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Wade v. Monroe County District Attorney

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 15, 2018

ROBERT MUIR WADE, Plaintiff,
v.
MONROE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a federal civil rights action, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, Robert Muir Wade, is a state prisoner incarcerated at SCI Dallas, located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole. Appearing through counsel, he alleges that the defendants' failure to release certain physical evidence to him for DNA testing has violated his federal constitutional rights. He seeks an order from this Court directing the defendants to release this evidence for DNA testing, plus costs and attorney fees.

         I. Factual Background

         We defer to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which has ably summarized the facts underlying Wade's criminal conviction:

[Wade] and the victim had known each other for approximately six years and had lived together at one point during their relationship. Although [Wade] was married, he and the victim had sexual relations until at least two months before the victim's death.
As the victim did not own a vehicle, [Wade] routinely drove her to and from work. [Wade] admitted that he drove the victim to work on November 26, 1996, the day she was last seen alive. It was also confirmed that the victim made various telephone calls to [Wade] that day from her workplace. The victim had also telephoned her mother and explained that she was going to meet [Wade] after work to shop for a vehicle. Several business cards of car dealers were found in the victim's pockets. [Wade] testified that he talked to the victim at approximately 5:00 p.m., which was also the last time she was seen alive. [The victim's] body was discovered six days later, on December 2, 1996.
On December 3, 1996, a search warrant was issued in New Jersey for [Wade's] automobile. During the search, the police found bloodstains on the back of the passenger seat. The autopsy revealed that the victim had bled from the nose and that there was a substantial amount of blood around her mouth and on the top of her turtleneck. The Commonwealth introduced evidence establishing that the blood found in the vehicle matched the victim's blood within 1 of 207, 000 in the African-American population.
In the trunk of [Wade's] automobile, the police discovered plastic shopping bags. One of these bags contained “Pathmark” brand products and a receipt from a “Pathmark” store in Montclair, New Jersey[, ] dated November 26, 1996. The receipt was timed at approximately 1:25 p.m. and had the victim's name on it. The information on the receipt was corroborated with a timed videotape depicting the victim at this store purchasing items found in the shopping bags. The victim was wearing the same clothes that she was found in when her body was discovered on December 2, 1996.
The garbage bag that the body was found in also led to evidence linking [Wade] to the crime. On December 3, 1996, [Wade's] wife consented to a search of their home. During the search, the police found clothing that belonged to the victim. [Wade's] wife gave police a garbage bag, which was identical to the bag in which the victim was found. Two days later, while executing a search of [Wade's] home on December 5, 1996, the police found a box of these particular garbage bags in the basement.
The garbage bags in this case were unusual and proved to be important circumstantial evidence. The Commonwealth presented two experts in bag manufacturing to testify about the garbage bags. Frank Ruiz, one of the experts, testified that the bag in which the body was found and the bags discovered in [Wade's] home were manufactured by the same company within the same eight hours. Tests revealed that they were institutional garbage bags, not commonly sold in the consumer market. Further, the process by which this particular garbage bag was manufactured revealed that it was extremely uncommon within the garbage bag industry.

Commonwealth v. Wade, No. 2041 EDA 2012, 2013 WL 11273719, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. Mar. 20, 2013) (unpublished opinion) (brackets omitted). In 1998, Wade was arrested and charged with the victim's murder. Id. at *2.

         II. Procedural History

         On April 3, 2000, following a jury trial, Wade was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County for first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). On July 18, 2000, Wade was sentenced to serve a term of mandatory life imprisonment without parole for the first-degree murder conviction and a term of 1 to 2 years imprisonment for abuse of a corpse. Id. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on October 12, 2001. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. 3406 EDA 2000 (Pa. Super. Ct.). Nearly a year later, on September 10, 2001, Wade filed a nunc pro tunc petition for allocatur with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which was denied on December 16, 2002. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. 208 MM 2002 (Pa.).

         On June 9, 2003, Wade filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Wade v. Warden of SCI Rockview, No. 4:03-cv-00952 (M.D. Pa. filed June 9, 2003). On December 2, 2004, Wade's petition was denied by this Court. Id. Wade filed an untimely appeal to the Third Circuit, which remanded the case for this Court to determine in the first instance whether a certificate of eligibility should issue. Id. On February 7, 2006, this Court declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Id. On December 21, 2006, the Third Circuit likewise denied Wade's request for a certificate of appealability. Id.

         In the meantime, Wade filed a pro se PCRA petition in the state trial court on August 23, 2004. Counsel was appointed thereafter to represent Wade in the PCRA proceedings. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). On February 7, 2005, the PCRA court denied Wade's PCRA petition as untimely filed. Id. The denial of this first PCRA petition was affirmed on appeal by the Superior Court on August 22, 2005. Commonwealth v. Wade, 885 A.2d 587 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (table decision) (No. 586 EDA 2005).

         On or about September 1, 2005, Wade submitted a pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing for filing in the state trial court. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). Because he was represented by counsel of record, the trial court forwarded the motion to his attorney without docketing or recording it, as required under state rules of civil procedure. Id.

