The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELFVIN
This is an action for federal habeas corpus relief. After a trial by jury in the New York Supreme Court, Genesee County, petitioner was found guilty of murder and arson in the third degree March 2, 1973. He was sentenced to a prison term of twenty-five years to life which he is currently serving in the Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility. His conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department June 27, 1974. The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal October 8, 1974.
Petitioner alleges he is entitled to federal relief because there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and because the prosecutor refused to divulge exculpatory evidence to him before trial.
The state courts were presented with an opportunity to decide the federal constitutional issues underlying petitioner's claims. See, Defendant-Appellant's Brief, Points III, XIV. As such, petitioner's exhaustion of state court remedies obligations have been satisfied and the merits of his claims can be addressed. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 276, 92 S. Ct. 509, 30 L. Ed. 2d 438 (1971); Johnson v. Metz, 609 F.2d 1052, 1053-54 (2d Cir. 1979); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) & (c).
On the night of April 15, 1972 Peggy Greene, the victim, went with a friend to the Brick Wall Restaurant near Albion, New York. Also at the restaurant that night was petitioner who had come with Mary Taylor and their acquaintances, Roosevelt Jordan and Annie Jordan. According to the testimony, the Jordans, Mary Taylor, petitioner and Greene left the restaurant together at roughly 2 a.m. April 16th. Petitioner, who was driving, dropped the Jordans off at their trailer and drove away with Taylor and Greene.
Sometime before noon, one Dion Benz noticed smoke pouring from a small wooden building located on a dirt lane near the road on which he was driving. Benz heard a noise inside and tried to enter, but the heat and smoke prevented him from doing so. He became excited and left for help. He later testified at trial that the noise did not sound human (Transcript, at 796).
The Elba Fire Chief, Eugene Boldt, arrived at the scene within four minutes of receiving the fire call. He noticed that the location and intense heat of the fire were centered in the bedroom. The mattress, the ceiling and the linoleum floor beneath the bed were entirely burned. The body of a human being, later identified as Peggy Greene, was found on the bedsprings.
The Genesee County Coroner, Dr. Dominick Cultrara, examined the body at the fire scene. He ordered an autopsy, and filed a certificate of death which listed the cause of death as accidental due to carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes of the fire. When Dr. Cultrara reviewed the autopsy report he received in September, he found the body contained neither carbon monoxide nor blood alcohol. Based on the autopsy report and the Sheriffs' Department investigation report, which included Mary Taylor's statement that petitioner told her he had strangled the victim and then set fire to her coat, the coroner concluded Greene's death was actually caused by strangulation prior to the fire rather than by carbon monoxide poisoning (Transcript, at 1779, 1781-1784). Dr. Cultrara noted his revised opinion in his coroner's report in September 1972 but did not amend the death certificate until January 4, 1973.
At trial, Mary Taylor was the prosecution's chief witness. She testified that petitioner planned a scheme to persuade some girl at the Brick Wall Restaurant to spend the night with him. Mary Taylor participated in the scheme and convinced Peggy Greene to go with petitioner. After dropping off the Jordans later that night, petitioner drove with Taylor and Greene to a wooden building down a dirt lane off the Spoilbank Road. When they entered the building, petitioner told Greene to take off her clothes. When Greene had only her bra on, petitioner complained he was cold and wanted to leave. Greene wrapped herself with her coat, and the three of them left the building.
According to Taylor, petitioner then told her he was going to kill Greene (Transcript, at 2051). After driving a while, petitioner stopped the car and forced Greene to get into the trunk. He dropped Mary Taylor off at her house and said he would return (Transcript, at 2054).
Taylor testified further that petitioner returned at approximately 11 a.m. that morning. Petitioner allegedly told her how he had strangled Peggy Greene on the bed in the wooden building, and then set fire to her coat before leaving because Greene knew too much about him and Taylor (Transcript, at 2062-2065).
Petitioner and Taylor then drove from her home through muckland farm area to a labor camp. On the way, petitioner noticed some of Greene's clothes, including her lavender pants, under the car seat. They stopped on a dirt road and burned the clothes (Transcript, at 2091).
A muck farm employee testified he saw a man and woman burning something as he drove along the road. He stopped and told them to put the fire out. Although the farm hand was unable to identify petitioner at trial, he recalled the color of Mary Taylor's coat, petitioner's shiny black shoes, and the automobile (Transcript, at 2379-2388). Sheriff's deputies later found finely knit lavender cloth in the remains of the fire, which was introduced as evidence.
Taylor admitted in court that she initially had denied knowledge of Greene's death on at least two occasions. After further questioning, however, she later had told the police that petitioner had murdered the victim.
To determine whether the prosecution's evidence is sufficient for habeas corpus purposes, the well-settled test is "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 444 U.S. 890, 100 S. Ct. 195, 62 L. Ed. 2d 126 (1979); Donaldson v. Dalsheim, 508 F. Supp. 294, 296 (S.D.N.Y.1981). Petitioner has the burden of showing that such is not the case. He claims he has fulfilled his ...