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United States v. Hammer

May 11, 2009


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal No. 96-cr-00239) District Judge: Honorable Malcolm Muir.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rendell, Circuit Judge.


Argued January 14, 2009

Before: McKEE, RENDELL and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges.


David Paul Hammer pled guilty to murder in 1998 and was sentenced to death. He appeals from the District Court's denial of relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for his guilt-phase claims. The government appeals from the District Court's order that Hammer be resentenced. We will dismiss the appeals, as we lack jurisdiction because the orders of the District Court are not final.

I. Factual Background*fn1

In April of 1996, while a prisoner at USP Allenwood, Hammer killed his cellmate, Andrew Marti. After tying Marti to the bed frame and gagging him with a pair of socks, Hammer strangled Marti using a rope made of strips of braided sheets.

He was charged with first degree murder, and the government declared its intention to seek the death penalty.

After a psychiatric evaluation, Hammer presented an insanity defense. A forensic psychiatrist testified that Hammer suffered from dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and that one of his alter personalities*fn2 killed Marti; therefore, the defense argued, Hammer himself was not legally responsible. A government expert testified that Hammer did not suffer from the disorder and was responsible for his actions. About three weeks into the trial, Hammer told the court that he wanted to plead guilty. After another psychiatric evaluation, Hammer was deemed competent and pled guilty on June 22, 1998. At the change of plea proceeding, the government gave a brief summary of the evidence, and the court asked Hammer if he concurred. Hammer disagreed with some of the summary's details, but acknowledged that he tied Marti to the bed and killed him, and that before the incident he told other inmates that he was going to kill Marti. Hammer's acknowledgment of responsibility for Marti's death led the court to find intent to kill and premeditation.

The penalty phase lasted three weeks. For a jury to recommend the death penalty, it must find that the government has proven at least one statutory aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c). The Hammer jury found the following statutory aggravating factors unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) that Hammer intentionally killed Marti and that he did so after substantial planning and premeditation; and 2) that he had previously been convicted of several felony offenses involving the use of a firearm. The jury also found the following non-statutory aggravating factors, unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) that Hammer represented a continuing danger to the lives and safety of others because he was likely to commit criminal acts of violence; and 2) that he caused harm to Marti's family as a result of the murder.

The jury was then presented with 15 possible mitigating factors,*fn3 and required to determine whether or not Hammer had proven any of them by a preponderance of the evidence. The jury found unanimously that Hammer had proved the following mitigating factors: 1) Hammer was the product of a violent, abusive, and chaotic childhood; 2) he attempted to seek help for mental difficulties while he was a child; 3) he would be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of release if he were not sentenced to death; and 4) his friends and family would be adversely affected by his execution. The jury found unanimously that Hammer had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: 1) at the time of his offense his capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was significantly impaired; 2) at the time of the offense he was under substantial duress; and 3) he suffers from a major mental disease or defect. The jury was not unanimous as to the remaining factors.

The jury decided that the aggravating factors sufficiently outweighed the mitigating factors and recommended a death sentence on July 24, 1998. A week later, Hammer filed a pro se motion to discharge counsel. After a lengthy inpatient psychiatric evaluation, he was found competent, and the District Court granted his motion to discharge counsel. On November 4, 1998, the court sentenced Hammer to die by lethal injection.

Hammer appealed his conviction but then vacillated repeatedly over the course of several years, filing a motion to dismiss the appeal, a motion to recall the mandate, a petition for rehearing en banc, and a petition for a writ of certiorari. Hammer filed a ยง 2255 motion, and then moved to dismiss it. The District Court granted the motion and dismissed counsel. On appeal, we vacated that order, granted a certificate of appealability, and remanded with instructions to determine whether, once and for ...

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