Laird v. Horn

Decision Date05 September 2001
Docket NumberCIV. A. No. 99-2311.
PartiesRichard LAIRD, Petitioner, v. Martin HORN, Commissioner, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Gregory White, Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh; and Joseph P. Mazurkiewicz, Superintendent of the State Correctional this is a capital case Institution at Rockview, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DUBOIS, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM
                 I. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................... 67
                II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY .................................................................... 68
                
                III. APPLICATION OF 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ................................................. 69
                     A. The Exhaustion Requirement of § 2254 and Procedural Default .................. 69
                        1. Exhaustion ..................................................................... 69
                        2. Procedural Default ............................................................. 70
                        B. Automatic Exhaustion Under the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's
                             Mandatory Appellate Review ................................................... 71
                     C. Independent and Adequate Procedural Grounds ....................................... 73
                        1. Introduction ................................................................... 73
                        2. The Pennsylvania "Relaxed Waiver" Rule ......................................... 74
                        3. "Previously Litigated" ......................................................... 75
                     D. Application of § 2254 ........................................................ 76
                 IV. DISCUSSION ........................................................................... 77
                     A. Guilt Phase Claims ................................................................ 77
                        1. Jury and Prosecutorial Irregularities .......................................... 77
                           a. Jury and Prosecutorial Misconduct ........................................... 77
                           b. Jury Tampering .............................................................. 79
                        2. Jury Instructions on Accomplice Liability ...................................... 80
                           a. Procedural History .......................................................... 80
                           b. Analysis .................................................................... 81
                        3. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel in Preparing a Defense ....................... 85
                        4. Prosecutorial Argument During the Guilt Phase Summation ........................ 86
                        5. Legally Inconsistent Verdicts and Failing to Poll the Jury ..................... 87
                           a. Inconsistent Verdicts ....................................................... 88
                           b. Polling Each Juror Individually as to Each Count and Each
                               Defendant .................................................................. 90
                        6. Constitutionality of Reasonable Doubt Instruction .............................. 90
                        7. Sufficiency of the Evidence Needed to Establish Kidnapping ..................... 92
                        8. The Admission of a Statement Petitioner Made During Trial ...................... 94
                        9. Severance ...................................................................... 95
                       10. Exculpatory Evidence ........................................................... 97
                     B. Penalty Phase Claims .............................................................. 99
                        1. Shackling During the Penalty Phase ............................................. 99
                        2. Jury Instructions on Mitigating Circumstances and Mills v. Maryland .. 102
                           a. Mills v. Maryland and its Progeny ................................. 102
                           b. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion ..................................... 103
                           c. Analysis and Conclusions ................................................... 105
                        3. Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances—The Trial Court's Introductory
                             Comments .................................................................... 108
                        4. Ineffectiveness of Counsel at Sentencing ...................................... 109
                           a. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Under Strickland ................ 112
                           b. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion ..................................... 113
                           c. Analysis and Conclusions ................................................... 114
                        5. Coercion of Petitioner's Death Sentence by the Trial Court .................... 117
                        6. "Life means life" Charge ...................................................... 121
                        7. Proportionality Review ........................................................ 124
                        8. Aggravating Circumstance of Torture ........................................... 125
                        9. Prosecutorial Argument at Sentencing .......................................... 127
                           a. The Prosecution's Representation of the Jury's Responsibility .............. 127
                           b. Prosecutor's Appeal to Vengeance ........................................... 128
                           c. Comments Regarding Petitioner's Silence .................................... 129
                           d. Denigration of Petitioner's Penalty Phase Defense .......................... 131
                     E. Overall Ineffective Assistance Claim ............................................. 131
                     F. Overall Cumulative Prejudice Claim ............................................... 131
                  V. CONCLUSION .......................................................................... 131
                
I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before the court is the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Richard Laird ("Laird" or "petitioner"). Laird, along with co-defendant Frank Chester ("Chester"), was convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, and a number of other offenses on May 19, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The jury returned a verdict of death on May 21, 1988; on July 19, 1989, the trial court sentenced petitioner to death and to a consecutive sentence of 10 to 20 years on the kidnapping charge.

For the reasons that follow, Laird's petition for a writ of habeas corpus will be granted in part and his first degree murder conviction and death sentence will be vacated and set aside without prejudice to the right of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to grant petitioner, within 180 days, a new trial on the first degree murder charge and, if petitioner is found guilty, a new sentencing on that charge, and/or a sentencing on the convictions as to which the trial court did not impose sentence. The petition for a writ of habeas corpus will be denied in all other respects.

