The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, United States District Judge
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.
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
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
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.
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. § 2254. The ...