Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wetzel v. Lambert

This case is discussing the issue, "Did the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals err when it overturned a state court decision denying a death row defendant’s request for a new trial?" "in Pennsylvania back in 1984, a man named James Lambert was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of two bar patrons during a robbery of a place called Prince's Lounge in Philadelphia.  At the murder trial, one of the robbers took the stand for the prosecution and pointed the finger at Mr. Lambert along with another man, Bruce Reese, as being in cahoots with him in robbing the bar. 

Lambert is convicted, the death penalty is imposed, and the appellate process begins.  Twenty years later, Lambert's attorneys advance an argument that error has occurred because the prosecution never disclosed to the defense at trial of the "police activity sheet."  It's a big deal. 
If the state attorneys had done this, then this would fly in the face of longstanding Supreme Court precedent, Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963). 
What's in the "police activity sheet"?  In that sheet, a photo of a man named Lawrence Woodlock was shown to two people who were at the bar during the robbery.  Woodlock was named as a co-defendant by the state attorneys on the sheet in the Prince's Lounge robbery.  Woodlock had a record of over 13 armed robberies of bars.  Woodlock was already in custody at the time of trial on other charges.
It also had the names of two police investigators in the Lambert case and the names of those who died during the robbery with their corresponding case numbers.  Finally, it had Jackson - Lambert's buddy who took the stand against him - as stating that Woodlock had been involved in the Prince's Lounge job. 
For all these years, much less during the trial, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had not notified the defense of this document much less provided it to Lambert.  Lambert's counsel was never notified that known armed robber Larry Woodlock had ever been investigated, or had his photo shown to a Prince's Lounge witness. 
It matters because if that police activity sheet were available at trial, Lambert's attorneys could have argued that someone other than Lambert committed the armed robbery at Prince's Lounge - or that there were more people involved in the robbery that the state had been suggesting."
This case was argued on February 21st, 2012. It was also decided on February 21st, 2012. The decision was 6-3, per curiam ruling. I think this case was pretty much already decided and the facts from almost thirty years ago really could not make the initial decision of punishments any different.

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