United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, ECF NO. 16 -
F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Williamson filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction
for a murder committed in 1987 and requesting an evidentiary
hearing. ECF No. 1. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey issued
a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that the
habeas corpus petition be dismissed as untimely and the
request for an evidentiary hearing be denied. ECF No. 16.
Williamson timely filed objections to the R&R, ECF No.
20, and later filed supplemental documents in support of his
objections, ECF No. 21. After de novo review and for the
reasons set forth below, the R&R is adopted, the habeas
petition is dismissed as untimely, and the request for an
evidentiary hearing is denied.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Court adopts the factual and procedural history as summarized
by Magistrate Judge Hey in the R&R. In his Objections,
Williamson takes issue with Magistrate Judge Hey's
factual findings because she did not have access to the state
court record at the time and based her findings on the
parties' submissions and the state court dockets.
Pet'r's Objs. 2. The Court later received the state
court record, ECF Nos. 24-25, and, after independent review,
concludes that Magistrate Judge Hey accurately summarized the
facts and procedural history of this case.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
objections to a report and recommendation have been filed
under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the district court must
make a de novo review of those portions of the report to
which specific objections are made. Sample v.
Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989);
Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984)
(“providing a complete de novo determination where only
a general objection to the report is offered would undermine
the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute
to the judicial process”). “District Courts,
however, are not required to make any separate findings or
conclusions when reviewing a Magistrate Judge's
recommendation de novo under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).”
Hill v. Barnacle, 655 F. App'x. 142, 147 (3d
Cir. 2016). The district court “may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the findings and
recommendations” contained in the report. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(C) (2009).
Court has considered Williamson's Objections to the
R&R and conducted a de novo review of his habeas corpus
petition. After a tortuous path through the state courts
involving five petitions under Pennsylvania's
Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann.
§§ 9541-9551, Williamson filed his habeas petition
on October 15, 2014, over seventeen years past the expiration
of the statute of limitations on April 23, 1997. Statutory
tolling of the statute of limitations does not apply because
Williamson's PCRA petitions were untimely, and thus
cannot toll the limitations period. Equitable tolling does
not stay the statute of limitations because Williamson did
not diligently pursue his claims. Nor can Williamson avoid
the statute through a gateway claim of actual innocence,
because the 2012 affidavit of an alleged alibi witness he
presents in support is not newly discovered evidence, and a
reasonable jury could still have found him guilty, even in
light of the affidavit. Therefore, the Court adopts
Magistrate Judge Hey's conclusions in the R&R and
dismisses Williamson's petition as untimely.
Statute of Limitations
Judge Hey correctly found that Williamson's conviction
became final on February 11, 1995, as the Pennsylvania
Superior Court recognized in its opinion reinstating
Williamson's first PCRA petition. ECF No. 7-5, at 2. The
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)
imposes a one-year limitations period on habeas claims from
the date that a conviction becomes final, but because
Williamson's conviction became final before AEDPA's
effective date on April 24, 1996, he had a one year
“grace period” that extended his deadline to
April 23, 1997. See Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109,
111 (3d Cir. 1998). Therefore, in the absence of tolling of
the statute of limitations, Williamson's October 15, 2014
petition is over seventeen years late.
tolling does not apply because the Pennsylvania courts
determined that all of Williamson's PCRA petitions were
untimely. Under the AEDPA, a “properly filed”
PCRA petition tolls the one-year statute of limitations
during the period while it is pending before the state court.
An untimely PCRA petition is not “properly filed”
under the AEDPA, and does not toll the limitations period.
Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 417 (2005).
Williamson filed five PCRA petitions, all of which were
dismissed as untimely by the Pennsylvania courts. Magistrate
Judge Hey correctly found that statutory tolling therefore
does not apply.
Williamson's objections argue that his PCRA petitions
should be considered timely, or their untimeliness should be
excused. For example, he complains that he did not receive a
copy of the January 12, 1995 order dismissing his direct
appeal, so he couldn't comply with the Pennsylvania
appellate rules, and was abandoned by his direct appeal
counsel, which led to a delay in seeking PCRA relief.
Pet'r's Objs. 8. He contends that the prison mailroom
failed to submit his Notice of Appeal of his fourth PCRA
petition, and that the PCRA court's delay of two years in