The facts underlying petitioner's conviction, as summarized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on direct appeal, Commonwealth v. Chester, 526 Pa. 578, 586-90, 587 A.2d 1367, 1371-72 (1991) ("Chester"), are as follows:

The deceased, Anthony Milano ("Milano," the "deceased" or "decedent") arrived at the Edgely Inn on December 14, 1987 some time after 11:15 p.m. in a 1976 Chevrolet Nova registered in the name of Rose Milano, decedent's mother. Petitioner and Chester had been at the tavern at the Edgely Inn for quite some time prior to Milano's arrival. Both petitioner and Chester had exhibited quarrelsome and aggressive behavior prior to the deceased's arrival—Chester had threatened to assault one of the male guests at the establishment; petitioner was loud and argumentative. At one point during the time the three men were in the tavern, petitioner and Chester taunted Milano as to his masculinity.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on December 15, Officer Charles McGuigan ("Officer McGuigan") responded, with two fellow officers, to a report of a stolen car found in the parking lot of the Edgely Inn. They began their investigation by interrogating the customers at the Edgely Inn. During that investigation, Officer McGuigan observed Chester, Laird and decedent at the bar. Officer McGuigan requested identification from each of these individuals and was satisfied that they were not involved in the car theft. At approximately 2:10 a.m., while he was still in the parking lot, he observed the deceased, Chester and Laird leave the Edgely Inn together. This testimony was confirmed by the two officers who responded with Officer McGuigan to the stolen car complaint. The three men were last observed leaving the parking lot of the Edgely Inn in the Chevrolet Nova with Milano driving.

On the evening of December 15, 1987, Officer McGuigan responded to a report of a car fire. When he arrived at the scene, he observed a vehicle ablaze and assisted in extinguishing the fire. The vehicle was identified as the 1976 Chevrolet Nova registered in the name of Rose Milano, decedent's mother. A search of a wooded area adjacent to where the automobile was located resulted in the discovery of the body of the deceased. The body was lying face up with the left eye partially open, contusions in the facial area, and multiple slashings of the neck and throat. Police records established that Rose Milano had reported the deceased as a missing person when he failed to return to the family home in the early morning hours of December 15.

A postmortem examination revealed that decedent had been assaulted about the face and had sustained lacerations about the face, throat, neck, and shoulder. A pathologist concluded that Milano had been kicked and/or punched in both the right and left temple areas and the chin; a hairline fracture at the base of the skull resulted from a blunt instrument striking decedent's head; the lacerations were made by a sharp instrument, consistent with a utility knife; the slashings were hard enough...

To continue reading

Request your trial
46 cases
  • Judge v. Beard, CIVIL ACTION NO. 02-CV-6798
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • 28 Noviembre 2012
    ... ... Horn , Nos. 05-9006 and 05-9008, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 14285 at *8 (July 1, 2009) (citing Fahy v. Horn , 516 F.3d 169, 189 (3d Cir. 2008)). "This is a ... 18 See , O'Dell , 521 U.S. at 153, 117 S. Ct. at 1971; In accord, Laird v. Horn , 159 F. Supp.2d 58, 123 (E.D. Pa. 2001). We likewise cannot grant relief either under the Eighth Amendment holdings of Eddings , Skipper , ... ...
  • Porter v. Horn
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • 26 Junio 2003
    ... ... Horn, No. 99-2186, 2001 WL 767593, at *3 (E.D.Pa. July 5, 2001)(citing Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir.1997)). In order to satisfy the exhaustion requirement, "the petitioner must `afford each level of the state courts a fair opportunity to address the claim.'" Laird v. Horn, 159 F.Supp.2d 58, 69 (E.D.Pa.2001)(quoting Doctor v. Walters, 96 F.3d 675, 678 (3d Cir.1996); McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir.1999)). "More specifically, a habeas petitioner `must present a federal claim's factual and legal substance to the state courts in a manner ... ...
  • Baker v. Horn, CVILL ACTION 96-CV-0037 (E.D. Pa. 5/__/2002)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • 1 Mayo 2002
    ... ... According to Judge Reed, in capital cases, a petitioner's failure to comply with Rule 302 in PCRA proceedings prior to November 1998 would not bar a federal habeas court from considering claims otherwise waived under the rule. See Bronshtein , 2001 WL 767593, at n. 19. See also Laird v. Horn , 159 F. Supp.2d 58, 81 (E.D.Pa. 2001) (even though petitioner failed to raise a claim on direct appeal in a capital case, it was not procedurally defaulted under Pennsylvania's waiver rules because petitioner filed his PCRA petition "at a time when Pennsylvania applied a relaxed waiver ... ...
  • Baker v. Horn
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • 31 Mayo 2002
    ... ... According to Judge Reed, in capital cases, a petitioner's failure to comply with Rule 302 in PCRA proceedings prior to November 1998 would not bar a federal habeas court from considering claims otherwise waived under the rule. See Bronshtein, 2001 WL 767593, at n. 19. See also Laird v. Horn, 159 F.Supp.2d 58, 81 (E.D.Pa.2001) (even though petitioner failed to raise a claim on direct appeal in a capital case, it was not procedurally defaulted under Pennsylvania's waiver rules because petitioner filed his PCRA petition "at a time when Pennsylvania applied a relaxed waiver rule ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT