Munchinski v. Wilson

Decision Date05 August 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07–CV–01712.
Citation807 F.Supp.2d 242
PartiesDavid Joseph MUNCHINSKI, Petitioner, v. Harry WILSON, Warden of State Correctional Institute at Fayette; and Attorney General's Office of Pennsylvania, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania

807 F.Supp.2d 242

David Joseph MUNCHINSKI, Petitioner,
v.
Harry WILSON, Warden of State Correctional Institute at Fayette; and Attorney General's Office of Pennsylvania, Respondents.

Civil Action No. 07–CV–01712.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania.

Aug. 5, 2011.


[807 F.Supp.2d 248]

Noah Geary, Washington, PA, for Petitioner.

Gregory J. Simatic, Office of Attorney General, Pittsburgh, PA, for Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION
LISA PUPO LENIHAN, United States Chief Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner David Joseph Munchinski (“Petitioner”) filed this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 1) on December 15, 2007, seeking to challenge under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, his 1986 homicide convictions in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Petitioner has shown that the prosecution withheld favorable evidence that could have been used to impeach the credibility of the sole individual who was able to provide purported eye-witness testimony placing Petitioner at the scene of the crime. Because the prosecution relied heavily upon this witness' testimony to support its case of first and second degree murder, and because of the utter lack of physical evidence tying Petitioner to the crimes, this Court is constrained to hold that the withheld evidence resulted in two first degree murder convictions and two second degree murder convictions that are unworthy of confidence. Additionally, given the degree to which the prosecution relied upon this witness' testimony to establish its case against Petitioner, this Court concludes that no reasonable trier of fact, but for the constitutional violations described below, could have convicted Petitioner of the above-mentioned crimes at his trial in 1986. Accordingly, this Court will grant the writ, and order that Petitioner be granted a new trial.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The background of Petitioner's case spans over thirty years. The portions that are relevant to this opinion are as follows.

A. The Crimes

In the early morning hours of December 2, 1977, Bonnie Blackson (“Blackson”) and her husband were awakened by noises coming from the outside of their home in Bear Rocks, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Upon investigation, they discovered a man sitting slumped against the door of their front porch and making no visible movement. They summoned EMTs, who confirmed the man was dead. The body was later identified as that of James Peter Alford (“Alford”).

The Pennsylvania State Police was notified, and troopers from the Uniontown barracks were dispatched to the scene. Trooper Richard W. Powell and Corporal Richard Cecconello were the first to arrive. During their initial investigation around the Blacksons' house, they discovered a trail of blood leading through a wooded area, toward a neighboring A-frame cabin. The officers drove to the cabin, which would later be identified as the residence of Raymond Gierke (“Gierke”), entered, and found a partially nude male body lying in a pool of blood. This second body was later identified as that of Gierke.

At some point Fayette County Deputy Coroner Jack Powell (“Powell”) was notified. After arriving at the scene himself, he made arrangements to transport the bodies of the victims to Connellsville State General Hospital for autopsy. Autopsies were performed that day by pathologist

[807 F.Supp.2d 249]

Dr. Sava Radisavljevic (“Dr. Sava”).1 Reports from these autopsies were delivered to the Fayette County Coroner's office on December 9, 1977. Addenda to these reports were delivered on December 17, 1977.2 The autopsy reports indicated that Alford was killed by a close range gunshot wound that perforated his heart and lungs. 1986 Trial Tr. at 57–58. He also suffered from a second gunshot through his left elbow. Id. at 57. Gierke died from a small-caliber gunshot wound to his head, and a wound from a larger caliber bullet to his torso. Id. at 58, 62. He also suffered nonfatal bullet wounds to his right forearm and left middle finger. Id. at 58. Additionally, there was evidence that the two men were anally raped sometime prior to their murders.

Pennsylvania State Trooper Montgomery Goodwin (“Goodwin”) was assigned to be the lead investigating officer in this case. See 1983 Trial Tr. at 230. From the first day of the investigation he worked closely with Corporal Robert Mangiacarne (“Mangiacarne”), also of the Pennsylvania State Police. Despite the existence of multiple suspects, the murders went unsolved for nearly five years.3 This changed, however, when Richard Bowen (“Bowen”), an admitted burglar and forger, made a statement to the police, claiming to have been a witness to the murders at Bear Rocks.

It is unclear from the record exactly how Bowen first came to the attention of the Pennsylvania State Police as a potential witness. His testimony in Petitioner's 1983 trial indicates that he first contacted the authorities while he was incarcerated in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.4 1983 Trial Tr. at 136–37. This statement—in which it appears that Bowen indicated only that Petitioner's eventual co-Defendant, Leon Scaglione (“Scaglione”) had taken credit for the murders—was made to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, authorities. Id. at 137–38. According to his testimony,

[807 F.Supp.2d 250]

Bowen spoke to authorities at least two additional times regarding the murders, but was unclear about the dates. Id. at 159.

