United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION INTRODUCTION
I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, U.S.D.C.J.
Melvin Speight (“Petitioner”), a Pennsylvania
state prisoner, filed a counseled petition for a writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254,
later amended, in which he asserts seventeen claims for
relief. [ECF 8 and 31]. The matter was initially filed as a
death penalty case. However, once the death penalty aspect of
the petition was no longer contested, in accordance with 28
U.S.C. §636(b) and Local Civil Rule 72.1.IV(c), the
amended petition was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Linda K. Caracappa for a Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”). [ECF 110]. Magistrate Judge Caracappa
issued an R&R, which recommended that the amended
petition for a writ of habeas corpus be denied as to
the guilt phase of Petitioner's claim and, by agreement
of the parties, be granted with respect to Petitioner's
death sentence. [ECF 115]. Petitioner filed extensive
objections to the R&R, [ECF 120], to which Respondents
have responded. [ECF 126]. The issues have been fully briefed
and are ripe for disposition.
thorough and independent review of the state record, the
relevant court filings, and a de novo review of
Petitioner's objections, for the reasons set forth below,
this Court overrules Petitioner's objections, approves
and adopts the R&R, and denies the petition for a writ of
habeas corpus as to the guilt phase of
Petitioner's trial. With respect to Petitioner's
sentence of death, upon agreement of the parties (as
described herein), Petitioner's death sentence is
vacated, and Petitioner is to be re-sentenced to a term of
life imprisonment. Petitioner's corresponding motion for
discovery and motion for oral argument are denied.
relevant evidence underlying Petitioner's conviction on
numerous offenses was summarized by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court as follows:
Testimony at trial established that at approximately 9:00
p.m. on August 31, 1992, Gary Carson, Allen Carson, William
Wilson, Neal Carter and David Scott (referred to collectively
as “Carson's group”) were drinking beer at
the corner of Wyalusing and Conestoga Streets in Philadelphia
when they observed a man in an orange jumpsuit, known as
“Inky Man, ” approach the corner along Conestoga
Street and wave as if signaling to persons further up the
street. Indeed, in response to Inky Man's signal,
appellant and three other men, Shannon Faison, Lamar Douglas
and Cornell Bennet, also known as “Junior”
(referred to collectively as “appellant's
group”), suddenly appeared at the corner and approached
the group. Gary Carson testified that in the weeks preceding
the encounter, one of the members of the appellant's
group, Bennet, had repeatedly warned him to stay away from
that particular corner because his presence was interfering
with the drug operation Bennet ran at that location.
Upon appellant's group's arrival at the corner,
Faison said to Carson's group, “What's up with
my man's corner?” However, before anyone could
respond, appellant and his cohorts produced firearms and
started firing at Carson's group. At the time of the
shooting, appellant's group was standing on the sidewalk
between Carson's group and the curb.
William Wilson was shot ten times, including a fatal shot to
the left chest which pierced his heart and punctured his
right lung. Four of the shots hit Wilson from behind. Wilson
was pronounced dead at the scene. Neal Carter was shot three
times from behind, including a fatal shot which pierced his
heart. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Allen Carson was shot once in the back, severing his spine
and permanently paralyzing him. Gary Carson was shot eight
times, but survived. Only David Scott was not hit. A
ballistics expert testified that at least three and possibly
four different firearms were used in the attack.
Gary Carson and Allen Carson both testified that appellant
was standing between Faison and Bennet, but they did not know
if he had a gun. David Scott testified that the person
standing between Faison and Bennet had fired a gun, although
he could not identify who that person was.
The day following the shooting, Gary Carson identified Bennet
from a photographic array. A week later, he also identified
Faison and Douglas from photographic arrays. Finally, on
September 18, 1992, Gary Carson identified appellant as the
fourth assailant from a photographic array. An arrest warrant
was obtained on that date and officers went to
appellant's house to arrest him. However, appellant's
mother told the officers that appellant was working in
Baltimore and she did not know how to reach him. As a result,
appellant was listed as a fugitive in the National Crime
Information Computer network. Appellant was arrested on a
fugitive warrant in Mansfield, Massachusetts on September 25,
1992. At the time of the murders, appellant had a full head
of hair, but when he was arrested his head was completely
Commonwealth v. Speight, 677 A.2d 317, 320-21 (Pa.
24, 1993, a jury in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia
County, convicted Petitioner of two counts of first-degree
murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of
criminal conspiracy to commit murder, and one count of
possession of an instrument of crime. Following the penalty
phase of the trial, the jury imposed a sentence of death on
each murder conviction. At the conclusion of trial, trial
counsel was granted permission to withdraw and new counsel
was appointed. Petitioner's new counsel filed
post-verdict motions attacking the judgment and, following an
evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Petitioner's
motions and formally imposed the jury's sentence. On May
20, 1996, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed
Petitioner's conviction and judgment of sentence on
direct appeal. Speight, 677 A.2d at 328. The United
States Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari
on February 18, 1997. Speight v. Pennsylvania, 519
U.S. 1119 (1997).
interim, on January 15, 1997, Petitioner filed a timely
pro se petition for collateral review under the
Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”),
42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §9541 et seq. (“First
PCRA Petition”). PCRA counsel was appointed, who filed
an amended petition, a supporting memorandum of law, and a
supplemental memorandum of law. After Petitioner expressed
dissatisfaction with his first court-appointed attorney, new
counsel was appointed. Petitioner's second appointed PCRA
counsel filed amended and supplemental pleadings on
Petitioner's behalf. On December 12, 2000, the PCRA court
denied relief as to Petitioner's convictions but granted
a new penalty hearing. The Commonwealth moved for
reconsideration and, in an opinion dated April 3, 2001, the
PCRA court reversed itself and held that Petitioner was not
entitled to a new penalty hearing. Petitioner appealed, and
on July 22, 2004, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the
denial of Petitioner's First PCRA Petition.
Commonwealth v. Speight, 854 A.2d 450, 454 (Pa.
August 30, 2004, Petitioner filed motions in this Court for
the appointment of counsel and a stay of execution, both of
which were granted. [ECF 1, 3]. On July 1, 2005, Petitioner
filed a timely, counseled petition for a writ of habeas
corpus. [ECF 8]. On January 13, 2006, Petitioner filed a
motion to stay the instant federal proceedings pending the
exhaustion of his state court remedies, [ECF 16]; the motion
was granted on February 9, 2006. [ECF 18].
January 12, 2006, Petitioner filed a second petition for
post-conviction relief (“Second PCRA Petition”)
alleging a violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S.
79 (1986). Following an evidentiary hearing, the PCRA court
denied the Second PCRA Petition on April 26, 2007. Petitioner
appealed, and on December 28, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court affirmed the denial of relief, finding that
Petitioner's Second PCRA Petition was untimely. See
Commonwealth v. Speight, 986 A.2d 759 (Pa. 2009).
the reactivation of the federal habeas proceedings,
Petitioner filed an amended petition for writ of habeas
corpus, [ECF 31], and a memorandum of law in support.
[ECF 70]. On November 2, 2011, Petitioner filed a motion for
discovery, [ECF 38], which was denied, without prejudice, on
December 22, 2011. [ECF 49]. Petitioner has since filed a
second motion for discovery, [ECF 99], and a motion for oral
argument on the discovery motion, [ECF 111], which are
disposed of herein.
stated, Petitioner asserts seventeen claims in his
habeas petition. On December 22, 2014, Respondents filed
their response in opposition, [ECF 94], and advised this
Court that they would:
not  contest a conditional grant of relief as to
[Petitioner's] death sentence as part of the Court's
final order disposing of [Petitioner's] claims attacking
the guilt phase of [Petitioner's] trial, on the
understanding that this will not be understood or argued to
constitute a concession that any of [Petitioner's] claims
have merit. The respondents also confirmed that although a
condition of relief would, in principle, permit the
Commonwealth to seek a new capital sentencing proceeding in
state court, the Commonwealth will not do so. Thus, even if
this Court denied relief as to [Petitioner's] claims
challenging his convictions, i.e., the guilty phase of his
trial, his death sentence would be vacated and the
Commonwealth will not seek a new capital sentencing
proceeding in connection with this case.
