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Timmons v. Lee

September 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, U.S.D.J.



JOHN GLEESON, United States District Judge

Richard Timmons petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Timmons challenges his March 2000 conviction in New York State Supreme Court, Queens County of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated criminal contempt. Appearing pro se, Timmons seeks habeas relief on several grounds, discussed below. Oral argument was heard on September 16, 2010, and for the reasons set forth below, Timmons's petition is denied in its entirety.


A. The Offense Conduct

On the evening of June 8, 1997, after a series of domestic disputes with his wife, Anita, Timmons murdered Anita, their seven-year-old son, Aaron, and Anita's thirteen-year-old son, Sharone, at their apartment in Queens by stabbing each of them repeatedly and beheading them. Police seized Timmons at the crime scene early the next morning.

B. Procedural History

1. The Trial Court Proceedings

a. The Mapp/Huntley Hearing

On October 28 and November 2 and 10, 1998, Justice Robert Hanophy held a Mapp/Huntley hearing*fn1 to determine whether the physical evidence seized by the police from Timmons's apartment and Elmhurst Hospital and Timmons's statements should be suppressed.

At the hearing, New York Police Department ("NYPD") Detective Robert Ledee testified. Ledee testified that he responded to an apartment in Queens at approximately 1:00 a.m. on June 9, 1997. After observing Timmons on a stretcher in an ambulance with his hands bandaged, Ledee went up to apartment 6A, where he observed that the lock to the door was broken. Police Officer Labella, who was outside the apartment, told him that he had responded to a call of an assault in progress. Labella told Ledee that he had knocked on the door but had gotten no response, despite hearing noise in the apartment. The Emergency Services Unit eventually arrived and forced open the door. Labella told Ledee that when he entered the apartment, he found bodies and Timmons, who was bleeding.

Detective Dennis Bardin testified that he was assigned to investigate the homicide of a woman and her two children and was dispatched along with his partner, Detective Mary Ann Herbert, to Elmhurst General Hospital at approximately 1:20 a.m. on June 9. Bardin's task was to interview the father of the murdered children, who was being treated for some injuries. The father was Timmons, and Bardin was told by doctors that Timmons had been medicated and was not likely to die. Timmons's wrists were bandaged and bloody, and there was a cut on his head. Timmons was conscious the entire time Bardin was in the room. He was handcuffed to the bed and each foot was restrained with cloth restraints. Timmons would shout periodically for no apparent reason.

Bardin first asked Timmons what happened to him and his family, to which Timmons responded, "Mr. Cheeks." Timmons also referred to "Lost Boys." After learning additional information from detectives at the crime scene, Bardin advised Timmons of his Miranda rights at approximately 2:30 a.m., and Timmons waived them. Timmons appeared lucid, although he smelled of alcohol. He told Bardin that he and Mr. Cheeks had fought by the elevator in the hallway outside his apartment and that Mr. Cheeks had killed his family. He said his own injuries were self-inflicted because "he wanted to die." Bardin also showed Timmons Polaroid photographs of his family at the crime scene. Timmons identified the children by their name and age and stated that because it was Sunday, the children had not been at school that day. When Bardin showed Timmons a photograph of Anita's body from the crime scene, Timmons said, "stop bothering me." Bardin ceased his questioning of Timmons at approximately 6:30 a.m. At no point during his conversation with Bardin did Timmons admit any involvement in the murder of his family.

Detective Sam Gilford testified that he arrived at the crime scene at approximately 2:00 a.m., and proceeded to Elmhurst General Hospital shortly after. He photographed Timmons and took twelve blood samples from him. In addition, Gilford took Timmons's blue gym shorts and sneakers.

Detective Richard Mecabe went with his partner, Detective Sica, to Elmhurst General Hospital on June 9, 1997 to take Timmons into custody. Mecabe took Timmons to an interview room at the 114th Precinct after being informed by Sica that Timmons was being discharged from the hospital. Mecabe read Timmons his Miranda rights, which he once again waived. At Timmons's request, the officers gave him food. Mecabe testified that Timmons was in fine physical condition except for his wrist injuries, and he was alert and conscious throughout the interview. Timmons told Mecabe and Sica that when he was coming back to the apartment, Cheeks was coming out, and they got into a physical altercation. After the fight concluded, Timmons went back into the apartment and his wife and children were already dead. Timmons stated he got some vodka and went into the bedroom. At that point, Timmons said he called his mother and the next thing he knew, the police were in the apartment. Timmons provided further information on Cheeks to Mecabe, who told him he was having a hard time believing Timmons's story. Mecabe then played the 911 tape for Timmons three times. On the 911 call, a child's voice can be heard in the background screaming, "Daddy, stop it; Daddy, stop it," along with the sound of blows being struck. Timmons began to cry during the final playing of the tape and told Mecabe that he had killed his wife.

After Timmons's initial confession, Detective Ledee entered the room at about 3:00 p.m. Once again, Timmons waived his Miranda rights, and he spoke to Ledee for ten to fifteen minutes. He admitted to hitting his wife with an axe. Timmons then wrote out a statement. About an hour later, Ledee spoke to Timmons again for another thirty to forty minutes. Timmons dictated a statement to Ledee; he did not want to write it himself because his hand was hurting. In the statement, Timmons admitted to hitting his wife with an axe.

