Com. v. Robinson

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation583 Pa. 358,877 A.2d 433
Decision Date22 June 2005
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Antyane ROBINSON, Appellant.

877 A.2d 433
583 Pa. 358

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
Antyane ROBINSON, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted March 12, 2003.

Decided June 22, 2005.

877 A.2d 437
David J. Foster, Esq., for Antyane Robinson

Jaime M. Keating, Esq., Amy Zapp, Esq., for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.



Justice EAKIN.

Antyane Robinson appeals from the order denying his petition for relief pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546, following a hearing. We affirm.

The relevant facts are as follows:

Appellant dated Tara Hodge on and off during the time period beginning in early 1993 until February 1995, when Hodge discovered that appellant had another girlfriend. They did not see each other for over a year, until March 30, 1996, when appellant re-established an intimate relationship with Hodge. Between March 30, 1996 and the night of the incident in question, Hodge was with appellant for one night on both March 30 and April 30, four days between May 10 and 13, and one night on June 1, 1996. Hodge met Rashawn Bass on May 26, 1996, after she responded to a personal ad in the local paper. On June 10, 1996, Hodge broke off the relationship with appellant by letter.
On the evening of June 29, 1996 ... Hodge met Bass at her apartment. . . . After eating ... pizza, Bass took a shower. Shortly after midnight, while Bass was in the shower, appellant arrived at [Hodge's] apartment.... Hodge let him into her apartment. Upon finding that Hodge had a guest at her apartment appellant and Hodge had an argument. Appellant requested that Hodge ask Bass to leave. When Hodge refused to ask Bass to leave, appellant pulled a gun out of his "sweats," which he pointed at Hodge and shot her....
At about 1 a.m. on the morning of June 30, 1996, Hodge regained consciousness in a pool of her own blood. She then entered the bathroom where she saw that Bass was dead inside the shower stall. She was able to drag herself to her next door neighbor's home. The police arrived at the neighbor's house and saw that Hodge had a head wound. Unable to speak, Hodge wrote a note directing the police to her apartment. The ambulance arrived and took Hodge to the hospital. The officer went to Hodge's apartment and found Bass' body in the shower. After leaving the apartment, the officer went to the hospital to speak with Tara Hodge. At the hospital, Hodge identified appellant as the person who had shot her.
* * *
At the time of arrest, appellant ... was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a written waiver. [A]ppellant stated that he knew Tara Hodge and her family. Appellant also told police that he had owned a 9 millimeter handgun, which had been stolen by his niece's boyfriend before June, and a 380 handgun, which he had sold.
The police conducted a search of appellant's room in his parents' home in Fort Washington, Maryland. In the bedroom, they found documents in a locked safe relating to a 9 millimeter Lorcin handgun. They did not find the weapon. They also found a picture of appellant
877 A.2d 438
holding a 9 millimeter Star handgun, as well as a Federal 44 SPL revolver with ammunition. The police also found the letter from Tara Hodge postmarked June 10, 1996. The police also searched the residence of a woman whom appellant was dating. They found some of appellant's belongings at her house, including 9 millimeter ammunition.

Commonwealth v. Robinson, 554 Pa. 293, 721 A.2d 344, 349-50 (1998). Appellant was convicted and sentenced to death.

Appellant's claims for relief encompass the following areas: (1) pretrial issues; (2) trial issues; (3) jury charge issues; (4) penalty phase issues; and (5) a proportionality of sentencing issue.1

Five of appellant's issues have been previously litigated. An issue has been previously litigated if "the highest appellate court in which the petitioner could have had review as a matter of right has ruled on the merits of the issue[.]" 42 Pa.C.S. § 9544(a)(2). On direct appeal, appellant asserted Tara Hodge provoked him into the killing; he claimed entitlement to a voluntary manslaughter charge. However, as Hodge was not the victim and appellant did not claim he was attempting to kill her, this Court held a voluntary manslaughter charge was without legal support. Robinson, at 354. Appellant's assertion of counsel's ineffectiveness will not revive this issue. See Commonwealth v. Bracey, 568 Pa. 264, 795 A.2d 935, 939 n. 2 (2001) (appellant cannot obtain post conviction review of claims previously litigated on appeal by alleging ineffective assistance of prior counsel and presenting new theories of relief to support previously litigated claims).