[See ECF 94 at p. 10 n. 11]. As such, Respondents
did not address any of Petitioner's claims that
challenged his sentence.
Magistrate Judge issued a comprehensive and soundly reasoned
70-page R&R in which she recommended that this Court deny
relief to all of Petitioner's claims challenging his
conviction for first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy to
commit murder, aggravated assault, and related weapons
possession offenses, and conditionally grant relief as to his
death sentence. [ECF 115]. Petitioner filed objections to the
R&R, [ECF 120], to which Respondents have responded. [ECF
126]. Petitioner also filed a notice of supplemental
authority, [ECF 127], to which Respondents have responded.
objections to an R&R are filed, the court must conduct a
de novo review of the contested portions of the
R&R, see Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106
n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(C)),
provided the objections are both timely and specific.
Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In
making its de novo review, a court may accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings
or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C.
§636(b)(1). Although the review is de novo, the
statute permits the court to rely on the recommendations of
the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper.
United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76
(1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. Objections which
merely rehash an argument presented to and considered by a
magistrate judge are not entitled to de novo review.
Becker v. Tennis, 2011 WL 2550544, at *1 n.3 (E.D.
Pa. June 23, 2011) (declining to address contentions included
in petitioner's objections, concluding that they are
“nothing more than a restatement of the underlying
claims contained in his petition”) (citing Morgan
v. Astrue, 2009 WL 3541001, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 30,
2009)); see also Nghiem v. Kerestes, 2009 WL 960046,
at *1 n.1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 3, 2009) (declining to engage in
additional review of objections where the objections merely
re-articulated all the claims and theories for relief that
were addressed and dismissed by the magistrate judge).
out in the R&R, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) amended the standards for
reviewing state court judgments raised in federal habeas
corpus petitions filed under 28 U.S.C. §2254.
Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 195 (3d Cir. 2000).
AEDPA increased the deference federal courts must give to the
factual findings and legal determinations of the state
courts. Id. at 196. In accordance with
§2254(d), a habeas corpus petition may only be
granted if the state court's adjudication of the claim:
“(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28
establish that the state court decision was “contrary
to” federal law, “it is not sufficient for the
petitioner to show merely that his interpretation of Supreme
Court precedent is more plausible than the state court's;
rather, the petitioner must demonstrate that Supreme Court
precedent requires the contrary outcome.” Matteo v.
Superintendent, SCI Albion, 171 F.3d 877, 888 (3d Cir.
1999). Similarly, a federal court may only find a state court
decision to be an “unreasonable application” of
federal law if the decision, “evaluated objectively and
on the merits, resulted in an outcome that cannot reasonably
be justified under existing Supreme Court precedent.”
Id. at 890. Further, factual determinations made by
the state court are “presumed to be correct.” 28
U.S.C. §2254(e)(1). However, a petitioner may rebut this
presumption with “clear and convincing evidence”
of the state court's error. Id. Consequently, a
habeas petitioner “must clear a high hurdle
before a federal court will set aside any of the state
court's factual findings.” Mastracchio v.
Vose, 274 F.3d 590, 597-98 (1st Cir. 2001). As the
Supreme Court has observed, this standard is “difficult
to meet and highly deferential.” Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 180 (2011).
order to seek federal habeas relief, a petitioner
must first exhaust the remedies available in state court.
See 28 U.S.C. §2254(b)(1) (“An
application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person
in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall
not be granted unless it appears that - (A) the applicant has
exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State .
