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Mitchell v. Walsh

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2017

EDWARD MITCHELL, Petitioner
v.
JEROME WALSH, Respondent

          Schwab, Chief Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane, Judge

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab, recommending the denial of Defendant's amended petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 94.) Upon review of the amended § 2254 petition, the Report and Recommendation, and Petitioner's objections thereto, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 10, 2001, a jury convicted Petitioner Edward Mitchell and his co-defendants, Kariem Eley and Lester Eiland, of second-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery in connection with the July 2000 homicide and robbery of Angel DeJesus in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Com. v. Mitchell, No. 782-2014, 2015 WL 7726738, at *1-2 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 12, 2015). Petitioner is serving a term of life imprisonment for second-degree murder at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 94 at 16; see Doc. No. 19 at 4.)

         Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus submitted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on December 28, 2009 (Doc. No. 1), and an amended petition on October 19, 2010 (Doc. No. 19). In his amended § 2254 petition, Petitioner raises three grounds for relief: (1) the trial court's jury charge defining reasonable doubt violated Petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and right to a fair trial; (2) the prosecution “improperly introduced a prejudicial statement of a non-testifying co-defendant” in violation of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause; and (3) the Petitioner's actual innocence claim was erroneously denied by the Pennsylvania state courts. (Doc. No. 19 at 8-10.)

         On December 12, 2016, Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that the amended petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied. (Doc. No. 94.) Petitioner filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on January 10, 2017. (Doc. No. 99.) Petitioner filed a brief in support of his objections on January 10, 2017 (Doc. No. 100), and a motion to supplement the record on January 31, 2017 (Doc. No. 101).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), the writ of habeas corpus may only be granted on behalf of a petitioner in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court if that petitioner “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Federal courts may not grant habeas relief with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits at the state court level unless the state court's decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or “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, ” § 2254(d)(2). Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000).[1]

         III. DISCUSSION

         Petitioner filed eight objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 99.) Six of the objections concern Petitioner's Confrontation Clause challenge, one objection addresses the trial court's jury charge defining reasonable doubt, and the final objection pertains to Petitioner's actual innocence claim. (Id.) The Court first addresses Petitioner's challenge under the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause.

         A. Sixth Amendment confrontation right

         Petitioner contends that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment confrontation right by (1) admitting the testimony of Matthew LeVan, which detailed co-defendant Lester Eiland's confession to murdering Angel DeJesus, and (2) failing to effectively provide a limiting instruction as to those statements. (Doc. No. 100 at 37, 39.) Petitioner's Sixth Amendment challenge focuses on the following testimony offered by Matthew LeVan during Petitioner's joint trial with Kariem Eley and Lester Eiland:

Q. Now, if you can, describe for the jury the conversation you had with Lester Eiland while you were in the jail cell playing cards.
A. He said about the sawed-off shotgun was used and a .380 pistol, and there was two other guns used and one was hidden in a brick close to where it happened at.
Q. Did he say what kind of crime it was?
A. Homicide
Q. Or began as?
A. Homicide - no, it was a ...

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