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Taylor v. Wetzel

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

October 15, 2014

JOHN E. WETZEL, Secretary, Department of Corrections; LOUIS FOLINO, Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Greene; and MARIROSA LAMAS, Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Respondents




On May 13, 2013, Petitioner Paul Gamboa Taylor, a death-sentenced prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 13.) After briefing on the motion was completed, (see Docs. 16, 26, 29), and at the request of Petitioner, the Court scheduled oral argument on the Rule 60(b) motion by Order dated December 12, 2013, (Doc. 30). After granting several extensions of time, (see Docs. 34, 36), the Court heard oral argument on the Rule 60(b) motion on May 16, 2014.

Following oral argument, the Court issued an Order on May 28, 2014 (Doc. 39), directing counsel for Petitioner to inform the Court of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in Cox v. Horn, No. 13-2982 (3d Cir.) by notice within thirty (30) days of the Third Circuit’s decision. The Court also stayed Petitioner’s Rule 60(b)(6) motion (Doc. 13) pending further Order of Court. (Doc. 39.)

On August 19, 2014, counsel for Petitioner filed a notice informing the Court of the Third Circuit’s August 7, 2014 decision in Cox v. Horn, No. 13-2982 (3d Cir. Aug. 7, 2014). (Doc. 40.) Counsel noted, however, that a Mandate had not yet issued in the case. (Id.) Subsequent to Petitioner’s counsel’s filing, the Mandate in Cox issued on September 3, 2014. See Cox, No. 13-2982 (3d Cir.) (Docket Entry, Sept. 3, 2014).

Therefore, upon consideration of the Third Circuit’s ruling in Cox, as well as the briefing filed and oral argument heard in this case, Petitioner’s motion to reopen (Doc. 13) is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, including a finding that Petitioner’s relevant claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel have been adequately developed and subsequently denied on a merits review in Petitioner’s habeas proceedings rather than on the basis of procedural default, the motion will be denied.

Background [1]

On December 19, 1991, in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania, after full oral and written plea colloquies, Petitioner pled guilty to criminal homicide for murdering his wife, his two minor children, and his mother-in-law and her infant child with a hammer and kitchen knife. In its review of the denial of habeas corpus review in this case, the Third Circuit noted the following factual background with respect to Petitioner’s guilt and subsequent state of mind:

The murders took place on the evening of May 18, 1991. Under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, Taylor, who had no apparent prior history of domestic violence, hammered the skull of his mother-in-law and slit her throat with a knife. He then hammered the skulls of her two-year-old son Lance, and his own children, four-year-old Paul and two-year-old Jasmine. When his wife Valerie returned home twelve hours later, he also hammered her skull until she died. Taylor did not harm his five-month-old daughter, Rachelle, who was present during the killings. After killing his wife, Taylor attempted suicide by slashing his wrists with a hacksaw and stabbing himself in the abdomen. He then called 911 (because he was worried about Rachelle) before trying to electrocute himself in the bathtub with a hair dryer. When the police arrived, they found him alive in the bathtub and took him to York Hospital.
At the hospital Taylor made incriminating statements after the police questioned him about the killings without advising him of his right to counsel or to remain silent. Doctors stabilized Taylor physically and on May 22, 1991, transferred him to York Hospital’s psychiatric inpatient unit. There, Mohamed I. Elyan, M.D., Taylor’s treating physician, recorded Taylor’s account of what happened the night of the murders in his hospital records. When Dr. Elyan concluded that Taylor was psychiatrically stabilized, on May 24, 1991, he discharged Taylor to the state’s custody.