While it is unclear from the record the exact dates of all of Bowen's multiple statements to authorities, it is apparent that these statements differed materially from each other, and from his eventual testimony at Petitioner's trials. His first statements regarding the murders did not implicate Petitioner. Id. at 247. In a later statement, he indicated that he did not enter Gierke's home on the night of the murders, or directly witness the shootings. 1986 Trial Tr. at 235, 304. At Petitioner's 1983 trial, Bowen testified that in his first statement to the authorities he indicated that Scaglione, Petitioner's co-defendant in the first criminal trial, had told Bowen that he was involved in the murders of Alford and Gierke. 1983 Trial Tr. at 137–38. Bowen denied having made such a statement during his testimony at Petitioner's 1986 retrial, and then backed away from the denial somewhat. 1986 Trial Tr. at 233–35. However, as of October of 1983, Bowen's story coalesced into an accusation that he had been the witness of, and unwilling participant in, Petitioner and Scaglione's murder of Alford and Gierke in the early hours of December 2, 1977. Based on this assertion, charges were filed against Petitioner and Scaglione, and the matter proceeded to trial.

B. 1983 and 1986 Criminal Trials

On October 22, 1982, Petitioner, along with co-defendant Leon Scaglione, was charged with two counts of Criminal Homicide, 18 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 2501(a), and two counts of Criminal Conspiracy to commit homicide, 18 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 903. The case went to trial in April of 1983. There was no physical evidence linking either individual to the crimes. Instead, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Bowen, who, as stated above, claimed to have been an eyewitness to the murders, and whose testimony alone placed Petitioner at the scene of the crimes. The prosecutors also presented the testimony of Lori Lexa (“Lexa”) and Deborah Sue Dahlmann (“Dahlmann”), two women who testified that Petitioner and Scaglione forced them, at knife-point, to sit with them at a table in a bar on January 28, 1978, during which time they confessed to murdering Alford and Gierke. The record indicates that Lexa and Dahlmann had originally reported this incident to Trooper Goodwin on January 31, 1978—several years prior to Petitioner's arrest. 1983 Trial Tr. at 245. The joint 1983 trial ended in a hung jury and, on April 12, 1983, a mistrial was declared. Thereafter, the Commonwealth dropped the conspiracy charges and the cases were severed for retrial.

Scaglione was retried in October of 1986 and found guilty of two counts of first degree homicide and two counts of second degree homicide. During his trial, Scaglione testified that Petitioner had no involvement in the murders, and instead asserted that he committed the murders with an individual named Homer Stuart—a person who allegedly bore some resemblance to Petitioner. 1986 Trial Tr. at 329–330. During his brief non-jury retrial in November of 1986, Petitioner sought to introduce Scaglione's trial testimony. Scaglione exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Petitioner then sought to obtain use immunity for Scaglione's testimony, but this request was denied by both the prosecution and the trial court. In a lengthy sidebar, Judge Adams—the officiant of both the 1983 and 1986 trials—ruled that Scaglione's prior statements exonerating Petitioner were not admissible under Pennsylvania law. See id. at 329–31.

[807 F.Supp.2d 251]

At Petitioner's 1986 retrial the prosecution once again had no physical evidence to tie Petitioner to the Bear Rocks murders. Instead, as in the 1983 trial, it relied on the testimony of purported eye-witness Bowen, who described, inter alia: how, where, and when he, Petitioner and Scaglione met prior to the murders; the method by which they traveled to Bear Rocks; the method by which they entered Gierke's home; the method and timing of the anal rapes perpetrated on the victims; the firearms used in the commission of the murders; the motive for the killings; and the details of the commission of the murders in general. The prosecution also called Lexa and Dahlmann to the stand, who once again related their stories to the jury of the January, 1978, incident during which Petitioner purportedly confessed to the killings. Additionally, Bernard Furr (“Furr”) was called to relate an incident which occurred that same night in January of 1978, in which Petitioner confessed to the murders in a manner very similar to that described by Lexa and Dahlmann....

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  • Munchinski v. Solomon
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    ...charged with two (2) counts of Criminal Homicide and two (2) counts of Criminal Conspiracy to commit homicide. Munchinski v. Wilson , 807 F.Supp.2d 242, 250 (W.D. Pa. 2011). Munchinski and Scaglione were jointly tried in April of 1983. Id. There was no physical evidence linking either indiv......
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    ...the fact that the withheld information was not admissible was only one factor in that approach. 777 F.3d 652Munchinski v. Wilson, 807 F.Supp.2d 242, 279 (W.D.Pa.2011). Although we affirmed the district court's grant of habeas corpus relief because the state courts unreasonably applied Brady......
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