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Commonwealth v. Blystone

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

July 20, 2015

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
SCOTT WAYNE BLYSTONE, Appellant

Submitted: October 27, 2014.

Appeal from the Order entered on January 31, 2014 in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Criminal Division at No. CP-26-CR-0000002-1984. Trial Court Judge: William J. Ober, Senior Judge.

For Scoff Wayne Blystone, APPELLANT: James F. Hibey, Esq.; Rebecca Liu, Esq.; Michael Wiseman, Esq.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, APPELLEE: Anthony John Krastek, Esq. PA Office of Attorney General; Gregory Joseph Simatic, Esq.

BEFORE: MADAME JUSTICE TODD. SAYLOR, C.J., EAKIN, BAER, TODD, STEVENS, JJ. Messrs. Justice Baer and Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Chief Justice Saylor files a dissenting opinion. Mr. Justice Eakin files a concurring opinion.

OPINION

Page 307

MADAME TODD, JUSTICE

This matter comes to us upon Appellant's interlocutory appeal from an order of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. In this capital case, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania held that Appellant Scott Wayne Blystone was entitled to receive a new sentencing hearing after concluding that his counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and develop penalty-phase

Page 308

mitigating evidence in the form of institutional records and expert mental-health evidence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, and Appellant presently awaits a new penalty-phase hearing following the completion of discovery.

Throughout the course of counsel's current mitigation investigation, Appellant's mother, Norma Blystone, has consistently refused to divulge certain information regarding Appellant's childhood -- which Appellant deems " critical" -- unless she is assured that the information she provides will not be made public. In an attempt to provide Mrs. Blystone with such assurances and to obtain this additional information from her, Appellant filed a motion in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County for limited courtroom closure and temporary sealing of transcripts with respect to Mrs. Blystone's testimony, any expert testimony addressing the information Mrs. Blystone reveals, and any closing arguments referencing such testimony. The trial court denied the motion, and Appellant has filed an interlocutory appeal from that order pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 313.[1] For the reasons that follow, we conclude that our Court lacks jurisdiction to review the trial court's interlocutory order denying Appellant's closure motion, and, accordingly, this appeal must be quashed.

I. Background

The facts underlying Appellant's conviction are set forth more fully in this Court's opinion resolving Appellant's direct appeal, see Commonwealth v. Blystone (" Blystone I" ), 519 Pa. 450, 549 A.2d 81 (Pa. 1988); however, a brief recitation of those facts is necessary to provide context to the instant matter. On September 9, 1983, at approximately 12:00 a.m., Appellant was driving with his girlfriend and two others, when he picked up a hitchhiker and later robbed and murdered him, shooting him in the back of the head. Appellant was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Following a jury trial in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, he was found guilty of each of the aforementioned crimes.

During Appellant's penalty-phase hearing, Appellant's trial counsel elected not to offer any mitigating evidence. Ultimately, the jury found one aggravating circumstance -- that Appellant killed the victim in the perpetration of a felony -- and it sentenced Appellant to death pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(c)(1)(iv) (" The verdict must be a sentence of death if the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance specified in subsection (d) and no mitigating circumstance." ). Appellant also received a consecutive sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment for his robbery conviction. Appellant appealed his judgment of sentence, and, on October 17, 1988, this Court affirmed. Blystone I.

Thereafter, on October 12, 1995, Appellant, represented by new counsel, filed a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act (" PCRA" ),[2] raising various claims of ineffectiveness of trial counsel, trial court error, and constitutional violations. Relevant to the instant matter, Appellant asserted, inter alia, that his counsel was ineffective for failing to offer mitigating ...


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