Commonwealth of Pa. v. Hanible

Citation30 A.3d 426
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appelleev.Ronald HANIBLE, Appellant.
Decision Date19 October 2011
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

30 A.3d 426

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Ronald HANIBLE, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted Oct. 1, 2010.Decided Oct. 19, 2011.

[30 A.3d 435]

Angela S. Elleman, Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Ronald Hanible.Hugh J. Burns, Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, Amy Zapp, PA Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.
Justice BAER.

In this capital case, Ronald Hanible (“Appellant”) appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (“PCRA court”), which denied without a hearing all guilt phase claims raised in his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541–9546.1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The facts underlying Appellant's two murder convictions are fully set forth in our opinion affirming his judgment of sentence on direct appeal. Commonwealth v. Hanible, 575 Pa. 255, 836 A.2d 36 (2003). We reiterate those facts necessary to facilitate an understanding of the issues raised herein.

The record establishes that in the late afternoon on January 15, 1999, while wearing a black ski hat and black sunglasses, Appellant visited the home of his aunt, Catherine McCants. McCants' daughter-in-law, Andrea Wilson, was also in the home at the time. Fifteen minutes after his arrival, at approximately 4:45 p.m., Appellant left the home and encountered Eric Wiley, McCants' godson, on the street outside of McCants' home. Appellant suggested to Wiley that the two men rob Milton Wise and Rodney Walters because they routinely “ran numbers” on that particular street and would have cash. Notes

[30 A.3d 436]

of Testimony (“N.T.”) 3/5/2001 at 106. This was the second time Appellant discussed with Wiley a plan to rob the two victims. Wiley refused to participate in the robbery on the same block where his godmother resided, and noted his concern that one of the potential victims may be connected to the mob. Appellant responded, “I'll do it without you.” Id. at 111.

Wiley then left Appellant on the street, and proceeded to McCants' residence. As Wiley did so, he observed Appellant standing in front of a vacant lot, and thought he saw Wise and Walters standing on the opposite side of the street. When Wiley entered McCants' home, he was sweating and flustered, and McCants inquired about what was going on. Wiley responded that he had just seen Appellant, who told him that McCants wanted to see Wiley. After their brief visit, Wiley was about to open McCants' front door to leave when he heard two gunshots. Wiley opened McCants' door and saw Wise lying on the ground with Appellant standing over him, pointing a gun. He then observed Walters run to Wise's aid. Moments later, Wiley heard two more gunshots. As Walters ran to help Wise, Appellant fired two shots at close range into Walters' abdomen. Both Wise and Walters died as a result of the shootings. The police arrived and obtained from the crime scene two black ski hats, and a pair of black sunglasses. McCants identified one of the hats and the sunglasses as being the same items worn by Appellant earlier that afternoon, and identified the other black hat as belonging to Wise, the victim.2 N.T. 3/2/2001 at 11. On January 19, 1999, four days after the murder, police obtained a signed statement from Wiley describing the events as set forth above. A few days later, Appellant was arrested and charged with the murders of Wise and Walters. The police recovered $1,169 on Appellant's person at the time of his arrest.

At trial, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Wiley. However, while on the witness stand, Wiley repudiated the statement he previously gave police, and testified that he never had a conversation with Appellant about a potential robbery of the victims, did not observe Appellant standing over Wise with a gun, and knew nothing about the murders. Wiley explained that police forced him to make and sign the false statement by physically attacking him and threatening to charge him with the murders. The Commonwealth then effectively impeached its own witness by confronting Wiley with the relevant portions of the statement he gave to police. To bolster the veracity of Wiley's prior statement, the Commonwealth also presented the testimony of the officer who took Wiley's statement, Detective Patrick Mangold. Detective Mangold testified that he did not use physical force or threat to obtain information from Wiley, and did not suggest answers to the questions posed, but rather asked Wiley questions and wrote down his responses verbatim. The Commonwealth further presented the testimony of McCants and her daughter-in-law, Andrea Wilson, which established that Appellant was at McCants' residence moments before the shootings that occurred in front of her home. McCants also testified that Appellant was wearing the same black sunglasses and ski hat that were recovered by police at the murder scene.