. .”). To meet this exhaustion requirement, a
petitioner must “fairly present his claim in each
appropriate state court . . . thereby alerting that court to
the federal nature of the claim.” Baldwin v.
Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). If a state court has
refused or would refuse to review a claim based on a state
procedural rule that is independent of the federal question
and adequate to support the judgment, the court may deny that
claim as procedurally defaulted. Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729, 731-32 (1991); Lark v.
Sec't Pa. Dept. of Corrections, 645 F.3d 596, 611
(3d Cir. 2011); Johnson v. Pinchak, 392 F.3d 551,
556 (3d Cir. 2004). A federal court may consider the merits
of a procedurally defaulted claim only if “the
petitioner establishes ‘cause and prejudice' or a
‘fundamental miscarriage of justice' to excuse the
default.” Holloway v. Horn, 355 F.3d 707, 715
n.3 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Coleman, 501 U.S. at
is procedurally defaulted when “a state court declined
to address a prisoner's federal claims because the
prisoner failed to meet a state procedural
requirement.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 730.
Federal review of the claim, however, is available if the
procedural rule that the state court applied to bar a federal
claim was not “independent” and
“adequate.” Albrecht v. Horn, 485 F.3d
103, 115 (3d Cir. 2007). A state procedural rule is not
adequate to bar federal review on habeas if it was
not firmly established and regularly followed by the state
courts at the time it was applied. Lark, 645 F.3d at
611. Whether a procedural rule “was firmly established
and regularly applied is determined as of the date the
default occurred, and not as of the date the state court
relied on it, because a petitioner is entitled to notice of
how to present a claim in state court.”
Albrecht, 485 F.3d at 115.
Petitioner offers twelve objections (with various subparts)
to the Magistrate Judge's R&R. Petitioner's
objections, however, largely reiterate the arguments he
presented to, and that were thoroughly considered and
rejected by the Magistrate Judge. Petitioner, through
appointed counsel, submitted over 200 pages of arguments in
support of the seventeen claims he asserted in his
habeas petition, all of which were comprehensively
addressed in the Magistrate Judge's 70-page R&R.
Notwithstanding the rehashing of these claims,
Petitioner's objections will be addressed.
One - Application of Martinez and Trevino to this
forth in the R&R, the Magistrate Judge found that many of
Petitioner's claims were procedurally defaulted because
they had either never been fairly presented to the state
courts or were only raised in a Second PCRA petition which
the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found was untimely and,
therefore, procedurally barred. Petitioner acknowledges that
many of his current federal habeas claims were not
fairly presented to the state courts on either direct appeal
or post-collateral appeal. Petitioner argues, however, that
these otherwise procedurally defaulted claims are subject to
a narrow exception to the procedural default doctrine
recognized in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309
(2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911
(2013), and that the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding
otherwise. This Court disagrees, and finds that the
Magistrate Judge addressed, at length, the applicability of
the Martinez and Trevino decisions and
correctly determined that the narrow exception therein does
not apply to Petitioner.
Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991), the United
States Supreme Court held that ineffectiveness of state
post-conviction counsel cannot satisfy the
“cause” requisite for overcoming a procedural
default because there is no federal constitutional right to
counsel on post-conviction review. Coleman, 501 U.S.
at 750-54. In Martinez, the Supreme Court carved out
a “narrow” and “limited” exception to
the rule in Coleman, and held that where state law
requires claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to
be raised for the first time in a collateral proceeding, a
federal habeas petitioner may be able to establish
“cause” sufficient to overcome a procedural
default of a “substantial” claim of trial
counsel's ineffectiveness if the collateral appeal
counsel was also ineffective. Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at
1315-21. The Martinez exception, however, only
applies when post-conviction collateral relief proceedings
were the first opportunity to raise claims of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel. Id. In
Trevino, “the Supreme Court clarified that the
Martinez rule applied not only to states that
expressly denied permission ...