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Garrett v. McGinley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 3, 2019

THOMAS MCGINLEY, et al. Respondents.

          Brann Judge



         I. Introduction

         Isiah Garrett is a convicted double murderer who has filed two federal habeas corpus petitions with this court. Garrett v. McGinley, No. 4:17-cv-1574; Garrett v. McGinley, No. 4:17-cv-2054. In these habeas corpus petitions, Garrett invites us to embrace an extraordinary proposition. According to Garrett, he has twice been the victim of cruelly unjust coincidences, in that he was, on two separate occasions, convicted of murders he did not commit in trials which were fundamentally unfair.

         The facts suggest otherwise. In contrast to Garrett's claims, the evidence appears to reveal that Garrett participated in two murders in the span of three weeks. The crimes for which Garrett is now convicted are remarkably similar. They all took place in a short span of time. Each killing involved gunshot wounds to the victims, and in each instance the evidence of Garrett's guilt was clear and compelling.

         Moreover, in both cases, juries that heard the evidence and convicted Garrett of his role in these slayings. Furthermore, in both cases, Garrett then had a full and fair opportunity to seek post-conviction relief in state court, both through direct appeals and through state PCRA litigation. However, in each case, Garrett's efforts were unavailing, since the state courts found that Garrett's murder convictions were amply sustained by the evidence, and Garrett had received fair trials with the assistance of competent defense counsel.

         Finally, in each instance, Garrett has pursued federal habeas corpus relief in a tardy, and feckless fashion following the conclusion of his state court litigation, filing untimely federal habeas corpus petitions which raised seemingly meritless claims.

         Set against this backdrop, for the reasons discussed in greater detail below, we recommend that this petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied.

         II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         Before the court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the petitioner, Isiah Garrett, a state inmate currently serving two life sentences in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township.[1] In January 2015, following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Garrett was convicted of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person, charges that arose from the shooting death of Kendrell Washington.

         The pertinent facts of the instant case were aptly summarized by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in its decision affirming Garrett's conviction and sentence:

On November 16, 2010, at approximately 8:30 p.m., Mr. Washington and Paris Stanback agreed to meet to purchase and smoke a $5.00 bag of marijuana. They met at a convenience store at the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Harrisburg. As the men walked north on 16th street, [Garrett] approached them holding a revolver. He pointed the gun at them and demanded that they “give up the weed.” (N.T. Trial, 2/26/13, at 67). He ordered them to “get the fuck on the ground.” (Id.). Mr. Washington told [Garrett] that they did not have any marijuana and he and Stanback dropped to the ground. Mr. Washington reached into his pocket and gave [Garrett] his cell phone. Mr. Stanback closed his eyes and heard the sound of a gun clicking. [Garrett] fired a single bullet, which entered the back of Mr. Washington's head, killing him. [Garrett] said “did I sleep that little nigger[?]” and ran from the scene. (Id. at 70). Witness Veronica Vinson was walking nearby on 16th street at that time. She heard a gunshot and then observed three men run past her.
On December 10, 2010, police officers executed a search warrant on [Garrett]'s residence. They recovered two revolvers in close proximity to ammunition from his bedroom. On February 4, 2011, police showed Ms. Vinson a photo array, and she identified [Garrett] as the last of the three men that ran past her on the night of the incident.
On February 25, 2013, [Garrett] proceeded to a jury trial. On February 28, 2013, the jury found him guilty of the above-stated offenses. On April 5, 2013, the trial court sentenced [Garrett] to a term of life imprisonment.

Commonwealth v. Garrett, 2015 WL 7573510, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 14, 2015).

         In his appeal of his conviction and sentence, Garrett challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his second-degree murder conviction. He also argued that the Commonwealth did not have sufficient evidence to prove that he was the shooter or to prove intent. Id. at *3. In affirming his conviction and sentence, the Superior Court found that the Commonwealth did not have to prove that Garrett was the shooter or that he had the intent to kill, as Garrett was convicted of second-degree murder. Id. at *5. Accordingly, the Superior Court found that the Commonwealth's evidence was sufficient to prove that Garrett acted as an accomplice to the murder, and that the underlying intent to commit the robbery was present, which permitted a conviction for second-degree murder. Id.

         Garrett then filed a petition under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 et seq., on November 3, 2015. This petition was ultimately dismissed on October 7, 2016, and Garrett's subsequent appeal to the Superior Court was dismissed on February 1, 2017 for failure to file a brief. (See Doc. 9, at 22-23).

         The instant habeas corpus petition was filed on September 5, 2017, seven months after the dismissal of Garrett's PCRA appeal. (Doc. 1). In his petition, Garrett raises three grounds on which he believes he is entitled to relief: (1) he received an “illegal” sentence for second-degree murder; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective; and (3) his due process rights were violated when his PCRA counsel was permitted to withdraw. (Id.) The respondents have filed a partial response to the petition, contending that the petition is time-barred. (Doc. 9).

         Because we conclude that Garrett's petition is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and is lacking in merit, ...

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