Branch v. Sweeney, No. 13-1657 (3d Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
In 1993, Branch entered a Newark building, inhabited by drug dealers and addicts, just before Mosley was fatally shot. When the police arrested Branch the next day, he had the gun that shot Mosley. Branch testified that he went to the building to retrieve $50 that he had paid for fake cocaine. He encountered a lookout, and, though he claims to have been unarmed, insisted on going inside. Inside, Branch saw several people and asked who had supplied the fake cocaine. Lee produced a gun and told Branch to get out. Branch claims that in the ensuing scramble, Lee’s gun discharged, that Lee dropped her gun, and that he grabbed it and ran out. Branch called two witnesses who confirmed his account. The state called several witnesses who indicated that Branch went to the building to rob its occupants and killed Mosley. All of the witnesses had long criminal records. The arresting officer testified that Branch ran, fought him, and tried to pull a weapon. Despite apparent reservations, the jury convicted Branch. After state appellate proceedings and two remands, the trial court sentenced Branch to life for aggravated manslaughter. The appellate court affirmed. After unsuccessful state post-conviction proceedings, Branch unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. The Third Circuit vacated, stating that it could not find any justification for trial counsel’s failure to call two potential witnesses; if they had testified consistently with their pretrial written statements, there is a reasonable probability that the evidence would not have favored the prosecution. The state courts’ conclusions were unreasonable applications of federal law, so the district court was required to hold a hearing to ascertain reasons for not calling the potential witnesses.