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Haskins v. Folino

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 18, 2017

ESHEEM T. HASKINS
v.
LOUIS FOLINO, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM

          Padova, J.

         Before the Court is Esheem T. Haskins' Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. United States Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice has filed a Report and Recommendation that recommends denying the Petition in its entirety. Haskins has filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. For the reasons that follow, we overrule Haskins' objections, adopt the Report and Recommendation as set forth herein, and deny the Petition.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 3, 2006, Haskins and Jerome King were convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and criminal conspiracy in connection with the February 2, 2005 shooting death of Nathaniel Giles. Commonwealth v. Haskins, 60 A.3d 538, 540, 543-44 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012). The evidence admitted at their trial showed that, on the night of February 2, 2005, two young women, S.T. and F.J., went to a Chinese takeout on the corner of Stillman and Cambria Streets in Philadelphia to purchase food. Id. at 541 (quotation omitted). While they were waiting for their food to be prepared, they observed Giles speaking with Khalief Alston outside the takeout. Id. (quotation omitted). S.T. and F.J. then saw a car driving on Stillman Street stop at the corner of Stillman and Cambria Streets and make a left turn onto Cambria Street. Id. at 550. They then saw two men walking on Cambria Street, traveling away from the direction the car had driven towards the corner of Stillman and Cambria Streets. Id. at 542 (quotation omitted). As the two men neared Giles, “Alston ran off” and “[o]ne of the men yelled ‘Shoot him. Shoot him.'” Id. at 550. The other man shot Giles in the head; then shot Giles a second time. Id. Everyone, including S.T. and F.J., then fled the scene. Id. at 542 (quotation omitted). S.T. and F.J. identified King as the shooter and Haskins as the man who yelled “‘Shoot him. Shoot him.'” Id. at 550.

         F.J. went with her aunt to give a statement to Homicide detectives immediately after the crime. Id. at 542 (quotation omitted). S.T. went to speak to Homicide detectives with her mother on February 23, 2005. Id. (quotation omitted). F.J. and S.T. both returned to the Homicide Division on March 14, 2005 and April 16, 2005 to provide additional information about the murder. Id. at 542 (quotation omitted).

         A special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives testified at trial that, approximately six months prior to his murder, Giles told him that he had purchased a handgun for King that had been used to kill a ten-year-old. Id. at 541 (quotation omitted). There was also evidence at trial that, on April 9, 2005, Detective Ron Dove saw King and Haskins in the neighborhood of the murder and that both King and Haskins were wearing “stop snitching” t-shirts. Id. at 542 (quotation omitted). Detective Dove arrested King and Haskins for the murder of Giles on May 6, 2005. Id. at 543 (quotation omitted).

         Dr. Bennett Preston, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy on Giles, testified at trial that “the gun that killed the victim was fired from within two feet of the victim's head. [He] explained that this was a maximum distance between the gun and the head, but opined that it was more than likely a lot closer than that, maybe a foot.” Id. at 551 (quotation and citation omitted).

         Alston testified at trial as the only defense witness. Id. He was “a friend and gang colleague of both King and Haskins.” Id. at 543. He testified that Giles was killed by Ernest Cannon, not King or Haskins. Id. (citation omitted). Alston claimed that he was walking on the street with Cannon when Cannon saw Giles, walked up to Giles, “and shot him in the head from six to eight feet away with a nine millimeter handgun.” Id. (citation omitted).

         On cross-examination, the prosecutor questioned Alston about Alston's March 11, 2005 arrest for an unrelated homicide. Id. On that date, both Alston and Cannon were arrested for participating in the same homicide and Alston was interrogated by the police. Id. The police told Alston during his March 11, 2005 interrogation “that Cannon had identified him as the actor in at least two murders. After hearing this, Alston identified Cannon as the perpetrator of [Giles's] murder . . . .” Id. “The [prosecutor] extensively cross-examined Alston regarding his motive to fabricate a story accusing Cannon, a man whom Alston believed lied about Alston's participation in unrelated murders.” Id. (citation omitted). The prosecutor used this cross-examination “to develop an impression for the jury that Alston created the story implicating Cannon only after learning that Cannon turned on Alston.” Id. The trial court explained that “[a]fter extensive cross-examination on this point, confidence in Alston's story was destroyed and a substantial implication arose that he had merely lied to police and told them Cannon was the shooter in an effort to get back at Cannon.” Id. (alteration in original) (quotation omitted). King and Haskins were both convicted of first-degree murder and criminal conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction and a consecutive twenty to forty year sentence for conspiracy. Id. at 543-44. King was also convicted of carrying a firearm in Philadelphia and sentenced to a concurrent term of imprisonment of one to five years on that count. Id. at 544.

