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Wegman v. West

September 23, 2007

ROBERT L. WEGMAN, PETITIONER,
v.
CALVIN E. WEST, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Robert L. Wegman ("Petitioner") brings a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently serving a 20-year sentence following his conviction in Steuben County Court for attempted murder in the second degree, kidnaping in the second degree, burglary in the second degree, assault in the second degree, and criminal use of a firearm in the first degree. Petitioner contends that this Court should grant his habeas petition for the following reasons: (1) the trial court erred in accepting his waiver of a jury trial; (2) the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conviction; (3) counsel was ineffective; (4) the trial was unfair due to judicial misconduct; (5) the trial was unfair due to prosecutorial misconduct; (6) the sentence was harsh and excessive; and (7) the trial court committed various evidentiary and procedural errors. For the following reasons, Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

In early 2000, Petitioner was staying with his ex-wife, Jeannette Wood, who had agreed to let Petitioner stay at her house for two-months. (Trial Tr., pp. 136-37). On May 12, 2000, Wood asked Petitioner to leave her house and Petitioner refused. (Trial Tr., pp. 136-37). Wood called the police, Petitioner was arrested, and Wood obtained an order of protection against Petitioner. (Trial Tr., pp. 136-37).

The next day, May 13, 2000, Wood, her roommate Barbara Causer, and Harold Neally, with whom Wood was having a relationship, returned to Wood's house after work around 5:00 p.m. (Trial Tr., pp. 55-56, 139). While the group was sitting at a table, Petitioner came downstairs carrying a handgun. (Trial Tr., pp. 63, 141). Petitioner was very angry and was talking about "taking care of" Wood, Causer, and himself. (Trial Tr., pp. 65-69, 141-43, 218). Petitioner sat down, kept his gun pointed at Wood, Neally, and Causer, and refused to let the three leave. (Trial Tr., pp. 64, 144). Petitioner talked about killing Wood, Neally, Causer, and himself. (Trial Tr., pp. 69, 145).

After about 45 minutes, Petitioner fired three shots, two at Neally and one at Wood, hitting Neally twice. (Trial Tr., pp. 65-66, 141-44, 218). Wood and Neally attacked Petitioner and got the gun away from him. (Trial Tr., pp. 71-72, 152-53). The three victims called the police and left the house. (Trial Tr., pp. 152, 220-25). After the police arrived, Petitioner came out of the house without a struggle. (Trial Tr., pp. 389-90). Police found a .38 caliber handgun inside the house, and six live .38 caliber rounds in Petitioner's pockets. (Trial Tr., pp. 345, 351-52).

Petitioner was charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree, three counts of kidnaping in the second degree, three counts of burglary in the second degree, one count of assault in the second degree, and two counts of criminal use of a firearm in the first degree.

On the day Petitioner's trial was scheduled to begin, Petitioner's counsel informed the trial court that Petitioner wished to waive the right to a jury trial and proceed with a bench trial. (Trial Tr., pp. 6-12). The trial court asked Petitioner a series of questions and Petitioner responded that he understood the waiver, that he had discussed it with his attorney, and that the waiver was not coerced or forced in any way. (Trial Tr., pp. 6-12).

After accepting the waiver, the court granted Petitioner a continuance to call a psychiatric witness, Dr. David Barry, to testify about Petitioner's mental condition and the effect of intoxication and certain medications Petitioner was taking. (Trial Tr., pp. 13-16).

Following the trial-in which Petitioner did testify-the Court convicted Petitioner on all counts. (Trial Tr., pp. 353-55). Petitioner was sentenced to concurrent terms of 20 years on the attempted murder count and each of the kidnaping counts; 10 years on each of the burglary counts; 5 years on the assault count; and 5 years on each of the firearms counts. (Sentencing Tr., pp. 17-18).

B. Procedural History

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department of the New York State Supreme Court. (Exhibits L and M to Respondent's Declaration in Opposition to the Petition). The Appellate Division reversed Petitioner's conviction as to one count of criminal use of a firearm, but otherwise affirmed his conviction. People v. Wegman, 2 A.D.3d 1333 (4th Dept. 2003). Petitioner subsequently requested and was denied leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. (Exhibit Q to Respondent's Declaration in Opposition to the Petition).

Petitioner filed the present Petition for a writ of habeas corpus on April 21, 2004. (Docket No. 1). Respondent filed a memorandum in opposition to the petition on September 23, 2004. (Docket Nos. 10). Petitioner filed a reply on October 29, 2004. (Docket No. 11).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Habeas Corpus Standard

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), as codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2245, governs the procedure by which a federal court may review a state conviction on a habeas corpus petition. Under AEDPA, federal courts must give substantial deference to a state court determination that has adjudicated a federal constitutional claim "on the merits." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 309-10 (2d Cir. 2001).

Specifically, AEDPA provides that where a state court has adjudicated the merits of a petitioner's federal claim, habeas corpus relief may be granted only if the state court's adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

AEDPA provides that findings of fact made by state trial and appellate courts are entitled to a "presumption of correctness," and further, requires that a Petitioner rebut that presumption by "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. ยง ...


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