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COOK v. PEARLMAN

July 26, 2002

ANTHONY COOK, PETITIONER,
V.
PEARLMAN, SUPT., RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Pro se petitioner Anthony Cook ("Cook") filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, on August 2, 2001 (the "Petition"), attacking his June 30, 1998 state court conviction of second degree burglary and petit larceny, violating New York Penal Laws § 140.55 and § 155.25, respectively. Cook claims that the conviction violated his right to due process of law, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, because the trial court erroneously permitted the State to admit a particular videotape into evidence. Further, Cook claims that his constitutional right to a "fair trial" has been infringed because the trial court improperly refused to give an interested witness charge to the jury with respect to certain of the State's witnesses and also curtailed the defense's cross-examination of these same witnesses regarding their personal and professional interests in the disposition of the case. For the reasons set forth herein the Petition is denied.

I. FACTS*fn1

Cook was convicted, after a jury trial, in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, for burglary and petit larceny. He was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of seven years on the burglary count and one year on the petit larceny count.*fn2 Cook's conviction stemmed from a June 29, 1996 incident involving the burglary of the Manhattan apartment (the "Apartment") of a young woman, Pardis Sabba ("Sabba"), in the early morning hours as Sabba and her boyfriend, Jonathon Brenner ("Brenner"), slept in the bedroom.

At trial, the State presented, among other evidence, eyewitness testimony, a videotape (the "Complex Videotape") depicting the physical layout of the apartment building complex (the "Complex"), and the testimony of Complex employees. Sabba testified that she encountered Cook in her Apartment during the early morning hours of June 29, 1996. Sabba identified Cook as the person who burglarized her Apartment. Keith Galley ("Galley"), the Complex concierge, testified that, after responding to Sabba's telephone call reporting the burglary, he found a copy of the Complex's master key (the "Copied Master Key") in the Apartment's key hole. Moreover, Galley testified that sometime after the burglary he viewed the Complex's surveillance videotape (the "Surveillance Videotape") and identified Cook, who matched Sabba's description of the intruder, as the only person leaving the Complex shortly after the burglary.*fn3

Manu Agyei ("Agyei"), a security guard at the Complex, testified that he saw Cook enter and leave the Complex on several occasions during the night of June 28, 1996 and in the early morning hours of June 29, 1996. Moreover, Agyei testified that he witnessed Cook leave the Complex shortly after Sabba reported the burglary to Galley. Kenneth Centeno ("Centeno"), assistant superintendent of the Complex, testified that he also viewed the Surveillance Videotape and identified Cook leaving the Complex shortly after the burglary. Finally, John Tenety ("Tenety"), the building manager of the Complex, testified that he examined the Copied Master Key recovered at the crime scene and determined that it had been copied from the Complex's original master key (the "Original Master Key"), but not with the Complex's legitimate key copying equipment.

In addition to the trial testimony, the State presented the Complex Videotape. The Complex Videotape was prepared by Tenety to help capture and convey to the jury the unique physical layout of the Complex.*fn4 The State's theory of the case was that Cook, a former Complex security guard with knowledge of the Complex's physical layout and prior access to the Original Master Key, had entered Sabba's Apartment with the Copied Master Key, and upon being confronted by Sabba, exited the Apartment and went up to the rooftop, where he crossed to a different building and then descended and left the Complex through the plaza. The Complex Videotape, the Surveillance Videotape, and the trial testimony of Sabba, Galley, Centeno, Tenety, and Agyei all support the State's theory.

In his defense, Cook presented only one witness, Brenner. Cook's defense also relied heavily on cross-examination of the Complex employees to discredit their testimony. Cook tried to persuade the jury that the Complex employees each had a personal interest in seeing Cook convicted for this crime, and therefore had a motive to frame Cook. Cook alleged that the Complex employees were trying to cover up their failure to prevent the burglary by asserting that this was an "inside job," carried out by a former employee with extraordinary access to resources that "outsiders" lacked. Cook alleged that the employees were lying to avoid any personal liability for the crime and perhaps to shield the Complex from any further litigation.

The jury found Cook guilty. Cook appealed the conviction to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (the "Appellate Division"), arguing that: (1) "[t]he conviction was against the clear weight of the evidence;" (2) "[t]he [Complex] [V]ideotape was entirely speculative and unfounded, and its admission was a violation of appellant's due process rights;" and (3) "[t]he [trial] Court's refusal to give an interested witness charge relating to the apartment management deprived appellant of a fair trial, and the court's abridgment of defense counsel's cross-examination on the building employees' interest in the investigation was a denial of appellant's constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him."

The Appellate Division summarily rejected all of Cook's claims and affirmed the conviction. See People v. Cook, 716 N.Y.S.2d 283 (App. Div. 1st Dep't 2000). Thereafter, Cook submitted the Application Letter to the New York Court of Appeals. Cook's Application Letter addressed only the trial court's failure to give an interested witness charge to the jury. However, Cook attached the Appellate Brief, which contained all of his original grounds for appeal, to the Application Letter. The Court of Appeals denied Cook's petition for leave to appeal. This Petition followed, asserting only the second and third grounds for relief raised in the Appellate Brief.

II. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

As an initial matter, where a party appears pro se, the courts are obliged to broadly construe the party's pleadings and interpret them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996).

Cook's Petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. The ...


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