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Skiba v. Wingard

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2017

MICHAEL SKIBA, Petitioner,
v.
TREVOR WINGARD, the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, and BEAVER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge

         Petitioner, Michael Skiba, is a state prisoner incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania, He seeks a writ of habeas corpus, pro se, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be denied.

         I. Procedural History

         The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, quoting the opinion of the suppression court, summarized the relevant factual and procedural background as follows:

On September 26, 2004, at around 12:19 a.m., Hopewell Twp. Police Department received a call from 911 center reporting a stabbing at 2429 Mill Street, Aliquippa, PA. When police officers arrived at the address, they found Tom Cassidy holding a towel over a wound on the side of his body. Tom Cassidy explained to police that he heard a knocking on his door and upon opening the door, a white male, middle aged, approximately 5'10” tall with a stocky build and short wavy dark hair stabbed and attacked him. A struggle ensued in where the attacker was on top of Thomas Cassidy beating him with his fists. Thomas Cassidy was able to kick his attacker off of him and into the victim's musical organ. When victim ran to the bedroom to get his gun the attacker fled. . . .
At 1:40 a.m., Officer Lemon of the Aliquippa Police Department arrived on the scene and informed Hopewell Police Officers that the victim of a carjacking, Albin Abramovich, gave a description of his attacker similar to the description given by Thomas Cassidy. . . [T]he Aliquippa Police recovered the stolen vehicle. While waiting for the two truck, police were informed by Joseph Claypoole that he saw Michael Skiba running from the area of the stolen car.
Based on the comparisons of the descriptions offered by both victims, the Hopewell and Aliquippa Police went to the residence of Michael Skiba . . . After knocking on the door of the apartment and receiving no answer, Officer Price went to the back of the apartment building where he was informed by a tenant that he heard a loud noise from Skiba's apartment. The Hopewell Police contacted the landlord to gain access to Skiba's apartment and found him sleeping in bed. Officers Price and Durkos observed that Skiba had blood on his chest, arms and one of his knees was skinned. Skiba was taken in hand cuffs without struggle to the police station to discuss the carjacking and stabbing.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Skiba, No. 425 WDA 2008 (Pa. Super. Ct. Feb. 9, 2009) (slip opinion) at 12 (quoting Suppression Court Opinion, 8/15/2005, at 1-4) (ECF No. 7-22).

         Petitioner, Michael Skiba (“Petitioner” or “Skiba”), was convicted by a jury on February 6, 2006, of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and lesser offenses. He was sentenced by the Court of Commons of Beaver County on March 22, 2006. An amended sentence order was entered on March 29, 2006. The aggregate sentence for all counts of conviction was a term of imprisonment of not less than 25 years nor more than 50 years.

         Following his conviction, Skiba, filed a counseled post-sentence motion for relief in which he alleged seventeen (17) trial errors upon which he should be granted a new trial and/or an arrest of judgment. Skiba's post-sentence motion was denied on June 4, 2007. No appeal was filed from the judgment of sentence.

         On January 29, 2008, Skiba timely filed his first PCRA petition, the sole basis of which was failure of post-sentence counsel to file an appeal. The court granted the motion, reinstated Skiba's appellate rights, and appointed appellate counsel.

         A timely notice of appeal was filed on March 3, 2008. On appeal, counsel limited his argument to failure of the trial court to grant defendant's motion to suppress. The Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence upholding the denial of the motion to suppress evidence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied further review on July 22, 2009.

         Skiba filed a second timely PCRA petition on August 12, 2009, in which his claim was limited solely to the failure of appellate counsel to adequate pursue the suppression issues on appeal. Counsel was appointed and on January 24, 2011, filed an amended second PCRA petition in which he raised three constitutional violations and a number of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel claims. On June 15, 2011, PCRA counsel filed a supplement to the petition adding additional grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In total, Skiba raised 12 issues, three of which consisted of alleged constitutional violations and nine of which alleged ineffective assistance of trial, post-sentence, and appellate counsel.

         A PCRA hearing was conducted on June 23 and 24, 2011, at which time both parties appeared and presented evidence and arguments in support of their respective positions. Both Skiba and his trial counsel, attorney Gerald Benyo, testified. In an eighty-eight (88) page Memorandum Opinion and Order dated June 1, 2012, the PCRA court denied Skiba's petition holding that the three constitutional claims were waived and that the nine ineffective assistance of counsel claims were without merit. Skiba appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed “on the basis of the sound reasoning of the PCRA judge.” Superior Court Memorandum, 995 WDA 2012, Sept. 19, 2013 (ECF No. 7-18).

         In the instant petition, Skiba raises the following claims for habeas relief:

I. WHETHER PRIOR LEGAL COUNSEL PROVIDED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF LEGAL COUNSEL IN FAILING TO FILE A TIMELY NOTICE OF ALIBI?
III. WHETHER PRIOR LEGAL COUNSEL PROVIDED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF LEGAL COUNSEL IN FAILING TO CHALLENGE THE POLICE ENTRY INTO DEFENDANT'S HOME, AND SEEK SUPPRESSION OF ALL FRUIT OF SAID [SEARCH], INCLUDING THE SEIZURE OF DEFENDANT AND HIS PHOTOGRAPH AND THE VICTIM IDENTIFICATIONS OF DEFENDANT IN A PHOTOGRAPHIC AND PHYSICAL LINEUPS AND TO INTRODUCE ALL AVAILABLE EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF THE CHALLENGE?
III. WHETHER PRIOR LEGAL COUNSEL PROVIDED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF LEGAL COUNSEL IN FAILING TO REQUEST THE TRIAL COURT TO PROPERLY AND ADEQUATELY CHARGE THE JURY AND/OR FAILING TO OBJECT TO THE TRIAL COURT ...

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