United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.
I. Statement of Facts and of the Case
A. Chris King's Crimes
This case involved the cruel betrayal of a fundamental trust, the trust between a parent and a child, a trust betrayed over a span of years by a father's sexual exploitation of his own daughter.
This betrayal of trust, this abuse of a child by her parent, was described by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the following terms its decision affirming the petitioner's conviction:
A.B., [King's] biological daughter, was sixteen years old when she testified to the following events. Prior to August 9, 1999, when [King] moved to live with another woman, [King] lived with A.B., her mother, and her two older brothers. From the time that A.B. was four or five years old until she was approximately thirteen years old, her mother was ill and often was hospitalized. [King] started sexually abusing A.B.
when she was between four and five years old. At that time, [King] would place "his finger up inside" of A.B., and would ask, "Do you like it?" He would also touch her breasts. When A.B. was approximately seven years old, [King] started to place his penis inside her vagina and occasionally engaged in oral sex. This conduct was frequent and continued until [King] left in 1999.
When A.B. was approximately six years old, her mother noticed that she was sore and bleeding in her vaginal area. When questioned, A.B. told her that her father was sexually abusing her. Her mother became "very upset, " grabbed a baseball bat, and left.... The mother returned with [King] who was "crying and got down on his knees to apologize to [the victim] and promised [her] he'd never do it again.". [King] ceased the abuse for a few months and then resumed it.
A.B.'s mother, P.B., testified that she suffered from a back injury when A.B. was four or five years old and that the injury caused her to suffer from severe depression. P.B. was on medication and received electro-shock therapy for the condition. P.B. confirmed the event regarding the baseball bat.
J.M., A.B.'s friend, testified as follows. She and A.B. were good friends, and J.M. often stayed overnight at A.B.'s home during the time frame of the abuse. J.M. testified that "sometimes [King] would make comments about [A.B.'s] body parts, and sometimes like he would like call her into a different room, and she would like come back depressed or sad and wouldn't want to do some things that we were doing." J.M. explained that A.B. would leave for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes at [King's] command, and when A.B. returned, she would be sad, would not play, and would want to go to sleep.
T.D., J.M.'s stepsister, also stayed overnight with A.B. during the period of the abuse and corroborated her sister's testimony. Specifically, T.D. indicated that [King] would ask A.B. to go upstairs with him, she would stay upstairs with him for approximately fifteen minutes, and when A.B. returned, she would lose "all interest in everything, and she was depressed, wanted to go to bed."
Steelton Borough Police Officer John King was assigned to investigate the allegations of abuse against [King]. He interviewed [King] in March 2000. Officer King stated that [King] denied sexually abusing A.B. and said that he helped A.B. with her hygiene. [King] admitted to the confrontation with his wife involving the baseball bat. [King] told Officer King that "he explained to P., his wife, what had happened. And after he explained to her what had happened, he went inside and apologized to A." [King] told Officer King that the incident related to [King's] help regarding A.B.'s hygiene.
A.B. has a sister, L.F., who is [King's] biological daughter from his first marriage and who was twenty-nine years old when she testified at trial. [King] was not involved in L.F.'s life from the time she was four years old until she was ten years old. When she was ten years old, she would see [King] on weekends. [King] immediately started to sexually abuse L.F. by touching her vaginal area. [King] again disappeared from L.F.'s life, and when she was thirteen years old, she started to visit him again. At that time, [King] started to have sexual intercourse with her. Occasionally, the abuse also would involve oral sex. The abuse stopped when she was fifteen because L.F. stopped seeing him. A.B. was a toddler at the time.
(Doc. 10, Ex. D.)
Thus, the evidence amassed against King implicating him in the long-standing, serial, sexual abuse of his own children was substantial and compelling. That evidence consisted of the testimony of A.B., the victim of this sexual exploitation who described an eight-year pattern of abuse at King's hands. A.B.'s testimony was corroborated by two playmates, who had observed a disturbing pattern of toxic contacts between King and this child. This abuse was further confirmed by King's ex-wife, who corroborated that she had confronted King about this sexual misconduct, had threatened him with a baseball bat, and had obtained from King a short-lived promise to refrain from exploiting this child. Further, L.F., King's biological daughter from a prior marriage, testified that she, too, was subjected to repeated acts of sexual abuse by her father of the span of many years. Finally, King's illicit sexual contact with A.B. was confirmed, in part, during a police interview of King, an interview in which King acknowledged making sexually inappropriate comments regarding his daughter and admitted engaging in sexual contact with A.B., while implausibly asserting that he was merely assisting her with her personal hygiene.