         King and Haskins both appealed and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed their convictions. Id. Haskins filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was denied on September 9, 2008. Id. Haskins filed a Post Conviction Relief Action (“PCRA”) Petition on November 9, 2009. Id. An attorney was appointed to represent Haskins but, believing that Haskins' claims lacked merit, he filed a no merit letter with the PCRA Court and moved to withdraw as counsel. Id. at 544-45. The PCRA Court then appointed a new attorney for Haskins who filed an amended PCRA Petition on January 4, 2011, adding a claim that the Commonwealth violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose to the defense a letter written by Alston. Id. at 545. The letter, which was seized from Alston's home after his March 11, 2005 arrest, included the following statement: “‘cousin Ezel rocked Nate for snitching on lem too.'”[1] Id. Since the letter was in Alston's home at the time of his March 11, 2005 arrest, it was written before Alston told police during his March 11, 2005 interrogation that Cannon, rather than King or Haskins, had murdered Giles. Id. On July 5, 2011, the PCRA Court held a hearing on Haskins' PCRA Petition (in which King had joined). Id. During the hearing, the Commonwealth informed the PCRA Court that the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted King and Haskins had been given a copy of Alston's letter prior to the trial and had “read the letter and stored it in his trial folders.” Id. at 546 (citation omitted). “The ADA never turned the letter over to the defense. The letter did not become known to the defense until Alston provided it to Haskins in prison, at some point after Haskins was convicted.” Id. (citation omitted).

         The PCRA Court “concluded that the Commonwealth's failure to disclose Alston's letter constituted a material Brady violation, particularly because the ADA argued to the jury that Alston fabricated the claim that Cannon committed the murder only after finding out that Cannon blamed him for other murders.” Id. (citation omitted). The PCRA Court ordered a new trial for King and Haskins. Id. (citation omitted). The Commonwealth appealed and, on October 12, 2012, the Superior Court reversed, concluding that, while the Commonwealth should have turned Alston's letter over to King and Haskins, the letter was not material for Brady purposes. Id. at 546, 550, 552. Haskins filed a petition for allowance of appeal of this decision, which was denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on October 29, 2013. Commonwealth v. Haskins, 78 A.3d 1090 (Pa. 2013).

         Haskins filed a timely Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court on November 26, 2013, and subsequently filed several motions for stay and abeyance while he filed a second PCRA Petition in state court. His second PCRA Petition was dismissed on November 20, 2014, and on January 26, 2015, he filed a motion asking that we remove the stay and permit him to file an amended petition. We granted the motion and he filed an Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on February 27, 2015. The Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus asserts one claim for relief: that the prosecutor violated Haskins' 14th Amendment right to due process under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995), by suppressing material evidence crucial to the credibility of a defense witness (the Alston letter) and by knowingly misrepresenting material facts to the jury in violation of Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959) and Miller v. Pate, 386 U.S. 1 (1967).

         In a thorough and well-reasoned Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice recommends that we deny this claim for relief in its entirety. Haskins has filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Where a habeas petition has been referred to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation, the district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. [The Court] may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a petition for habeas corpus may be granted only if (1) the state court's adjudication of the claim “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 if (2) the adjudication “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 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the Supreme Court explained the two components of § 2254(d)(1) as follows:

Under the “contrary to” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Id. at 412-13. In order to determine whether a state court's application of federal law is “‘unreasonable, '” a court must apply an objective standard, such that the relevant application “may be incorrect but still not unreasonable.” Duncan v. Morton, 256 F.3d 189, 196 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10). The test is whether the state court decision “resulted in an outcome that cannot reasonably be justified under existing Supreme Court precedent.” Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI Albion, 171 F.3d 877, 890 (3d Cir. 1999) (en banc). With respect to § 2254(d)(2), “'[f]actual issues determined by a state court are presumed to be correct and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.'” Dellavecchia v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corrs., 819 F.3d 682, 692 (3d Cir. 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 196 (3d Cir. 2000)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Haskins objects to three of the Magistrate Judge's Recommendations:

(1) the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the standard of materiality used by the Superior Court with respect to his Brady claim was not contrary to clearly established federal law;
(2) the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that his argument that the Superior Court's decision was contrary to clearly established federal law because it did not utilize the standard for materiality enunciated in Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), is both procedurally barred and without merit; and
(3) the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the Superior Court did not base its decision on an unreasonable determination of the facts or an unreasonable application of federal law to those facts.

         A. The Brady ...


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