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Haskell v. Greene

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 1, 2017


          Argued March 27, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 1-10-cv-00149) District Judge: Honorable Susan Paradise Baxter

          Lisa B. Freeland, Esquire Federal Public Defender Elisa A. Long, Esquire (Argued) Assistant Federal Public Defender Office of Federal Public Defender Counsel for Appellant.

          Mark W. Richmond, Esquire (Argued) Erie County Office of District Attorney Counsel for Appellee.

          Before: AMBRO, VANASKIE, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges



         A gunman murdered Darrell Cooley in a bar in Erie, Pennsylvania, in December 1994. Nearly four years later, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania indicted and tried Vance Haskell for Cooley's murder. The primary issue at the trial was whether Haskell was the gunman. In addition to circumstantial evidence linking Haskell to the murder, the Commonwealth presented four eyewitnesses. But one of these eyewitnesses recanted his pre-trial testimony implicating Haskell and two had previously denied that they would be able to identify the shooter. The fourth eyewitness, Antoinette Blue, did provide consistent testimony claiming she could identify the shooter. What's more, she claimed to expect nothing in return from the Commonwealth in exchange for her testimony. But this last claim was untrue. Both Blue and the prosecutor knew that she expected to receive help in her own pending criminal matters in exchange for her testimony. The prosecutor failed to correct Blue's statement; he even went on to rely on it and vouch for Blue in his closing argument.

         Haskell filed a habeas petition challenging his conviction as tainted by perjured testimony in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. We must decide whether Haskell is entitled to relief once he has shown a reasonable likelihood the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury, Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 154 (1972) (citing Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 271 (1959)), or whether he must also show Blue's perjured testimony caused him "actual prejudice" under the standard in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993). We hold that Brecht does not apply when the State has knowingly presented or failed to correct perjured testimony. In those circumstances a petitioner carries his burden when he makes the reasonable likelihood showing required by Giglio and Napue. Because Haskell has done so here, we grant his petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the early hours on December 10, 1994, a man entered a bar called Jethroe's Steakhouse in Erie, Pennsylvania with a semiautomatic weapon (described at trial as an "Uzi") and opened fire. He shot roughly 14 times, killing Darrell Cooley and wounding Kevin Twillie. The shooter fled the scene with another man, Curtis Mathis.

         Mathis was convicted in November 1995 for his role in these crimes (two counts of hindering apprehension of the shooter). He did not identify the shooter and received three to seven years in prison.

         A year into his sentence, Mathis, hoping that his cooperation would result in parole, communicated with Detective Sergeant James Skindell to cooperate in the ongoing investigation to identify the shooter. He provided a videotaped statement in which he named Vance Haskell (whom Mathis also called "Hakeem") as the shooter. Haskell was charged with Cooley's murder, aggravated assault of Twillie, unlawful carrying of a firearm, and several related crimes in November 1997. His trial began ten months later.

         As noted, the primary issue at trial was the identity of the shooter. The Commonwealth's prosecutor, Matthew R. Hayes, presented testimony from over 40 witnesses; only four-Mathis, Roseanna Wayne, Dorothea Roberts, and Blue-ever claimed to be able to identify Haskell as the shooter, and all except Blue had denied-either at trial or before-that they could do so.

         A. Trial Testimony

         Haskell is from Rochester, New York, but the Commonwealth presented evidence that he was in Erie, Pennsylvania around the time of the murder. Felicia Clark testified that Haskell and Mathis had been staying at her Erie apartment in Franklin Terrace in the weeks leading up to the shooting. The two drove from Rochester to Erie with Clark's brother, and evidence suggests that he drove Haskell away from Erie between December 9th and 11th: Clark's uncle testified at trial that he had loaned his car to her brother on December 9, 1994; when he got it back two days later, it had been driven 586 miles, and police later matched to Haskell fingerprints on beer bottles left in the car.

         Nine witnesses testified that the unknown shooter was wearing a puffy coat; although two of them recalled the coat being blue or black in color, the other seven described it as green. Eight witnesses testified that Mathis and an unidentified shooter were in Jethroe's together and fled after the shooting. One man who was in the parking lot during the shooting testified that he saw Mathis and Haskell running toward the alley behind Jethroe's. He noted that Haskell was wearing a "big fluffy jacket." Also, three witnesses testified that Mathis and someone else took a cab to Franklin Terrace. One of them was the cab driver, although his only recollection was of picking up two black men from Red's Tavern, which is not far from Jethroe's. A resident of Franklin Terrace picked Haskell out of a photo line-up and said he had been at her home after the shooting.

         Two witnesses testified they previously saw Haskell with a gun similar to the firearm recovered in an alley near Jethroe's. One said that he had seen Haskell several times at Felicia Clark's home with "a nine-millimeter pistol, 380 automatic, an Uzi, like, type machine gun." J.A. 745. He also identified the recovered Uzi as the gun he saw Haskell carrying. The other testified that she had seen Haskell with a black firearm "slightly bigger than your average handgun" four days before the shooting and that he was wearing a green down coat at that time. Id. at 683.

         In sum, these witnesses placed Haskell in Erie near Jethroe's around the time of the shooting and put two key items associated with the shooter in his possession: a large gun and a green, fluffy jacket. But none of them saw Haskell shoot the victims.

         Four individuals presented eyewitness testimony of the shooting. But each witness's testimony came with a few problems for the prosecution.