A medical examiner testified that Walters sustained two gunshot wounds to his lower abdomen, and that the gun was held against the victim's clothing when the shots were fired. He explained that the

[30 A.3d 437]

bullets pierced the victim's bowel, iliac artery, and kidney, with one bullet exiting the body and the other lodging in the victim's right hip. The medical examiner also testified that Wise suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest. The bullet travelled through his lung and heart, and lodged in his spine. A firearms examiner testified that the bullets recovered were .38 or .357 caliber and had most likely been fired from a revolver.

Appellant did not testify on his own behalf or present any witnesses at trial. Instead, he urged the jury to reject Wiley's statement to police as unreliable because, as Wiley testified, the statement was given out of fear that Wiley would be charged with the murders if he failed to implicate Appellant. He further contended that Wiley's statement to police was not worthy of belief because a crime scene photo demonstrated that Wiley's view of the shooting through McCants' doorway was obstructed by a van parked in front of her home. Thus, Appellant asserted, Wiley could not have seen what he described in his police statement.

Finally, Appellant argued to the jury that none of the physical evidence recovered by police implicated him in the crime. First, he argued there was no DNA evidence connecting him to either of the hats found at the scene. Second, Appellant maintained that McCants' testimony, which linked him to the hat and sunglasses recovered at the scene, was not credible because McCants may have been trying to “cover up” Wiley's participation in the murders by incriminating Appellant. Third, Appellant argued that the substantial amount of cash found on him when arrested did not implicate him in the crime because the parties stipulated that the victims possessed large sums of money after the murders and robbery occurred.3

On March 9, 2001, a jury found Appellant guilty of first degree murder for the killing of Wise, second degree murder for the killing of Walters, two counts of robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime. Following the penalty hearing, the jury found two aggravating circumstances, namely that Appellant committed the murder while in the perpetration of a robbery, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(6), and that Appellant had been convicted of another murder, id. at § 9711(d)(11), and no mitigating circumstances. Accordingly, it returned a verdict of death.

The trial court formally imposed the death sentence on June 13, 2001. Appellant obtained new counsel who thereafter filed a direct appeal raising three issues: (1) whether the evidence, which consisted primarily of a statement that had been repudiated, was sufficient to support the murder convictions; (2) whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence for this same reason; and (3) whether a new penalty hearing was warranted because the trial court failed to instruct the jury on the mitigating circumstance that Appellant had no significant history of prior criminal convictions. Our Court rejected Appellant's claims, and affirmed Appellant's conviction and sentence. Commonwealth v. Hanible, 575 Pa. 255, 836 A.2d 36 (2003). On October 4, 2004, the United States Supreme Court denied Appellant's petition for a writ of certiorari. Hanible v. Pennsylvania, 543 U.S. 835, 125 S.Ct. 248, 160 L.Ed.2d 55 (2004).

On November 19, 2004, Appellant filed a pro se PCRA petition, and counsel was

[30 A.3d 438]

appointed. The Defender Association of Philadelphia, Federal Court Division, Habeas Corpus Unit, subsequently entered its appearance, and filed an amended PCRA petition and two supplements to that petition, along with a motion for discovery. The Commonwealth filed a motion to dismiss the PCRA petition, but subsequently agreed that a new penalty hearing was warranted due to trial counsel's failure to present available mitigating evidence. The Commonwealth thereafter filed a revised motion to dismiss Appellant's guilt phase claims, in which it opposed discovery and an evidentiary hearing. In response, Appellant filed a letter-brief answer on April 4, 2008, as well as a supplemental appendix.

On July 2, 2008, former Justice Jane Cutler Greenspan, acting as the PCRA court judge, granted a new penalty hearing based on the parties' agreement, and issued a 35–page opinion and notice of intent to dismiss all guilt phase claims without a hearing pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 909. On July 22, 2008, Appellant filed a response to the notice to dismiss in which he raised no new issues, but supplemented his argument relating to the issues previously presented. Because former Justice Greenspan was elevated to this Court before an order was entered dismissing Appellant's PCRA petition, the matter was reassigned to the Honorable Jeffrey Minehart, who, on March 4,...

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