Tielsch v. Capozza

Decision Date25 September 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 16 - 594
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania


Civil Action No. 16 - 594


September 25, 2019

Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan


Pending before the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Habeas Petition") filed by Petitioner Steven Michael Tielsch ("Petitioner" or "Tielsch") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) Petitioner challenges his judgment of conviction for third-degree murder and his sentence of ten to twenty years imprisonment entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on November 13, 2002.1 For the following reasons, the Petition and Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing will be denied. A certificate of appealability will also be denied.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

On April 17, 1986, Tielsch and Kevin Ohm were driving around the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh in a black Corvette. At approximately 9:15 p.m., the victim, Neil S. Rosenbaum, a rabbinical student from Canada, was

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walking toward the intersection of Phillips and Pittcock Avenues when Tielsch and Ohm pulled up in the Corvette. The pair asked the victim for directions. As the victim approached the vehicle, Tielsch opened fire and shot the victim four to five times. Immediately after the shooting, Tielsch and Ohm drove off. Shortly thereafter, before he passed away, the victim told Officer Albert Stegena that a black Corvette had pulled up to him and that two white males had been in the vehicle.

The victim had bullet wounds to his chest, right elbow, right buttock, left buttock, and right wrist. Leon Rozin, M.D., the chief of forensic pathologist for Allegheny County, testified that it was possible that the bullet which entered the victim's chest also caused the wound to the elbow. See N.T., Trial 4, 9/4/02, at 218-219.

Although an intensive investigation took place, little was learned as to the killer's identify until early 1988 when representatives from the District Attorney's Office and the local police department met with Sanford Gordon. Gordon told the police that Tielsch had bragged about the killing while the two had been housed at the Allegheny County Jail.

Additional evidence came to the Commonwealth's attention through Michael Starr. While Starr was under federal indictment, he related to the authorities that he was involved in an incident in the summer of 1991. Starr had been at a nightclub in the Strip District of Pittsburgh when he got into an altercation with Tielsch. According to Starr, Tielsch eventually pulled his jacket to the side and exposed the butt of a gun to Starr, and said: "I wacked some Jew f—k and I would have no trouble doing you too."

Tielsch was subsequently arrested for the victim's murder on February 17, 2000. On January 23, 2001, the first jury trial commenced. On February 13, 2001, the jury informed the trial court that it was hopelessly deadlocked; a mistrial was eventually declared. On November 26, 2001, the second jury trial began, but again the result was a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. On May 13, 2002, the third jury trial began, but once again, the jury informed the trial court that it was deadlocked without hope for a unanimous verdict.

As stated above, this appeal is a result of the fourth jury trial, which began on August 27, 2002, and ended on September 13, 2002, when the jury returned its verdict finding Tielsch guilty of third-degree murder.

Following his conviction at the fourth trial, Tielsch was sentenced, on November 13, 2002, to a term of imprisonment of ten to twenty years on the conviction for third-degree murder.

Commonwealth v. Tielsch, 934 A.2d 81, 83-84 (Pa. Super. 2007) (footnotes omitted).

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Petitioner's judgement of sentence in a published opinion dated August 23, 2007, and denied his Application for Reargument on November 1, 2007. (Resp't Ex. 2, ECF No. 20-1, p.38); (Resp't Ex. 5, ECF No. 20-4, pp.1-39.) The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Petitioner's Petition for Allowance of Appeal ("PAA") on May 30, 2008. (Pet's Ex. 6, ECF No. 20-4, pp.41-43.) Petitioner's direct appeal proceeding concluded when a Writ of Certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court of the United States on December 8, 2008. (Resp't Ex. 8, ECF No. 20-5, pp.1-2); (Res't Ex. 9, ECF No. 20-5, pp.3-40.)

