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Johnson v. Breslin

September 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge


Petitioner Tyrell Johnson is currently serving two concurrent sentences of ten years of imprisonment following his conviction in New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, for attempted murder in the second degree, New York Penal Law § 110/125.25[1], and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, New York Penal Law § 265.03. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, petitioner challenges his conviction, contending that: (1) his verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (2) he received ineffective assistance of counsel; and (3) the trial court violated his due process rights by admitting evidence of uncharged crimes. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

I. Background a. Facts Adduced at Trial

On December 2, 2000, North Carolina police arrested petitioner and his accomplice, Michael Scott, for possessing crack cocaine. (Trial Tr. ("Tr.") at 28:23 - 29:4.) Scott was a schizophrenic drug addict who allowed petitioner to prepare crack cocaine at his home in return for narcotics. (Tr. at 29:1-11.) Both were released on bail. (Tr. at 29:20-24.) While out on bail, petitioner visited Scott and attempted to persuade him to claim ownership of the drugs and "take the rap" for the crime. (Tr. at 30:3-11.) Petitioner told Scott that the police would not charge him for the crime because of his schizophrenia. (Tr. at 30:7-11.) When Scott refused, petitioner instructed him to get into petitioner's car and told him that they were going to South Carolina to see a "witch doctor or root doctor." (Tr. at 30:17 - 31:6.) A root doctor is a "voodoo-type person" whom some believe can help with their problems. (Tr. at 209:6-8.)

Instead of driving to South Carolina, petitioner, along with his friend, Tearence Moody, drove Scott to New York on December 15, 2000. (Tr. at 209:15-16.) While Moody and petitioner took turns driving, Scott was in the backseat, using drugs and sleeping. (Tr. at 31:3-4.) At trial, the parties offered differing accounts of where those drugs came from. Testifying for the prosecution, Scott explained that petitioner gave him the drugs during the trip. (Tr. at 31:23 - 32:6, 60:4-6.) Moody, who testified for petitioner, claimed that he never saw petitioner give drugs to Scott and that Scott "had his own [drugs]" in the car. (Tr. at 212:15-19, 226:9-14.)

Petitioner, Scott, and Moody arrived in New York City on the morning of December 16, 2000. (Tr. at 32:23 - 33:2, 208:21-22.) They drove around the city in search of a root doctor but were unsuccessful. (Tr. at 211:10-18.) Petitioner then left Moody and Scott at a friend's house in Brooklyn while he continued the search. (Tr. at 34:22-25, 211:19 - 212:23, 231:19-21.) He did not return to the house until sometime between 4:30 P.M. and 5:00 P.M. that day. (Tr. at 34:22-25.)

Scott testified that petitioner gave him drugs when he returned, and then petitioner, Moody, and Scott left together in the car. (Tr. at 35:5-13.) After a short drive, petitioner made an unexpected stop near "[a]n overhead train" and asked Scott to empty his pockets. (Id .) Petitioner gave Scott something wrapped in a napkin and asked him to put it in his pocket. (Tr. at 35:15-25. The napkin contained crack cocaine, but Scott claims that, when he took the napkin, he was unaware of the narcotics. (35:20, 38:17 - 39:1. ) According to Scott, immediately after he put the napkin in his pocket, petitioner led him to a secluded area on foot, shot him, and then fled. (Tr. at 35:17 - 36:20.)

Petitioner denies shooting Scott. At trial, Moody testified that, after petitioner picked up Scott and Moody from the house in Brooklyn, they dropped Scott off so that he could find some drugs. (Tr. at 213:7-17.) Petitioner and Moody planned on picking Scott up after getting something to eat. (Tr. at 214:4-7.) After the meal, petitioner and Moody searched for Scott for about 45 minutes but were unable find him. (Tr. at 214:24 - 215:17.)

Police Officer Peter Hart of the New York City Police Department testified that, on December 16, 2000, he encountered Scott while patrolling Van Sinderen Avenue near the L train in his cruiser. (Tr. at 122:23 - 123:5.) Scott flagged him down and asked for help, claiming that he had been shot. (Tr. at 37:2.) Hart testified that, when he encountered Scott, Scott was not exhibiting the signs of an "emotionally disturbed person." (Tr. at 125:17-19.) When he asked Scott who shot him, Scott said that he did not know. (Tr. at 126:8-12.) Hart then called for an ambulance, which took Scott to the hospital. (Tr. at 124:13-16.) While there, Scott told hospital personnel and the police that petitioner had shot him and that petitioner had given him something to put in his pocket. (Tr. at 38:15-22, 71:13-20.) The police found a napkin full of cocaine in the pocket of his pants and arrested him for possession of cocaine. (Tr. at 38:24 - 39:5.)

At trial, petitioner questioned the reliability of Scott's account of the shooting given his history of schizophrenia and drug use. In response, the prosecution called Dr. Robert Goldstein, a schizophrenia expert who had reviewed Scott's psychiatric records and outpatient clinical records, as well as the ambulance report and hospital records from the day of the shooting. (Tr. at 182:23 - 183:12.) Additionally, Dr. Goldstein had personally examined Scott. (Tr. at 188:25 - 189:8.)

Dr. Goldstein testified that, in the months prior to the shooting, Scott had been taking Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication that had kept Scott's schizophrenia in remission. (Tr. at 185:11 - 186:12, 188:10-24.) Dr. Goldstein testified that a Haldol injection "lasts for about 30 days or so." (Tr. at 185:14 - 186:6.) Furthermore, Haldol "neutralizes or blocks" the "psychiatric symptoms from taking cocaine." (Tr. at 194:20 -195:6.)

Dr. Goldstein explained that Scott was mostly compliant with his Haldol treatment from 2000-2002. (Id .) Scott testified that he had received his monthly shot of Haldol about two weeks before the December 16, 2000 shooting. (Tr. at 43:15 - 44:7.) Petitioner's medical records show that he received his next Haldol injection on December 27, 2000, about one month after his last Haldol injection. (Tr. at 201:7-9.) Dr. Goldstein further testified that Scott's post-shooting hospital records do not indicate any signs of schizophrenia. (197:9 - 198:1.) Instead, the records showed that Scott was calm, lucid, and able to give a detailed account of the shooting. (Id .) According to Dr. Goldstein, someone experiencing schizophrenic symptoms would have trouble making sense and may be catatonic or agitated and violent. (Tr. at 181:11 - 182:6.)

b. Scott's Recantation

Five years after the trial, Scott recanted his trial testimony and prior statements to the police, identifying petitioner as his assailant. He claimed that, at the time of the shooting, he had missed his latest Haldol injection, and that the combination of his drug use and schizophrenia on that day had made it impossible for him to comprehend the events that had occurred. (M. Scott Aff. at ¶ 4-5, 8.) He also claimed to have no memory of the person who shot him. (M. Scott Aff. at ¶ 6-7.)

c. Procedural History

1. The Admissibility of Prior Bad Acts under Molineux

On September 3, 2002, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing regarding the admissibility of petitioner's uncharged crimes. Specifically, the prosecution sought to introduce testimony that: (1) petitioner and Scott were arrested together on December 2, 2000; (2) petitioner later asked Scott to take responsibility for that crime; and (3) Scott refused. (Resp't Ex. G at 15:23 - 17:17.) The prosecution argued that this evidence established petitioner's motive for shooting Scott. (Id .) The court ruled that it would "allow [the prosecution] to go into that [petitioner and Scott] were both arrested, ...

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