ln 1976, Robert Wideman was convicted by a jury of Second Degree Homicide and Robbery with a weapon. lt was established by the testimony of all witnesses that Robert did not shoot the victim. However, in Pennsylvania, if a death occurs during the commission of a Felony, all persons involved are guilty of Second Degree Homicide. In Pennsylvania, Life without parole, is a mandatory sentence for Second Degree Homicide.
For a death to be a ruled a Homicide the Prosecution must prove cause of death —Causation—in one of two ways: 1) the perpetrator's criminal actions were the Direct and Substantial cause of death, 2) prove an UNBROKEN CHAIN OF EVENTS from the perpetrators actions to the victims death.
ln Mr. Wideman's case, the only evidence the Prosecution offered to prove Causation was the testimony of the Allegheny County Coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht's Office. During the initial trial, his office testified the direct and substantive cause of death of the victim was a gun shot wound. Twenty two years later Robert discovered a Civil Suit filed by the victim's family. The suit contradicted the Causation Evidence presented at trial. The victim's estate received a settlement of $100,000 from the attending doctors for Wrongful Death. The suit alleged and substantiated these facts: 1. the gunshot wound was not life threatening. 2. But for the botched medical treatment of the doctors and hospital, the victim would have lived. This information remained unknown to anyone other than the family and the Civil Court for 22 years until Mr. Wideman stumbled upon it in a law book in the prison library.
Robert immediately filed for a new trial based on this newly discovered evidence. lf the death was not caused by the actions of Mr. Wideman, then he could not be guilty of murder. Allegheny County Criminal Court Judge James McGregor granted him an Evidentiary Hearing. After a professional review of the Civil Suit, the County Coroner, Dr. Wecht, recanted his previous trial testimony and testified the following at the hearing:
'it is my professional opinion based upon a reasonable degree of
medical certainty that the gunshot wound in and of itself was
NOT the cause of the fatality and that it was the NEGLIGENT
ACTS AND OMISSIONS of other people subsequent to the
shooting in this case which were the cause of Mr. Morena's
death.' See Court Transcripts Tab
Cause of death or causation, is an essential element that must be proven BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT to the finder of facts, the jury, or there is no Homicide. Pennsylvania Criminal Code defines all crimes in terms of their essential elements. At the end of a trial the judge must define these elements to the jury. He instructs the jury as to what each element is and the jury's duty to make a finding on each element for a true verdict. These instructions are explicitly written in the Pennsylvania Criminal Code and were given verbatim at Mr. Widemans' initial trial by the late Judge James Clark:
'In order to find the Defendant guilty of murder of the second
degree you must find that ALL of the following elements have
been established beyond a Reasonable Doubt. One, that the
Defendant caused the death of another person. That is, you
must find that the death of Nicola Morena would not have
occurred but for the Defendant's actions. Two, that Defendant
acted intentionally, knowingly recklessly, or negligently in
causing such death. Three, that the killing occurred when the
Defendant was engaged in or an accomplice in the commission
of or an attempt to commit the crime of robbery as I have
already defined that crime for you. If, after considering all of the
evidence, you find that the Commonwealth has established each
of these elements Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, then you may
find the Defendant guilty of murder of the Second Degree. If you
find the Commonwealth's evidence has not established these
elements of the offense, you MUST find the Defendant Not
Guilty of Second Degree murder.'
So the questions for the Evidentiary Court were:
Were these elements proven in Mr. Wideman's case? and,
Was Robert Wideman granted a fair trial?
Judge James McGregor ruled the element of causation was NOT PROVEN and Robert DID NOT receive a fair trial. Consequently granting Mr. Wideman a new trial. However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, with the eventual concurrence from subsequent higher appellant courts, overruled Judge McGregor and revoked the new trial based on their erroneous application of the newly discovered evidence statute, in practice DISREGARDING whether Mr. Wideman received a fair trial. These courts made a judgment that the new evidence would not changed the jury's verdict. THEY ARE IN ERROR. The jury must FIRST make a finding on causation, based on something other than FALSE TESTIMONY. THE INITIAL TRIAL TESTIMONY REGARDING THE VICTIM'S DEATH WAS FALSE. AS IS EVIDENCED WITH THE CORRECTED TESTIMONY OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY CORONER DR. CYRIL WECHT.
