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Willard v. State

December 4, 2009


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


Petitioner, Christopher Willard ("Willard" or "Petitioner"), petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons below, the Petition is DENIED.*fn1


I. Factual Background

On the night of January 17, 2004, M.T. left a nightclub in Westbury, Nassau County, and entered a taxicab operated by Petitioner. M.T. later testified that, over the course of several hours, she had imbibed four or five drinks, had a very low tolerance, and felt very drunk thereafter. At M.T.'s request, Petitioner drove her to a friend's home in Bellmore, Nassau County. Upon arrival, M.T. discovered that her friend was not at home, and reentered the cab. She promptly passed out.

Subsequently, M.T. regained consciousness long enough to observe that the cab was parked at a convenience store before she passed out again. M.T. testified that the next time she awoke she found her pants and underwear pulled down to her knees and Petitioner between her legs, with his penis inside of her. While M.T. was unconscious, Petitioner had placed his penis in her vagina. M.T. said that "his pants were down," his penis was "inside me" and "he was thrusting back and forth." (T 311-12.) When Petitioner was finished, he went into M.T.'s purse and took forty-three dollars from her wallet. (Id. at 315.) Petitioner then drove back to the home of M.T.'s friend and let her out of the taxi. M.T. ran to the home of her friend's neighbor, who let her in and called the police. (Id. at 320-21.) After hearing M.T.'s account, Nassau County police officers suspected that the rapist was a driver for Long Island Checker Cab Company ("Company") and asked the Company's dispatcher to call Petitioner back to the cab stand. Various officers took position near the cab stand in their marked police cars and waited for Petitioner to return. Shortly thereafter, Officer Frank Ruvolo saw Petitioner's cab pass by and he began to follow the cab. Petitioner accelerated and led the police on a high-speed chase that involved three police cars over several miles. Petitioner eventually led the officers onto the Meadowbrook Parkway, where he sideswiped one of the police cars before crashing the cab into a guardrail. Petitioner then left his vehicle and tried to flee on foot. The officers ultimately apprehended him in the wooded area near the parkway. Altogether, the chase lasted approximately fifteen minutes.

II. Procedural History

Petitioner was charged with two counts of First Degree Rape (N.Y. Penal Law § 130.35[1], [2]), one count of Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law § 130.25[1]), two counts of Sexual Abuse in the First Degree (Penal Law § 130.65 [1], [2]), one count of Robbery in the Third Degree (Penal Law § 160.05), one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (Penal Law § 155.30[5]), two counts of Assault in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 120.05[3], [6]), Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree (Penal Law § 120.25), one count of Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree (Penal Law § 145.05[2]), two counts of Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree (Penal Law § 145.00[3]), and one count of Resisting Arrest (Penal Law § 205.30). After trial in the New York State Supreme Court, Nassau County, on February 28, 2005, Petitioner was sentenced to a determinate term of imprisonment of twenty-five years and five years' post-release supervision on the rape count, a determinate term of seven years and five years' post-release supervision for both the sexual abuse and assault in the second degree counts, an indeterminate term of three years and six months to seven years each on the robbery and reckless endangerment counts, an indeterminate term of two to four years each on the grand larceny and criminal mischief in the third degree counts, and a definite term of one year each on the criminal mischief in the fourth degree and resisting arrest counts. The trial court ordered all of the sentences to run concurrently. Because Petitioner's acts violated a five-year term of probation that had been imposed on September 10, 2001, for a prior unrelated crime, Petitioner was sentenced to an additional indeterminate term of two years and four months to seven years. The court ordered this sentence to run consecutively with the sentence for rape in the first degree.

Thereafter, Petitioner was appointed appellate counsel, who appealed from Petitioner's conviction to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department ("Appellate Division"). On appeal, Petitioner argued that: (1) the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction; (2) the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence; and (3) Petitioner's sentence was harsh and excessive. After the Respondent filed a brief in opposition to counsel's brief, Petitioner filed a pro se supplemental brief, claiming that: (1) his statements to the police had been coerced and their introduction at trial violated his Fifth Amendment rights; (2) he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (3) the trial court should have granted his numerous pro se motions to dismiss the indictment against him; (4) the trial court's decision, that he had violated his probation, violated his constitutional rights; (5) his sentence was unduly harsh and excessive; and (6) the court erred when it allowed the prosecutor to play a videotape depicting the route taken when Petitioner was chased by police.

On March 27, 2007, the Appellate Division held that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence was legally sufficient to establish that M.T. was unconscious or otherwise physically unable to communicate her unwillingness to engage in sexual intercourse with Petitioner (see Penal Law § 130.00[7]). Additionally, it was satisfied that the verdict of guilt of rape in the first degree was not against the weight of the evidence. Finally, the Appellate Division held that the sentences imposed were not excessive, and that Petitioner's remaining contentions, including those raised in his supplemental pro se brief, were without merit. Petitioner's conviction was unanimously affirmed. People v. Willard, 832 N.Y.S.2d 294, 294 (App. Div. 2007). On October 5 2007, the New York Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal on the same grounds as those raised in the Appellate Division. People v. Willard, 878 N.E.2d 618, 9 N.Y.3d 965, 848 N.Y.S.2d 34 (2007).

On or about April 24, 2006, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate his judgment pursuant to C.P.L. § 440.10, raising two arguments: (1) a videotape of the route of the police chase should not have been played for the jury; and (2) the prosecution should have produced a witness who could have authenticated an allegedly exculpatory surveillance tape. On June 1, 2006, the County Court denied Petitioner's motion, finding that Petitioner's claims were procedurally barred and without merit. On or about November 16, 2006, Petitioner filed a second motion to vacate judgment, raising five claims, and arguing: (1) count three of the indictment, Rape in the Third Degree, was erroneously dismissed; (2) the victim's medical reports were improperly withheld from the grand jury; (3) ineffective assistance of counsel; (4) the violation of probation hearing abridged his constitutional rights; and (5) he was entitled to bail or release on his own recognizance. On December 18, 2006, the County Court denied Petitioner's motion, again finding that Petitioner's claims were procedurally barred and without merit.

On April 3, 2008, Petitioner filed his petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He cites three grounds as a basis for his petition: (1) the evidence against him at trial was legally insufficient to prove one of the elements of the charged rape, namely that the victim had been unconscious or physically unable to communicate an unwillingness to act; (2) he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to challenge the grand jury as it was impaneled, and because he failed to object to the admission of a videotape of the scene of the police chase and the related testimony of a police officer; and (3) his sentence is unduly harsh and excessive.


I. Federal Habeas Review of State ...

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