30 years of imprisonment. On May 19, 2008, Appellant filed a petition for reconsideration of her sentence, arguing for a lesser term of incarceration. The trial court denied reconsideration on May 21, 2008. Appellant did not appeal.

(Doc. 10-6 at 1-2, Commonwealth v. Luyster , No 554 EDA 2012 (C.P. Oct. 10, 2012)). In Respondents' memorandum of law in support of their answer to the habeas petition, they provide the following additional factual background, based on the facts presented during Petitioner's guilty plea:

On April 14, 2007, members of the Honesdale Borough Police Department were dispatched to a residence located at 260 Ridge Street, Honesdale, PA for a report of a shooting. (Notes of Testimony, Guilty Plea at 2) (hereinafter N.T.G.P.). Upon arrival, officers located Ronald Luyster in an area behind his residence suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the chest. (N.T.G.P. at 2). Ronald Luyster was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at a hospital. (N.T.G.P. at 2).
Ultimately, Luyster, her mother Patricia Luyster and Cody Steich were interviewed and it was determined that the three had been planning to kill Ronald Luyster for several weeks. (N.T.G.P. at 3). On the night of the murder, Cody Steich waited in the garage of the residence for Ronald Luyster to return home from a family outing. (N.T.G.P. at 3). Once Ronald Luyster returned home, Steich shot him in the chest through an open window of the garage where Steich had been lying in wait. (N.T.G.P. at 3).
In a written statement, Luyster admitted to knowing that Steich had obtained a gun for the purpose of killing Ronald Luyster. (N.T.G.P. at 4). She further admitted to showing Steich where to hide in the garage, providing a flashlight to him and to contacting her mother to advise her that Steich was ready to kill Ronald Luyster. (N.T.G.P. at 4).

(Doc. 11 at 7.)

On May 8, 2008, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a term of imprisonment of fifteen (15) to thirty (30) years. (Doc. 1 at 1.) On May 19, 2008, Petitioner filed a petition for reconsideration of sentence which the trial court denied on May 21, 2008. ( See Doc. 10-2 at 1.) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

On September 4, 2008, Petitioner filed a pro se petition under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-9546. (Doc. 10-1.) On that same date, the trial court, now sitting as PCRA court, appointed Alfred G. Howell, Esquire, to represent Petitioner for any PCRA proceedings. ( See Doc. 10-2 at 2.) On October 23, 2008, Attorney Howell filed a "no-merit letter" indicating that there were no meritorious claims. ( Id. ) On March 11, 2009, the PCRA court granted Attorney Howell's petition to withdraw and appointed Oressa P. Campbell, Esquire, to represent Petitioner. ( Id. )

On September 26, 2011, a counseled amended PCRA petition was filed, raising the following issues:

I. Whether counsel was ineffective for failing to appeal the trial court's order denying the ...

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