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[U] Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 4, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
BRITTANY LEIGH WILLIAMS, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the PCRA Order November 16, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0005219-2003.

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.

BEFORE: BOWES, STABILE, and STRASSBURGER, [*] JJ.

MEMORANDUM

BOWES, J.

Brittany Leigh Williams appeals from the order entered November 16, 2011, denying her first collateral petition. We affirm.

A prior panel of this Court delineated the salient facts.

On the evening of March 22, 2003, [seventeen-year-old] victim [Dana] Pliakas, Leonard Penn, and Eileen Catania were visiting at the apartment shared by [nineteen-year-old] Appellant and [her boyfriend Rodney] Burton.[1] At one point during the evening, Burton, Penn, and Pliakas left the home and went to a convenience store. While en route, Burton allegedly telephoned ex-girlfriend [Jennifer] Cline, and when the trio arrived back at Burton's apartment, Pliakas told Appellant about Burton's indiscretion.
Appellant became enraged and began beating Pliakas.[2] At one point, Appellant forced Pliakas to disrobe and threatened her with a gun. Appellant told Pliakas repeatedly that she was going to die. Pliakas's attempt to escape from the apartment was prevented. Once the initial assault subsided, Appellant, Burton, and Penn began to worry about the charges they would face should word of the assault become known to police.
Burton and Appellant told Pliakas to get dressed, and that they were taking her to get a jitney. The three left the apartment together, but one hour later, only Burton and Appellant returned. Within 48 hours, Appellant was arrested and charged with murder.
At trial, Penn testified that when Burton returned, he told Penn that he and Appellant had stripped Pliakas, and that he had shot her in the back of her head. N.T., 6/28-7/1/04, at 118-119. Penn also testified that Burton asked him to dispose of a black trash bag which he and Appellant had carried into the apartment. Penn complied, dumping the bag in a dumpster in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh. Id. at 119-120. A bus rider discovered Pliakas's body the following morning, lying dead on the side of a road, dressed only in socks. Id. at 34-36.
Eileen Catania testified that when Burton and Appellant returned to the apartment, Burton was cleaning his gun with his shirt, and Appellant was carrying a black trash bag. Id. at 206. Catania testified that Appellant told her that, "I just got this nigger to kill the victim, now I can get him to do anything." Id. Catania also testified that when she later left the apartment with Penn and Penn's cousin, they stopped in the Hill District and Penn disposed of the black trash bag that Catania averred contained Pliakas's belongings. Id. at 206-208.

Commonwealth v. Williams, 976 A.2d 1218 (Pa.Super. 2009) (unpublished memorandum at 2-3).

A jury convicted Appellant of first degree murder, conspiracy, kidnapping, terroristic threats, false imprisonment, and simple assault.[3] On October 14, 2004, the court imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for the murder charge. The court also sentenced Appellant consecutively to twenty to forty months incarceration each for the kidnapping and conspiracy convictions. Appellant, with the aid of new counsel, timely filed post sentence motions alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on March 22, 2005, wherein trial counsel testified, but the court did not rule on the motions. Accordingly, the motions were denied by operation of law.

Appellant filed a timely appeal and the court directed Appellant to file and serve a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. Appellant's counsel filed an untimely concise statement. Thereafter, counsel discontinued the appeal on March 1, 2007. Appellant filed a pro se PCRA petition on April 18, 2007, and the court appointed counsel. Counsel filed an amended petition seeking reinstatement of Appellant's direct appeal rights, which the court granted. On appeal, among the issues raised were two ineffective assistance of counsel claims.[4] The panel addressed those claims under Commonwealth v. Bomar, 826 A.2d 831 (Pa. 2003), and affirmed Appellant's judgment of sentence. Our Supreme Court denied allowance of appeal on December 30, 2009. Commonwealth v. Williams, 987 A.2d 161 (Pa. 2009).

Appellant then filed a counseled PCRA petition on August 6, 2010. The PCRA court, with a different judge from the one who presided at trial, conducted two evidentiary hearings on June 8, 2011 and June 20, 2011. Subsequently, the court entered an order denying Appellant's petition on November 16, 2011. This timely appeal ensued. The PCRA court directed Appellant to comply with Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b), which she did. The court then authored its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion. The matter is now ready for our review. Appellant presents the following issues for this Court's consideration.

1. Whether Defendant's [c]ounsel, David DeFazio, provided ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to properly prepare Defendant for her testimony on direct examination in a first degree murder case?
2. Whether Defendant's [c]ounsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to develop a record of involuntary intoxication and drug use and by failing to object to the incorrect, confusing and misleading jury instructions on this issue?[5]
3. Whether Defendant's [c]ounsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to fully develop testimony on the issue of "heat of passion" and voluntary manslaughter; and by failing to prepare and ...

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