It CANNOT be a fair trial when the prosecution MUST establish causation and the JURY MUST make a finding. NOT an Appellant Court 22 years later! A Jury!! The Constitutional Right to a fair trial is defined in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment requires the State to prove each element of the crime charged.
The Six Amendment requires the jury MUST make a finding on each element of the crime charged.
These are Fundamental Principles of our democracy and are rights guaranteed by our Constitution. In fact these principles are so important they influenced our founding fathers decision to break away from the English Monarchy. They demanded, when the Government lodged a charge against a Citizen, that Citizen should have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers based on FAIR and IMPARTIAL evidence.
We argue that these Constitutionally guaranteed rights were denied Mr. Wideman. We claim this denial was precipitated by how the Pennsylvania Legislature defined the newly discovered Evidence Statute. The Legislature placed too much emphasis on the "Probability Standard" and too little emphasis on the impact certain false testimony can have on the guarantee of a fair trial.
Pennsylvania Legislators created a standard instructing the courts how to review newly discovered evidence. They created three prongs or hurdles the petitioner must overcome when requesting relief based on newly discovered evidence:
1. Petitioner must use due diligence in bringing to light the newly discovered evidence.
2. The newly discovered evidence can not be cumulative. The evidence can not further establish evidence already presented and rejected at trial.
3.(probability standard) The petitioner must prove the newly discovered evidence would probably change the jury's verdict at a new trial.
We argue that the third prong of the newly discovered evidence rule created by the Pennsylvania Legislature is inapplicable to Mr. Wideman's case therefore Unconstitutional and in need of redress. It is constitutionally mandated, that the Legislative branch can not write law that prohibits the judicial branch from it's duties to administer justice. In Mr. Wideman's case the new evidence showed INDISPUTABLY FALSE EVIDENCE/TESTIMONY was the only evidence offered on the essential element of causation. Without this element, established and found there can be no presumption of a fair trial, regardless of any other evidence. No Judicial body can substitute their interpretation of what the jury WOULD HAVE found if it would have heard the facts.
The Legal Community has long argued over the viability of false testimony versus 'probability standards' in reviewing newly discovered evidence cases. The 'probability standard' has traditionally carried the higher burden of proof (however the new evidence in Mr. Wideman's case WOULD probably change the verdict and by extension, the sentence.) Codefendants, friends and family have been notorious for changing their testimony after the fact. lf a lower standard of review was used (the new evidence MIGHT change the verdict) for traditional false testimony, the court would be in the untenable position of being forced to overturn otherwise valid convictions simply because witnesses wanted to change their testimony again and again after trial. Court cases would never be resolved and claims of false testimony would overwhelm the courts with petitions for redress. The probability standard gives the Court discretion to weigh newly discovered evidence based on its IMPACT on the verdict it is challenging. We concede this as reasonable in most cases. Most States, as well as the Federal Courts, use the probability standard which is held to a higher burden of proof. However, many legal cases and legal journals have debated this issue. lt is still unresolved mainly due to cases like Mr. Wideman's, where the probability standard hamstrings the Judge's ability to administer justice using a standard that DOES NOT ADEQUATELY APPLY to the situation. Mr. Wideman's case clearly demonstrates this dilemma and gives credence to this debate concerning the probability standard versus false testimony in newly discovered evidence cases. But the Pennsylvania Legislature, by it's enactment of the newly discovered evidence statute as the sole means to bring forth newly discovered evidence, left Mr. Wideman no other way to exert his new evidence claim. It left Judge McGregor no other way to evaluate the claim accept by the newly discovered evidence rules and procedures laid out in the statute.
