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U.S. Court Rejects Twice-Convicted Killer's Latest Appeal

August 25, 2016

Contact: Michelle Henry, 215.348.6343, mahenry@buckscounty.org

A federal judge has rejected twice-convicted Bucks County murderer Richard Laird’s bid for a third trial for the 1987 slaying of aspiring artist Anthony Milano.

U.S. District Court Judge Jan E. DuBois, who in 2001 vacated Laird’s original conviction, last week upheld Laird’s second conviction and death sentence. Laird, 52, remains one of five inmates convicted in Bucks County who are on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Significantly, the judge declined to issue a certificate of appealability that would permit Laird to appeal DuBois’ decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. DuBois wrote that “reasonable jurists would not debate” whether Laird had raised any valid claims that his constitutional rights were violated, either at trial or in the imposition of the death penalty.

Federal law requires that in a habeas proceeding – in which a judge is asked to determine whether a person’s imprisonment is lawful – an appeal to the Court of Appeals may not be taken unless a certificate of appealability is issued. It is likely that Laird’s attorneys will now petition the appellate court to issue the certificate.

“The Commonwealth is pleased that Richard Laird’s federal appeal was denied by the District Court,” said First Assistant District Attorney Michelle Henry, who successfully prosecuted Laird at his 2007 retrial. “The death penalty is appropriately reserved for only the most heinous murders and the cold-blooded criminals who commit them. Richard Laird has twice been found by separate juries to be deserving of this ultimate punishment, which makes the court’s decision very gratifying.”

On Dec. 15, 1987, Laird and an accomplice, Frank Chester, killed Milano, 26, after encountering him at the Edgely Inn in Bristol Township. After the two men taunted Milano about being homosexual, the three men left the bar in Milano’s vehicle.

About an hour later, Milano’s car pulled to the side of the road along a wooded area. After the three got out of the car, Chester punched or kicked Milano in the head several times, causing him to fall. Laird then slashed repeatedly at Milano’s throat with a box cutter, killing him.

Five months after the slaying, Laird and Chester were both convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping by a Bucks County jury and sentenced to death.

In 2001, DuBois granted Laird’s petition to vacate his conviction, ruling that multiple errors were made during his first trial. DuBois’ ruling was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005, leading to Laird’s second trial, conviction and death sentence in 2007.

Laird’s most recent petition unsuccessfully claimed an array of grounds for reversal, including ineffective counsel, improper jury instruction, improper admission of prior testimony, and violation of double jeopardy.  DuBois rejected them all in his 105-page opinion.

Chester, 48, whose original conviction also was overturned, pleaded guilty in March and is serving a life sentence without parole.

Approved for release by Michele Kelly Walsh, Deputy District Attorney.

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Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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