         The first, Mathis, who had put the Commonwealth on Haskell's trail and had already been convicted of assisting the shooter's escape, recanted his previous statements on the stand. In Mathis's videotaped statement, he said that he and Haskell went to Jethroe's together that night and, while he did not witness the shooting occur, he saw Haskell immediately after wearing a green "puffy" coat and holding a smoking gun. Mathis also stated that he fled the bar with Haskell, that Haskell threw the gun under a vehicle in an alley and tossed off his coat, and that they went to another nearby bar. From there they got into a cab to head toward Franklin Terrace. In the video Mathis was shown a photo line-up and identified Haskell.

         But at trial Mathis recanted his videotaped statement and testified instead that he was at Jethroe's at the time of the shooting but was not there with Haskell. He claimed he did not witness anyone with a gun; he left the bar in a car he drove himself and went to a place known as the "Holly" rather than the Franklin Terrace housing project.[1] Mathis agreed that, when he gave the videotaped statement, his "only concern [was] getting out of jail[.]" Id. at 629. He related that he reviewed police reports of the murder (of which he had copies from his own involvement in the case) in order to tell the police and prosecutors what they wanted to hear-that is, what would make their case against Haskell.

         Second, Roseanna Wayne only stated that Haskell's appearance was not inconsistent with that of the shooter. Id. at 348 ("If the hair was down lower, the beard was off the face, the mustache was off the face . . . [, ] [i]t look [sic] like the shooter."). But earlier in her testimony she said she was not sure she could identify the shooter. Id. ("Q. If you saw that person again, the person that was doing the shooting, do you think you'd recognize that person? A. No. I don't know."). At other moments in her testimony, Wayne appeared to be more confident, id. at 357 ("Sir, he look just like the man."), but she also admitted on cross-examination that she had never seen Haskell before the day she testified in court, id. at 357 ("Q. Never seen Mr. Haskell before today? A. No, sir.").

         The third eyewitness, Dorothea Roberts, testified in court that she was at Jethroe's on the night of the shooting and that she saw the shooter. She further testified that Haskell was the shooter and identified him in court. However, about three months after the shooting, Roberts had told Detective Skindell that she did not see the shooter. On cross-examination, Roberts denied this and said that if Detective Skindell wrote that in his report, he must have lied. Roberts also testified that she was currently in the Erie County Jail on charges of simple assault. Id. at 483.

         With three eyewitnesses who each made questionable identifications of Haskell, Prosecutor Hayes called Antoinette Blue to the stand. She testified that she saw Haskell shoot Cooley and had met Haskell before the shooting took place, strengthening the power of her identification. As context, Blue stated that she had seen Haskell around town for a few weeks, and, 20 minutes before the shooting, she smoked marijuana with him, Mathis, Felicia's Clark's brother, and a woman named Yolanda in Jethroe's parking lot. That night, Blue did not report to the police that she was able to identify the shooter. She never spoke with the police about the incident until three years later in February of 1998.

         B. Blue's Communications with the Commonwealth

         Blue was in the Erie County Jail when she finally spoke to the police about the shooting. Two warrants brought her there. One was issued for a parole violation following her conviction for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The second stemmed from her failure to appear for sentencing after pleading guilty to a charge of attempted theft.

         And Blue had other troubles in Mercer County. She was arrested there and charged with receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy, unsworn falsification, three misdemeanor counts of retail theft, and four summary counts of retail theft. It was following this arrest that police transported her to the Erie County Jail because of that County's two outstanding warrants. Back in Erie, she reached out to Detective Skindell to cooperate in Haskell's case.

         Blue lied when she testified at Haskell's preliminary hearing on March 18, 1998. When asked on cross-examination whether she had "any criminal charges pending against [her, ]" she left out her numerous pending charges in Mercer County and responded that she was "just [in jail] on a probation violation." Id. at 79.

         Blue also testified adamantly that she never discussed with anyone whether cooperating with Haskell's prosecution would help her get out of jail and that "it never occurred to [her]" that cooperation might be helpful to her. Id. at 109-10. But just two days after testifying at the preliminary hearing, Blue received sentences on her parole violations that (despite having picked up additional charges in Mercer County) resulted in her release from custody.

         Within weeks of the preliminary hearing, Detective Skindell informed Mercer County authorities that Blue was a cooperating witness in Erie County's case against Haskell. Skindell also told Blue's Mercer County defense attorney about her cooperation, and the attorney responded by sending a strongly worded letter to the Mercer County DA demanding a favorable outcome on Blue's pending charges due to her cooperation in the Haskell case. Finally, the prosecutor in Haskell's case, Hayes, reached out to the Mercer DA, who informed Hayes that the judge in Blue's case would be told of her cooperation at sentencing.[2]

         In September 1998, Blue testified at Haskell's trial. On cross-examination, Haskell's attorney pointed out that Blue was released from jail after she testified at Haskell's preliminary hearing. But Blue denied that the Erie County judge was aware of her cooperation and said that the timing of her release was "just a coincidence." Id. at 522. She also denied that she cooperated with the police in exchange for help with her criminal matters. When asked on what charges she was in jail at the time she communicated with Detective Skindell, Blue again mentioned only her probation violation and said nothing about her charges in Mercer County.

         Haskell's attorney then asked several questions aimed at revealing Blue's motivation to cooperate.

Q. And did you contact the District Attorney's Office because you wanted some help ...

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