(E.D. PA Civ. No. 97-cv-02561)
Before: BECKER, STAPLETON and COWEN, CIRCUIT JUDGES.
This is an appeal from an order of the district court denying the motion of Maxine Davidson White and Betty Heidnik requesting a stay of the execution of Gary Heidnik, appointment of federal habeas corpus counsel on his behalf, and next friend standing. *fn1 The motion was filed in the district court just over two days ago (April 15, 1997) and the order appealed from, which followed marathon hearings lasting until midnight, was entered the next day at 6:00 p.m. We conducted extensive oral argument yesterday afternoon. This hectic pace, which is a continuum of a similarly paced state court proceeding that commenced on April 11, 1997 and was concluded in the trial court on April 15, 1997 (the matter is presently pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court), is a function of the fact that the Governor of Pennsylvania has issued a warrant for Heidnik's execution in the Pennsylvania death chamber at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, which expires on April 19, 1997. For the reasons that follow, we vacate and remand with directions.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
These proceedings have their origin in a series of heinous crimes committed by Heidnik over a six month period in 1986-87. According to the record of his convictions, Heidnik kidnapped and tortured six women, murdering two of the victims by various forms of physical abuse and starvation. In 1988, a jury convicted Heidnik of first degree murder and returned two sentences of death. Heidnik personally petitioned the state courts to conduct no appellate review and to expedite his execution. The state supreme court, however, engaged in statutorily mandated review of limited issues of state law and affirmed the judgment of sentence. See Commonwealth v. Heidnik, 587 A.2d 687 (Pa. 1987).
Heidnik made no further effort to challenge his sentence, but his execution was delayed by the decision of the former Governor not to issue warrants of execution. The current Governor issued the presently outstanding warrant on March 20, 1997. On April 11, 1997, attorneys seeking to represent Heidnik filed a petition in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas asserting that Heidnik was incompetent to be executed. See Ford v. Wainright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986). The trial judge convened a hearing on Monday, April 14. When called to the stand, Heidnik reaffirmed his previous position that he did not want to appeal his sentence. Counsel elicited from him his belief in various conspiracy theories, centering on his assertion that he was innocent of the murders and had been framed by the victims and corrupt police officers.
Heidnik's delusional beliefs are illustrated by excerpts of his testimony before the state trial court. Heidnik believes that the kidnapped victims carried out the two killings of which he was convicted:
I think they killed Ms. Lindsay -- it's possible that they killed her because she was a lesbian. And I didn't know that, and you know, up until that time.
The reason I mentioned this was because they killed her the next day, they killed her the next day, which suggests that they either killed her because she was a lesbian or this gave the excuse they were looking for.
Rivera was the brains behind it. But Ms. Thomas I'm pretty sure did ...