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Prince v. Ercole

May 1, 2009


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


Christopher Prince, a prisoner incarcerated in the Green Haven Correctional Facility pursuant to a judgment of the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Prince challenges his conviction following a jury trial of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree (two counts), criminal possession of a weapon in the second and third degrees, and reckless endangerment in the first degree. Appearing pro se, Prince seeks habeas relief on the grounds discussed below.

Oral argument was held on April 24, 2009, at which Prince appeared by videoconference from the facility in which he is serving his sentence. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.


A. The Offense Conduct

The state's evidence at trial established that on March 11, 2001, at approximately 3:20 a.m., on the campus of St. John's University, Prince fired a nine millimeter gun about five times at a group of about 15 students, from a distance of only a few feet away. One bullet hit Corey Mitchell in the back, permanently paralyzing him. Another bullet hit Rashan Fray, permanently damaging his knee. A third bullet grazed Tyson Holley-Hines's leg. Prince was arrested, indicted in New York Supreme Court, Queens County, and charged with three counts of attempted murder in the second degree; five counts of assault in the first degree; five counts of assault in the second degree; criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree; criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree; and reckless endangerment in the first degree.

B. The Procedural History

1. The Trial Court Proceedings

a. The First Two Trials

The first trial against Prince ended in a mistrial on July 21, 2002. A subsequent investigation revealed that one of Prince's witnesses in the first trial, Stanley Heriveaux, lied during the trial. Heriveaux had testified that he did not know Prince when in fact he had been friends with him and was present for the crime: Heriveaux had driven Prince to the scene, stood next to him when he fired the first shot and then drove him home after the shooting. Prince and Heriveaux had agreed that if Heriveaux were contacted about the shooting, he would say that he did not know Prince. Prince was indicted and charged with perjury in the first degree, criminal solicitation in the fourth degree and obstructing governmental administration in the second degree.

Prince proceeded to a second trial before Judge Joel Blumenfeld and a jury on both indictments. On October 27, 2003, another mistrial was granted when the jury could not reach a verdict.

b. The Third Trial

In the fall of 2004, Prince proceeded to trial on both indictments again, this time before a jury and Judge Richard L. Buchter.

i. The People's Case

On Saturday, March 10, 2001, a party was hosted by the St. John's University track team at Traditions, a bar in Queens County. Durron Newman and Corey Mitchell, members of the St. John's University football team, were bouncers at the party. Also in attendance were Esther Antoine -- Newman's girlfriend, Omar Lewis, Tyson Holley-Hines and Rashan Fray. Eric Mateo was also present that night with his friends Mike and Carl Pyronneau, Ferdinand Jeans, Ahmed Abukehazy, and the petitioner, Christopher Prince. Mateo had a contentious history with Newman and Michael Holley-Hines (Tyson's brother) because of a prior incident regarding a woman.

Mateo and Newman had several tense confrontations inside the bar. After one incident in which Mateo and Newman bumped shoulders and exchanged hostile stares while walking opposite directions on the stairs, Mateo's friends, who were upstairs, discussed starting a fight. They were holding pool sticks and beer bottles, and standing in a circle. Someone in the group said, "Fuck those St. John's niggers." Tr. 571.*fn1 Antoine then went to find Mitchell to tell him that her boyfriend, Newman, was surrounded by Mateo and his friends. In response, Mitchell and several other football players went upstairs to help Newman. Mateo and some of the football players stared at each other before Mateo and his group of friends left Traditions. After leaving the bar, Mateo and his friends met up at 14th Street between Union Turnpike and Traditions, where they decided to go to the St. John's campus.

At approximately 3:00 a.m., on the morning of Sunday, March 11, 2001, Mitchell, Esther Antoine, Newman, Lewis, Holley-Hines, Fray and several of their friends left Traditions and returned to the campus in a caravan to make sure that everyone got home safely. They were concerned there might be an altercation with Mateo and his friends. Once they arrived at the campus, a group of football players and their friends stood outside of the dormitories chatting. About 15 minutes later, Prince, Mateo, Carl Pyronneau, Jeans, Chris Duplessy, Heriveaux, Kevin Eusey and Abukehazy arrived at the St. John's campus. Mateo had driven there with Duplessy, Eusey and Abukehazy; Heriveaux with Prince, Brian Antoine and his cousin Guerson.

Mateo wanted to fight the football players. He was specifically trying to start a fight with Newman, to whom he directed his comments. Tr. 1073. Mitchell told Newman to get the fight over with if he was going to do it because it was cold, late and Mitchell had to go to church in the morning.

When Prince arrived, he walked over to a lit lamppost and leaned against it. The area was well-lit because the dorms were new and the lights were recently installed. Prince started to wave his hands around and walk back and forth, screaming, "all you guys are capes" (meaning punks), and "You niggers is playing me close." Tr. 1074, 1630. Prince told Holley-Hines, "You can get into it big man." Holley-Hines responded, "You don't want it." Tr. 533.

