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Robinson v. Conway

November 23, 2009


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



Petitioner, Patrice Robinson ("Robinson") filed this petition pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254") challenging his conviction in New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County (Doyle, J.), on one count of murder in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(1) (intentional murder)); two counts of murder in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(3) (felony murder)), and one count of attempted murder in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 110.00, 125.25). See Petition ("Pet.") at 2 (Docket No. 1). Robinson was convicted by a jury and sentenced to terms of 25 years to life on each of the murder counts, to be served concurrently with each other. In addition, he was sentenced to 8 1/3 to 25 years on the attempted murder count, to be served consecutively to the murder sentences. He is presently incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility pursuant to this judgment of conviction. For the reasons set forth below, Robinson's § 2254 petition is denied.


Robinson, by Monroe County Indictment No. 739/91, was charged with three counts of murder in the second degree and one count of attempted murder in the second degree, arising out of the following incident. (T. 3)*fn1. In the early morning hours of August 18, 1991, Robinson and three cohorts invaded the apartment of Tracey Tyson ("Tracey"), carrying two shotguns and two handguns. (T. 405). The four men went to Tracey's home in an attempt to extract a payment for a drug debt of Rob Gray ("Rob"), Tracey's boyfriend. (T. 1560-68). While holding Tracey, her two infant children, and her ten-year-old nephew hostage for several hours, they forced Tracey to call Rob to induce him to come to her house. Instead of Rob coming to check on Tracey, Sean Gray, Rob's brother, and Eddy Stewart came to Tracey's apartment. Both men were forced into the apartment at gunpoint and required to lie face-down on the floor with pillowcases over their heads. (T. 974-75, 978). During this time, the hostages were told that if they did not tell Robinson and his cohorts where the money was located in the house, their throats would be slit. T. 979. In addition, Tracey's 10-year-old nephew was continually threatened, including being told that he would be forced to drink bleach if he did not stop crying. (T. 709). After repeatedly interrogating the hostages and taking $20 from Eddy Stewart, a scuffle broke out. (T. 1079-80). During the scuffle, Sean Gray's throat was slit and Tracey was stabbed in several areas of her body, including her throat. (T. 981). Eddy Stewart, fearing for his life, escaped by jumping out a window and proceeded to alert the police. (T. 1087-1090). When police arrived on the scene, they found Tracey's eight-month old baby with a bed sheet firmly tied around its neck. (T. 928). In addition, Sean Gray was transported for medical attention and survived the attack, but Tracey did not survive her injuries.

At trial, after eleven jurors were selected, defense counsel raised a Batson challenge to the prosecutor's use of a peremptory challenge to dismiss a young African-American male prospective juror, Juror Wyatt. Counsel for Robinson's co-defendant argued that the prosecutor's strike removed "50 percent of the available black jurors." (T. 275-76). In addition, Robinson's defense counsel argued that a pattern of discrimination could be made out from the improper removal of a single venireperson. (T. 276-77). Prior to the prosecutor explaining his reasons for the strike, he asked the trial court to make a finding of whether a pattern of purposeful discrimination existed. (T. 274). The trial court found that the prosecutor's strike did not constitute a pattern of purposeful discrimination and then allowed the prosecutor to place his reasons on the record. (T. 278). In response, the prosecutor noted his reasons for the strike, which included: (1) juror's assertion that he would want proof "beyond a shadow of a doubt; (2) the juror's hostile attitudes towards the prosecutor; (3) the prosecutor's desire for a panel of jurors older than this juror who was being peremptorily challenged; and (4) the possibility that the juror may have sympathy for Robinson since he was the same age and also a college student home for the summer. (T. 278-81). Counsel for both defendants then argued that these reasons were not adequate, however the trial court accepted that the prosecutor's reasons were race-neutral and denied the Batson challenge.

Robinson was convicted, following a jury trial, of three counts of murder in the second degree and one count of attempted murder in the second degree. Robinson appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, raising the following issues: (1) the trial court erred in denying Robinson's Batson challenge; (2)the trial court erred in denying Robinson's request to charge attempted manslaughter in the first degree as the lesser included offense to attempted murder in the second degree; (3) the trial court's cumulative erroneous rulings deprived Robinson of his right to a fair trial; and (4) the trial court erred in denying Robinson's post-trial motion to vacate the conviction based on juror misconduct. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed his conviction on November 21, 2003. People v. Robinson, 1 A.D.3d 985 (4th Dept. 2003). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on May 28, 2004. People v. Robinson, 2 N.Y.3d 805 (N.Y. 2004). Robinson did not seek a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court.

Robinson then made a motion to set aside the verdict, pursuant to C.P.L.*fn2 § 330.30, arguing that juror misconduct had taken place during deliberations. See Appendix, State Court Records, Exhibit C, 116-126. The claim of juror misconduct was based on the allegation that a juror provided information regarding the layout of the apartment in which the crimes took place, based on his knowledge of the premises when he worked there installing appliances. Id. During a hearing that was held on October 15, 1993, seven jurors testified and prior to the hearing, depositions were taken from all twelve jurors. By Decision, dated October 21, 1993, Monroe County Supreme Court (Doyle, J.) denied Robinson's motion on the basis that Judge Doyle found that the juror's prior knowledge of the apartment layout in no way prejudiced Robinson. See Appendix, State Court Records, Exhibit C, 95.

This federal habeas corpus petition followed on February 21, 2005, in which Robinson renews all of the claims that were raised on direct appeal.


A. Standard of Review

To prevail under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 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 presented in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), (2); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375-76 (2000); Miranda v. Bennett, 322 F.3d 171, 177-78 (2d Cir. 2003); Boyette v. LeFevre, 246 F.3d 76, 88 (2d Cir. 2001).

The federal habeas statute provides that courts shall "entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). This means that "[a] federal court conducting habeas review is limited to determining whether a petitioner's custody is in violation of federal law." Dunnigan v. Keane, 137 F.3d 117, 125 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see, e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) ("[F]ederal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law."). Furthermore, the AEDPA also requires that in any such proceeding "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct [and] the applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence."

28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Boyette, 246 F.3d at 88 (quoting § 2254(e)(1)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Second Circuit has provided additional guidance concerning a federal court's application of this test, noting that:

[u]nder AEDPA, we ask three questions to determine whether a federal court may grant habeas relief:

(1) Was the principle of Supreme Court case law relied upon in the habeas petition "clearly established" when the state court ruled? (2) If so, was the state court's decision "contrary to" that established Supreme Court precedent? (3) If not, did the state court's decision constitute an "unreasonable application" of that principle?

Williams v. Artuz, 237 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Francis S. v. Stone, 221 F.3d 100, ...

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