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United States v. Cuyler

decided: February 14, 1979.



Before Aldisert and Hunter, Circuit Judges, and Gerry, District Judge.*fn* Present: Seitz, Chief Judge, and Aldisert, Adams, Gibbons, Rosenn, Hunter, Weis, Garth and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges, and Gerry, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Gerry


This appeal from the denial of a petition for habeas corpus requires this court to consider again the troubling issue of dual representation of multiple criminal defendants by the same counsel. Petitioner, John Sullivan claims, Inter alia, that he was denied his sixth amendment right to effective assistance of counsel at trial because his attorneys also represented his co-defendants. The district court concluded that there had been no dual representation and denied the petition. We reverse.


Petitioner Sullivan was convicted of two counts of first degree murder in 1967 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has since then continuously attacked his conviction in state and federal court. Before reaching the merits, we must review the confusing series of direct appeals and collateral attacks that form the record in this case.

On the evening of June 17, 1966, John Gorey, a minor labor union official, and Rita Janda, his female companion, were shot to death in Gorey's office at the Philadelphia headquarters of Teamsters' Local 107. After a medical examiner's inquest on November 3, 1966, petitioner and two others, Gregory Carchidi and Anthony DiPasquale, were arrested and indicted for the murders.

Two attorneys, G. Fred DiBona*fn1 and A. Charles Peruto, entered appearances on behalf of each of the three defendants. Petitioner, in June, 1967, was the first to come to trial. The defense rested at the close of the Commonwealth's case without presenting any evidence. After the two week trial, the jury convicted petitioner and fixed his punishment at life imprisonment. Carchidi and DiPasquale were later acquitted in separate trials.*fn2

A three judge panel of the Court of Common Pleas denied petitioner's post trial motions on July 15, 1968, with one judge voting to grant a new trial. After sentence was imposed, petitioner filed a direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He also filed an application in the trial court for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis which was denied. His appeal was submitted to the supreme court on briefs on November 26, 1969. On December 29, 1971, an equally divided court affirmed his conviction. Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 446 Pa. 419, 286 A.2d 898 (1971). Petitioner, through new counsel, who continues to represent him in this court, twice sought to persuade the supreme court to reconsider its decision. Both applications were denied.*fn3

Meanwhile, petitioner Sullivan was not content to await the outcome of his state appeal but launched, without benefit of counsel, a collateral attack upon his conviction by petitioning for habeas corpus relief in federal court. His petitions were dismissed.*fn4 Appellate review and federal habeas corpus having proved unavailing, petitioner collaterally attacked his conviction in the Pennsylvania courts. On October 30, 1973, counsel filed a petition for post-conviction relief under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Hearing Act (PCHA), 19 P.S. ยง 1180-1 Et seq. Five days of evidentiary hearings were held on the petition; Sullivan, Carchidi, Peruto, Judge DiBona, the trial judge, and several other witnesses testified. On November 6, 1974, the PCHA court ruled that petitioner had been denied effective assistance of counsel on appeal and permitted him to file a second direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. All other grounds for relief, including those raised here, were rejected.

Petitioner filed his second appeal Nunc pro tunc ; he also appealed from the denial of post-conviction relief on other grounds. The Commonwealth cross-appealed the decision to permit a second direct appeal to be filed. All three appeals were consolidated and argued before the supreme court on January 16, 1975. On February 28, 1977, the court issued an opinion affirming both petitioner's original conviction and the denial of post-conviction relief. Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 472 Pa. 129, 371 A.2d 468 (1977).

Having exhausted state remedies,*fn5 Sullivan filed this petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He alleged the following grounds for relief: (1) that the admission into evidence of color slides of the victims' bodies was a denial of due process; (2) that the factual basis underlying his conviction was so totally devoid of evidentiary support as to deny him due process; (3) that defense counsel had a conflict of interest because they also represented his two co-defendants; (4) that counsel was ineffective for failing to object to certain testimony; (5) that counsel was ineffective for failing to reserve objections to the offering of a secret memorandum to the trial judge; (6) that the trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury so as to deny due process; and (7) that the failure of the prosecution to disclose to the defense certain evidence denied him due process. The petition was referred to a United States magistrate for report and recommendation. The magistrate found that all grounds except dual representation were without merit. He recommended that the writ issue because petitioner's trial counsel also represented his co- defendants and the record disclosed a possibility of prejudice or conflict of interest arising from this dual representation.