Fray told Prince that he should relax and "calm down" and "chill out." Tr. 65. When Prince yelled, "You all going to jump my man in school," Mitchell responded that he was six feet two inches tall and 285 pounds and was not going to jump anyone. Tr. 1631-32. Prince said that he did not believe him and Mitchell reiterated that he would not jump anyone. Meanwhile, Newman and Mateo, who had been arguing, began to resolve their dispute. Newman decided he was going to let the argument end without a fight. Mateo asked Newman to put this behind them and to agree to cease fighting.

Prince lifted his shirt and from a distance of about five feet, Newman could see the butt of a gun at Prince's waist. Newman told Lewis that Prince had a gun and that they should stop arguing and leave. Newman tried to tell Mitchell, but Mitchell was involved in a heated argument with Prince.

Prince pulled Mateo back and said, "E, no more words." Tr. 1076. Next, Prince reached into his pants, retrieved the gun and fired it at the crowd. Most of the people turned to run away, some towards their cars and others toward the dorms. Tyson Holley-Hines, who had been standing about five-to-six feet in front of Prince when he shot the gun, froze and stared at him. Mitchell, who had been standing in front of Prince, turned to run away but was shot in the back. He fell to the ground and could not get up. Holley-Hines asked Mitchell if he could move his legs, and Mitchell replied that he could not. Another bullet hit Fray in the knee. A third grazed Holley-Hines's leg.

Mateo and his friends left the campus in their cars after the shooting. Mateo's car stopped next to Heriveaux's at a red light. Prince was in the back seat of Heriveaux's car holding his head and rocking back and forth. The met up at 210th Place in Queens County, where Prince told them that he thought he "caught a body." Tr. 1084. Prince stated that he had children and instructed the others not to reveal to the police that he had fired the gun. Mateo agreed.

On Monday, March 12, 2001, the police went to Mateo's home. Mateo accompanied them back to the precinct where he told them that Prince had been the shooter and made a written statement. Mateo then went with the police to Prince's home and identified him as the person who had fired his gun at St. John's campus the previous night. Prince was arrested. Later that evening, the police conducted a line-up. Newman, Fray, Esther Antoine, Lewis, and Holley-Hines each viewed the line-up and identified Prince as the shooter.

After Prince had been arrested, he called Heriveaux. Heriveaux told him that he did not want to get involved and agreed that if he was contacted about the shooting, he would say that he did not know Prince. Subsequently, Heriveaux told a detective for the District Attorney's office, an investigator for Prince, and Prince's attorney that he did not know Prince and did not know the identity of the shooter.

A medical expert testified that Mitchell was paralyzed from the waist down as a direct result of a bullet penetrating his spinal cord and would never walk again. Mitchell suffered other complications from the shooting as well and had surgery to remove the bullet fragment from his spine.

ii. The Defense Case

According to Prince's mother, sister and girlfriend, on the evening of the shooting, they were home and had dinner with Prince, his father and Prince's fourteen-month old son. Prince's girlfriend, who was nine months pregnant at the time, claimed that at 9:00 p.m., Prince gave his son a bath. Prince's sister stated that she went out around 10:00 p.m. Prince's mother testified that she was with her son and grandson from 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. At approximately 11:30 p.m., Prince's mother claimed that she saw Prince in his room and heard him talking to his girlfriend until about 12:30 a.m., when she fell asleep. Prince's girlfriend testified that she was in Prince's bedroom with him until she fell asleep around 1:00 a.m. At approximately 2:00 or 2:30 a.m., Prince's girlfriend woke up and asked Prince to warm a bottle for their son. She fell back asleep about 5:00 a.m. When Prince's sister came home at about 2:30 a.m., Prince asked her why she came home after her curfew.

According to Michael Pyronneau, Carl Pyronneau and Andrew Stephenson, on the night of the incident they were drinking beer and smoking marijuana in the vicinity of 207th Street, Queens Village with Mateo, Jeans, Brian Antoine, Heriveaux, David Stanford and Fabian Puena. At about 11:15 p.m., the group went to Traditions. According to Stephenson, at one point he wore Mateo's jacket and could feel a gun inside one of the pockets. When they left Traditions at approximately 2:30 a.m., they noticed that Pyronneaux's car window had been broken. They believed some of the football players were responsible.

Carl Pyronneaux claimed that after he left Traditions, he saw Mateo drive past him and decided to follow him. Carl Pyronneaux and Lawrence Glover, who was in another car with Brian Antoine and Andrew Stephenson, claimed that when they arrived at St. John's campus, they saw Mateo arguing with a group of people in front of the dormitories. Carl Pyronneaux admitted that he did not see a gun or who fired the shots. Glover claimed that he saw Mateo pull out the gun, but did not see the gun fired. Carl Pyronneaux and Glover drove to 210th Place because that was the place the group normally went before or after "an event." Tr. 1872-73; 2080-81. Mateo arrived a few minutes later.

Carl Pyronneaux admitted that after he learned that Prince had been arrested, he did not speak with Prince, but instead made eight phone calls to Mateo that day. Carl Pyronneaux denied that he had called Mateo a rat and a snitch to others or to Mateo over e-mail. Carl Pyronneaux, Michael Pyronneaux and Glover testified that they did not see Prince on the evening of the shooting. They also ...

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