Breakiron v. Horn, No. 08-9003 (3d Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
The defendant was sentenced to death for the 1987 robbery-murder of a bartender. The defendant claimed that he killed the woman while intoxicated and, after she was dead, decided to take the money. On petition for habeas corpus, the federal district court invalidated the murder conviction, finding that the prosecution withheld evidence that could have been used to impeach a witness, but upheld the robbery conviction. The state of Pennsylvania has indicated intent to retry the murder. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to the robbery. Although the witness did not testify about the robbery, his testimony undermined the defendant's credibility and suggested that the incident, as a whole, was premeditated and intentional. By failing to request a jury instruction on theft, trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Counsel's actions were unreasonable and, contrary to the state court's holding, prejudicial to the defendant. Considering the weight of the evidence, not just its sufficiency, there was a reasonable probability that the jury would have convicted of theft, given that option. Counsel was also ineffective in failing to take corrective action after a venireman stated that he knew the defendant and that the defendant "used to do a lot of robbing."