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MULDROW v. HERBERT

February 3, 2004.

TIMOTHY MULDROW, Petitioner, -vs- VICTOR HERBERT, Superintendent, Attica Correctional Facility, Respondent


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID LARIMER, Chief Judge, District

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner Timothy Muldrow ("Muldrow"), filed this petition pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction in Monroe County Court of two counts of second degree murder. For the reasons set forth below, Muldrow's § 2254 petition is denied.

  FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On December 28, 1993, Muldrow participated in the execution-style murder of two people in their home. There was a third victim who survived after being shot in the face. The motivation for the killings was to silence witnesses to previous murders committed by a drug-dealing associate of Muldrow named Jerold Usher ("Usher").

  Two days after the shootings, the police seized five guns and other contraband from Muldrow's apartment. Testing revealed that two of these guns fired the bullets that killed one of the victims, and bullets test-fired from a third gun were consistent with those used to shoot the other two victims. Page 2

  Muldrow was indicted jointly with two of the three co-defendants, Raymond Stubbs ("Stubbs") and Anthony McGee ("McGee"), on two counts of murder in the second degree (New York Penal Law ("P.L.") §§ 125.25(1) and 20.00); two counts of felony murder (P.L. §§ 125.25(3) and 20.00); one count of attempted murder in the second degree (P.L. §§ 125.25, 110.00, and 20.00); and one count of assault (P.L. §§ 120.10 and 20.00).

  Muldrow, Stubbs and Anthony were tried jointly. The fourth perpetrator, Thearthur Grimes ("Grimes"), was tried separately because he confessed to the police that he was present when the murders were committed and implicated Muldrow and McGee as the gunmen. After a jury trial in Monroe County Court, Muldrow was found guilty of two counts of felony murder and sentenced to indeterminate consecutive terms of imprisonment of 25 years to life on each count.

  Muldrow appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which unanimously affirmed his conviction on June 16, 2000. The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on September 20, 2000. This federal habeas corpus petition followed.

  DISCUSSION

  Muldrow asserts two grounds for entitlement to habeas relief, both of which stem from his appellate counsel's alleged incompetence.*fn1 First, Muldrow faults counsel for failing to challenge on direct appeal the purported inconsistencies in the verdicts at his trial: McGee was acquitted of all counts of the indictment, Stubbs was convicted on all counts of the indictment, and Muldrow was convicted on the felony murder counts only. Muldrow claims that each co-defendant was required Page 3 to be acquitted or convicted of the same counts of the indictment in order for the verdicts to be consistent.

  A claim for ineffective assistance of appellate counsel is evaluated by the same standard as is a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Mayo v. Henderson, 13 F.3d 528, 533 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 820 (1994) (citing Claudio v. Scully, 982 F.2d 798, 803 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 912 (1993)). A petitioner alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel must prove both that appellate counsel was objectively unreasonable in failing to raise a particular issue on appeal, and that absent counsel's deficient performance, there was a reasonable probability that defendant's appeal would have been successful. Mayo, 13 F.3d at 533-34; see also Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 285 (2000); Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 95 (2d Cir. 2001).

  Appellate counsel "need not (and should not) raise every nonfrivolous claim, but rather may select from among them in order to maximize the likelihood of success on appeal." Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. at 288 (citing Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 750-54 (1983)); accord, e.g., Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d at 317 ("This process of' winnowing out weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on' those more likely to prevail, far from being evidence of incompetence, is the hallmark of effective appellate advocacy.") (citations omitted). The habeas court should not second-guess the reasonable professional judgments of appellate counsel as to the most promising appeal issues. Jones, 463 U.S. at 754; see also Jackson v. Leonardo, 162 F.3d 81, 85 (2d Cir. 1998). Thus, a petitioner may establish constitutionally inadequate performance only by showing that appellate counsel "omitted significant and obvious issues while pursuing issues that were clearly and significantly weaker." Mayo, 13 F.3d at 533. Page 4

  Muldrow's appellate counsel raised three important issues in a thorough appellate brief to the Fourth Department, Grafting persuasive arguments as to why the consent to search Muldrow's apartment given by his brother was invalid and why the trial court abused its discretion in allowing David Crutcher ("Crutcher"), who suffered from schizophrenia, to testify at trial. These two issues in particular were of the utmost importance to Muldrow's case, since the ballistics evidence from the guns seized from his apartment, together with Crutcher's testimony, strongly linked him to the murder. In contrast, the repugnant verdict issue urged by Muldrow in this habeas petition was neither significant nor promising on appeal, and it was entirely reasonable for Muldrow's appellate counsel to omit ...


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