Attorney Robert Bruce Evanick, Chief Public Defender, was appointed to represent Taylor. Evanick prepared a suppression motion, seeking to exclude the statements Taylor made to police at the hospital. Taylor, however, wrote a letter of confession to the police, dated June 15, 1991, which states the following:

On May 18, 1991, I, Paul G. Taylor, came home, went to the third floor, and to check on the kids. Jasmine was sleeping with Donna. I picked her up and put her in my bed, and no voice made me do it. I did it. Paul G. Taylor, on my own. I was so mad or bad about me to turn back to drugs, and my wife didn’t care no more that I wasn’t going to leave my family for no one. If I couldn’t have my kids, no one will. So I went downstairs and got the ball-peen hammer and killed Donna, Lance, Jasmine and Paul with it. After I dropped the hammer, I ran downstairs and washed my hands and went outside and walked around and cried. And I knew what I had done. It was my turn and my wife’s turn to die. I came back, went to the third floor, and covered them up. The baby was asleep. Rachelle and I went downstairs. And I called about 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. I called Tina Markle to see if she was there. The phone rang and Tina picked it up and I said, is Val there. She said, yes. But she never got on the phone, and the phone went dead. I called back, but I got a busy sound, and tried a half hour later, and got the same thing. Val called back around 11:30 and said she should be home around 12, or 12:30, and she hung up. When she got home she did not look or say anything but went to the dining room, and said, I’m going out tonight. And I killed her with the hammer, too, and went outside and said to Tina, she’ll see you tonight, and she went. I carried my wife up the stairs and laid her in bed with my daughter, and went downstairs and got a hacksaw and a knife, and went back upstairs to kill myself. That’s what happened to my family. I don’t want mercy from the Court. I want the maximum sentence. God said that this was the truth. Amen. P.S., I’m not a sick man. I’m a man that went over and came back. P.S. It was out of love that no one was going to take them away, my wife and my kids. Truly sorry, Mr. Paul G. Taylor.

Taylor v. Horn, 504 F.3d 416, 420-21 (3d Cir. 2007) (“Taylor-IV”).

The trial court held a colloquy at Petitioner’s degree of guilt hearing regarding Petitioner’s decision not to present any defense on his behalf.[2] The trial court subsequently found Petitioner guilty of five counts of first-degree murder. The trial court then held another colloquy at the penalty phase as to Taylor’s decision not to present any mitigating evidence or to challenge the Commonwealth’s request for a death sentence. Ultimately, the trial court imposed a sentence of death for four of the murder convictions and a sentence of life imprisonment for the remaining murder conviction. As noted by the Third Circuit,

[a]t formal sentencing, on January 23, 1992, defense counsel explained: “I spoke with Paul last week. He indicated that he did not want any motions filed in his behalf and I’m not sure there are any that could have been filed. So he’s essentially forfeited that potential area for review.” (App. at 288.) The court then asked Taylor whether he had anything to say before sentencing. He did not, and the court imposed four death sentences and one life sentence.

Taylor-IV, 504 F.3d at 423. Petitioner maintained at all stages up to that point that he was guilty and that he had no desire to challenge the charges against him.

On May 4, 1993, Petitioner’s counsel told the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that Petitioner wished no action to be taken on his behalf. The Supreme Court directed counsel to obtain an affidavit from Petitioner confirming his intention, and counsel supplied Petitioner with an affidavit for signature. Petitioner refused to sign the affidavit in a handwritten note to counsel dated May 6, 1993. Thereafter, Petitioner executed an affidavit authorizing counsel to withdraw his guilty plea. On May 20, 1993, counsel filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania requesting a remand to afford Petitioner the opportunity to do so. That court denied the petition for remand, without explanation, on July 21, 1993. As a result, Petitioner presented no claim of error on direct appeal, and the trial court’s judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on automatic direct appeal. Commonwealth v. Taylor, 634 A.2d 1106 (Pa. 1993) (“Taylor-I”).

On January 13, 1997, Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed a petition for collateral review under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 9541-9546. The PCRA court appointed new counsel through whom Petitioner filed an amended PCRA petition.

The PCRA court subsequently conducted a hearing to ascertain Petitioner’s competency throughout the prior proceedings and the alleged ineffective assistance of Petitioner’s trial counsel, namely in connection with Petitioner’s failure to offer any mitigating evidence or otherwise seek to avoid the death penalty. The PCRA court concluded that Petitioner’s trial counsel did not render ineffective assistance, and that Petitioner was competent at all relevant times during trial. Specifically, the court found that Petitioner had instructed counsel “not to present testimony, that [Petitioner] had discussed the possibility of having testimony by various friends, associates, employers, coworkers with Mr. Evanick and elected not to call them and, in fact, [Petitioner] made the phone calls to tell those witnesses not to come in.” Taylor-IV, 504 F.3d at 424 (quoting Record, App. at 277-78). The PCRA court denied the PCRA petition, and that denial was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on August 20, 1998. See Commonwealth v. Taylor, 718 A.2d 743 (Pa. 1998) (“Taylor-II”).

