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United States v. Tyler

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

October 3, 2013


Argued May 13, 2013

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 1:96-cr-00106-001) District Judge: Honorable William W. Caldwell

Ronald A. Krauss, Esq. [ARGUED] Office of Federal Public Defender Counsel for Appellant Willie Tyler.

Gordon A.D. Zubrod, Esq., Assistant United States Attorney [ARGUED] office of United States Attorney Counsel for Appellee United States of America.

Before: FUENTES, SHWARTZ, and ROTH, Circuit Judges



Willie Tyler was charged under state law for the murder of Doreen Proctor, a witness who was scheduled to testify at his brother's state trial. Tyler was acquitted of the murder charge but convicted of witness intimidation and served a term in state prison. After his release, federal prosecutors brought charges for witness tampering by murder and by intimidation in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512. At Tyler's federal trial, the jury was instructed about two legal theories by which the Government could prove its case— tampering with a witness to prevent her testimony at an official proceeding and tampering with a witness to prevent her communication with law enforcement. Tyler was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. Tyler now argues that two recent Supreme Court decisions, Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States and Fowler v. United States, limited the scope of the witness tampering statute and have rendered non-criminal the acts for which he was convicted. We conclude that these intervening Supreme Court decisions along with the evidence in the record supports Tyler's actual innocence claim. For this reason, we will remand to the District Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and provide Tyler an opportunity to present evidence in support of his actual innocence.


A. Factual History

Doreen Proctor's body was found on the side of a country road in Adams County, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1992, shot in the head and chest, badly beaten, and stabbed repeatedly. She had been scheduled to testify that day as a witness against David Tyler, Appellant Willie Tyler's brother, in Pennsylvania state court.[1] In her role as a confidential informant for the Carlisle Police Department, Proctor had made four controlled buys of cocaine from Tyler and from three other individuals, Jerome "Butchie" Evans, Mary Jane Hodge and Cindy Brooks, in early 1991. Proctor had testified against the four individuals at their preliminary hearing, and in January 1992, she testified at Hodge's trial leading to a conviction. After Proctor's death, the remaining trials were halted.

Instead, in July 1992, Tyler, along with David and David's girlfriend Roberta Ronique Bell, were charged under state law with criminal homicide and witness intimidation in connection with Proctor's death. Tyler was acquitted of the murder but convicted of witness intimidation, David was convicted of murder, and Bell was acquitted of all charges. Willie Tyler was sentenced to two to four years in state prison.

Federal law enforcement officers began a subsequent investigation into Proctor's death, and in June 1995, Bell was charged with witness tampering and intimidation. After a jury trial, Bell was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. United States v. Bell, 113 F.3d 1345, 1347 (3d Cir. 1997). In April 1996, after his release from state prison, Tyler was charged by federal authorities with murder and intimidation of a witness in connection with Proctor's death.

The evidence revealed that on April 20, 1992, following a meeting between David and Jerome Evans, David recounted the conversation to Tyler and then stated, "[t]hat bitch is going to die tonight." App. 429. Shortly thereafter, David went to a shed outside of Hodge's house, returned with a sawed-off shotgun and asked Tyler whether he knew how to cock the gun, and Tyler demonstrated that he knew how to do so. That night, Roberta Bell asked a friend to babysit her kids. The next morning, Tyler and David returned to Mary Jane Hodge's home where Tyler said "It's over, she's gone, " and David reported, "she's dead, and I'll be at court . . . and that bitch won't." App. 435. That same morning, Bell returned home with an armful of bloody clothes and told her babysitting friend to say she had been home all night. The friend overheard an argument between Tyler, David, and Bell during which Bell told Tyler, "I shot Doreen but you killed her." App. 521.

B. Proctor's Involvement with Law Enforcement

The Tri-County Drug Task Force, a joint anti-drug effort by state and local law enforcement officers from Cumberland, York, and Perry Counties in Pennsylvania was coordinated by Special Agent Ronald Diller of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation. In early 1992, at the time of Proctor's death, no federal agent or agency was part of the Task Force. However, a Memorandum of Understanding stated that each Task Force coordinator should evaluate state and local cases to determine which should be referred to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While a Task Force officer was initially responsible for his or her own confidential informants, at the conclusion of an investigation and trial, Special Agent Diller would generally meet with the investigating officers to determine whether there was any potential to expand the investigation. If a case was under consideration for federal involvement, Diller would join the investigating officer in debriefing the informant, and at that point, Diller would decide whether to bring the case to the DEA. Diller estimated that he had brought to the DEA three to five of the Task Force's cases each year for federal prosecution.

Though Diller was neither paid by any federal agency nor authorized to seize drugs or get a search warrant on behalf of the DEA, for certain investigations in the past, he had been deputized to act on the DEA's behalf when he would be traveling outside of Pennsylvania with a federal agent. Diller later testified that he would advise and consult with the DEA but ultimately conceded that he had never previously used the terms "advisor" or "consultant" and instead had borrowed them from an Assistant U.S. Attorney's affidavit.

