A Northview Heights man convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder in the hanging death of another inmate at the Allegheny County Jail is allowed to pursue an appeal.
Shawn Burton, 47, filed a Post Conviction Relief Act petition with Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel last year asking that his case be reopened based on newly found, exculpatory evidence.
Burton was found guilty by a jury of killing Seth Floyd at the jail March 9, 1993, and ordered to serve a mandatory prison term of life without parole. His co-defendant, Melvin Goodwine, was acquitted on the murder charge but convicted of conspiracy.
According to a nine-page opinion issued Tuesday from the state Superior Court, in July 2009, Goodwine filed a motion seeking to expunge his criminal record. Attached to the motion was a letter in which Goodwine said that he killed Floyd in self-defense, and that “he was advised not to use this defense at trial, and as a result, an innocent man went to jail for a crime that he committed.”
Burton learned about the motion and letter from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which sent him the items in May 2013.
Within two months, he filed a petition for appeal, but according to the Superior Court opinion, it was denied by Judge McDaniel as not being timely.
Although the Superior Court agreed the appeal was filed outside the typical required period, it meets an exception in the act and can be considered because it includes “after-discovered evidence.”
“We note also that the PCRA court reasoned that [Burton’s] conviction for conspiracy suggests [Burton] must have known previously that Goodwine murdered the victim. This reasoning is not persuasive in light of [Burton’s] claim of innocence regarding both murder and conspiracy. Without a factual record developed by the PCRA court, it is impossible to conclude whether [Burton] previously knew such facts.”
The appellate court remanded the case to Judge McDaniel for an evidentiary hearing.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.