[J-52-2007] IN THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA EASTERN DISTRICT COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, : : Appellee : : : v. : : : LESLIE CHARLES X. BEASLEY, : : Appellant : : : : : No. 328 CAP Appeal from the Order entered on 12/12/00 at No. 969 November Term 1980 denying amended PCRA petition in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County
SUBMITTED: April 9, 2007
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE CASTILLE
DECIDED: March 18, 2009
I join the Majority Opinion, subject to the following observations. With respect to the question of counsel ineffectiveness at the penalty phase, which is the primary subject of the Majority Opinion, I confess that I am not sure what courts are supposed to do with ancient capital cases, such as this one, particularly in light of the changing federal jurisprudence in capital cases.1 This case was tried in 1981, before
The Majority notes the unfortunate delay in this case following the filing of the notice of appeal. The pre-briefing delay was occasioned by the PCRA court’s failure to forward the record and its brief and incomplete opinion. In non-capital cases involving protracted delay, the appellant typically takes some action to move his appeal along; capital cases, of course, present the opposite incentive.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) itself was decided, and before this Court had decided any cases under the death penalty statute adopted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1970s-era suspension of capital punishment. The jurisprudential
landscape available to trial counsel, L. Carter Anderson, Esq., in preparing a death case in 1981 was not particularly helpful. More importantly, the facts here made the penalty-phase particularly difficult. The single aggravating circumstance was appellant’s significant history of violent felony convictions, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(9). Appellant’s criminal history was both grave and unique. Prior to the instant trial, appellant had been convicted of murder on two separate occasions, the latter of which involved the capital murder of a Philadelphia police officer while appellant was at large after the murder he committed here. See Commonwealth v. Beasley, 479 A.2d 460, 461 (Pa. 1984). This history distinguishes appellant from the great majority of other first-degree murderers. I do not suggest that this daunting circumstance facing counsel can excuse or render reasonable a failure to investigate his client’s background in preparation of a penalty phase defense. But, by the same token, in assessing Strickland prejudice, there obviously is some real-world force in counsel’s recognition that playing up appellant’s personal history was not likely to engender sympathy for a defendant well on his way to becoming a serial murderer. I think it is well-nigh impossible for appellant to secure penalty phase relief under Strickland, given that he is a three-time murderer. I have explained my general view in this regard at some length in my recent Concurring Opinion in Commonwealth v. Gibson, 951 A.2d 1110, 1151 (Pa. 2008) (Castille, C.J., joined by McCaffery, J., dissenting). Relief should be even more difficult to obtain as this is appellant’s second collateral attack, and thus, he must prove that the death verdict was a miscarriage of justice. Commonwealth v. Lawson, 549 A.2d 107 (Pa. 1988). See
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But the primary difficulty in this appeal is the distressingly deficient analysis engaged in by the PCRA court, which the Majority has detailed and explained at length. The PCRA court’s lapse includes its incomplete factual analysis of the claim of counsel ineffectiveness in preparing and presenting a penalty phase case, its failure to recognize other complexities (such as the necessity for layering and the necessity to prove a miscarriage of justice), and its inexplicable failure to address appellant’s other claims. The fact that I believe it is unlikely in the extreme that Strickland prejudice and a Lawson miscarriage of justice can be proven in this case respecting the penalty phase does not and cannot excuse the PCRA court of its responsibility to engage in a responsible, substantive evaluation of appellant’s claims respecting both the guilt and the penalty phases of trial. In Gibson, I noted that my joinder in the remand there was occasioned by, inter alia, “respect for the care and prudence in the Majority’s explanation of the deficiencies in the PCRA court’s analysis; [and] the importance of emphasizing to the courts below their duties of precision in capital appeals….” Id. at 1148. Ultimately, those considerations likewise command my joinder here.
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