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Boxley v. Beard

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 13, 2020




          JUAN R. SÁNCHEZ, C.J.

         Petitioner Richard Boxley seeks discovery in support of his pending petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Although discovery is not available as a matter of course in habeas corpus proceedings, the Court may authorize discovery in such proceedings for good cause. After considering Boxley's two motions for discovery, the Commonwealth's answers to the motions, and the claims in Boxley's habeas petition, the Court finds Boxley has demonstrated good cause for much of the discovery he seeks. Boxley's motions for discovery will therefore be granted in part and denied in part as set forth herein and in the accompanying order.


         On October 19, 2000, Boxley was convicted of first-degree murder and other offenses in connection with the June 11, 1997, shooting death of Jason Bolton. Boxley was sentenced to death on the first-degree murder charge. His codefendant, Jose Busanet (also known as “Tito Black”), was tried separately for Bolton's murder in February 1999. Busanet was also convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

         At Boxley's trial, two witnesses identified him as a participant in the shooting.[1] Tamicka Johnson testified that she saw Boxley (whom she had not previously met) and Busanet at the home of LaDonna Johnson before and after the shooting. According to Tamicka Johnson, before the shooting, Boxley and Busanet discussed a plan to kill Bolton. Both men had guns: Boxley had a .357 magnum revolver, and Busanet had a 9 mm handgun. After the shooting, Boxley and Busanet were at LaDonna Johnson's house with a third coconspirator, Wilson Melendez. While there, Busanet told Tamicka Johnson he and Boxley had “got[ten]” Bolton. Boxley, 838 A.2d at 616.

         Melendez also testified for the prosecution at Boxley's trial. Melendez stated he first met Boxley at LaDonna Johnson's house on the day of the shooting and provided the following account of the shooting. At Busanet's request, Melendez left the house to go to the grocery store with Boxley. On the way, Melendez spotted Bolton. Boxley went to tell Busanet, and the three men then followed Bolton. As Boxley approached, his gun accidentally discharged. Boxley pulled the gun out and began firing at Bolton. Busanet also shot at Bolton, who died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Boxley, Busanet, and Melendez fled the scene and returned to LaDonna Johnson's house, where Boxley and Busanet celebrated the shooting.

         The Commonwealth also presented testimony from a ballistics expert, Pennsylvania State Trooper Kurt Tempinski. Tempinski testified that shell casings recovered from the scene of the shooting matched those from a 9 mm gun linked to Busanet, and that two metal bullet jackets recovered from the scene matched those from a .357 magnum that had been turned over to the police and identified as having been used by Boxley.

         On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Boxley's conviction but vacated his death sentence. On remand, Boxley was again sentenced to death in September 2004 following a new penalty hearing. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed this death sentence in May 2008, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in November 2008.

         In February 2009, Boxley filed a pro se Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County. Boxley later filed a counseled PCRA petition, but the proceedings on that petition stalled, as described in the order entered in this case on September 27, 2019.

         In light of the lack of meaningful progress on his state PCRA petition, on March 27, 2019, Boxley filed the instant federal habeas petition and consolidated memorandum of law. Boxley argued he should be excused from exhausting his federal constitutional claims in state court because the inordinate delay in the state PCRA proceedings rendered the state system effectively unavailable to him. The Commonwealth moved to stay Boxley's federal habeas petition and hold it in abeyance pending the outcome of the state proceedings. On September 27, 2019, the Court denied the stay request without prejudice to the Commonwealth's right to renew the request once there was evidence the proceedings had resumed in state court. In his opposition to the stay and abey petition, Boxley noted that several discovery motions filed in state court remained outstanding. The Court's order denying the petition directed Boxley to file any outstanding discovery motions in this Court.

         In his federal habeas petition, Boxley raises 31 claims for relief. Of particular relevance to the instant discovery motions, Boxley alleges the Commonwealth violated its obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to produce the Reading Police Department's interview of Rafael Figueroa (also known as “Lata”), who allegedly dropped the shooters off at LaDonna Johnson's house before the shooting and picked them up afterwards in a maroon van. Boxley alternatively argues his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate Figueroa and call him as a witness. Boxley also raises several claims regarding the ballistics evidence, including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and Brady and other due process violations relating to this evidence. His claims include that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and challenge the firearms and toolmark examination, testimony, and evidence and to seek independent testing of the ballistics evidence.

         On October 16, 2019, Boxley filed two discovery motions. The first seeks discovery regarding Figueroa, the alleged getaway driver. Boxley claims Figueroa was interviewed by the Reading Police Department in connection with the Bolton homicide but the interview was never produced to him in discovery. The second seeks discovery of the ballistics evidence that was evaluated by the Commonwealth's expert along with certain documentation regarding that expert's analysis. Boxley seeks this evidence so that his expert may test it independently. The Commonwealth opposes both motions. As explained below, Boxley's motion ...

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