Doreen Proctor had worked as an informant for Carlisle Police Detective David Fones, an officer with the Tri-County Drug Task Force. At the time of her death, Proctor no longer engaged in undercover operations but had continued to provide Fones with information on the drug market, including local drug activity in Harrisburg and nonlocal activity about David's drug sources in New York and Jamaica. Diller had also spoken on occasion with Proctor during 1991 and 1992 during Fones's investigation into David and his co-conspirators. While Diller had spoken with Proctor about the local drug activity, at the time of Proctor's death, Diller had not learned about Proctor's non-local information involving the New York and Jamaica drug market. Diller planned, however, to fully debrief Proctor after the conclusion of David's investigation and trial, in accordance with his general practice, and to then decide whether to expand the investigation and involve federal authorities. Diller later testified that had he known about Proctor's knowledge on David's drug connections in New York and Jamaica, the information would have been a significant factor in developing a federal case, and a DEA agent also contended that he would be interested in pursuing a federal case that involved Jamaican and New York drug connections. Nevertheless, at the time of Proctor's death, Diller had neither contacted any federal agency to discuss developing a federal case involving Proctor nor planned to use her as a witness in a federal proceeding. There was also no ongoing state investigations involving Proctor at the time of her death, and while Proctor had agreed to testify at the remaining trials of David and the other defendants, she had previously testified that she would no longer engage in undercover drug operations.


Willie Tyler is no stranger to this Court. After Tyler's state trial in which he was acquitted of murdering a witness and convicted of intimidating a witness, Tyler was federally charged with witness tampering by murder and by intimidation in connection with Proctor's death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(a)(1)(A) and (C) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(b)(1), (2), and (3), respectively. In August 1996, following a jury trial, Tyler was convicted of witness tampering, and on appeal, we reversed the conviction and granted a new trial based on grounds not relevant here. United States v. Tyler (Tyler I), 164 F.3d 150, 159 (3d Cir. 1998); see also United States v. Tyler (Tyler II), 281 F.3d 84, 89 (3d Cir. 2002). Tyler was re-tried, and in August 2000, a jury found Tyler guilty of two counts of tampering with a witness—by murder and by intimidation. He was later sentenced to life imprisonment, and on direct appeal, we affirmed the conviction. Tyler II, 281 F.3d at 101.[2]

In December 2009, Tyler filed a pro se motion, arguing that Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696 (2005), had rendered his conduct non-criminal. The Supreme Court had held in Arthur Andersen that certain official proceeding provisions of § 1512's witness intimidation subsection, § 1512(b)(2)(A) and (B), require that the Government prove a "nexus" between the defendant's conduct and a particular federal proceeding. 544 U.S. at 707-08. While his motion was pending, the Supreme Court decided Fowler v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2045, 2952 (2011), holding that an investigation-related communication provision of § 1512's witness murder subsection, § 1512(a)(1)(C), required that there be a reasonable likelihood that a witness's murder was intended to prevent communication with a federal law enforcement officer or judge. Tyler later supplemented his pro se motion to address Fowler. The District Court construed his motions as a petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, which it denied in March 2012. Tyler appealed.


A. Availability of Section 2241 Relief

Prior to the enactment of 28 U.S.C. § 2255, federal prisoners could seek post-conviction relief through the writ of habeas corpus, codified under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Section 2255, however, was enacted as an alternative to the writ of habeas corpus to allow prisoners to seek collateral review in the trial court where the case was prosecuted. In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 249 (3d Cir. 1997); see also United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 213-14 (1952). Section 2255 was later amended to restrict the ability of prisoners to file successive petitions. Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, § 106, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996).

However, even after § 2255 was enacted, a writ of habeas corpus under § 2241 remained available for prisoners under limited circumstances, including when § 2255 is "inadequate" or "ineffective, " 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), also known as § 2255's "safety valve." We have held that a § 2255 petition is "inadequate" when a petitioner asserts a claim of "actual innocence" on the theory that "he is being detained for conduct that has subsequently been rendered non-criminal by an intervening Supreme Court decision" and our own precedent construing an intervening Supreme Court decision, but is otherwise barred from challenging the legality of the conviction under § 2255. Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d at 252. Such a situation "presents exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ of habeas corpus is apparent." Id. at 250 (internal quotation marks omitted). Under those circumstances, we will remand to the district court to consider the record and determine whether the petitioner is actually innocent, that is whether the petitioner's conduct had been rendered non-criminal due to the Supreme Court decision as well as our own precedent construing the Supreme Court's decision. Id. at 252. To support an actual innocence claim, the petitioner must "establish that 'in light of all the evidence, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.'" United States v. Garth, 188 F.3d 99, 107 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998)). A petitioner can establish that no reasonable juror would have convicted him by demonstrating an intervening change in law that rendered his conduct non-criminal. See United States v. Davies, 394 F.3d 182, 191 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Bousley, 523 U.S. at 620). While Bousley addressed the standard that a petitioner must meet for claims brought under § 2255, this standard applies equally to actual innocence claims brought under § 2241. See, e.g., Stephens v. Herrera, 464 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2006); Martin v. Perez, 319 F.3d 799, 804 (6th Cir. 2003).

In the instant action, Tyler contends that he is actually innocent and being detained for conduct that has subsequently been rendered non-criminal due to the Supreme Court's interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512 in Arthur Andersen and Fowler and by our precedent construing those Supreme Court decisions. If Tyler's contention is correct, "the proper procedure under Bousley is to remand to the district court to determine whether a defendant is actually innocent of the charged offense when the record supports such a claim." Garth, 188 F.3d at 109. Thus, ...

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