Munchinski v. Wilson

Citation694 F.3d 308
Decision Date11 September 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–3416.,11–3416.
PartiesDavid Joseph MUNCHINSKI v. Harry WILSON, Warden of the State Correctional Institute of Fayette; Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania, Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit


Noah Geary [Argued], Washington, PA, for Appellee.

Gregory J. Simatic [Argued], Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Appeals & Legal Services Section, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellant.

Before: SMITH and JORDAN, Circuit Judges and RAKOFF, Senior District Judge.*


SMITH, Circuit Judge.

In 1986, David Munchinski was convicted of two counts of first-degree homicide and two counts of second-degree homicide arising out of a pair of murders that occurred in 1977 in Bear Rocks, Pennsylvania (the “Bear Rocks Murders” or the “murders”). In the years following his conviction, Munchinski discovered that prosecutors had withheld from his counsel almost a dozen articles of exculpatory evidence. After unsuccessfully petitioning for post-conviction relief several times in state and federal court, Munchinski filed a second or successive habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244 & 2254(d) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Munchinski argued that the Pennsylvania Superior Court unreasonably applied Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), when it declined to grant Munchinski postconviction relief based on several articles of exculpatory evidence that were unlawfully withheld by the prosecution.

The District Court found some of Munchinski's claims untimely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(D), but equitably tolled the statute of limitations for a subset of those claims. The District Court next concluded that Munchinski had procedurally defaulted certain claims. The District Court excused his procedural default, finding that applying the procedural default doctrine to Munchinski's petition would effect a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Finally, the District Court agreed with Munchinski that the state court had unreasonably applied Brady. The District Court granted Munchinski's petition.

Warden Harry Wilson and the Pennsylvania Attorney General (collectively, the Commonwealth) appeal from the District Court's judgment. The Commonwealth concedes that it cannot “make a compelling argument” that the Superior Court properly applied Brady given the nature of the evidence that was withheld. Oral Arg. Tr. 4:8–9. We agree. The scope of the Brady violations here is staggering, and the Superior Court failed to appreciate the aggregate impact of the withheld evidence.

In apparent recognition of that reality, the Commonwealth limits its appeal to three issues: (1) whether the District Court erred by equitably tolling the statute of limitations in § 2244(d)(1)(D); (2) whether the District Court erred by excusing Munchinski's supposed procedural default on the basis of a fundamental miscarriage of justice; and (3) whether Munchinski has produced sufficient evidence “to establish by clear and convincing evidencethat, but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense,” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B)(ii).

We conclude: (1) that the District Court appropriately tolled the statute of limitations; (2) that Munchinski did not procedurally default his claims; and (3) that Munchinski has demonstrated his actual innocence by clear and convincing evidence, as is required by § 2244(b)(2)(B)(ii). Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington v. Richter, –––U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Like the District Court, we see precisely such an “extreme malfunction[ ] in this case. Consequently, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court granting Munchinski a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to § 2254(d)(1).


On December 2, 1977, Pennsylvania State Police found the bodies of two men in and around a cabin owned by Raymond Gierke in Bear Rocks, located in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.1 These two bodies were later identified as those of Gierke and James Peter Alford.

The police notified Fayette County Deputy Coroner Jack Powell, who transported the bodies from the crime scene in order to conduct autopsies. Autopsies were conducted that same day by pathologist Dr. Sava Radisavljevic (“Dr. Sava”). On December 9, 1977, Dr. Sava delivered his autopsy report to the Fayette County Coroner's Office. A week later, he delivered addenda to his report.2 The report and the addenda made clear that Gierke and Alford were shot multiple times at close range and died from their gunshot wounds. The report and addenda also suggested that both Gierke and Alford had been anally raped prior to the murders.

The Pennsylvania State Police assigned Trooper Montgomery Goodwin as the lead investigating officer in the case. Trooper Goodwin worked with Corporal Robert Mangiacarne over the course of the next five years investigating the murders. Though Trooper Goodwin and Corporal Mangiacarne identified several suspects, they lacked sufficient evidence to file charges until 1982.