In support of his motion, Timmons called Dr. Ian Newmark to testify at the Mapp/Huntley hearing, which continued on January 21, 1999. Newmark testified that Timmons had lost a significant amount of blood- as much as 25% of his total blood volume-and had experienced a very significant drop in blood pressure. Newmark testified that this amount of blood loss could impair a person's judgment and ability to think. In addition, Newmark stated that Timmons's ability to think would also be affected by his significant volume loss, dehydration, the trace amounts of alcohol and valium in his blood, his significant pain, and insufficient fluids. Newmark also testified that it was inappropriate for the hospital to release Timmons to the police. Finally, Newmark testified that Dr. Peter Leung had conducted a mental status examination of Timmons at the hospital and had found that he was not cognitively impaired.

In an opinion dated June 2, 1999, the trial court granted Timmons's motion to suppress his first statement to Bardin mentioning "Cheeks" and "Lost Boys" because it was made prior to the administration of Miranda warnings. The court denied Timmons's motion to suppress the remainder of his statements to the police. The court held that Timmons, despite his medical condition, was able to make a knowing and voluntary decision to waive his rights to speak to the police. The court also held that Timmons's initial statement, taken prior to Miranda warnings, did not preclude admission of the later statements because the initial statement was not inculpatory. In addition, the court held that the warrantless entry into Timmons's apartment by the police was justified because of exigent circumstances, and that the evidence seized therein was in plain view from inside the apartment. The court also denied Timmons's motion to suppress the physical evidence taken from him at the hospital on the ground that it was obtained incident to Timmons's lawful arrest.

b. The Trial Court's Molineux Decision

The trial court granted the People's Molineux*fn2 application in an opinion dated October 6, 1999, permitting them to elicit evidence of Timmons's prior crimes and bad acts against Anita and to introduce public documents from those incidents. The court ruled that evidence of Timmons's prior acts of assaulting Anita was admissible because it established Timmons's motive and intent to commit the crimes charged, was inextricably interwoven with the issue of Timmons's identity as the assailant in this case, provided the jury with background information to assist it in understanding the nature of Timmons's relationship with the victims, and established an element of the charge of aggravated criminal contempt.

The first Molineux witness, Mildred Stewart, Anita's mother and Aaron and Sharone's grandmother, testified to Anita's physical appearance after the incidents of domestic violence on July 1 and September 7, 1996. Police Officers Ann Marie Felle and Edward Sholl testified regarding their observations of Anita after they responded to her domestic violence-related calls, and Police Officer Richard Allison testified to his observations of Timmons after placing him under arrest for the August 9, 1996 assault of Anita. Sholl also testified regarding the appearance of Timmons's mother's house after the September 7, 1996 incident. Loretta LaPollo, the grand jury reporter who was present for the presentation of the indictment in the assault case (No. 3262/96) and for Anita's testimony before the grand jury, testified to the fact of Anita's having testified before the grand jury. The Molineux evidence also included Indictment No. 3262/96 (in redacted form), Anita's hospital records in connection with the assaults (in redacted form),*fn3 the minutes of Timmons's plea of guilty to nine counts charged in Indictment No. 3262/96 (in redacted form), and certain prison records, which showed that Timmons was incarcerated for approximately nine months without release on the assault case. Corrections Officer George Gavin testified regarding the prison records and the length of Timmons's period of incarceration in the assault case. Iris Leviten, who transcribed the minutes of Timmons's trial and plea in that case, was asked by the People to read into evidence Timmons's plea allocution admitting guilt. The People also offered the protection order against Timmons.

c. The Trial and the Sentencing

The consolidated indictment in this case charged Timmons with six counts of first-degree murder under N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(viii); six counts of second-degree murder, with three counts under N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(1) and three counts under § 125.25(2); three counts of aggravated criminal contempt under N.Y. Penal Law § 215.52; and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree under N.Y. Penal Law § 265.01(2). Of this list, the only charges submitted to the jury were three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder (under N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(1)), and one count of aggravated criminal contempt.

Timmons represented himself at trial.*fn4 In addition to the witnesses mentioned above, the People elicited the testimony of Alexus Phoenix, the 911 operator who received the 911 call on June 8, 1997; Sergeant Scott Andreacchi, one of the first officers to respond to the June 8 call of an assault in progress at Timmons's apartment; John Losinski, a Signal Processing Analyst for the FBI who had created a copy of the 911 tape with the movie soundtrack in the background removed; Pasquale Buffolino, a forensic scientist from the office of the New York City Medical Examiner who took and analyzed blood samples, clippings and swabs from the victims and the crime scene, and performed a DNA analysis of the blood samples; and Dr. Kari Reiber, who performed autopsies on Anita, Aaron and Sharone. Timmons did not present any evidence at trial.

The jury convicted Timmons of all three counts of first-degree murder-naming Aaron as the intended victim and Sharone as the secondary victim, Aaron as the intended victim and Anita as the secondary victim, and Anita as the intended victim and Sharone as the secondary victim, respectively-and the count of aggravated criminal contempt. On April 4, 2000, the trial court sentenced Timmons to three concurrent terms of life imprisonment without parole for the three first-degree murder convictions, and an indeterminate term of two and one-third to seven years' imprisonment for the contempt conviction. The court also imposed a $5,000 fine for each of the four convictions, and a $155 mandatory surcharge.

2. The Motion To Vacate the Conviction

On January 11, 2001, Timmons moved to vacate the judgment of conviction claiming that: (1) the prosecutor failed to disclose Brady and Rosario material in a timely manner; (2) the prosecutor disclosed forged documents; (3) testimony adduced at trial was known to be false by the prosecutor; (4) the indictment violated Timmons's due process rights because (a) the presentment to the grand jury was untimely, (b) a witness was not sworn prior to testifying before the grand jury, and (c) the prosecutor allowed misleading answers to be presented to the grand jury. On May 11, 2001, Justice Hanophy denied Timmons's motion on the ground that all of the claims could be ...

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