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Morris v. People

March 29, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

Kent Morris, currently incarcerated in Wyoming Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, petitions pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction in New York State Supreme Court for rape, sodomy,*fn1 assault, unlawful imprisonment and incest. For the reasons that follow, the petition is denied.


A. The Offense Conduct

Morris was convicted of abducting and sexually abusing his niece J.M.*fn2 on October 29, 2002 and unlawfully imprisoning her until November 3, 2002. The government's evidence at trial established that in the early 1990s, J.M., then a teenager, lived with her siblings and Morris in Belize after the death of her mother. Trial Tr. 360, 375-79, 545-47. Morris repeatedly threatened J.M., beat her, and had sexual intercourse with her against her will during this period. Id. at 384-86, 388-92.

In 2001, Morris moved himself, his family, J.M., and J.M.'s younger brother to New York. Id. at 392-93. As she had nowhere to go, J.M. lived with her younger brother, Morris, and Morris's wife and son in an apartment in Brooklyn, and worked for Morris's construction company. Id. at 396-97, 400, 531-32.*fn3

On October 29, 2002, Morris drove J.M., who was 27 years old at that point, to a job site according to his usual routine. Id. at 400-01. He then drove her away from the site, accusing her of being in love with an electrician at the job site and punching her repeatedly while he drove. Id. at 402-05. Morris drove J.M. to an empty house in Queens belonging to a relative. Id. at 403, 405, 536. When inside the house, Morris threatened J.M., id. at 410-11; forced her to undress, id. at 407-08; photographed her while naked, id. at 409; struck and choked her, id. at 409-11; forced her to leave a voicemail message for the electrician he suspected her of being in love with, id. at 410; forced her to have intercourse with him, using a condom, id. at 411-12; and forced her to perform oral sex on him while he photographed her, id. at 412-13.

Morris brought J.M. back to his house later that day and, threatening her, forbade her to leave except while accompanying him, and listened to her telephone calls. Id. at 415-17, 549-50. This continued until November 3, 2002, when Morris left the house without J.M. and she escaped to her cousin's house. Id. at 417-20. Morris searched for J.M. for several days, and J.M. contacted the police on November 6, 2002. Id. at 421, 424, 539, 551-52.

The Queens Special Victims Squad was unable to locate Morris for several months. On August 12, 2003, a detective contacted Morris by telephone, and he stated that he had been having sex with J.M. for years and that she would never betray him by cooperating with the police. Id. at 594-95. Morris was finally located and arrested on December 3, 2003. Id. at 603, 756-58.

B. The Procedural History

Morris was tried by jury from October 25, 2004 to November 8, 2004. In a suppression hearing after jury selection, the trial court ruled that the government could introduce evidence of Morris's sexual abuse of J.M. in Belize. Id. at 307-08. The government argued that the evidence of prior sexual contact would be relevant to negate any consent defense; that it was relevant "background" information; and that the evidence established that J.M. was afraid of Morris, which itself helped both to establish the element of forcible compulsion and also to explain why J.M. was initially reluctant to escape or report the incident. Id. at 7, 292-93, 298-300. Morris argued that since his defense was that the incident did not occur, not that J.M. consented, and since there was significant additional evidence of forcible compulsion, the evidence served no purpose besides suggesting that he had a propensity for sexual abuse. Id. at 297, 300-01. The trial court deemed the evidence admissible regarding the rape and sodomy counts in order to prove forcible compulsion, but inadmissible with respect to the incest count, which lacked a forcible compulsion element, and deemed it admissible subject to a limiting instruction. Id. at 305-06, 321.

Morris was convicted on all counts and sentenced principally to an aggregate determinate eight-year term of imprisonment. Sentencing Tr. 17. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the evidence of his uncharged sexual abuse in Belize and in allowing the prosecutor to cross-examine Morris's wife regarding another abuse allegation against Morris. The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed his conviction on November 28, 2006. People v. Morris (Morris I), 823 N.Y.S.2d 915 (2d Dep't 2006). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on March 28, 2007, People v. Morris (Morris II), 8 N.Y.3d 925 (2007) (Read, J.), and on June 13, 2007 denied Morris's pro se motion for reconsideration of its earlier denial, People v. Morris (Morris III), 9 N.Y.3d 848 (2007) (Read, J.).

Morris filed this petition in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on April 26, 2007. The petition was subsequently transferred to this court. Morris in his petition appears to argue (1) that the government produced insufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find that a crime was committed in Queens or at all; (2) that J.M. committed perjury in front of the grand jury by claiming that Morris ejaculated when she performed oral sex on him; and (3) that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his past sexual abuse of J.M.*fn4


A. The Legal ...

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