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Williams v. Conway

September 14, 2009


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


I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Terrien Williams ("Petitioner") has filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his custody pursuant to a judgment entered August 15, 2003, in New York State, Supreme Court, Erie County, convicting him, after a jury trial, of one count each of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.25 [3]), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (Penal Law § 265.02 [1]), and two counts of Robbery in the First Degree (Penal Law § 160.15 [1], [2]).

For the reasons stated below, habeas relief is denied and the petition is dismissed.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

The charges arise from an incident that occurred at 44 East Utica Street in the City of Buffalo on August 31, 2001, which resulted in the shooting death of Michael Johnson ("the victim").

Joy Johnson was at home at 44 East Utica Street in the early morning hours of August 31, 2001. Trial Transcript [T.T.] 693-702. Her husband, Michael Johnson, was sleeping on a couch in the living room and her goddaughter, Charnell Mitchell ("Mitchell"), was asleep in the Johnsons' bedroom. T.T. 696-700. Joy Johnson was doing laundry in the bathroom when, at approximately 2:00 a.m., she heard a loud banging noise at the front door and the sound of wood splitting. T.T. 702. When she looked to ascertain the cause of the commotion, she saw a man with a gun in his hand running down the hallway toward her. T.T. 704. The man grabbed Joy Johnson by the hair, hit her on the right side of her head with the gun, pushed her into the bedroom where Mitchell was sleeping, and demanded money. T.T. 705.

As the assailant forced Joy Johnson and Mitchell, who had been awoken by the noise, down the hallway toward the front of the house, she heard her husband ask what was happening. T.T. 709. She then heard Petitioner say, "here he is. He's in here." T.T. 710. When Joy Johnson was approximately two steps from her kitchen, she heard a gun shot. T.T. 711. She looked into the living room and saw Petitioner, with a smoking shotgun in his hand, standing over her husband's body, which was lying on the living room floor. T.T. 714-715. Joy Johnson looked directly at Petitioner and was able to see his face. T.T. 818. Joy Johnson recognized Petitioner as someone from the neighborhood whom she had previously reported to the police because he was on her porch. T.T. 775.

As the two men ran out the front door, the assailant who had hit her with the gun, grabbed her husband's cell phone and some money, which the victim kept in a fish bowl. T.T. 721-722. Joy Johnson noticed a third man, Kenny Lawrence ("Lawrence"), who was standing outside on her porch, several feet from the front door. T.T. 723.

Joy Johnson and Mitchell both called 911, and the police arrived shortly thereafter with an ambulance. T.T. 729-730. Joy Johnson accompanied homicide detectives from the Buffalo Police Department to police headquarters, while her husband was transported to the hospital. T.T. 731-732. The victim died at the hospital from a gunshot wound. T.T. 732.

The following day, shortly before noon, Joy Johnson was the passenger in a vehicle, driven by family members, when she saw Petitioner standing on the street. T.T. 734-735. She alerted the driver who pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and called the police. T.T. 736-737. When the police arrived approximately ten minutes later, Joy Johnson identified Petitioner as the man who killed her husband. T.T. 737-738. Shortly thereafter, Petitioner was taken into custody. Subsequently, Joy Johnson identified Petitioner in a photo array and two line-ups. T.T. 738-739.

On August 15, 2003, Petitioner was indicted, along with co-defendant Lawrence, with one count of felony murder in the second degree and two counts of robbery in the first degree. He was individually charged with one count each of intentional murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.

Prior to trial, a joint Huntley/Rodriguez*fn1 hearing was conducted on behalf of Petitioner's co-defendant, at which Petitioner appeared with counsel*fn2 and waived both the Huntley and Wade hearings. Hr'g Mins. [H.M.] 2-4. At that time, Petitioner's counsel expressed concerns that admission of the co-defendant's statement would give rise to a Bruton*fn3 issue, thereby triggering Petitioner's right to seek severance. H.M. 5-6. Subsequently, the court, upon denial of co-defendant Lawrence's motion for suppression of his statement, ordered that Petitioner's case be severed from Petitioner's case. Co-defendant Lawrence was tried separately and was acquitted of all charges. T.T. 887.

A jury trial commenced on September 16, 2002 before the Hon. Richard C. Kloch. Petitioner testified in his own defense, and denied any involvement in the crime. Petitioner's mother, brother, aunt and grandmother all testified as alibi witnesses. These individuals all testified that Petitioner was at home on the evening the crime was committed. T.T. 1155-1289.

Petitioner was found guilty as charged of all counts of the indictment, except one (intentional murder). He was subsequently sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of 20 years to life on the murder conviction and to 20 year determinate terms on the two robbery convictions, to be served concurrent with each other and to the sentence imposed on the murder conviction, as well as an indeterminate term of 2 1/3 to 7 years on the criminal possession of a weapon conviction, to run concurrently with the other sentences imposed. Sentencing Mins. [S.M.] 18.

Petitioner's judgment of conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department on April 28, 2006. People v. Williams, 28 A.D.3d 1059 (4th Dept. 2006). Petitioner was granted leave to appeal, and the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of conviction on February 15, 2007. People v. Williams, 8 N.Y.3d 854 (2007).

No collateral motions were filed.

The instant habeas corpus petition followed, wherein Petitioner seeks relief on the following grounds: (1) ineffective assistance of trial ...

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