from the PCRA Order September 29, 2017 In the Court of Common
Pleas of Washington County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., LAZARUS, J., and STRASSBURGER, J.
Robert William Urwin, Jr., challenges the order entered in
the Washington County Court of Common Pleas, denying his
petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act
("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. We
sixteen year old victim's nude body was discovered in a
field in Washington County in February 1977. She died from
blunt force trauma to the head. Investigators located her
clothing scattered nearby, and sealed it as evidence. Though
witnesses at the time stated they had last seen the victim
with Appellant and David Davoli, charges against Davoli were
dismissed at a preliminary hearing. Appellant was not charged
at that time.
case remained unsolved for several decades, until the
victim's clothing was submitted for DNA testing in 2009.
Investigators found that a DNA mixture on the victim's
underwear contained the profiles of the paternal bloodlines
for both Appellant and Davoli. When questioned by police,
Davoli waived his Miranda rights and confessed his
and Appellant's involvement in the victim's death.
proceeded to a bench trial. At trial, Davoli testified that
he and Appellant each had sex with the victim, before
Appellant dragged her from the vehicle and beat her with a
car tool. The court convicted Appellant of third-degree
murder, and sentenced him to 10-20 years' incarceration.
This Court affirmed Appellant's judgment of sentence, and
the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of appeal on
April 2, 2014.
then filed a timely PCRA petition on March 31, 2015. In it,
he raised eleven separate claims, many premised on trial
counsel's alleged errors. He also asserted that while his
case was on appeal, Paul Pozonsky, the judge who presided
over his trial, had been convicted of theft of cocaine from
an evidence locker and disbarred. Appellant claimed the judge
had been using cocaine during the trial, and that such an
incompetent tribunal violated Appellant's right to due
process. The PCRA court, helmed by a different judge, ordered
a hearing at which Appellant's counsel and other
witnesses testified. Ultimately, the court denied PCRA
relief. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal, and this
case is now properly before us.
raises three issues on appeal. He first claims his right to
due process was violated by the court's alleged cocaine
use during trial.
standard of review for issues arising from the denial of PCRA
relief is well-settled. We must determine whether the PCRA
court's ruling is supported by the record and free of
legal error." Commonwealth v. Presley, 193 A.3d
436, 442 (Pa. Super. 2018) (citation omitted). In doing so,
we read the record in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party. See Commonwealth v. Ford, 44 A.3d
1190, 1194 (Pa. Super. 2012). If this review reveals support
for the PCRA court's credibility determinations and other
factual findings, we may not disturb them. See id.
We, however, afford no deference to the PCRA court's
legal conclusions. See id.
theorized in his PCRA petition that Judge Pozonsky was under
the influence of drugs at the time of Appellant's trial.
His basis for this hypothesis was the discovery that Pozonsky
engaged in cocaine theft while a jurist. Pozonsky directed
police officers to deposit cocaine, which had been entered
into evidence in cases he presided over, in an evidence
locker in his courtroom. See Office of Disciplinary
Counsel v. Pozonsky, 177 A.3d 830, 832 (Pa. 2018).
Pozonsky then surreptitiously removed cocaine from the locker
for his personal use. See id. Shortly after his
conduct was discovered, Pozonsky resigned from the bench.
See id., at 833. He was arrested and convicted of
crimes relating to his theft. See id., at 834.
Pozonsky was also disbarred by order of the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court. See id., at 832.
support for his proposition that Pozonsky was under the
influence of cocaine while performing his courtroom duties,
including Appellant's trial - a premise unsupported by
the Supreme Court's lengthy opinion ordering disbarment -
Appellant presented testimony at the PCRA hearing regarding
Pozonsky's demeanor at trial. Specifically, Appellant
called his sister, Ruth Urwin, who testified that Pozonsky
appeared to be "acting funny" and not paying
attention to the proceedings. N.T. Hearing, 2/22/17, at 52.
Ruth testified that she voiced her concerns to
Appellant's attorney, Joseph Francis, after the trial.
See id. Ruth conceded she had never interacted with
Pozonsky before the trial. See id., at 55.
Francis also testified. He stated that while he recalled Ruth
questioned Pozonsky's demeanor, he dismissed these
"because [Pozonsky] always appeared that way."
Id., at 18. Francis explained that he had previously
been one of Pozonsky's law clerks, and that after his
clerkship Francis appeared in Pozonsky's courtroom
"at least five or six times each month for a period of
ten years." Id., at 16. While Francis agreed
Pozonsky appeared "animated" and interjected
several times during Appellant's trial, he averred that
in his experience, it was Pozonsky's regular practice to
ask witnesses questions and that Pozonsky always liked to
keep the pace of his courtroom moving quickly. Id.,
at 16-17. Francis stated Pozonsky had acted that way in his
courtroom from the time Francis first met him. See
id., at 16.
Commonwealth likewise presented testimony at the evidentiary
hearing about then-Judge Pozonsky's behavior. Paul
Schneider, who was counsel for the Commonwealth at
Appellant's trial, testified that he appeared in front of
Pozonsky almost every day for three years for various
proceedings. See id., at 62. Schneider stated that
Pozonsky's behavior during Appellant's trial was
"consistent" with the other experiences Schneider
had with Pozonsky over the years. Id. Schneider
stated nothing about Pozonsky's demeanor at