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Doran v. Fischer

October 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raymond J. Dearie United States District Judge


DEARIE, Chief Judge.

Petitioner Antoine Doran, currently serving a twenty-three year sentence for his conviction, after trial, of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree possession of a weapon, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the application is denied and the petition is dismissed.


A. Petitioner Claims Self-Defense at Trial

Testifying is support of his claim of self-defense, petitioner admitted that while Elevon Laramore was just outside the front of the Laramore home, at approximately 4:30 p.m. on May 1, 2000, he fired three shots toward Laramore at close range. It is undisputed that the shooting put Laramore's life at risk, that one of the bullets entered Laramore's chest resulting in permanent partial paralysis, and that Laramore also exhibited a second wound on his back. Strongly disputed at trial, however, and the principal focus of petitioner's overlapping claims here, is whether the victim's back wound resulted from the exit of the bullet that entered his chest, or instead from the entry of a second bullet. The latter, according to the prosecution, foreclosed a claim of self-defense.

The theories of both the prosecution and the defense drew upon the history of hostilities between the Laramores and the Bakers, two families who, living across the street from each other, regularly took their disputes to that street. Guns, baseball bats and arrests were common. The state cast petitioner's shooting of Laramore as the latest episode in this feud; there was evidence that petitioner sought out Laramore in specific retaliation for the verbal mistreatment of Chattie Baker (his girlfriend) by one of the Laramores earlier that day. Petitioner, however, specifically denied that he sought out Laramore, testifying that he was in possession of a gun that a friend had lent him and that he was on his way to return it when he happened upon Laramore. Conceding that the encounter was antagonistic, petitioner testified that it was Laramore who first began to reach for a weapon, and that he (petitioner) then had to use the gun he was carrying to protect himself. No guns were recovered, although police did find three shell casings at the scene.

B. The Bullet Evidence and Arguments

James Becker, the paramedic who responded to the scene, was qualified by the trial court without objection from the defense as an "expert in the identification and treatment of gunshot wounds" (119). Becker testified that Elevon exhibited "an entrance on the right shoulder and an exit in approximately the midline of the back from a gunshot wound" (128).

The prosecution also called Dr. Chukuma Okadigwe, the surgeon who treated the victim nearly 24 hours later and who was also qualified, without objection, as an expert "[i]n the identification and treatment of gunshot wounds" (307). Asked "how many different gunshot wounds [he] observe[d] when [he] treated Mr. Laramore," Dr. Okadigwe replied, "[t]wo," one "in the front" and the "other one . . . in the back" (311). The prosecution did not ask Dr. Okadigwe whether the injury to Elevon's back was an exit or entrance wound, but did ask "hypothetical[ly]" whether the injuries he observed "were consistent with the victim facing the sho[o]ter and being shot the first time in the chest and then turning and being shot in the back" (318). Dr. Okadigwe replied that "[i]t is possible" and that "[a]nything is possible" (318-19).

The defense did ask Okadigwe directly whether the injury to Elevon's back was, in his opinion, an exit or entrance wound, but the doctor replied that he "c[ould]not tell" (319). Okadigwe also acknowledged that in his experience he had "come across cases where bullets have entered bodies as a result of a ricochet" (319). Neither the prosecution nor the defense asked either Becker or Okadigwe whether any bullet was found in Elevon's body.

In summation, the prosecutor argued without qualification that petitioner shot the victim in the back: "What else does [petitioner] need to explain? He needs to explain how, how in the world it's self-defense when Mr. Laramore was shot in the back" (651).*fn1 In support of his argument, the prosecutor recast the content and import of Becker's and Okadigwe's opinions, telling the jury that, "the EMT is the expert in gunshot wounds" and that "the EMT told you there were specifically two gunshot wounds, one to the chest and one to the back," and urging that the EMT was "the best person qualified" to describe "where [the victim] was shot" because he "treated him at the scene," whereas Dr. Okadigwe did not see the victim until "almost the next day" (653).

C. The Victim's Testimony

Before the shooting, the day was already marked by substantial Laramore-Baker violence.

Laramore had fought with Devon Baker who, during the clash, had struck Laramore in the head with a baseball bat. Afterward, when Laramore was returning from the hospital where his head was stitched, gunshots were apparently fired by the Bakers' mother (Roxanne) across the street toward the Laramores' mother (Vonceil Laramore). Shortly after that, when Laramore was re-exiting his home to file a police report against Devon Baker for the bat attack, Laramore first noticed petitioner across the street talking to the Bakers.*fn2

Due to his own earlier act of violence-a knife-stabbing of Devon Baker to which Laramore had pled guilty-Laramore was himself still on probation at the time he testified at petitioner's trial.

According to Laramore, he was unarmed and inside his gate when petitioner approached him, asked, "which one of you have [sic] a problem with my baby mother," pulled out a gun from under his coat, and shot him once. He testified that the following then occurred:

Q: And how soon did [petitioner] fire this first shot after you walked out that front door?

A: I guess as soon as he saw me. . . .

Q: . . . after [petitioner] fired that first shot . . . what happened?

A: He paused.

Q: What happened to the first shot?

A: He shot me, he paused, and he shot me again.

Q: Tell us where he shot you.

A: He shot me in the chest and he shot me in the back.

Q: . . . After you were shot the first time, what did you do . . . ?

A: Turned around and reached for ...

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