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Washington v. Zon

September 14, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge


I. Introduction

Petitioner Stanley Washington ("petitioner") filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction on August 20, 1998 in Monroe County Court of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(1)). Following a jury trial before Judge John J. Ark, petitioner was found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 25 years to life.

II. Factual and Procedural History

Petitioner stands convicted of murder for the beating death of an acquaintance, Ms. Donna Wyatt ("Wyatt" or "the victim"). Wyatt's body was found at about 7:00 a.m on August 4, 1996 in a storage yard on Ambrose Street in the City of Rochester. The body was found by an employee of the storage yard, who immediately called police. Her skull had been crushed, and her pants were pulled down to her knees, exposing her buttocks. An empty condom wrapper was lying next to the body. Specks of blood were spattered on railroad ties that were stacked next to the body. TT. 330, 452, 611.*fn1

Wyatt was last seen alive approximately five-and-a-half hours earlier with petitioner in his pickup truck. Petitioner was arrested two days later for operating an unregistered motor vehicle. Petitioner's truck was impounded, and he was taken to the police station for questioning. After waiving his Miranda rights, the police questioned him extensively about Wyatt. Petitioner admitted that he was with the victim at about 1:30 a.m. on August 4, but denied killing her. He asserted that he gave Wyatt a ride home, and did not see her again after that. With petitioner's written consent, police searched and inspected his pickup truck. Spots of blood were observed on the exterior and interior of the vehicle, and a knife was found on the floor under the seat. Petitioner was charged with violating the terms and conditions of his parole for possessing a knife and failing to comply with his curfew. The investigation continued while petitioner was being held on the parole detainer.*fn2

After it was determined that the blood from petitioner's vehicle matched the victim's blood, the case was presented to the Monroe County Grand Jury, which, after hearing the evidence, issued an indictment charging petitioner with Murder in the Second Degree. During the trial court proceedings, petitioner moved to suppress all evidence obtained by police following the stop of his vehicle on the grounds that the stop was unlawfully pretextual. The trial court denied petitioner's request. HT. dated 6/12/98 at 9; Decision & Order, No. 612-97, dated 5/20/1998.

At trial, the prosecution's forensic expert testified that DNA from the blood found on and inside petitioner's truck was consistent with Wyatt's DNA. According to the witness, one in every 12,700 African-Americans have similar DNA characteristics. TT. 818. Another expert witness testified that the blood splatter on the railroad ties matched the blood splatter on petitioner's truck. TT. 744. A third expert testified that a paint chip found at the crime scene matched the paint on petitioner's truck. TT. 631. 634.

The victim's sister ("Phyllis") and two nieces testified that the night of August 3, 1996, Wyatt left a party with them at approximately 1:00 a.m. TT. 338-39. The four women began walking to Phyllis's home, which was a few miles away. While walking down Clifton Street in Rochester, Wyatt flagged down a pickup truck driven by petitioner, whom she knew. Petitioner agreed to give the women and children a ride home. Phyllis testified that petitioner told her that his name was Stan and that he lived on Lime Street, and he had just gotten out of work for the evening. TT. 341-44.

Upon arriving at Phyllis's house, Phyllis and her two daughters exited the truck. Wyatt remained inside, as she wanted to return to her own home that night. Although Phyllis expressed concern over the victim riding with the petitioner alone, Wyatt returned to the truck and left with petitioner. TT. 346-47.

After hearing the proof and deliberating for less than one day, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of Murder in the Second Degree. On August 20, 1997, the trial court sentenced petitioner to 25 years to life in prison. Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which unanimously affirmed his conviction. People v. Washington, 291 A.D.2d 780 (4th Dept.) lv. denied N.Y.2d 682 (2002). Petitioner's application for writ of error coram nobis was denied by the Appellate Division on April 30, 2003. Similarly, petitioner's motion for vacatur under N.Y. Crim. Proc. ("C.P.L.") § 440.10 was denied by letter by the state court on November 3, 2003. Petitioner then filed this petition for habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising four grounds for relief. For the reasons stated herein, petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief and this petition is dismissed.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

To prevail under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254, as amended in 1996, a petitioner seeking federal review of his conviction must demonstrate that the state court's adjudication of his federal constitutional claim resulted in a decision that was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent, or resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable factual determination in light of the evidence ...

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