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Monachelli v. Warden

argued: June 28, 1989.

ROBERT MONACHELLI
v.
WARDEN, SCI GRATERFORD AND THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF BUCKS COUNTY, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Criminal No. 88-4935.

Mansmann, Scirica and Seitz, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge

This is an appeal by the Warden, SCI Graterford, et al. (the "government") from the order of the district court granting the petitioner Robert Monachelli ("petitioner" or "Robert") a writ of habeas corpus. The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253.

I. BACKGROUND

The petitioner and his brother, Vincent Monachelli, were tried jointly and both convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of first degree murder. 18 Pa. Stat. § 2502. Specifically, the petitioner was held criminally liable for the intentional killing of Gregory Warmkessel, a deaf mute, with whom he had had a disagreement.*fn1 It is from this conviction and sentence that petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus from the district court.

The district court granted Robert Monachelli's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. It found that petitioner's murder trial was conducted in such a way as to deny him his sixth amendment right to confrontation. It determined that the state trial court had improperly admitted into evidence, through the testimony of Fred Ludlow, certain statements made by Vincent Monachelli which had a prejudicial impact on Robert Monachelli. The district court further determined that the other evidence introduced against Robert Monachelli was not so "overwhelming" as to render the error harmless.

In deciding this appeal by the government we may only set aside the findings of fact of the district court if they are clearly erroneous. Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir. 1983). Also, where we are called on to interpret or apply legal precepts our review is plenary. Id.

II. DISCUSSION

Before the district court, the petitioner's claim for a writ of habeas corpus was premised on two alternative grounds: (1) the admission of his co-defendant's testimony, through Fred Ludlow, violated his sixth amendment right to confront adverse witnesses; and (2) petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective. As to petitioner's second ground, he claimed that his counsel was ineffective in that (1) he failed to object to the consolidation of the trials of petitioner and his brother; (2) he failed to seek redaction of Fred Ludlow's testimony; and (3) he failed to request a jury instruction on intoxication.*fn2 The government argues that neither of the grounds asserted by petitioner provides a basis upon which to grant petitioner a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner continues to assert both grounds in seeking an affirmance of the district court's order.*fn3

A. CONFRONTATION CLAUSE

The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution provides in pertinent part: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with witnesses against him." This right to confront adverse witnesses is applicable to the States via the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 404, 13 L. Ed. 2d 923, 85 S. Ct. 1065 (1965). The "right to confront and cross-examine witnesses is primarily a functional right that promotes reliability in criminal trials," Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 90 L. Ed. 2d 514, 106 S. Ct. 2056 (1986), in that it

(1) insures that the witness will give his statements under oath -- thus impressing him with the seriousness of the matter and guarding against the lie by the possibility of a penalty for perjury; (2) forces the witness to submit to cross examination the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth; [and] (3) permits the jury that is to decide the defendant's fate to observe the demeanor of the witness in making his statement, thus aiding the jury in assessing his credibility.

Id. at 540 (citation omitted).

At the joint trial of Vincent and Robert Monachelli neither defendant took the witness stand. The Confrontation Clause problem to be addressed in this case is whether certain statements of Vincent Monachelli, made to Fred Ludlow, were improperly admitted through the testimony of Fred Ludlow in violation of the rights of petitioner Robert Monachelli. We will first consider the propriety of admitting the statements.

1. Error

At the criminal jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas Fred Ludlow testified for the prosecution that in the early morning hours of September 15, 1982 both Robert and Vincent Monachelli visited him at his house. Ludlow further stated that he had a conversation with Vincent Monachelli at that time. After eliciting this testimony, the prosecutor asked Ludlow to detail the substance of Ludlow's conversation with Vincent. Counsel for Robert Monachelli objected. The trial judge overruled the objection but cautioned the jury not to consider what Ludlow was about to say against Robert unless it found that a conspiracy existed between Robert and Vincent. Ludlow then testified that Vincent told him that Vincent and Robert were ...


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