United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RONALD A. WILLIAMS, Petitioner
JAMES PRICE, Respondent, and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE PENNSYLVANIA, Additional Respondent
Stewart Cercone Senior United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on remand from the United States
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in connection with a
petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 filed by Ronald A. Williams
(“Williams” or “Petitioner”). In
accordance with the remand order, the Court held an
evidentiary hearing on April 2 and 3, 2012, the official
transcript of which has been filed of record and considered
by the Court. (Docket No. 131). The parties subsequently
filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and
Williams filed a supplemental memorandum regarding the
Supreme Court's recent decision in Pena-Rodriguez v.
Colorado, 137 S.Ct. 855 (2017). (Docket Nos. 141, 144,
145, 150, 151, 164). After careful consideration of the
parties' submissions and the credible evidence of record,
and for the following reasons, the Court concludes that
Williams is not entitled to relief.
a jury trial that occurred in 1985 in the Court of Common
Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania, Williams was convicted
of first-degree murder, for which he currently is serving a
term of life imprisonment. After unsuccessfully pursuing state
post-conviction relief, Williams filed a petition for a writ
of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania. The District Court issued
an order denying the petition and the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals granted a certificate of appealability.
appeal, Williams argued that his right to an impartial jury
was abridged because the state courts refused in post-trial
proceedings to admit certain evidence of racial bias by
members of the jury, which he had sought to introduce to show
that jurors lied during voir dire when they denied racial
prejudice. The state courts refused to consider the evidence
based on the “no-impeachment” rule, which
generally bars juror testimony for the purpose of impeaching
a verdict. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the
state courts' refusal to receive some of the evidence
violated Williams' clearly established constitutional
rights and remanded the case to this Court for an evidentiary
hearing at which he would “have the opportunity to
introduce the improperly excluded evidence and to attempt to
prove that a juror lied during voir dire.”
Williams, 343 F.3d at 225.
remand, Williams filed a motion to amend his habeas corpus
petition, which Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan denied in an
opinion and order dated September 15, 2009. (Docket No. 91).
On January 14, 2010, Magistrate Judge Lenihan granted
Williams' motion for partial reconsideration and
permitted him to amend the petition to present a claim that
certain jurors lied on voir dire when asked about racial bias
(hereinafter, the “January 2010 order”).
(See Docket No. 103). Specifically, the January 2010
At the evidentiary hearing to be held in this case,
Petitioner may present evidence to demonstrate that Jurors
Geisler, Hancheck, Bowser and Juror Number Two lied on voir
dire when asked about their racial biases, but this evidence
may not include testimony by former jurors concerning
discussions that occurred during deliberations or that
pertain to the decision-making process.
Id. at 8.
Court held an evidentiary hearing on April 2 and 3, 2012, at
which Williams presented testimony by the following
witnesses: Sallie Lane, who was a trial witness for the
prosecution; Rudolph Weaver, who was an alibi witness for the
defense at trial; Paul Bowser, Robert Hancheck and Francis
Geisler, who were trial jurors; Thomas Baughman, who was a
co-worker of Bowser; Richard Goldinger, who was trial counsel
for Williams' brother; Marc Caudel, who formerly was an
investigator at the Federal Public Defender's Office; and
Dr. Samuel Sommers, who is a social psychologist. Williams
also sought to admit an affidavit dated May 31, 1988, by
trial juror Judith Montgomery, who is now deceased.
Respondents presented the testimony of Leo Kamphaus, who was
trial Juror Number Two.
the hearing, the parties submitted their proposed findings of
fact and conclusions of law (Docket Nos. 141, 144, 145) and
responses thereto (Docket Nos. 150, 151). Williams also filed
a supplemental memorandum regarding Pena-Rodriguez.
(Docket No. 164). Accordingly, the matter has been fully
argued and briefed and is ripe for disposition.
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), federal courts have jurisdiction
to entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus
“on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the
judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in
custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties
of the United States.” Federal habeas relief may be
granted “with respect to [a] claim that was adjudicated
on the merits in State court” if the adjudication
“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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The Supreme
Court has emphasized that this standard is “difficult
to meet.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697,
1702 (2014) (quoting Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S.
351, 358 (2013)); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563
U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (“This is a difficult to meet and
highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court
rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given
the benefit of the doubt.”) (internal quotations and
§ 2254(d)(1), “clearly established federal
law” means “the governing legal principle or
principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the
state court renders its decision.” Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). It “refers to
the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme]
Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant
state-court decision.” Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 412 (2000). A state court decision is
“contrary to” clearly established federal law if
the state court (1) “applies a rule that contradicts
the governing law” set forth in Supreme Court precedent
or (2) “confronts a set of facts that are materially
indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and
nevertheless arrives at a result different” from that
reached by the Supreme Court. Id. at 405-06. A state
court decision is an “unreasonable application of
federal law” if the state court “identifies the
correct governing legal principle, ” but
“unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of
the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413.
this case was before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals,
Williams pointed to McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v.
Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), as the Supreme Court
precedent that the state courts contradicted or unreasonably
applied. See Williams, 343 F.3d at 229. In
McDonough, the losing parties in a federal civil
suit argued that they were entitled to a new trial because a
juror had failed to disclose material information in response
to a question posed during voir dire. The Supreme Court held
that “to obtain a new trial in such a situation, a
party must first demonstrate that a juror failed to answer
honestly a material question on voir dire, and then further
show that a correct response would have provided a valid
basis for a challenge for cause.” McDonough,
464 U.S. at 556.
considering whether certain evidence offered by Williams
should have been considered by the state courts to determine
whether a juror lied when questioned about racial bias, the
Court of Appeals concluded that the case should be remanded
for an evidentiary hearing at which Williams would have the
opportunity to make the showing mandated by
McDonough,  i.e., to attempt to prove that a juror
lied during voir dire. See Williams, 343 F.3d at
reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Williams has
not made the requisite showing because the evidence he
presented does not demonstrate that Jurors Geisler, Hancheck,
Bowser and Kamphaus failed to answer honestly on voir dire
when asked about racial bias. Accordingly, Williams is not
entitled to habeas relief.
voir dire in Williams' 1985 trial, the trial court posed
two questions concerning racial bias:
• Do you personally believe that blacks as a group are
more likely to commit crimes of a violent nature involving
• Can you listen to and judge the testimony of a black
person in the same fashion as the testimony of a white
person, giving each its deserved credibility?
Williams, 343 F.3d at 226. All jurors who were
selected to serve answered “no” to the first
question and “yes” to the second question.
maintains that the evidence he presented at the hearing
establishes that one or more jurors harbored racial bias and
did not provide honest answers when asked during voir dire
about their ability to listen to and judge the testimony and
credibility of a black person in the same fashion as a white
person. Respondents argue that Williams produced no direct
evidence that any of the four jurors in question lied during
voir dire when asked about racial bias. According to
Respondents, the evidence showed only that Geisler, Hancheck
and Bowser had used racial slurs at times and places
unrelated to the trial, but that does not establish that they
lied under oath when they stated that they could be fair
Pinholster Does Not Restrict This Court's
Consideration of Evidence Presented
by Williams in Determining Whether He is Entitled to Habeas
little over one year after the January 2010 order was issued,
but one year prior to the evidentiary hearing, the Supreme
Court held that “review under § 2254(d)(1) is
limited to the record that was before the state court that
adjudicated the claim on the merits.”
Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 181. “If a claim has
been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal
habeas petitioner must overcome the limitation of §
2254(d)(1) on the record that was ...