The opinion of the court was delivered by: HAROLD BAER, JR., District Judge[fn1] [fn1] Moriah Adamo, a summer 2004 intern in my Chambers, and currently a second-year law student at Touro Law Center, and Howard Zakai, a fall 2004 intern, and a third-year law student at New York Law School provided substantial assistance in the research and drafting of this Opinion.
William Steele ("Steele") petitions this Court for a writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2)
(1996). First, Steele claims that the handling and destruction of
"palm-print" evidence resulted in a due process violation and
that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in
contravention of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Second,
Steele claims that the evidence was insufficient to find guilt
beyond reasonable doubt and that the circumstantial evidence
presented at trial was not supported by direct evidence. For the
following reasons, Steele's habeas corpus petition is denied.
On March 20, 1995, a jury in New York State Supreme Court,
Bronx County convicted Steele of one count of murder in the
second degree, pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(3), and one
count of burglary in the first degree, pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law
§ 140.30(2), for the murder of Ernest Botteon ("Botteon") and the
burglary of Botteon's apartment.
The underlying facts in this case are undisputed and the Court
assumes familiarity with the discussion of the background facts
as set forth in Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton's Report and
Recommendation ("R&R"), dated March 30, 2004. They do not need to
be repeated but for those that bear specifically on the petitioner's objections.
On September 29, 1992, Botteon was murdered in the bedroom of
his Bronx apartment. At trial, the prosecution demonstrated that
officers arriving on the scene discovered Botteon's body
obstructing access to the bedroom door. The police noticed that
blood was spattered on the wall, the bedroom windows had been
bolted shut, and the mattress was covered in blood. (Tr. at
62:13-62:25). The detective found a bloody ski near the body and
a stack of two Carlo Rossi wine boxes near the bedroom door (Tr.
at 138:23), on top of which he saw "[w]hat appeared to be a blood
impression. Possible palm print [sic]." (Id. at 176:7-12).
Ultimately, lab reports revealed Steele's prints matched the
"bloody" palm-print found on the wine box.
The defense presented no evidence. Through cross-examination
and summation, however, the defense attempted to discredit the
prosecution's case by suggesting that the prosecution had failed
to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Steele had left the
print during the commission of the crime or that the print was
left in blood. Specifically, the defense noted, "[w]hat they fail
to prove is when, how, where, under what circumstances and, most
of all, what is the print of or in [i.e., was the substance
blood]?" (Tr. at 421:12-14).
In summation, the prosecution argued that after beating Botteon
to death, Steele was trapped in the bedroom by bolted windows and
Botteon's 210-pound body, and had to escape the scene through the
top half of the door, just as the officers had entered. The
prosecution argued that during his exit, Steele placed his
bloodied hand on the wine box for leverage, whereby leaving the
On March 20, 1995, a Bronx County jury found Steele guilty of
one count of murder in the second degree and one count of
burglary in the first degree. Judge Marcus sentenced Steele, who
had a prior violent felony conviction, to prison terms of 25
years to life and 12-1/2 to 25 years, to run concurrently.
Steele appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, First
Department, asserting essentially the same claims raised herein.
The Appellate Division affirmed Steele's conviction, finding: (1)
"the inference is inescapable that the substance in which the
defendant's palm-print was impressed on the cardboard box was
made from the victim's blood"; (2) the claim for suppression of
the palm-print evidence as a sanction for the destruction of
potential exculpatory evidence was unpreserved; and, (3) Steele had received effective assistance of
counsel. People v. Steele, 731 N.Y.S.2d 685, 686-87 (1st Dep't
2001), appeal denied, 97 N.Y.2d 688 (2001), motion for
reconsideration denied, 97 N.Y.2d 734 (2002).
Steele filed the instant habeas corpus petition on December
9, 2002. On February 1, 2003, this Court referred the matter to
Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton ("Magistrate Judge Eaton") for
a R&R. On March 30, 2004, Magistrate Judge Eaton issued the R&R,
advising denial of Steele's petition in its entirety. Magistrate
Judge Eaton found: (1) there was sufficient direct evidence to
support the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the jury; (2)
"[t]he Brady claim is utterly lacking in merit"; and, (3) the
destruction of the ...