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Cook v. Donnelly

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR E. Bianchini United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Michael T. Cook ("Cook" or "petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis that his conviction following a jury trial on two counts of second degree murder was unconstitutionally obtained. The parties have consented to disposition of this matter by a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Charles Dalessandro and Rose Dalessandro, an elderly married couple who lived the City of Rochester, were found dead in their home on the morning of June 3, 1995. Eighty-four-year-old Charles had been beaten to death with a hammer as he lay in his bed. Eighty-one-year-old Rose was beaten with the hammer and also stabbed with a pair of scissors; Rose died on the kitchen floor. Cook was a former boyfriend of the Dalessandro's grand-daughter; the two of them had lived at the victims' house for a period of time during the previous year. See T.371-72, 481, 490, 559-61, 585-89.*fn1

Prior to the murder, at about 1 a.m., Cook and his acquaintance, Gerald Brown ("Brown") had smoked crack cocaine at Brown's house, and then had smoked more cocaine at Cook's house. T.363-67. At about 5 a.m., Brown and Cook went over to their friend, Eric Knight's house, where they smoked more cocaine. T.369-70.

Brown testified that Cook had been wearing shorts a striped t-shirt. T.376-77. Cook borrowed his (Brown's) black hooded sweatshirt and put it on while they were together. Knight apparently refused to let Cook borrow his hat. T.381. Brown testified that Cook left the house between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. wearing shorts, the striped t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. He was not wearing a baseball hat, according to Brown. T.448-50.

Knight, the other friend, testified that Cook borrowed Brown's dark hooded sweatshirt, put it on, and left the house at about 9 a.m. T.464-67, 485. Knight stated that he did not allow Cook to borrow his hat, and did not recall Cook wearing a hat when he left the house at about 9 a.m. to get more money. T.464, 486.

Tyrone Stanley, who lived at 153 Winterroth Street, down the street from the Dalessandro's house, testified that at about 8 a.m., he saw a man clad in a black sweatshirt and black sweatpants walk down the street toward the direction of the Dalessandro's house. T.492-98. This man was also wearing a dark-colored baseball cap. T.508. Stanley identified Cook as the man who had passed his (Stanley's) house and crossed the street that morning. T.497.

When Cook returned to his friends, with more money for drugs, he told them that he had done something "big" and "bad" about which they would be hearing on the news. T.384, 468.

Cook apparently returned to the crime scene and "discovered" the victims; at about 11:30 a.m. on the morning of June 3, he informed Ed Youmans, who lived next door to the Dalessandros, that he had had found the bodies of the victims. T.561-66. However, when Cook spoke with the police, he said that he had only seen the female victim in the kitchen before he ran out of the house. In contrast, when he spoke to the neighbor, Youmans, Cook specifically referred to the male victim, who had been killed in the bedroom. T.559-64, 921-22, 935-36. When Youmans asked Cook what he had done, Cook dropped his head and did not respond.


Although Cook initially denied any involvement in the slaying of Mr. and Mrs. Dalessandro, he remained under consideration as a suspect. Eventually, he gave a confession, to which several police officers testified. See T.709-819, 858-917, 920-30, 930-957. Cook stated that he had gone to the Dalessandro's home to borrow money to buy drugs and when Mrs. Dalessandro refused, he got angry and pushed her down. Her husband, Charles began "screaming" so Cook got a hammer from the basement and hit him in the head "a lot . . . until he stopped breathing." Cook then returned to the kitchen where he repeatedly struck Rose in the head with the hammer. He also stabbed her with some kitchen scissors until she stopped breathing. Cook proceeded to ransack the house to make it appear as if a burglary had occurred. Before leaving, he took some money from Mr. Dalessandro's wallet and went to buy more cocaine. T.737-39, 867-75, 535-47.

In additional to the witness testimony and petitioner's confessions, there was forensic evidence in the form of blood found on the sweatshirt worn by petition. Samples of this blood were consistent with that of the male victim and was of a composition found in only 0.6% of the human population. T.381, 466, 630-36, 840-47, 969-70. Also, a hair found on the female victim's hand was consistent with hairs from petitioner's head. T.669-79, 779-88. Human blood was found on the scissors, which were also wet. (Petitioner claimed that he had washed off the hammer and scissors.). T.653, 873, 972.

There was no sign of forced entry into the Dalessandro's home. The victims' granddaughter, petitioner's ex-girlfriend, tried to speak with him by phone at the police station, and asked him how he could have done such a thing; petitioner said that he was "sorry." T.918-19. Cook also apologized to her in a letter. T.610-11.

The jury returned a verdict convicting Cook on two counts of intentional murder. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of 25 years to life for each conviction.

Cook's conviction was unanimously affirmed on direct appeal. People v. Cook, , leave denied. Cook collaterally attacked his conviction by means of an application for a writ of error coram nobis, which was summarily denied by the intermediate appellate court.

This habeas petition (Docket No. 1) followed in which Cook has raised the following grounds for relief: (1) "conviction obtained by use of evidence obtained pursuant to an unlawful arrest and detention" (Petition, ¶12A); (2) "conviction obtained by violation of the privilege against self-incrimination (Petition, ¶12B); (3) "conviction obtained by action of jury which was unconstitutionally selected and impaneled" (Petition, ¶12C); and (4) ...

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