On September 3, 1998, Petitioner initiated habeas proceedings in this Court by filing motions to stay the execution, appoint counsel, and proceed in forma pauperis. (Taylor v. Horn, Civ. No. 4:98-CV-1465 (M.D. Pa.) (McClure, J.), Doc. 1.) After receiving extensions of time, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on January 5, 1999. (Id., Doc. 14.) While his habeas petition was pending, on February 5, 1999, Petitioner filed a second PCRA petition in state court.[3] In light of the 1999 PCRA petition, this Court issued an Order on March 9, 1999, which dismissed Petitioner’s habeas petition for failure to exhaust state remedies. (Id., Doc. 28.) The Court further ordered that “[s]aid dismissal without prejudice to petitioner’s right to file an amended petition pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2) upon exhaustion of state remedies, with the filing date of the second petition relating back to the date of the filing of the first petition, pursuant to the same Rule.” (Id.)

Petitioner appealed this Court’s March 9, 1999 Order. In the meantime, the PCRA court denied Petitioner’s second PCRA petition as untimely, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed that decision on June 19, 2000. See Commonwealth v. Gamboa-Taylor, 753 A.2d 780 (Pa. 2000) (“Taylor-III”). The Supreme Court reasoned that an allegation of ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel does not excuse the failure to comply with the PCRA’s time limitation, and that all of the facts regarding Petitioner’s mental state, if not known, were discoverable by the exercise of due diligence before his proceedings. See Taylor-IV, 504 F.3d at 425 (citing Taylor-III, 753 A.2d at 785, 787).

On August 11, 2000, Petitioner filed a motion for leave to file an amended habeas petition pursuant to the Court’s March 9, 1999 Order. (Taylor, Case No. 4:98-CV-1465, Doc. 36.) An amended petition containing seventeen claims was also filed.[4] (Doc. 1.) In addressing the petition on the merits, the Court organized Petitioner’s claims into three groups, discussing individual claims as necessary. The first group of claims, related to Petitioner’s competency, contained the following three claims at issue here with respect to Petitioner’s motion to reopen these habeas proceedings:

- - claim 7 (trial counsel was ineffective[ ] by failing to investigate into, and present evidence regarding, Taylor’s alleged incompetence);
- - claim 8 (trial counsel was ineffective[ ] by failing to request a hearing on, or even raise issue of, Taylor’s alleged incompetence);
- - claim 9 (Taylor was not competent when he pled guilty and waived certain rights); and

(Doc. 3 at 21.)

On July 22, 2004, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order, finding that Petitioner’s claims were not procedurally defaulted and denied all claims on the merits. (Doc. 3.) The Court further issued a certificate of appealability as to the issues of, inter alia, (1) whether it correctly determined that all of Petitioner’s claims were exhausted and were not procedurally defaulted, and (2) whether it correctly decided the merits of Petitioner’s claims. (Doc. 3 at 57, Order.) Petitioner appealed to the Third Circuit, which agreed that the claims raised in the second PCRA petition were not procedurally defaulted and subsequently affirmed the denial of relief. Taylor-IV, 504 F.3d 416, cert. denied, Taylor v. Beard, 555 U.S. 846 (2008).

Nearly nine (9) years later, on March 21, 2013, Petitioner filed the instant motion under Rule 60(b) to reopen the judgment dated July 22, 2004. (Doc. 13.) The motion seeks relief under Rule 60(b)(6), alleging that, under the “extraordinary circumstances” of Petitioner’s case, the Court should reopen the case in order to reconsider its rulings regarding the claim that trial counsel was ineffective with respect to litigating Petitioner’s competency. The motion claims that the change in law brought by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Martinez v. Ryan, ___U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), [5] represents that extraordinary circumstance to justify relief under Rule 60(b)(6). He alleges the ineffective assistance of PCRA counsel in Petitioner’s first PCRA ...

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