On December 16, 2008, Petitioner filed a pro se Petition pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") and the case was declared complex. (Pet'r Ex. T, ECF No. 1-24.) Petitioner was appointed an attorney and the trial court granted his request for the appointment of a private investigator. Through counsel, Petitioner filed an two Amended PCRA Petitions and two Supplements thereto ("PCRA petition"). (Pet's Exs. U, W, X, Y, Z, AA, ECF Nos. 1-25, 1-27, 1-28, 1-29, 1-30, 1-31.) The PCRA Petition was dismissed on November 16, 2012. (Resp't Ex. 1, ECF No. 20-1, p.35.)

Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his PCRA Petition and the Superior Court affirmed the dismissal in a Memorandum Opinion dated May 15, 2015. (Resp't. Exh. 15, ECF No. 20-9.) The Superior Court found that Petitioner's Brief did not comply with Rule 2119(a) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure and also found several of the claims waived. Id. Reargument was denied on July 20, 2015, and no PAA was filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

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Through counsel, Petitioner filed his Habeas Petition in this Court on May 10, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Respondents filed their Answer on September 15, 2016, and Petitioner filed a Response on October 1, 2017. (ECF Nos. 20, 44.)

B. Standard of Review

Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a federal habeas court may overturn a state court's resolution of the merits of a constitutional issue only if the state court decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The phrase "clearly established Federal law," as the term is used in Section 2254(d)(1) is restricted "to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta of [the United States Supreme Court] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 365 (2000).

If a petitioner is able to satisfy the requirements of § 2254(d)(1), then the state court decision is not entitled to deference under AEDPA and the federal habeas court proceeds to a de novo evaluation of the constitutional claim on the merits. See Tucker v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, 677 F. App'x 768, 776 (3d Cir. 2017) (citing Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 953 (2007) ("When . . . the requirement set forth in § 2254(d)(1) is satisfied[,] [a] federal court must then resolve the claim without the deference AEDPA otherwise requires."). Indeed, the Third Circuit recently explained that,

[w]hile a determination that a state court's analysis is contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law is necessary to grant habeas relief, it is not alone sufficient. That is because, despite applying an improper analysis, the state court still may have reached the correct result, and a federal court can only grant the Great Writ if it is "firmly convinced that a federal constitutional right has been violated," Williams, 529 U.S. at 389, 120 S.Ct. 1495. See also Horn v. Banks, 536 U.S. 266, 272, 122 S.Ct. 2147, 153 L.Ed.2d 301

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(2002) ("[w]hile it is of course a necessary prerequisite to federal habeas relief that a prisoner satisfy the AEDPA standard of review . . . none of our post-AEDPA cases have suggested that a writ of habeas corpus should automatically issue if a prisoner satisfies the AEDPA standard"). Thus, when a federal court reviewing a habeas petition concludes that the state court analyzed the petitioner's claim in a manner that contravenes clearly established federal law, it then must proceed to review the merits of the claim de novo to evaluate if a constitutional violation occurred. See Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 174, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012).

Vickers v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, 858 F.3d 841, 848-89 (3d Cir. 2017) (internal footnote omitted).

The AEDPA further provides for relief if an adjudication "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Under § 2254(d)(2), a state court decision is based on an "unreasonable determination of the facts" if the state court's factual findings are "objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding," which requires review of whether there was sufficient evidence to support the state court's factual findings. See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). Within this overarching standard, a petitioner may attack specific factual determinations that were made by the state court, and that are subsidiary to the ultimate decision. Here, § 2254(e)(1) comes into play, instructing that the state court's determination must be afforded a presumption of correctness that the petitioner can rebut only by clear and convincing evidence. Lambert v. Blackwell, 387 F.3d 210, 235 (3d Cir. 2004).

C. Discussion

Petitioner raises four claims in his Habeas Petition. First, Petitioner claims that he was denied his due process to present a defense by the exclusion of testimony from two proffered defense witnesses. Second, Petitioner claims that he was denied the effective assistance of

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counsel because his counsel failed to argue, on direct appeal, that Musselwhite's statement was an excited utterance. Third, Petitioner alleges misconduct on the part of the prosecutor. Fourth, Petitioner alleges another claim of...

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