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Lavalle v. Artus

November 5, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge



Petitioner Stephen Scott LaValle ("LaValle" or "Petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons below, LaValle's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.


I. Procedural History

On July 17, 1999, Petitioner was found guilty of murder in the first degree. Thereafter, a Suffolk County jury sentenced Petitioner to death. The judgment of conviction and sentence were entered in the Supreme Court, Suffolk County (Mullen, J.) on September 13, 1999.

Petitioner appealed his death sentence directly to the Court of Appeals for the State of New York. On appeal, Petitioner presented twenty-four claims of error including: (1) the prosecution failed to turn over Brady material and (2) the trial court erred when it failed to grant Petitioner's request to represent himself. People v. LaValle, 3 N.Y.3d 88, 817 N.E.2d 341, 783 N.Y.S.2d 485 (2004).

On June 24, 2004, the Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's judgment of conviction; however, the court found that the deadlock jury instruction given was unconstitutional. The Court thus overturned Petitioner's death sentence and remitted the case to the trial court for re-sentencing. LaValle, 3 N.Y.3d 88, 817 N.E.2d 341, 783 N.Y.S.2d 485. On August 9, 2004, Petitioner was re-sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Petitioner appealed and on August 24, 2006, the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the sentence. People v. LaValle, 28 A.D.3d 494 (N.Y. App. Div. 2006). The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on April 27, 2006. People v. LaValle, 6 N.Y.3d 849, 849 N.E.2d 978, 816 N.Y.S.2d 755 (2006).

On May 23, 2006, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In his petition, Petitioner raises two grounds. Petitioner again asserts that the trial court deprived him of his right to represent himself, and that the prosecution concealed exculpatory material in violation of Petitioner's Brady rights. See Brady v Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed. 2d 215 (1963).

II. Factual Background

At approximately 6:30 a.m., on May 31, 1997, Petitioner raped and murdered Cynthia Quinn ("Quinn"), a schoolteacher at the Patchogue-Medford High School, located in Suffolk County, New York. Quinn left her home approximately a half-hour earlier for her routine morning jog. When Quinn had not returned by 7:30 a.m., her husband, Brian Quinn ("Brian"), became concerned because he expected her to return by 7:00 a.m. to watch their children while he left for work. Brian was also aware that Quinn had a track meet later that morning. After unsuccessfully searching the surrounding area for Quinn, Brian called the Fire Chief of the Yaphank Fire Department. Brian and the Yaphank Fire Department engaged in a thorough search for Quinn.

The search intensified with the Suffolk County Police Department and Brookhaven Code Enforcement joining the Yaphank Fire Department. At approximately 12:30 p.m., two of the volunteer firefighters walking along Mill Road in Suffolk County spotted bright colors about fifty to seventy-five feet into the woods and realized that it was Quinn. Quinn's torso, neck, and arms were covered with seventy-three stab wounds made with a screwdriver-like instrument. She had a broken rib, bruises on her arms, her face had been beaten, and she had cuts over much of her body. She had also been raped.

Early that same morning, Monique Sturm ("Sturm") maneuvered around a car parked in a turn lane. As she continued on her way home, Sturm noticed that the parked car had been driving behind her the entire distance. When Sturm turned left onto Canal Road, her car was bumped by the car behind her. Sturm stopped her car and asked the other driver if he was okay. The driver got out of his car, apologized, then forced his way into Sturm's car and stole her pocketbook. Sturm bit his finger in the struggle that ensued and ultimately escaped through the passenger side door. She called 911 and described her attacker as a white man with blue eyes, muscular, short blond hair and a heavy Long Island accent. She also described his car as an old, blue, four-door, American car. (Tr. 13006-11). Around 11:40 a.m., a public safety officer found a wallet, later identified as belonging to Sturm, on the side of Mill Road not far from where Quinn's body would later be found.

After talking with Sturm, police identified Petitioner as a suspect because he fit the physical description and drove a car that fit the description of the car that Sturm had seen. The two crimes were connected when police learned that Petitioner's car was similar to a car seen near the murder scene around 6:30 a.m. on that morning. The witness, Glenn Kazel ("Kazel"), later identified Petitioner's car as the car that he had seen near the murder scene; however, Sturm was unable to identify the car or Petitioner in a photo lineup.

Petitioner was arrested on on June 2, 1997, two days after the murder. Petitioner waived his Miranda rights and was interrogated. (Tr. 14121-22, 14126-34). Petitioner had a cut on his right index finger, consistent with Sturm's statement that she bit her attacker. Although Petitioner first denied involvement with the Sturm robbery, he ultimately confessed that he bumped Sturm's car. Petitioner told the police that on the night before the incident, Petitioner had gone to dinner with his family around 7:30 p.m., and after dinner he went to a comedy club. Petitioner left the comedy club around 9:30 p.m. and went to a pub where he stayed for a few hours with his friend, Phil Anderson ("Anderson") and another man, named Brett. He dropped Anderson off and went to a keg party with Brett where he stayed for a couple of hours. Around 5:45 a.m., Petitioner dropped off a man named Tom at a 7-Eleven convenience store and when he drove off, he hit a car. Petitioner claimed that when he got out of his car a woman started yelling at him and attacked him with her purse. Petitioner admitted pushing the woman back into her car and throwing her pocketbook over a fence. He then gave police permission to take samples of his hair, blood, and saliva.

Eventually, Petitioner confessed to Quinn's murder. Petitioner claimed that when he was driving home, he stopped on the road to urinate and became enraged when a woman jogging past yelled at him, calling him a bum. Petitioner claimed that he became angry because people had been yelling at him and telling him what to do his entire life. Petitioner then walked towards the woman; as he did, the woman walked back into the woods while waving a long piece of metal that resembled a screwdriver. Petitioner grabbed the metal from the woman and stabbed her repeatedly. When she fell down, Petitioner raped her, and then stabbed her again. According to Petitioner's statement, he later sat on a log and cried. ...

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