Com. v. Williams

CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court
Citation581 Pa. 57,863 A.2d 505
Decision Date22 December 2004
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee. v. Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellant.

863 A.2d 505
581 Pa. 57

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee.
v.
Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted June 6, 2000.

Decided December 22, 2004.


863 A.2d 509
Michael Wiseman, Philadelphia, James Moreno, for Terrance Williams, appellant

Hugh J. Burns, Philadelphia, for the Com. of PA, appellee.

Before: CAPPY, C.J., CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN, SAYLOR, EAKIN and BAER, JJ.

OPINION

Justice EAKIN.1

Terrance Williams appeals from the order denying his petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546.

On June 11, 1984, appellant and Marc Draper lost their money gambling on a street corner. Appellant left to get money from the victim, Amos Norwood, and returned with $10. Later, Norwood drove up to the two. Appellant told Draper they were going to take some money from Norwood, and the three men left in Norwood's car. Appellant directed Norwood to a secluded area where he and Draper forced Norwood out of the car, bound and gagged him, and then took money and other items from him. Appellant, with a tire iron, and Draper, with a wrench, beat Norwood to death and fled. Later that night, appellant returned and burned the body.

On February 3, 1986, a jury convicted appellant of first degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy. After a penalty hearing, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: (1) appellant committed the killing while perpetrating a felony;2 and (2) appellant had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person.3 The jury, after considering the mitigating evidence presented,4 found no mitigating circumstances, and sentenced appellant to death. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(c)(iv).

Newly assigned counsel filed post sentence motions, including claims of trial counsel's ineffectiveness. The motions were denied after a hearing; appellant filed a direct appeal to this Court, which affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Williams, 524 Pa. 218, 570 A.2d 75 (1990).

Appellant filed a pro se PCRA petition in 1995; new counsel was appointed and filed an amended petition in 1996. After hearings, argument, and a careful review

863 A.2d 510
of the record, the PCRA court denied appellant's petition. New counsel was appointed and this appeal followed

Appellant raises 23 issues in his brief which have been reordered for ease of discussion:5

1. Was trial counsel ineffective for failing to investigate and present significant indicia of appellant's incompetency?

2. Did the Commonwealth use its peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner, thus depriving appellant of his rights under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, §§ 1, 9, 13, & 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution? Was appellant denied a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

3. Did the prosecutor use false evidence during the guilt phase of the trial? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

4. Did the prosecution fail to disclose portions of plea agreements with two prosecution witnesses? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

5. Did the trial court err when it failed to grant a motion for mistrial made after the Commonwealth failed to provide discovery concerning an identification of appellant by the victim's wife? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

6. Were references to cocaine and to appellant's incarceration contained in letters allegedly written by appellant improperly admitted at trial? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

7. Did the trial court err when it denied a mistrial motion based upon the Commonwealth's repeated efforts to present testimony concerning appellant's intent to deceive at the time he provided handwriting exemplars? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

8. Did the trial court err when it denied a motion for mistrial based upon the prosecutor's prejudicial statement made in front of the jury? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

9. Did the prosecutor make an improper and prejudicial reference to appellant's failure to call witnesses at trial? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

10. Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate the impropriety of the prosecutor's summation in which her personal opinion was expressed concerning the credibility of appellant's testimony?

11. Did the trial court's accomplice instructions, which implied appellant was involved in the commission of the offense when the defense asserted was alibi, violate appellant's right to due process? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

12. Was trial counsel ineffective at capital sentencing? Were prior counsel ineffective under the same standards for failing to litigate trial counsel's ineffectiveness?

13. Did the application of the "D6" aggravating circumstance to appellant, who the jury may have found guilty as an accomplice, violate the plain meaning of the death penalty statute, and result in the

863 A.2d 511
arbitrary and capricious imposition of a death sentence? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim

14. Is Pennsylvania's "significant history" of violent felony convictions aggravating circumstance unconstitutionally vague on its face and as it was applied to appellant? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

15. Did the constitutional infirmities in appellant's prior conviction result in an arbitrary and capricious finding of the "significant history" aggravating circumstance? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

16. Did the prosecutor knowingly use false evidence during the penalty phase? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

17. Did the prosecutor improperly inject her personal opinion regarding the propriety of the death penalty? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

18. Is appellant entitled to sentencing phase relief because the trial court's penalty phase jury instruction violated Mills v. Maryland? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

19. Did the trial court's failure to instruct the jury that "life imprisonment" means life without possibility of parole violate appellant's constitutional rights? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

20. Was appellant's death sentence a product of improper racial discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania capital sentencing statute, the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the United States Constitution? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

21. Did the "proportionality review" performed by this Court violate due process and deny appellant meaningful appellate review? Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate this claim?