The argument in Mr. Wideman's case is not the sufficiency of the causation evidence or would it probably cause a different verdict, as the Appellant Courts claim. When there was no real evidence! How can sufficiency of evidence be the question? The question is, did Mr. Wideman receive a fair trial? The other reason given for the higher burden of proof, besides those already stated, is the Court presupposes all the aspects of a fair trial were fulfilled in the original verdict. So the probability standard can be applied to the newly discovered evidence only, while preserving one's Fifth and Six Amendment Rights. Yet Mr. Wideman's newly discovered evidence PROVED INDISPUTABLE FALSE TESTIMONY as the ONLY EVIDENCE OF CAUSATION. That False Testimony demonstrated clearly that two crucial aspects of a fair trial were missing, thus nullifying any presumptions of a fair and accurate verdict:
A.) the right to have the State prove, with facts, all the elements of the charged crime, which includes causation.
B.) the right to have the JURY make a finding, based on facts, on ALL elements of the charged crime, which includes Causation. How, when the only evidence the jury heard on cause of death was indisputably false, can the premise of a fair trial be presupposed or taken for granted? So, to use the probability standard in Mr. Wideman's case essentially takes away his right to a fair trial before a jury of his peers, impinging upon his Fifth and Six Amendment Rights.
Consequently, the Courts CANNOT DECIDE on whether the new evidence would have probably changed the verdict when the ESSENTIAL element of causation was not proven or found with any facts, essentially wiping away any premise of a fair trial or verdict.
How can it be a fair trial when the jury has rendered a verdict without any true evidence on cause of death?
How, when the County Court's OWN Coroner gave false testimony on cause of death, then twenty two years later RECANTED that testimony as false, can a fair trial be presumed?
How can the State's Appellant Courts presuppose a fair trial on a Homicide conviction without the State establishing any factual evidence on causation? When the most ESSENTIAL element of causation was determined on false testimony?
How can a Homicide conviction stand? Regardless of the effect the coroner's testimony would probably have on a new trial, how can the Appellant Court claim Mr. Wideman's original trial was fair and impartial? The State MUST prove and the jury MUST find on cause of death. When that proof and finding are not based on facts how can a fair trial be presumed? One of the absolute principles the Court uses to define a fair trial is ALL of the essential elements of the crime must be proven beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Causation is one of those essential elements in a Homicide trial. It is the most essential element!
Judge James McGregor was limited in making his ruling based upon the third prong of the newly discovered evidence statute, the probability standard, which the State Legislature created for him. He recognized the limitation he was under and tried to navigate a just result within the structure of this flawed, though well meaning, statute. Yet the Appellant Courts decided to ignore the obvious incongruities Judge McGregor confronted. Twenty two years after the fact the Appellant Court decided the importance of the newly discovered, the only true evidence, on cause of death. Then, after superimposing themselves as the jury, made a finding on that evidence declaring Mr. Wideman guilty. In the process, denying Mr. Wideman's United States Constitutional guarantees. This is a complete miscarriage of justice and an overreaching of authority. Despite what should have been obvious inconsistencies to a legally trained jurist, the Appellant Court overturned the necessary NEW Trial Order from Judge James McGregor. This is a glaring and obvious injustice and a dangerous precedent and should be addressed and rectified by the courts.
Mr. Widman's lawyers were mired in the machination of the third prong of the newly discovered evidence statute and missed the Constitutional issue. Mr. Wideman is not legally trained. Hence, he was unaware, at the time, how the misuse of the 'probability standard' was trampling his rights. After much painstaking research and effort, he came to see the issues as we present them here. Tragically by the time Mr. Wideman came to understand these issues his avenues for redress had been squandered by his Lawyers and exhausted in the Appellant Courts arguing the probability standard. The arbitrary time restraints our legal system has imposed on the pursuit of justice now bars the courtroom door on Mr. Wideman's case. His pray now is that a legal mind can help him find a way to have these issues redressed in the court. His only other hope is that all who care about justice will sign his Commutation Petition and assist him in his efforts to make Commutation and gain his freedom.
To be clear, Robert Wideman is not arguing that he should not have spent time in prison, clearly he should have, but Life without Parole is a grossly unfair, unjust sentence for someone who committed NO HOMICIDE and did not receive a fair trial. Dr. Cyril Wecht’s corrected testimony should be heard by a Jury of Mr. Wideman’s peers, and let the Jury decide on the sentence, not the Appellate Courts. Please read Dr. Wecht’s testimony under the Court Transcripts Tab.
Robert Wideman, AP3468
P.O. Box 99991
Pittsburgh, PA 15233