By Ben Present
Of the Legal Staff
The state Supreme Court has declined to weigh in on the second Post-Conviction Relief Act petition of Lisa Michelle Lambert, seeming to close the convicted murderer’s decades-long series of appeals following her conviction.
The justices rejected Lambert’s petition for allowance of appeal without comment Monday.
Last year, the state Superior Court issued an opinion on Lambert’s second PCRA petition when a three-judge panel ruled that Lambert had failed to meet the "newly discovered evidence" exception to the PCRA's timeliness requirement. Instead of new evidence, Lambert had introduced a "newly willing source" to her decades-long allegations that her 1992 bench trial rendered her the victim of prosecutorial misconduct, according to the opinion.
More than two decades have passed since Lambert was first convicted of the 1991 murder of Lancaster teen Laurie Show, whom Lambert stalked and murdered because Lambert thought Show, then a 16-year-old high school sophomore, was romantically involved with Lambert's boyfriend, Lawrence Yunkin. Yunkin, whom Show had accused of raping her, and another woman, Tabitha F. Buck, were also convicted in Show's throat-slashing.
And at least one tribunal agreed with Lambert's story. That came in 1997, when U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania declared Lambert "actually innocent," writing that police and prosecutors had stained Lambert's trial by destroying or tampering with evidence that Lambert insisted would have proved her innocence.
Among Lambert's claims was the allegation that police framed her to cover up an alleged gang-rape in which three East Lampeter Township police officers sexually assaulted Lambert just months before the murder took place.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit twice upheld Lambert's conviction and sharply criticized Dalzell's handling of Lambert's case. The Third Circuit said Dalzell failed to show appropriate deference to the findings of Pennsylvania state courts. Effectively, the appeals court ruled, Dalzell let Lambert retry her case.
The case history of Commonwealth v. Lambert includes a bench-trial conviction, a failed direct appeal in state court, a federal habeas petition, a 300-plus-page opinion from the trial judge on Lambert's PCRA try, another habeas petition in which Dalzell recused at the request of prosecutors, and the Third Circuit's subsequent dismissal of Lambert's second federal petition.
In her most recent legal saga, according to the Superior Court’s opinion last November, Lambert has alleged that she has a letter written by the now-deceased prosecutor who handled her trial in 1992 that bolsters her claims. According to Lambert, the opinion said, former Lancaster County prosecutor John A. Kenneff, who later became a defense attorney, wrote to a former client, Warren Raffensberger, admitting that the events leading up to Raffensberger's conviction were illegal and calling the justice system in that county "corrupt." Raffensberger’s case was unrelated to Lambert’s case.
In addition to that letter, Lambert also provided a four-page handwritten affidavit from Raffensberger in which he swears Kenneff confessed to tampering with evidence in the Lambert case when he was still in the prosecutor’s office.
Ben Present can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BPresentTLI.