22. Were all prior counsel ineffective for failing to litigate the claims raised in this appeal?

23. Is appellant entitled to relief from his conviction and sentence because of the cumulative effect of the errors described herein?

To be entitled to relief under the PCRA, appellant must show, as to each claim, that the allegation of error has not been previously litigated or waived, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(3), and that "the failure to litigate the issue prior to or during trial, during unitary review or on direct appeal could not have been the result of any rational, strategic or tactical decision by counsel." Id., § 9543(a)(4). An issue is 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...." Id., § 9544(a)(2).6

Appellant's claim that the trial court's penalty phase jury instruction violated Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367, 108 S.Ct. 1860, 100 L.Ed.2d 384 (1988), has been previously litigated on direct appeal. Mills requires a death sentence be vacated if there is a substantial probability the trial court's jury instruction could have led reasonable jurors to conclude they could only consider those mitigating factors which they unanimously found to exist. Id., at 384, 108 S.Ct. 1860. On direct appeal, this

863 A.2d 512
Court relied on Commonwealth v. Frey, 520 Pa. 338, 554 A.2d 27 (1989), which held where jury instructions stated a unanimous verdict is necessary to impose a death sentence, no further instruction is required regarding the fact that mitigating factors need not be found unanimously, since Pennsylvania's death penalty statute does not require unanimity in establishing mitigating circumstances. Williams, at 82. Accordingly, we rejected appellant's Mills claim, and he is not entitled to revive it under the PCRA.7 See Commonwealth v. Bracey, 568 Pa. 264, 795 A.2d 935, 939 n. 2 (2001) (appellant cannot obtain post conviction relief of claims previously litigated on direct appeal by alleging ineffectiveness of prior counsel and presenting new theories of relief).

Appellant's claim that the aggravating factor in § 9711(d)(6) (killing committed during perpetration of felony) was improperly applied to him because he was an accomplice has also been previously litigated. On direct appeal, this Court addressed appellant's argument that this aggravating circumstance did not apply to him "because there was no proof presented that appellant, rather than his co-brutalizer, Draper, landed the fatal blow." Williams, at 83. This Court concluded: "This argument, when raised in the context of the penalty stage, does not even reach the level of speciousness; it is simply ludicrous." Id. We will not address the same claim, cloaked in a different theory of relief...

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61 practice notes
  • Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15–5040.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2016
    ...Id., at 235, 570 A.2d, at 84.Five years later, Williams filed his first petition for state postconviction relief. Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 65, 863 A.2d 505, 509 (2004)(Williams II ). The postconviction court denied the petition. Id., at 65, 863 A.2d, at 510. Williams appealed, ......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 29, 2011
    ...to all other requirements essential to overcome waiver of the underlying claim. Uderra, 862 A.2d at 87; see also Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 514–15 (2004). Placing this high burden on a post-conviction petitioner comports with the heightened criteria for obtaining po......
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 23, 2009
    ...court to address the deficiency. Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Washington, 583 Pa. 566, 880 A.2d 536, 540 (2005); Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 513 (2004). A remand is unnecessary, however, when the petitioner fails to plead all three prongs of the Pierce test related ......
  • Com. v. Tedford, No. 456 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2008
    ...address these substantive points. Id. (citing Commonwealth v. Washington, 583 Pa. 566, 880 A.2d 536, 540 (2005); Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 513 (2004); Rush, 838 A.2d at 651). When a petitioner has not been afforded the opportunity by the PCRA court to so amend his ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
61 cases
  • Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15–5040.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2016
    ...Id., at 235, 570 A.2d, at 84.Five years later, Williams filed his first petition for state postconviction relief. Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 65, 863 A.2d 505, 509 (2004)(Williams II ). The postconviction court denied the petition. Id., at 65, 863 A.2d, at 510. Williams appealed, ......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 29, 2011
    ...to all other requirements essential to overcome waiver of the underlying claim. Uderra, 862 A.2d at 87; see also Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 514–15 (2004). Placing this high burden on a post-conviction petitioner comports with the heightened criteria for obtaining po......
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 23, 2009
    ...court to address the deficiency. Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Washington, 583 Pa. 566, 880 A.2d 536, 540 (2005); Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 513 (2004). A remand is unnecessary, however, when the petitioner fails to plead all three prongs of the Pierce test related ......
  • Com. v. Tedford, No. 456 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2008
    ...address these substantive points. Id. (citing Commonwealth v. Washington, 583 Pa. 566, 880 A.2d 536, 540 (2005); Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 513 (2004); Rush, 838 A.2d at 651). When a petitioner has not been afforded the opportunity by the PCRA court to so amend his ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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