Armed with this information, in September of 2000 local authorities charged King with a battery of offenses, including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors. As the case proceeded to trial, the Commonwealth placed defense counsel on notice that numerous witnesses had come forward in the course of the investigation providing information regarding other episodes of inappropriate sexual involving King. ( Id., Ex. N.) Alerted to the existence of this other compelling evidence, and this array of additional witnesses, defense counsel filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude this proof. That motion was granted, in large measure, and only one witness, L.F., A.B.'s older sister, was permitted to testify at trial to a similar pattern of sexual abuse that she had endured at King's hands when she was a child.
B. King's Trial, Conviction and Sentencing
King proceeded to trial on these charges on November 5, 2001. (Docs. 10-4, 10-5 and 10-6.) At this trial, the Commonwealth presented six witnesses. These witnesses included the victim in this case, A.B., who testified to the sexual abuse she endured at King's hands. (Id.) A.B.'s mother, King's estranged wife, P.B., also testified that she had uncovered graphic evidence of physical, sexual abuse of her daughter while bathing the child, and had confronted King with a baseball bat, threatening him if he ever harmed the child again. (Id.) According to P.B., King acknowledged inappropriately touching A.B., swore to her that he would stop abusing the child, and apologized to A.B. for his misconduct in her mother's presence. (Id.) This incident was further, independently corroborated by an investigating police officer, John King, who testified that Chris King confirmed in an interview this confrontation between himself and his estranged wife, and acknowledged genital contact with his minor daughter, but attributed that contact to efforts to help the child with her "hygiene." (Id.)
However, other witnesses, including A.B.'s playmates and siblings, placed a far more sinister light on King's conduct, testifying to sexually suggestive comments and conduct engaged in by King towards A.B. in their presence. Furthermore, over King's objections, the trial judge permitted L.F., A.B.'s older sister, to testify to a similar pattern of sexual abuse that she had endured at King's hands when she was a child. (Id.)
For his part, at trial King urged his counsel to call character witnesses as part of his defense counsel, but counsel made a strategic judgment to refrain from eliciting character witness testimony. This tactical defense choice was driven by the knowledge that the Commonwealth was prepared to call numerous witnesses who would have testified to other instances of sexually inappropriate conduct by King. Having successfully excluded much of that evidence from the trial of this case through a motion in limine, defense counsel was reluctant to place King's character in issue in this fashion in the defense case, a course of action which may well have re-opened the door to the admission of these other bad acts at trial.
Following the presentation of this evidence, the jury returned a verdict, convicting King of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors. On February 22, 2002, following a sentencing hearing which detailed the victim impact of King's crimes, King was sentenced to serve an aggregate sentence of 10 years and nine months to twenty two years in prison for his role in this sexual exploitation of his own child. ( Id., Ex. B, p. 130.)
C. Post-Conviction Proceedings in State Court
In the wake of this conviction and sentence, King filed post-trial motions alleging that the trial court had erred in its evidentiary ruling permitting the victim's sister to testify that she, too, had been sexually abused by King, and asserting that he had been ineffectively assisted by his trial counsel. ( Id., Ex. C.) That motion was denied by the trial judge, and King appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On November 10, 2003, the Superior Court rejected King's appeal and affirmed his conviction and sentencing. ( Id., Ex. D.)
King then filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. ( Id., Ex. E.) On May 4, 2004, that petition was granted, in small measure, with respect to one sentencing issue, and the case was then remanded to the Superior Court for further consideration of that issue. ( Id., Ex. F.) On remand, the Superior Court affirmed the trial judge's determination that King constituted a sexually violent predator in an opinion entered on September 18, 2004. ( Id., Ex. H.) King filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging the affirmance of this sentencing determination, ( Id., Ex. I), which was denied by that court on March 8, 2005. ( Id., Ex. J.)
Having exhausted his direct appeals, King filed a petition for relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), renewing his challenges to the constitutionality of his conviction, the lawfulness of the trial court's evidentiary rulings, and the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. ( Id., Ex. K.) King's initial PCRA petition was a multi-faceted pleading, which raised a dozen claims of error relating to the trial and sentencing of the petitioner, claims that closely paralleled those raised in this petition. (Id.)
Counsel was appointed to represent King in connection with this petition in November 2005, but later filed a "no merit" letter and moved to withdraw. ( Id., Ex. L.) This motion was initially granted by the trial court, which also dismissed King's petition. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of most of the claims set forth in King's PCRA petition, but remanded the case to the trial judge for consideration of two narrow issues: (1) whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call character witnesses, and (2) whether trial counsel was ...