24 A.3d 557 (R.I. 2011), 2008-156-Appeal, DeCiantis v. State

Docket Nº:2008-156-Appeal.
Citation:24 A.3d 557
Opinion Judge:ROBINSON, Justice
Party Name:Anthony DeCIANTIS v. STATE of Rhode Island.
Attorney:James J. McCormick, Esq., for Applicant. Aaron L. Weisman, Department of Attorney General, for State of Rhode Island.
Judge Panel:Present: SUTTELL, C.J., FLAHERTY, and ROBINSON, JJ. Justice GOLDBERG and Justice INDEGLIA did not participate.
Case Date:July 12, 2011
Court:Supreme Court of Rhode Island
 
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24 A.3d 557 (R.I. 2011)

Anthony DeCIANTIS

v.

STATE of Rhode Island.

No. 2008-156-Appeal.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

July 12, 2011

Page 558

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 559

James J. McCormick, Esq., for Applicant.

Aaron L. Weisman, Department of Attorney General, for State of Rhode Island.

Present: SUTTELL, C.J., FLAHERTY, and ROBINSON, JJ.

OPINION

ROBINSON, Justice

The applicant, Anthony DeCiantis, appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court dismissing his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, the applicant contends that the hearing justice erred in four respects: (1) in incorrectly " characterizing" the applicant's claim as being " that the state wrongfully failed to disclose only one of William Ferle's charged crimes; " 1 (2) by erroneously " ruling that the [s]tate had no obligation to inform the [applicant] of William Ferle's uncharged crimes; " (3) by erroneously " holding [applicant] to a higher standard of ‘ materiality,’ * * * than the standard required for the [s]tate's deliberate withholding of exculpatory evidence; " and (4) by finding that no prosecutorial misconduct had been committed in the applicant's case. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I Facts and Travel

A The Applicant's Murder Trial

The applicant, Anthony DeCiantis, first appealed to this Court from a conviction by a Superior Court jury on June 7, 1984; he was convicted of murder in the first degree, the victim of that murder being one Dennis Roche. As a result of that conviction, Mr. DeCiantis received a life sentence— to be served consecutively to other sentences that he was then serving. Over a quarter of a century ago, this Court affirmed the judgment of conviction. State v. DeCiantis, 501 A.2d 365 (R.I.1985) (hereinafter DeCiantis I ).

Page 560

In DeCiantis I, 501 A.2d at 365, we summarized the testimony and evidence presented at applicant's criminal trial— stating that the " state's evidence established a motive for the killing and linked [applicant] to the murder of Dennis Roche * * *." One witness testified at the murder trial that he saw two men " force the victim into a car driven by Anthony DeCiantis." Id. Three other witnesses " testified about separate occasions on which [applicant] had admitted to killing Roche." Id. at 366. One of those three witnesses was William Ferle. As it is the trial testimony of Mr. Ferle that is the primary focus of applicant's appeal to this Court from the denial of his application for postconviction relief, we shall provide a brief summary of that testimony to the extent necessary to consider applicant's appellate arguments.

1. The Testimony of William Ferle 2

William Ferle testified for the prosecution at the murder trial of Mr. DeCiantis in 1984; he stated that, as of the time of trial, he had known Mr. DeCiantis for over five years. Mr. Ferle testified that, on an evening in December of 1981, he saw applicant at a nightclub. According to Mr. Ferle, it was on that evening at the nightclub that applicant told him that he had killed Mr. Roche. Mr. Ferle also testified that, on more than one occasion, Mr. DeCiantis had told him his reason for having killed the victim; it was the testimony of Mr. Ferle that applicant stated that " Dennis Roche kept annoying him and throwing it in his face * * * about his brother being killed on Halloween night and that it might be his turn the next coming Halloween night." Mr. Ferle further testified that, on a few other occasions, applicant repeated his admission that he had committed the murder.

On cross-examination by defense counsel, Mr. Ferle was confronted with evidence of a 1982 verdict finding him guilty on charges of conspiracy and bank fraud. Mr. Ferle admitted to same, and he admitted that he had been sentenced to one year— six months to serve and six months of probation. Mr. Ferle also admitted on cross-examination during the murder trial that there was then pending a criminal information charging him with obtaining money under false pretenses. Mr. Ferle was also confronted with a pending indictment charging him with the robbery of " the 14 Carat Gold Store," and he admitted that he had been indicted on that charge. Mr. Ferle also admitted that, pursuant to another indictment, he was facing a murder charge. Finally, Mr. Ferle admitted that he had been indicted for the crime of arson in the first degree in connection with the burning of a farm in Cranston.

