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Garrett v. Smith

August 8, 2006

MARK GARRETT, PETITIONER,
v.
JOSEPH SMITH, SUPERINTENDENT, SHAWANGUNK C.F., RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Mark Garrett petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, to vacate his state conviction. Petitioner alleges the following: (1) the State failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) his statements to the police should have been suppressed because he was illegally detained; (3) his statements should have been suppressed because his waiver of rights was invalid since he was affirmatively misled into thinking the interrogation was based on a parole warrant rather than a homicide investigation; (4) the trial court's unbalanced marshaling of the evidence on the felony murder count deprived him of a fair trial; and (5) his sentence was harsh and excessive.

For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Underlying Facts

The following facts are adduced from the trial record.

On July 18, 1998, at approximately 8:50 p.m., Suffolk County Police were called to investigate an overwhelming odor in a neighborhood in Wyandanch. (Trial Transcript (hereinafter "TT") at 238-239.) The police discovered a dead body bundled up in some sheets and dark colored plastic behind the fence of petitioner's mother's, Ora Garrett's, home. (Id. at 242-46.) The body was transported to the Medical Examiner's Office where it was determined that the body was an unidentified girl bound with electrical wire and clothed in red colored jeans and a light colored shirt. (Id. at 479-483.)

Homicide detectives interviewed Frank Garrett, petitioner's brother, and his girlfriend, Janice Cooper, and discovered that Ms. Cooper's thirteen year-old daughter, Lytecia Cooper, had been missing for fourteen days. Ms. Cooper's two sons, Stephan Harbison and Michael Cooper, informed the detectives that Lytecia was last seen with petitioner. (TT at 313-14, 320.)

On July 19, detectives Vincent O'Leary and Eugene Walsh returned to Ora Garrett's home, where she gave them a tour of the house. Detective O'Leary observed electrical wires in the basement that resembled the wires found on the dead body. (TT at 483-88.) The detectives re-interviewed Ms. Cooper and confirmed that Lytecia owned red jeans similar to the pants found on the dead girl. (Id. at 489-90, 856.) Ms. Cooper also provided information regarding Lytecia's dental records, which were used to positively identify the dead body as Ms. Cooper's daughter, Lytecia, on July 21. (Id. at 500, 765-66.)

Detective O'Leary learned that the New York Division of Parole had issued a warrant for petitioner's arrest on June 17, 1998. On July 20, 1998, Parole Officer Anthony Mayers confirmed that the warrant was still in effect. (Hearing Transcript (hereinafter "HT") at 24-25.)

On July 23, 1999, the detectives arrested petitioner and transported him to the Homicide Bureau in Police Headquarters in Yaphank. (TT at 506-08, 515-17.) He was placed in an interview room and his handcuffs were removed. (Id. at 519.) The detectives advised petitioner of his constitutional rights by reading them from a rights card, pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and petitioner waived each right by initialing his consent. (Id. at 521-23.) He also consented to a police search of the house in which he was arrested. (Id at 526-27.) The detectives asked petitioner general questions regarding his employment, parole and family, and when the questions focused more on Lytecia Cooper, his responses became increasingly evasive and contradictory. (Id. at 528-39.) Throughout the interview, petitioner was permitted to eat, drink, and use the bathroom. (Id. at 545, 582, 589.) During the interrogation, petitioner told Detective O'Leary that he had gone to his mother's house with Lytecia and "wanted to have sex with her." (Id. at 542, 544-45.) He "kind of grabbed her," she "pulled away," and he picked her up. Id. Then "he kind of snapped." He "pulled her up in . . . a full nelson . . . she just then went limp . . . she was kind of lifeless and he dropped her on the ground." Id. Petitioner further stated that he left the scene, and when he returned, he tied Lytecia up with electrical wire, wrapped her in sheets and a plastic bag, and threw her body over the fence. (Id. at 542-43.)

Petitioner proceeded to give Detective O'Leary a sworn written statement in which he stated: "I wanted to have sex with her and I was grabbing at her chest and she was pulling away. She even got away from me, but I was able to get a hold of her again . . . I remember grabbing her tight around her chest and lifting her up off the ground. I did that a lot of times. At one point I had her in a full nelson but mainly I was squeezing her around the chest. I wanted to have sex with her but she wouldn't calm down. I was squeezing her tight. I may have gotten too rough. I might have just snapped. I don't know. Lytecia went limp in my arms. I put Lytecia on the ground and I tried to wake her up. She was not moving at all." (Id. at 556.) Petitioner remained in prison until the trial.

B. Pre-Trial and Trial Procedures

Petitioner was charged with three counts of Murder in the Second Degree pursuant to N.Y. PENAL LAW §§ 125.25[1], [2], and [3].

The Suffolk County Court held a pre-trial Dunaway/Huntley hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to arrest petitioner and whether petitioner's statements were voluntary and admissible at trial. (HT 1-2.) The hearing court held that there was probable cause to arrest petitioner based on a valid parole warrant relating to petitioner's violation of parole in existence at the time of petitioner's arrest. (Hearing Decision at 7.) The court held that even if there had been no parole warrant, the detectives possessed information sufficient for the requisite probable cause to arrest petitioner. (Id.) The hearing court also held that petitioner had knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights and that the administering of his Miranda rights had taken place twice. (Id.) Thus, petitioner's waiver of his rights was valid, and his subsequent statements were voluntary and admissible at trial. (Id.)

Petitioner was tried before a jury and convicted of one count of Murder in the Second Degree pursuant to N.Y. PENAL LAW § 125.25[2], Depraved Mind Murder, and one count of Murder in the Second Degree pursuant to N.Y. PENAL LAW § 125.25[3], Felony Murder. He was sentenced to two concurrent indeterminate terms of 25 years to life imprisonment.

C. State Appeals and Post Judgment Motions

On January 12, 2004, petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Second Department, raising five claims: (1) the State failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) his statements to police during an unauthorized detention should have been suppressed; (3) his statements to police should have been suppressed because his waiver of rights was invalid since he was affirmatively misled into thinking the interrogation was based on a parole warrant rather than a homicide investigation; (4) the trial court's unbalanced marshaling of the evidence on the felony murder count deprived him of a fair trial; and (5) his sentence was harsh and excessive.

On June 28, 2004, the Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed petitioner's judgment of conviction, holding that there was probable cause for petitioner's arrest, petitioner voluntarily made incriminating statements after waiving his Miranda rights, the sentence imposed was not excessive, the evidence was legally sufficient to establish the petitioner's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence, and the remaining contentions were unpreserved for appellate review. People v. Garrett, 8 A.D.3d 676 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004).

Leave to appeal was denied by the Court of Appeals by Certificate dated August 23, 2004. People v. Garrett, 3 N.Y.3d 674 (2004).

D. The Instant Action

On July 11, 2005, petitioner timely filed a pro se petition with this Court for writ of habeas corpus, raising the five claims that were submitted on appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department and described above. An opposition was filed on November 1, 2005. Petitioner did not file a reply. Oral argument was held by telephone on August 1, 2006.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Standard of Review

To determine whether a petitioner is entitled to a grant of a writ of habeas corpus, a federal court must apply the standards of review provided in 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub.L. No 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, which provides, in relevant part: (d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with ...


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