         On or about May 8, 2006, Wade filed a second pro se PCRA petition, which was denied by the PCRA court on May 9, 2006, as having been previously litigated, and therefore barred from further review. Id. The denial of this second PCRA petition was affirmed on appeal by the Superior Court on November 9, 2006. Commonwealth v. Wade, 915 A.2d 152 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006) (table decision) (No. 1372 EDA 2006).

         On or about June 12, 2006, Wade filed a second pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). In this motion, Wade sought testing of the following evidence: (1) blood stains collected from Wade's vehicle; (2) any semen found on the victim; (3) finger and palm print analysis of latent prints on the garbage bag in which the victim's body was found; (4) hairs found on the passenger-side floor mats that were microscopically compared to the victim's hair and found to be similar; (5) hairs found on the driver-side rear floor; and (6) other hairs found in the vehicle that were not suitable for comparison. (Doc. 23, at 3; Doc. 23-2, at 104). On December 4, 2006, the state trial court notified Wade of its intention to deny the petition on multiple grounds. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). On December 27, 2006, the state trial court denied the motion for the stated reasons that Wade failed to meet the requirements for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence that was available prior to trial, and that there was no reasonable probability that testing would produce favorable results that would establish his actual innocence of the offense for which he was convicted. (Doc. 23-2, at 105). The denial of this second motion for DNA testing was affirmed on appeal by the Superior Court on December 10, 2007. Commonwealth v. Wade, 945 A.2d 771 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007) (table decision) (No. 190 EDA 2007). In particular, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the requested DNA testing, regardless of its results, would not have demonstrated Wade's actual innocence. (Doc. 23-2, at 105-06 & n.10). Four months later, on or about April 2, 2008, Wade filed a nunc pro tunc petition for allocatur with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which was denied on September 2, 2008. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. 80 MM 2008 (Pa.).

         On December 9, 2011, Wade filed his third motion for post-conviction DNA testing, this time appearing through counsel. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). This third motion sought additional testing not requested in the second motion for DNA testing, including the following evidence: (1) the fingernails of the victim and any scrapings from those fingernails; (2) the victim's yellow turtleneck sweater, which had blood stains on it; (3) the victim's leather coat, bra, underpants, pantyhose, and shoes; (4) the trash bag in which the victim's body was found;[1] and (5) the contents of the victim's coat, which were removed and inventoried by police investigators. (Doc. 21, at 3-4; Doc. 23, at 4; Doc. 23-2, at 45 & nn.1-4). On March 21, 2012, Wade filed a supplement to his third motion for DNA testing, requesting that these same pieces of evidence be tested for “touch DNA, ” using new testing technologies not previously available. (Doc. 23-2, .at 109-11 & nn.1-4). On June 15, 2012, the state PCRA court denied the motion. Commonwealth v. Wade, Docket No. CP-45-CR-0000639-1998 (Monroe Cty. C.C.P.). In denying his motion, the PCRA court considered the evidence presented at trial and the particular testing requested, and it found that there was no reasonable probability that testing would produce favorable results that would establish his actual innocence of the offense for which he was convicted. (Doc. 23-2, at 12-15). The denial of this third motion for DNA testing was affirmed on appeal by the Superior Court on March 20, 2013. Commonwealth v. Wade, 69 A.3d 1297 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013) (table decision); Commonwealth v. Wade, No. 2041 EDA 2012, 2013 WL 11273719 (Pa. Super. Ct. Mar. 20, 2013) (unpublished opinion). In affirming the PCRA court decision, the Superior Court found that, in light of the evidence presented at trial,

even assuming DNA testing would reveal DNA from someone other than [Wade] or the victim on the multiple items [Wade] seeks to have tested, [Wade] does not demonstrate it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror confronted with the DNA and other evidence would find [Wade] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Wade, 2013 WL 11273719, at *3. Wade filed a timely petition for allocatur with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which was denied on November 15, 2013. Commonwealth v. Wade, 80 A.3d 777 (Pa. 2013) (table decision) (No. 277 MAL 2013).

         Appearing through counsel, Wade filed his original complaint in this action on March 24, 2015. (Doc. 1). The original complaint named three defendants: (a) the Monroe County District Attorney's Office; (b) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and (c) E. David Christine, District Attorney for Monroe County, sued in his official capacity only. (Id.). Wade seeks injunctive relief only. (Id.).

         On April 18, 2015, the defendants filed their answer to the complaint. (Doc. 6). On August 5, 2015, Wade moved for leave to amend his complaint to eliminate the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a defendant to the action based on its immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 7). On August 10, 2015, the Court granted Wade's motion, and the Commonwealth was terminated as a defendant to this action. (Doc. 9).

         On October 14, 2016, following the exchange of discovery, the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, together with a statement of material facts and a brief in support. (Doc. 20; Doc. 21; Doc. 22). On November 4, 2016, Wade filed his answer to the statement of facts, together with several documentary exhibits and a brief in opposition to summary judgment. (Doc. 23; Doc. 24). On September 29, 2017, we denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed three of the five counts of the plaintiff's complaint sua sponte for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 25; Doc. 26).

         On January 10, 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, together with a statement of material facts and a brief in support. (Doc. 32; Doc. 33; Doc. 34). On January 31, 2018, the defendants filed their answer to the statement of facts, together with a brief in opposition to summary judgment. (Doc. 36; Doc. 37). On February 14, 2018, the ...


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