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Venezia v. Greene

December 7, 2009


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


Pending before the Court is Robert Nicholas Venezia's ("Petitioner") petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons below, Venezia's petition is DENIED in its entirety.


Petitioner was charged with stabbing his stepmother, Mary Venezia to death in the early morning of August 31, 1998. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Petitioner attacked his stepmother in the den of their residence with a knife taken from a knife rack in the kitchen. After repeatedly stabbing his stepmother, Petitioner cleaned the victim's blood that had dripped from the knife and Petitioner's hand onto the kitchen floor with a towel. Petitioner then cleaned his hands, changed out of his clothes, and took money from the victim's wallet. Thereafter, Petitioner left his residence and drove to his uncle, Dennis Venezia's ("Dennis") home.

While Petitioner was at Dennis Venezia's home, Rocco Venezia, another paternal uncle, called the Suffolk County Police Department to report an incident at Petitioner's residence. The officers who responded to the call reported finding the victim in the den. After speaking with Rocco Venezia, a dispatcher from the Suffolk County Police Department called the Nassau County Police Department and requested that officers from Nassau County report to Dennis' residence. The same dispatcher testified that he then called Dennis Venezia, who was frantic and asked whether the victim was dead or alive. The dispatcher asked Dennis whether Petitioner was at Dennis' residence; when Dennis responded affirmatively, the dispatcher asked to speak with Petitioner. Petitioner took the phone and told the dispatcher that he had been freebasing and doing drugs the night before, and had driven around for a few hours after freebasing, finally arriving at his uncle's house. Petitioner further stated that he could not remember much of what had happened and did not know why he had blood stains on him. The dispatcher's call ended when officers from the Nassau County Police Department arrived at Dennis' home and advised the dispatcher that they had taken Petitioner into custody.

While the Nassau County Officers were at Dennis' residence, Suffolk County Police Officers were investigating the crime scene at Petitioner's home. After securing two search warrants, the officers discovered drug paraphernalia containing cocaine residue inside Petitioner's room.

Officer John F. Carney from the Nassau County Police Department testified that he responded to Dennis' home. Officer Carney found Petitioner in the kitchen and noticed that Petitioner's shirt was stained with blood. Petitioner was calm and cooperated with the officers. After the officers handcuffed Petitioner and placed him in the backseat of their vehicle, Officer Dorothy Gentile asked Petitioner if he needed medical attention. Petitioner said no, but stated that he had used cocaine at approximately 4:00 a.m. that morning. Petitioner later told Detective Phil Greco from the Nassau County Police Department that he had been freebasing all night, he remembered being home along with his step-mother, and recalled that his father had left at approximately four o'clock. Petitioner also remembered taking a shower and then driving on the Southern State Parkway with blood all over him. However, Petitioner maintained that he had blacked out and thus could not recall anything else that occurred at his home. Petitioner was thereafter taken to the First Squad of the Nassau County Police Department, where he was photographed and had an opportunity to speak with his attorney. Petitioner was then turned over to detectives from the Suffolk County Police Department who had inspected the crime scene.

Nassau County Detective Samuel DeJesus testified that he left the Nassau County 1st Squad to take Petitioner to the Suffolk County Police Department. Detective DeJesus read Petitioner his rights from a rights card while the two were in the Detective's car. After having been told of his constitutional rights, Petitioner spontaneously told the police that he was "really sorry this happened," and he "didn't mean for this to happen." (Tr. at 451.)

At trial, Petitioner attempted to establish the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance. Petitioner presented the testimony of Dr. Sanford Drob, who testified that he believed Petitioner suffered from an extreme emotional disturbance. (Tr. 1041). Dr. Drob stated that Petitioner's emotional state was caused by a combination of psychological deficits, cocaine use, and the shock and anger towards his stepmother when she caught him using cocaine and threatened to inform his father and have Petitioner thrown out of the house. The defense presented evidence that Petitioner had reason to believe the threat would be carried out due to his poor relationship with the victim.

In rebuttal, the prosecution presented the testimony of Dr. Robert Berger, a licensed psychiatrist, who testified that Petitioner did not act under an extreme emotional disturbance. Dr. Berger testified that Petitioner did not have a negative relationship with his stepmother during Petitioner's adolescence, as Petitioner claimed, and Petitioner received support from his father. According to Dr. Berger, the crime scene evidence was not consistent with an extreme emotional disturbance. Id. at 1197, 1241-1246. Dr. Berger stated that the following evidence indicated that Petitioner was not acting under extreme emotional disturbance: the gap in time between the confrontation and the homicide, Petitioner's decision to clean the murder weapon and return it to the knife block, and the fact that Petitioner was not exhausted or remorseful after the murder, which usually occurs when someone acts under an extreme emotional disturbance.

On December 1, 1999, following a bench trial, Petitioner was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree and sentenced to eighteen years to life imprisonment. Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Second Department. On appeal, Petitioner argued that (1) the defense proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Petitioner acted under an extreme emotional disturbance; (2) the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution's psychiatric expert to give his opinion regarding the Petitioner's credibility and his opinion on the crime scene evidence; and (3) Petitioner's sentence was harsh and excessive.

On September 27, 2004, the Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction. The court held that Petitioner did not establish his affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence, the sentence was not excessive, and his remaining arguments were without merit. People v. Venezia, 781 N.Y.S.2d 914, 914 (2d Dep't 2004). On January 3, 2005, the New York Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal. People v. Venezia, 4 N.Y.3d 768, 825 N.E.2d 144, 792 N.Y.S.2d 12 (2005).

On January 5, 2006, Petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner claims that (1) the trial court erred in holding that extreme emotional disturbance was not proven by a preponderance of the evidence; (2) the prosecution did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the prosecution's expert lacked the necessary ...

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