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Stetter v. Eckert

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 9, 2018




         Before the Court is the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) filed by Petitioner, Jeffrey Stetter (“Petitioner” or “Stetter”). Stetter is currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. For the reasons that follow, the Petition will be dismissed and a certificate of appealability will be denied.

         Relevant and Procedural Background

         Stetter is challenging the judgment of sentence imposed upon him by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on November 2, 2009. Stetter, in a non-jury trial before Judge Donald J. Machen, was convicted on the charges of burglary, robbery, and criminal conspiracy stemming from a home invasion / robbery which occurred on September 18, 2005.[2] Stetter waived his right to a pre-sentence report and proceeded to sentencing following the verdict.

         The factual and procedural history of this case are detailed in the Superior Court's memorandum affirming Stetter's conviction. Commonwealth v. Stetter, No. 711 WDA 2010, 30 A.3d 538 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 13, 2011) (unpublished opinion) (ECF No. 12-2). The evidence at trial is summarized as follows: the victim, Richard Sharp, testified that he was with Stacy Bulford on September 18, 2005, in his trailer. He admitted on cross examination that Bulford was a prostitute and he was paying her to be with him that night. Sharp testified that he left his home around 8:00 PM that evening and returned at approximately 9:30 PM. Upon his return, when he entered the trailer, he was struck by an unknown assailant. He fell to the ground and his waist pack was taken from him. The two assailants fled the scene after the attack. Sharp called 911, resulting in the police's arrival upon the scene, and due to the severity of his injuries, he was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. Sharp testified that he had brought Bulford to the trailer and paid her for sex, and he had done so with other women, including Mary Laurence. N.T. 11/09/09 at 21-22, 24. He also testified that after police had identified Bulford as a possible accomplice, Bulford identified Stetter and Maxwell as the two men who had assaulted him.

         Bulford testified that she was in the trailer when Sharp was attacked. According to Bulford, sometime after Sharp left, Mary Laurence entered the trailer and told Bulford “not to worry about what I'm about to see.” N.T., 11/2/09 at 29. Laurence left the trailer and Bulford went to sleep. She was awakened by the noise and flicked on a light, enabling her to see Stetter and Maxwell. She admitted that she never tried to help Sharp and never emerged from the bedroom. Bulford confirmed that initially she told police that she was in the bedroom and did not see anything. A couple of months after the incident, however, Bulford identified Stetter and George Maxwell as the two individuals who entered Sharp's trailer and assaulted him.

         The final eyewitness to testify was Mary Laurence. Laurence was a co-defendant with Stetter and Maxwell and was charged with burglary and conspiracy. Without objection, her case was severed from Stetter's and Maxwell's trial. N.T. 11/2/09 at 2. She testified under an agreement of probation in exchange for her testimony against Stetter and Maxwell. Laurence acknowledged that she prostituted herself to Sharp. Laurence testified that she, Stetter, and Maxwell had been smoking crack cocaine in a car on September 18, 2005. N.T. 11/2/09 at 48. They needed more money, and Laurence told Stetter and Maxwell she would ask Sharp for money. N.T. 11/2/09 at 49. The group went to Sharp's trailer, but they left because he was not home. A short time later, the group returned to the trailer. Laurence testified that she remained in the car and did not go into the trailer, but that Stetter and Maxwell went inside to talk to Bulford. Approximately 30 minutes later, Stetter and Maxwell returned to the car. She noticed that Maxwell was carrying a “belly bag.” N.T. 11/2/09 at 52. The men informed her that Bulford had invited them into the trailer for couple of beers and that at some point, Bulford said, “Here comes Rich, ” she then turned off the lights and directed them to hide. N.T. 11/2/09 at 53.

         Also testifying for the Commonwealth was Detective Friburger, who responded to the 911 call on September 18, 2005, at approximately 9:30 p.m.

         The defense put forth no witnesses.

