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McCLAURIN v. WALSH

June 3, 2005.

CRAIG McCLAURIN, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES W. WALSH, Superintendent, Sullivan Correctional Facility, Respondent.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Craig McClaurin, proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to section 2254 of Title 28 of the United States Code ("section 2254"). In his petition*fn1 and subsequent addendum,*fn2 McClaurin claims that: (1) his guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) evidence admitted at trial deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial; (3) the court's "denigration" of his counsel deprived him of a fair trial; (4) he received ineffective assistance of counsel; and (5) the New York depraved indifference murder statute under which he was convicted is unconstitutional. For the reasons that follow, petitioner's writ of habeas corpus is denied.

  I. BACKGROUND

  A. Pre-Trial Proceedings and Trial

  An indictment was filed on March 24, 1994, in connection with the stabbing of Matthew Brown on the evening of February 25, 1994, in New York County. Petitioner was charged with three counts of murder in the second degree, two counts of robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.*fn3

  At trial, Hezekiah Salone, a witness for the People, testified that he saw McClaurin arguing with the decedent over drugs, he "heard a scream" and turned to see McClaurin "swing twice" "towards the upper part of [decedent's] body towards his head," and then McClaurin "snatched something" from the hands of the decedent and ran into a hotel.*fn4 Salone also testified that the decedent "was trying to protect himself" when McClaurin swung at him, immediately after which the "man's head snapped" and "slumped over."*fn5 A "few minutes" after Salone saw McClaurin strike Brown, he saw McClaurin with "paper in his hands wiping the knife off, and the toilet paper had blood on it."*fn6 Furthermore, Desiree Harris, another witness, testified that later in the evening she saw McClaurin "banging on the bannister" "a little knife" which "looked like a sword."*fn7 Based on Harris's indication with her hands, the "knife was about "a half a foot."*fn8 Harris also testified that McClaurin told her, as he held the knife, "Des, I'm sick of these mother fuckers, they owe me money and won't pay me my money."*fn9 Finally, during the trial, a medical examiner testified that the knife recovered from McClaurin "happens to be the perfect match for the wounds on Matthew Brown's body" and "to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the injuries on the decedent body ? are consistent with being inflicted by that knife."*fn10 Finally, petitioner presented no evidence at trial.*fn11

  On June 15, 1995, after the trial, the Supreme Court, New York County, rendered a judgment, based on a jury verdict, convicting petitioner of "Murder in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law § 125.25[2]) and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (New York Penal Law § 265.02[1]."*fn12 Petitioner was sentenced to "concurrent prison terms of from twenty years to life on the murder count and from three and one-half to seven years on the weapon possession count."*fn13

  B. Post-Trial Proceedings

  In November 2000, petitioner appealed the judgment of the Supreme Court, arguing that his murder conviction had not been established beyond a reasonable doubt, that testimony wrongfully allowed into evidence deprived him of a fair trial, and that the court's denigration of defense counsel deprived him of a fair trial.*fn14 On October 9, 2001, the New York Appellate Division, First Department rejected all three arguments and unanimously affirmed the judgment.*fn15 On March 17, 2002, petitioner sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals,*fn16 and on July 31, 2002 Associate Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick denied the petitioner's motion.*fn17

  On September 10, 2003, petitioner filed his original petition for habeas corpus relief in this Court. The first three claims in the petition are based on arguments petitioner made in his direct appeal, to which he later added two new claims: (1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel; and (2) the New York depraved indifference statute is unconstitutional. In response to the People's motion to dismiss the petition on the ground that it included an unexhausted claim — the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim — I conditionally granted a stay of the proceedings in a March 11, 2004 Order, permitting petitioner one last opportunity to exhaust his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim.*fn18

  In January 2004, petitioner filed a motion to vacate the judgment of conviction pursuant to N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") section 440.10, arguing that the depraved indifference murder statute was unconstitutional as applied to him. This motion was denied on procedural grounds by the New York Appellate Division and leave to appeal was denied on October 8, 2004 by the New York Court of Appeals.*fn19 In response to my Order, petitioner applied for a writ of error coram nobis on May 14, 2004, raising the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim before the Appellate Division, First Department.*fn20 On July 8, 2004, the New York Appellate Division, First Department denied his application in its entirety,*fn21 and on December 1, 2004, the Honorable Victoria Graffeo, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, denied petitioner's request for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.*fn22

  II. LEGAL STANDARD

  This petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). AEDPA permits a federal court to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner only if the state court's denial of relief "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."*fn23

  As explained by the Supreme Court, a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if: (1) the state court reaches a different result than that mandated by the Supreme Court when presented with facts that are "materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent"; or (2) the state court "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases."*fn24 The "unreasonable application" prong of section 2254(d)(1) permits a federal habeas court to grant the writ,
if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of petitioner's case. In other words, a federal court may grant relief when a state court has misapplied a governing legal principle to a set of facts different from those of the case in which the principle was announced. In order for a federal court to find a state court's application of our precedent "unreasonable," the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been objectively unreasonable.*fn25 III. DISCUSSION
A. Insufficiency of the Evidence
  Relying on his former counsel's appellate brief to the New York Appellate Division, petitioner asserts that the "trial evidence . . . was clearly insufficient to establish [petitioner's] guilt of murder in the second degree beyond a reasonable doubt."*fn26 Petitioner objects to the following findings of fact made at the state court level. First, he claims that Salone, a witness who testified that he saw petitioner strike the decedent, "didn't see what, if anything, was in [petitioner's] hands when he swung at the upper portion of the decedent's body."*fn27 Petitioner also attacks the credibility of Salone as a "career criminal" and a "paid informant."*fn28 Second, petitioner claims that testimony showed that the decedent "told police and a security guard that ...

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