The district judge denied the petition. He accepted the magistrate's recommendations on every ground asserted except dual representation. As to that ground, he adopted the conclusion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that there had been no dual representation. He also found that no conflict of interest actually existed. Petitioner appeals from this order. Because we believe reversal is compelled on the issue of dual representation and conflict of interest, we do not reach the other grounds asserted.*fn6


The evidence underlying petitioner's conviction was entirely circumstantial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court summarized it in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as follows:

The chief prosecution witness, one Francis McGrath was employed as a janitor at the union hall where the bodies were eventually discovered. On July 17, 1966, he arrived at work approximately 6:00 P.M. and parked his automobile in the lot adjacent to the building. At that time, he specifically observed two other vehicles on the premises. One was owned by appellant and the other was being used at the time by one Anthony DiPasquale. After alighting from his car, McGrath noticed appellant looking out onto the parking lot from the window of a second floor office normally used by other union officials. The witness then entered the building and proceeded to the second floor to commence his duties. Appellant was still seated by the window when McGrath entered that office. Sullivan inquired about the janitor's presence and instructed McGrath to wait until Sunday night to clean, since a union meeting was scheduled for that date and the building would require cleaning after the gathering. McGrath ignored the suggestion and continued collecting the trash from the offices. The witness then took the refuse outside the building. When he returned, appellant was still seated at the window.

At this time, both Sullivan and McGrath observed John Gorey and Rita Janda arrive at the union hall in Gorey's car and enter the building. McGrath then began cleaning the conference room, located approximately 75 feet from Gorey's office. Shortly thereafter, Gorey appeared and had a brief conversation with McGrath. Immediately after Gorey left the conference room, appellant appeared in the doorway, through which Gorey had just passed, and again questioned McGrath about the cleaning and suggested he defer his activities until Sunday afternoon. During this brief conversation, Gregory Carchidi, another janitor, entered the conference room. No conversation ensued between Carchidi and Sullivan but Carchidi repeated appellant's urgings to leave the work until Sunday. Sullivan then left the room through the same door which Gorey had exited but Carchidi remained and seated himself behind the desk.

Within several minutes, the witness testified he heard sounds like firecrackers going off in rapid succession. McGrath started to question Carchidi about the disturbance but was abruptly instructed to "Get out of the building and don't say nothing" (sic). McGrath left the union hall and noticed four cars other than his own parked in the lot. These were recognized as belonging to DiPasquale, Gorey, Carchidi and appellant. McGrath drove off but returned to the premises within 15 minutes. Only Gorey's car remained in the lot. Upon re-entering the building, he found the offices closed, the conference room locked and the lights out.

The victims' bodies were discovered the following morning. Gorey had been shot four times and Janda six times, the shots being fired from close range. The ballistics studies established two separate guns were employed in the homicides but the weapons were never recovered.

Additional testimony disclosed that the telephone lines had been arranged so that regular incoming calls would ring in the room in which appellant was seated. A second line with a different call number had been prearranged by Gorey to ring in his office so that he could receive an anticipated call from Joseph Vernick at 7:00 P.M. One Irene Glenn testified for the Commonwealth that she dialed the regular union phone number about 6:15 P.M. that evening and a man answered identifying himself as Gorey. A scrap paper found in the wastebasket alongside the desk where appellant had been seated prior to the victim's arrival contained Ms. Glenn's name and telephone number. It was uncontested that the handwriting was that of appellant. Moreover, one Joseph Vernick testified that he called Gorey's office at a specially arranged time but received no answer despite his repeated attempts between 7:15 and 8:15 P.M. This evidence, coupled with the medical examiner's testimony, indicated that the time of death could have been approximately 7:15 P.M.

Commonwealth v. Sullivan, supra, 472 Pa. at 147-49, 371 A.2d at 477. See also Commonwealth v. Sullivan, supra, 446 Pa. at 424-27, 286 A.2d at 898-900.

Petitioner did not testify and no evidence was introduced on his behalf.


Our first task is to determine whether there was dual representation: that is, whether petitioner was in fact represented by an attorney or attorneys who also represented one or both of his co-defendants. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered this issue on petitioner's second appeal and decided:

Appellant first claims that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel because his attorneys also represented two co-defendants who were tried separately for the crime. . . .

Upon review of the record from the PCHA proceedings, we find appellant has failed to prove the requisite elements of his claim. First, the testimony establishes that there was no dual representation in the true sense of the term, i. e., the same counsel actively represented co-defendants. Mr. Peruto testified that it was Mr. (now Judge) DiBona who served as chief counsel for appellant during trial and made all decisions relevant to Sullivan's defense while he, Peruto, was merely assisting. These functions were reversed at the trial of the co-defendants where Mr. Peruto was chief counsel and Judge DiBona the assistant. Thus, Judge DiBona served only a minor role in the trial of the co-defendants while devoting his primary efforts to the Sullivan case. This conclusion is supported by Judge DiBona's statements that his stewardship was in no way affected by the consideration of the co-defendant's cases but was solely a product of what he considered to be the best course in his representation of Sullivan. We therefore hold that there is absolutely no evidence that a conflict existed.

472 Pa. at 161-62, 371 A.2d at 483.

Respondents urge that this conclusion is a finding of fact by a state court after a full hearing which is entitled to a presumption of correctness and should be accepted by this court. Petitioner argues that we should reject it because the record as a whole does not support the supreme court's factual determination. The magistrate accepted petitioner's position while the district judge accepted respondents'. We believe both were mistaken in their approach to this problem. While it is true that state court factual findings are entitled to deference in this court unless they are not fairly supported by the record as a whole, the Supreme Court has defined "facts" very narrowly in this context. In Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 309 n.9, 83 S. Ct. ...

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