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Wise v. Superintendent of Attica Correctional Facility

October 7, 2010


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


I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner William J. Wise ("petitioner") has filed a timely petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction in Livingston County Supreme Court of Manslaughter in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal L. § 120.25(1)) following a bench trial before Justice Raymond E. Cornelius. Petitioner was sentenced as a second felony offender to a determinate term of imprisonment of twenty-five years with five years of post-release supervision.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. Trial and Verdict

1. The Prosecution's Case

On the night of January 21, 2006 Amy Sayle ("Sayle" or "the victim") attended a party at the Powers Inn Club in Dansville, New York, with petitioner, whom she had dated. According to a patron who was at the Club that night, petitioner watched Sayle's "every move" as she played pool with other men. Sayle then left the club with petitioner. She was not seen alive again, except by the petitioner. T. 105, 108-09.*fn1

The following Monday when Sayle did not show up for work, her co-workers contacted the Livingston County Sheriff's Department.

T. 128, 130. When police arrived at Sayle's house at approximately 1:00pm, they found petitioner inside the home, drunk and asleep on Sayle's first-floor sofa. T. 126-30. Petitioner told Sheriff's Deputy Michael Yencer ("Yencer") that he had taken Sayle to work earlier that morning, at approximately 7:45am. When Yencer informed petitioner that Sayle had not reported to work, petitioner then stated that he actually dropped her off at a gas station near her place of employment. T. 130. Yencer observed that petitioner's breath smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred. T. 131.

Yencer then requested to go upstairs to see if Sayle had possible returned home while petitioner was asleep. Petitioner reluctantly gave him permission. T. 132-33. As Yencer approached the upstairs bedroom, he smelled the odor of a decomposing body. He then found Sayle's naked body, lying face down under a comforter on the bedroom floor. T. 133, 142, 162, 183-84. Also in the room were various "sex toys," including a cord and a riding crop. T. 197. Petitioner told Yencer that he and Sayle had a party on Saturday night. T. 134.

Soon thereafter, petitioner was interviewed by the Livingston County Sheriff's Department, telling the investigator that he and Sayle were friends, and had known each other for about two years.

T. 150-51. Initially, petitioner said that he arrived at Sayle's house at 7:30am Monday morning and drove Sayle to the gas station near her workplace. T. 151. After dropping Sayle off, petitioner went out drinking for a few hours, and arrived back at her house around 11 or 11:30am. T. 152-53, 158. The vice president of the Powers Club Inn confirmed that petitioner arrived back at the Club around 10:00am on Monday, January 23, and had several vodka drinks. Petitioner told her that he had been drinking all weekend, and that he "had something to do Saturday," that he had done it, and that he could not tell her what it was and that she should not ask. T. 290-300.

Petitioner explained to the investigator that he and Sayle had gone to a party on Saturday night at the Powers Inn Club, after which he dropped Sayle off at her house. Petitioner returned to the club, went to a friend's house afterward, and did not return to Sayle's house until 2 or 2:30am when he went to sleep on her couch.

T. 151-153-54. Petitioner then changed his story, telling the investigator that he had, in fact, stayed at Sayle's house since Saturday before the party, but that he had not spoken to her on Sunday because they were arguing on Saturday night. T. 153-54. He also acknowledged that he "stays with [Sayle] and sleeps with her on the weekends." T. 154.

Sayle was pronounced dead at 4:25pm on Monday, January 23, 2006. The coroner believed that she had been dead for at least 24 hours. T. 159-67. The following day an autopsy was performed, which indicated that Sayle had sustained numerous injuries, including contusions around her eyes, inside her mouth, and on her right arm, as well as ligature marks and contusions on both wrists, bruising on both thighs, abrasions on the left knee, and what appeared to be bite marks on her breasts. T. 48, 78. According to the coroner, those injuries occurred prior to her death, with the actual cause of death being asphyxiation. He noted that the hemorrhages on the eyes and face indicated pressure or force applied against the mouth. T. 48, 80-92, 99-100.

At petitioner's trial, a forensic biologist testified that DNA consistent with petitioner's DNA had been found on nail clippings from the victim's left hand and also in the form of saliva on petitioner's breasts. There was however, additional DNA from an unknown male in the right hand nail clippings and on the victim's breasts. T. 220, 241-44, 254-55, 258-60.

On October 24, 2006, while petitioner was being booked at Livingston County Jail, Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Eichhorn observed "fresh" red marks "that appeared to be scratches" on petitioner's right hip. T. 318-21.

While incarcerated, petitioner made statements to fellow inmates at the jail. Timothy Lotz ("Lotz") inquired of petitioner how the victim had died, to which petitioner responded by holding a hand over his mouth. Lotz asked petitioner whether that meant she died by suffocation or asphyxiation and petitioner responded by saying "yes." Petitioner also told Lotz that when he discovered Sayle's body, he covered her up with a blanket because she was naked. He also told Lotz that he did not call 911 because he was nervous. T. 331-34.

Testimony was also admitted from another inmate, William Clark ("Clark"), who had served for 23 years as a police officer but was being held for a sex offense against a family member. While both men were incarcerated at the jail, Clark assisted petitioner, who could not read or write, by reading legal documents to him and explaining the terms contained therein. Clark mentioned that bite marks had been found on the breasts of the victim, and petitioner acknowledged that they belonged to him. In regard to the reports concerning the DNA analysis, Clark informed petitioner that petitioner's DNA and another man's DNA had been found under Sayle's fingernails. Clark testified that petitioner was not surprised by the presence of his own DNA, but was surprised that another individual's DNA had been found. Petitioner then stated that he thought he knew to whom it belonged, a man at the club that he had seen with Sayle. T. 339-345.

Sayle's close friend and co-worker Thressa Brado ("Brado") testified that Sayle wanted to end her relationship with petitioner around October of 2005. Sayle told Brado that she had begun to fear petitioner because he was "extremely jealous" and "would accuse her of sleeping with other men." T. 118-21. One week before the murder, Sayle told Brado that she was going to end the relationship that week, and wanted to move to North Carolina. Sayle, however, was "afraid of how [petitioner] would handle it," and wanted to get a restraining order. T. 121-23. However, Brado confirmed that Sayle picked up petitioner in her vehicle the Friday before her death.

T. 123-24.

Similarly, another co-worker, Lisa Parker ("Parker") confirmed that Sayle wanted to end the relationship with petitioner, who was "very jealous" and suspicious of other men. T. 111-13, 115. According to Parker, sometime after Christmas of 2005, Sayle had tried to end her relationship with the petitioner, but he continued to call her several times a day. T. 115-16. He would also "come around" frequently, which caused Sayle to become afraid. T. 116.

In November of 2005, Sayle told her sister, Jane Williams, that she wanted to end the relationship with petitioner, but was having difficulty doing so because she felt sorry for him. T. 31, 36. ...

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