         Stetter waived his right to a pre-sentence report and proceeded to sentencing. The Commonwealth invoked the mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 9714 as Stetter had a prior conviction for robbery. The trial court rejected counsel's request for Stetter to be sentenced concurrently with the sentence of five (5) to ten (10) years he was then serving at criminal information 200606819 and a sentence of seven (7) to fourteen (14) years he was serving at criminal information 200806982.[3] Instead, the trial court sentenced Stetter to ten (10) to (20) years imprisonment at the burglary conviction (Count One) to run consecutively to the sentences he was serving. No. further penalty was imposed on the remaining convictions.

         Stetter appealed his conviction and sentence to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The appeal challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, the weight of the evidence, and the fact that the sentence was imposed consecutively rather than concurrently. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on May 11, 2011, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied review by order dated March 1, 2013. (ECF No. 12-3). Stetter did not seek review with the Supreme Court of the United States.

         Unsuccessful on direct appeal, on May 22, 2014, Stetter filed a pro se petition for collateral review under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 - 9546, in which he raised the following four (4) grounds for relief, which are reproduced verbatim:

1. The Court erred in sentencing Defendant to a mandatory 10-20 years pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S., sec. 9714(a)(1) and the prosecutions request for same.
2. MARY LAURENCE wrote Defendant in 2012 that she desired to help him reduce his sentences by confessing she had committed perjury against him at trial and why.
3. STACY BULFORD confessed to 2 people, post-trial, that she was a participant in robbing the victim and that she had lied in identifying Defendant and why.
4. Trial counsel was ineffective in failing to establish facts establishing BULFORD had committed perjury to credit her identifications of the accused.

         PCRA Petition (ECF No. 12-3 at 32). Robert Carey, Jr., Esquire, was appointed to represent Stetter. On August 27, 2014, Attorney Carey filed a “no merit” letter and requested to withdraw from the case. (ECF No. 12-3). On September 2, 2014, Judge Machen granted the request to withdraw and issued a Notice of Intent to Dismiss the PCRA petition without an evidentiary hearing. On September 30, 2014, Stetter filed a pro se response to the notice of the court's intent to dismiss. By ordered entered October 7, 2014, Judge Machen dismissed Stetter's PCRA petition.[4]

         On November 13, 2014, Stetter filed a pro se notice of appeal. Due to the retirement of Judge Machen, the case was assigned to Judge Joseph K. Williams, III. Judge Williams issued a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion on February 11, 2015. (ECF No. 12-4).

         Stetter raised the following ineffective assistance of counsel claims on appeal, which are reproduced verbatim:

1. P.C.R.A. counsel was ineffective for failure to raise trial counsel's ineffectiveness, for failure to object to trial court's application of 42 Pa.C.S. 9714 in sentencing Petitioner to a mandatory minimum of 10-20 yrs. Layered ineffective assistance of counsel, where counsel failed to object to the Court “error” in sentencing.
2. Ineffective assistance of appeal counsel, counsel failed to investigate after-discovered evidence of commonwealth's key witness perjured testimony.
3. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to unequivocally establish facts at trial which would have prove the commonwealth's key testified falsely.
4. Ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to investigate the witness's and the alleged co-conspirator, Mary Laurence.

         Superior Court Opinion, 10/22/2015 at 7-8 (citing Appellant's Brief at 1, 5). (ECF No. 12-5). On October 22, 2015, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the PCRA order. Stetter did not seek further review.

         Having been denied relief in state court, on October 28, 2015, Stetter filed in this Court a pro se habeas petition and brief in support.[5] (ECF Nos. 4 and 6). The Court is somewhat hampered in identifying the grounds on which Stetter seeks habeas relief because in his Petition Stetter does not identify any ground and does not identify any supporting facts. See Petition, No. 12 at pgs. 6 - 9. (ECF No. 4). Rather, Stetter states “See attached.” However, nothing attached to the Petition identifies the grounds on which Stetter seeks habeas relief. With that said, Page (V) of Stetter's Brief (ECF No. 6) lists the following “Questions Asked, ” which are repeated verbatim:


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