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Vogt v. Coleman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 25, 2017

STEVEN DAVID VOGT, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT COLEMAN, Respondent. ECF No. 49

          Steven David Vogt BN-3436 SCI Fayette Counsel for Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case is before the Court on a Motion for Relief from Judgment filed by Petitioner, Steven David Vogt, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) (“Rule 60(b)”). (ECF No. 49). This is the fifth Rule 60(b) motion (ECF Nos. 31, 37, 40, 42) Vogt has filed since his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was dismissed as untimely on January 8, 2010, (ECF No. 24). In this motion he argues that he is entitled to relief based on the recent United States Third Circuit case Dennis v. Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 834 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2016) (en banc). For the following reasons, his motion will be denied.

         I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History[1]

         The facts, as set forth by the Superior Court, are as follows. On May 12, 1990, Francis Landry picked up Michael Sopo, Margaret Zawodniak and Steven Vogt in his blue Nissan and took them to his residence in Export, Pennsylvania where, except for Landry, they drank beer. A while later, Walter Cowfer came to Landry's residence. Cowfer, Sopo and Zawodniak then left and went to Arthur McClearn's apartment where they discussed Landry's murder. The parties returned to Landry's residence where they resumed drinking beer. At some point, Cowfer went to Landry's car where Landry was sleeping and asked to take the car to Cupec's Lake. He then ordered Landry to get in the back seat where he was surrounded by two of the others. They drove to the lake where they ordered Landry out of the car and pushed him over a hill where he fell a 30-40 foot drop into the lake. The others threw rocks into the water and rolled a huge boulder into the water hitting Landry. They then went back to the car, drank some more beer and left the area. The next day, Landry's drowned body was discovered by some area scuba divers. Several days later, State Trooper Strawbridge received a call from the Monroe County Sheriff's Department in Tavernier, Florida that Sopo, Vogt and Cowfer were in custody there and in possession of the registration plate of Landry's car and his wallet.

         Subsequently, Vogt, Cowfer, Zawodniak, Sopo and McClearn were arrested and charged with Landry's murder. Sopo pled guilty to criminal conspiracy and McClearn pled guilty to third degree murder; both men testified on behalf of the Commonwealth during the trial of Vogt, Cowfer and Zawodniak, which commenced before a jury on January 29, 1991, in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania. On January 31, 1991, Cowfer and Vogt were found guilty of Murder in the First Degree, Robbery, Theft, Kidnapping and Criminal Conspiracy; Zawodniak was acquitted of all charges. Following the denial of post-verdict motions, on June 17, 1991, Vogt was sentenced to life imprisonment.

         II. Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings

         Vogt's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was dated April 14, 2008 and docketed on April 16, 2008. In his Petition, he raised the following claims.

1. Prosecutorial misconduct in illegally suppression/withholding [sic] Brady material; the identity of male party to confession.
2. Prosecutorial misconduct in illegally redacting trial testimony of Com. witnesses Deiseroth and Mayhugh.
3. Prosecutorial misconduct in the knowing use of false evidence to convict Petitioner.
4. Prosecutions [sic] knowing use of false evidence when it elicited only some of the details of witness Sopo's plea agreement.

         On January 8, 2010, this Court dismissed the Petition as untimely, finding that it was not filed within the AEDPA's one-year statutory limitations period, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d), for any of his claims. Vogt then appealed and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request for a certificate of appealability on May 24, 2010.

         Vogt filed his first Rule 60(b) motion on September 24, 2010. In his motion, he argued that the Court's order of dismissal should be vacated because he had new evidence that proved his innocence; specifically, an affidavit from Margaret Zawodniak dated August 27, 2010, stating that Vogt severely injured his ankle from a drunken fall earlier that night and was too intoxicated to have played a part in Landry's death. She claimed that on the night Landry was killed Vogt was with her in the car or just right outside of it throwing up. Vogt also had an affidavit from Tricia Holfelder, his assistant, who stated that she had spoken to Michael Sopo, and, although he was too reluctant to provide a sworn statement, he represented to her that Vogt had nothing to do with Landry's death. Sopo also presumably relayed to Holfelder that his testimony was coerced. Finally, Vogt provided the Court with the March 1997 letter written by Cowfer, which stated that Vogt was innocent. Vogt's Rule 60(b) motion was denied because he had not first exhausted his newly discovered evidence claim in the state courts. His request for reconsideration of that order was also denied. He then filed an appeal to the Third Circuit, ...


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