After defense counsel had confronted Mr. Ferle with these various pending charges, the following exchange between defense counsel and Mr. Ferle took place:

" Q So, are you telling us sir, that you are not disturbed about the fact that you have three indictments pending against you charging capital offenses in this [s]tate?

" * * *

" A Well, I guess everybody once .. would be disturbed but that ain't why I am here. I just came here to tell the truth.

" Q Out of the goodness of your heart because you want to help the system?

" A Well, I gave my word that I would tell the truth of .. about any murders

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that I was aware of and that is what I did and that is all I am here is to tell the truth."

Defense counsel then asked Mr. Ferle what promises and inducements had been offered to him in exchange for his testimony. Mr. Ferle indicated that nothing had been promised to him. He said that he had let it be known what he " would like to happen," but he testified that there had not yet been any " final commitments." When asked in a follow-up question what he " would like to happen," Mr. Ferle stated that he was interested in protection for him and for his family due to the fact that he was providing testimony " against top organized crime figures," who he said would kill him if they could " get to [him]." He added that he was also interested in serving whatever time he would have to serve in the custody of the State Police and not in prison— " because they can get to you in a prison."

When questioned again whether or not the " pendency of charges" against him concerned him, Mr. Ferle reiterated that he was " here to tell the truth." He stated that he had " made it [his] business that [he] wanted to clean up [his] life and just do the right thing." When further pressed by defense counsel as to whether or not he had made inquiries about what he could expect " by way of sentence," Mr. Ferle responded as follows:

" I was just depressed at the time and everything and I wasn't looking for any bargain. I wasn't demanding and I wanted this or that, I just said, ‘ I'd like to be protected’ and see what could be done for me. I didn't really go into it and I talked it over with my wife and even my twelve year old daughter. It's something we decided to do the right thing and so I wasn't really ... as long as I knew they were safe and they were happy that is mostly what I was concerned about."

Mr. Ferle was again asked by defense counsel whether he was concerned that he would go to prison " for all these crimes," and he responded as follows:

" Everybody cares, but whatever has to happen is going to happen. I can't change that. I hope it doesn't happen, but I don't know what's going to happen. All I am here is to tell the truth." (Emphasis added.)

Defense counsel also inquired on cross-examination with respect to whether or not Mr. Ferle was receiving or would receive in the future any stipend or monetary support. The following exchange occurred:

" Q Do you expect to go into the Federal Witness Protection Program with a stipend or something every month .. a salary?

" * * *

" A That really hasn't been discussed. I am in State Police custody. I haven't talked about any Federal programs.

" Q Who's supporting you now?

" * * *

" A I am in the custody of the Rhode Island State Police.

" Q Who supports your family?

" * * *

" A They're also in the State Police custody.

" * * *

" Q Right now, you are being supported by the taxpayers of the State of Rhode Island?

" * * *

" A I don't know that I am. I am in State Police custody."

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B

The Instant Application for Postconviction Relief

In February of 1998, Mr. DeCiantis filed his third 3 application for postconviction relief, which application is the subject of the present appeal. Mr. DeCiantis filed an amended application shortly thereafter, in which he set forth allegations of " intentional withholding of exculpatory evidence" and " prosecutorial misconduct." 4

C

The Hearing on the Application

On December 5 and 13, 2005 and on January 23, 2006, a hearing was held in the Superior Court for Providence County with respect to Mr. DeCiantis' application for postconviction relief. We summarize the testimony from that hearing that is pertinent to applicant's contentions on appeal.

1. The Testimony of David Leach

David Leach, who was called as a witness by applicant's attorney, testified that in 1984 he was a prosecutor who was involved in the prosecution of Mr. DeCiantis for the murder of Mr. Roche. He testified that in that year he had contact with William Ferle, who Mr. Leach indicated was acting as an informant against " many people involved in what we think of as organized crime * * *." Mr. Leach further described Mr. Ferle as " a low-level kind of an associate."

When asked whether or not he would " meet with Mr. Ferle from time to time to discuss what he knew and what evidence he could give," Mr. Leach responded that he had met with Mr. Ferle to discuss potential testimony, but he added that he " was not part of any debriefing of [Mr. Ferle] where any original matters came out that had not previously been brought to [his] attention by...

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