877 A.2d 439
On direct appeal, appellant asserted the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of the (d)(7)2 aggravating circumstance, and that the trial court failed to include the required limiting instruction, rendering the aggravator vague and overbroad. He now claims counsel was ineffective in failing to litigate these claims, but offers nothing that was not already reviewed by this Court on direct appeal

Additionally, on direct appeal this Court concluded a Simmons3 charge was not necessary because appellant's future dangerousness was not expressly implicated. Robinson, at 355. Any trial reference to appellant's past dangerousness did not run afoul of Simmons, and appellant's assertion of counsel's ineffectiveness will not revive this issue. See Bracey, supra.

On direct appeal, appellant asserted the trial court erred in not allowing his mother to testify concerning his gun possession. This Court concluded, "[a]lthough... the trial court erred in refusing to allow Mrs. Robinson to testify, based on... harmless error analysis, the instant case presents the situation where properly admitted evidence of guilt was overwhelming. Accordingly, this error was harmless." Robinson, at 353. Appellant's assertion of counsel's ineffectiveness will not revive this issue. See Bracey, supra.


Appellant asserts he was tried while incompetent, and counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and challenge appellant's competency.

Appellant is required to "plead and prove by a preponderance of the evidence... that the conviction or sentence resulted from ... ineffective assistance of counsel which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place." Commonwealth v. McGill, 574 Pa. 574, 832 A.2d 1014, 1020 (2003) (quoting Commonwealth v. Pierce, 567 Pa. 186, 786 A.2d 203, 213 (2001)). See also 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(2)(ii). It is the ineffectiveness claim, not the underlying error at trial, which is reviewed. Commonwealth v. Clayton, 572 Pa. 395, 816 A.2d 217, 220 (2002). To establish ineffectiveness, appellant must show: (1) the claim has arguable merit; (2) counsel had no reasonable strategic basis for his or her action; and (3) but for the errors and omissions of counsel, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Commonwealth v. Kimball, 555 Pa. 299, 724 A.2d 326, 333 (1999). Appellant bears the burden of proving all three prongs, Commonwealth v. Travaglia, 541 Pa. 108, 661 A.2d 352, 357 (1995); failure to prove any of these prongs is sufficient to warrant dismissal of the claim without discussion of the other two. Commonwealth v. Basemore, 560 Pa. 258, 744 A.2d 717, 738 n. 23 (2000).

Pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7402(c),4 appellant's treating psychiatrist and psychologist

877 A.2d 440
at the prison petitioned for his involuntary commitment. The trial court ordered appellant to undergo evaluations to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. Appellant was admitted to a state hospital December 26, 1996, and his status was assessed weekly

Appellant asserts that at the time of trial, he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, rendering him incompetent. To support this claim, he offers the following: (1) during his incarceration, he refused to eat, claiming the food was poisoned; (2) he has a family history of mental illness; (3) trial counsel testified appellant was paranoid, believed all of Carlisle, Pennsylvania was trying to kill him, was unwilling to talk to his attorneys, and counsel admittedly failed to investigate appellant's competency; (4) the results of an examination by Dr. Rocco Manfredi at Norristown Psychiatric Hospital found appellant suffered from paranoid ideation; and (5) testimony from Drs. Ragusea and Rotenberg, taken five years after the murder, stated that at the time of trial appellant was not competent.5

Appellant's claim is contrary to a mental health evaluation by Dr. Murray Caplin, a board certified psychiatrist, performed less than one year after the murder and a month before trial began. On February 7, 1997, after six weeks of observation, Dr. Caplin diagnosed appellant as possibly malingering with no indication of mental illness. See Letter by Murray S. Caplin, M.D., to the Honorable Edgar B. Bayley, 2/7/97. Dr. Caplin's report noted appellant would not talk without his lawyer present. Id. The doctor opined this was a deliberate attempt to postpone trial, and concluded appellant was fit to stand trial. Id. At the PCRA hearing, the Commonwealth offered rebuttal testimony from John O'Brien, M.D., a board certified psychiatrist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We agree with the PCRA court that counsel reasonably relied on the mental health evaluation conducted by Dr. Caplin and staff at the state hospital. The PCRA court noted the mental health observations indicated: (1) appellant was able to interact with people when he wanted to; (2) the fact he did not cooperate with counsel did not mean he was unable to; (3) appellant's jealousy and rage towards Tara Hodge did not equal mental illness; (4) appellant's family history...

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