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Fears v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2015

LEROY FEARS, Petitioner,
JOHN E. WETZEL, et al., Respondents.


KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

Before the Court is Leroy Fears' Motion For Discovery Pursuant to Rule 6(A) and Combined Memorandum of Law. [ECF No. 48]. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion in all respects.

I. Relevant Background

On December 8, 1994, Fears appeared before the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and entered a plea of guilty to first-degree murder, corruption of minors, two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse ("IDSI") and abuse of a corpse. The victim was a 12-year-old boy whose body was discovered in the Monongahela River in June 1994. See Commonwealth v. Fears, 836 A.2d 52, 56-58 (Pa. 2003) ("Fears I"). Sumner L. Parker, Esquire, was Fears' trial counsel.

Fears' case was a capital one, and his non-jury penalty hearing was conducted on February 2, 1995. Christine Martone, M.D., testified at the sentencing hearing. She stated that during the incident with the victim, Fears was overtaken with a sexual urge, acted upon that urge, and when the victim threatened to report what Fears had done, Fears panicked and killed the victim. Dr. Martone opined that Fears' sexual impulse and subsequent panic impaired his judgment. She also stated that Fears' alcohol consumption may have further impacted his judgment and impulse control. Commonwealth v. Fears, 86 A.3d 795, 801-02 (Pa. 2014) ("Fears II") (citing 2/2/95 Sent. Hr'g Tr. at 114-16).

At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the trial court found one aggravating circumstance: the killing was committed in perpetration of a felony, specifically IDSI. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(6). The court also determined that Fears proved the catch-all mitigating circumstance of evidence concerning his character, record, and circumstances of the offense. Id., § 9711(e)(8). The court held that the aggravator outweighed the mitigator, and imposed a death sentence for the murder conviction. See Fears II, 86 A.3d at 802.

Caroline Roberto, Esquire, was Fears' attorney in post-sentence and direct appeal proceedings. In those proceedings, Fears raised numerous claims that his trial counsel, Attorney Parker, provided him with ineffective assistance in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Among the many claims that Fears raised was that Attorney Parker was ineffective for failing to investigate and present available mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing (specifically, failing to retain a defense psychiatric expert; relying on a county expert and a presentence investigation report prepared by a county probation officer that contained damaging information as the primary source of mitigation evidence; and failing to provide Dr. Martone with medical and psychological background information about him in preparation for her testimony). See Brief in Support of Post Sentence Relief, Common Pleas Docket ("CP Dkt") No. 42 at 38-52. Fears I, 836 A.2d at 71-72.

The trial court presided over a two-day evidentiary hearing on June 27 and 28, 2000. Fears presented the testimony of Attorney Parker; Dr. Ralph E. Tarter, who testified as an expert (at the time he was a professor of pharmaceutical science and psychiatry, and his disciplinary specialty was clinical psychology and neuropsychology); and, City of Pittsburgh Detective Richard C. Fox. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court briefly summarized some of the evidence introduced at the evidentiary hearing as follows:

At the evidentiary hearing, trial counsel [Attorney Parker] testified that there was nothing about the way [Fears] conducted himself or the manner in which [Fears] was able to communicate that caused counsel to believe that [Fears] was in need of a psychiatric evaluation. Evidentiary Hearing at 94. Nevertheless, due to the nature of the crime, at the sentencing hearing, trial counsel presented the testimony of Dr. Christine Martone, the Chief Psychiatrist of the Allegheny County Behavior Clinic....
[Fears] contends that such investigation and presentation of mitigation evidence was insufficient. According to [Fears], an adequate investigation would have revealed that: [Fears] was prematurely born to a twelve-year old girl and suffered from cardiac arrest within one hour of his birth, causing severe lack of oxygen to his brain; [Fears] was placed in foster care a few months after his birth; and [Fears] suffered from serious mental illness. At the evidentiary hearing, appellate counsel [Attorney Roberto] presented the testimony of Dr. Ralph Tarter, who diagnosed [Fears] with severe psychopathology including schizoid personality disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Evidentiary Hearing at 196.21 Dr. Tarter opined that the lack of secure attachment and bond within the first months of life created a scenario consistent with [Fears'] adult behavior. Evidentiary Hearing at 208-212. Dr. Tarter testified that he would have been available to testify at the penalty phase to both psychiatric mitigators, that [Fears] was acting under extreme mental and emotional disturbance, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(e)(2), and that his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct was substantially impaired, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(e)(3).
21Dr. Tarter examined birthing records from Magee Women's Hospital, Allegheny County CYS records, and school records, and performed various psychological tests on [Fears] in October of 1999. Dr. Martone did not examine these same records in making her diagnosis.

Fears I, 836 A.2d at 72-73.

The trial court denied Fears' post-sentence motion. See Order of Court, CP Dkt. No. 47; June 4, 2002, trial court opinion, CP Dkt. No. 55. Fears, through Attorney Roberto, pursued a direct appeal. On November 20, 2003, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued Fears I, the decision in which it affirmed the trial court's verdict and sentence of death. Before addressing Fears' claims of Attorney Parker's ineffective assistance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained:

This Court recently abrogated the procedural rule requiring new counsel to raise claims of previous counsel's ineffectiveness at the first opportunity when new counsel was appointed. Commonwealth v. Grant, 572 Pa. 48, 813 A.2d 726 (2002). In Grant, we announced a new general rule providing that a defendant "should wait to raise claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel until collateral review." 813 A.2d at 738. Our decision was based on the fact that claims of ineffectiveness were not suited for direct appeal due to the lack of a trial court opinion addressing the issues as well as the lack of an evidentiary record upon which the appellate court could review ...

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