At some point within the period of 1980 and 1981, Richard Bowen, a convicted burglar and forger incarcerated in state prison in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, contacted the Pennsylvania State Police claiming knowledge of the Bear Rocks Murders. The precise dates of the conversations between Bowen and the police remain unknown and the exact nature of those conversations remains unclear. What is certain is that Bowen's statements were inconsistent and contradictory. Two of these inconsistencies are most remarkable for our purposes: (1) Bowen initially implicated only Leon Scaglione, the man who was eventually tried and convicted along with Munchinski; and (2) Bowen at first stated that he did not enterGierke's home during the shootings and did not directly witness the murders.

There were numerous changes in Bowen's account of the murders; at some point Bowen's story changed such that he was a direct witness to the shootings, which he claimed were committed by Scaglione as well as Munchinski in a drug-related dispute.3 On October 22, 1982, Munchinski and Scaglione were charged with two counts of criminal homicide in violation of 18 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 2501(a), and two counts of criminal conspiracy to commit homicide in violation of 18 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 903.

Munchinski and Scaglione were tried jointly in April 1983 (the “First Trial”). At this trial, the Commonwealth relied principally on Bowen's purported eyewitness testimony. Bowen testified that he directly witnessed Munchinski and Scaglione commit the murders. Specifically, Bowen testified that Gierke and Alford were raped by Scaglione and Munchinski, respectively, and that the two victims were murdered almost immediately thereafter. Bowen's trial testimony was markedly different from the stories he reportedly told police when he first approached them as a potential witness. Bowen's testimony was also at odds with certain facts that were elicited at trial. For example, Bowen claimed that he drove Scaglione and Munchinski to the site of the murders in Scaglione's lime green Ford Gran Torino. Scaglione, however, did not purchase that Gran Torino until almost six months after the murders.

The Commonwealth also presented testimony from Lori Lexa and Deborah Sue Dahlmann. Lexa and Dahlmann, acquaintances well before their involvement in this case, claimed that Munchinski and Scaglione were with them in a bar in January 1978, and that Munchinski and Scaglione admitted to committing the murders. Dahlmann's ex-husband Ed Wiltrout, however, was a prime suspect in the Bear Rocks murders; unbeknownst to Munchinski, at least one witness claimed to police that Wiltrout was one of the shooters. Munchinski was unable at trial to cross-examine Dahlmann with the witness statement implicating Wiltrout because the report documenting that statement had not been produced. The Commonwealth relied exclusively on testimony from Bowen, Lexa, and Dahlmann to link Munchinski to the crime, presenting no physical evidence linked to Munchinski.

On April 12, 1983, the First Trial ended with a hung jury and the declaration of a mistrial. The Commonwealth dropped the conspiracy charges against Munchinski and severed Munchinski's case from Scaglione's case. In October 1986, the Commonwealth retried Scaglione. During his trial, Scaglione admitted to committing the murders. Scaglione testified that Munchinski had no involvement in the murders, but that Scaglione had committed the crimes with an associate named Homer Stewart who allegedly resembled Munchinski. Scaglione was convicted of two counts of first degree homicide and two counts of second degree homicide.

In November 1986, the Commonwealth retried Munchinski (the “Retrial”). The Commonwealth's case still consisted solely of witness testimony allegedly linking Munchinski to the murders. The Commonwealth again elicited testimony from Bowen, Lexa, and Dahlmann, which was largely consistent with their testimony from the First Trial. The Commonwealth also introduced testimony from two additional sources: (1) Bernard Furr, another acquaintance of Dahlmann's, who repeated a story very similar to Dahlmann's about an alleged confession in January 1978; and (2) Harold Thomas, who testified that Munchinski confessed while in jail in 1983.

During the Retrial, Munchinski sought to introduce Scaglione's testimony from his October 1986 retrial, where he implicated Stewart and exonerated Munchinski. Scaglione declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Munchinski requested that the court grant Scaglione use immunity, but the court refused. Additionally, the trial court...

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