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Reuben Bramble v. William Connolly

June 21, 2011

REUBEN BRAMBLE, PETITIONER,
v.
WILLIAM CONNOLLY, SUPERINTENDENT, FISHKILL CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:

ONLINE PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Reuben Bramble petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his August 2004 conviction in New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, of manslaughter in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree pursuant to New York Penal Law §§ 125.15(1) and 265.01(2). Appearing pro se, Bramble seeks habeas relief on the ground that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel and due process of law when the trial court failed to inform Bramble's trial counsel of a jury note requesting a read-back of certain testimony. Oral argument was heard on May 17, 2011, at which Bramble appeared via videoconference from his place of incarceration.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.

BACKGROUND

A. The Offense Conduct

The evidence at trial established that on the evening of June 15, 2003, Bramble escorted home his then-girlfriend, Tanisha Morgan. Ramon Ellis, Morgan's estranged husband, was waiting outside Morgan's home when they arrived. Ellis and Morgan had been separated for a few months as of that evening. Ellis and Bramble departed separately and walked across the street toward a bus stop. The two men got into a verbal altercation that led to Ellis's punching Bramble in the face. A fist-fight ensued, and ultimately Bramble pulled out a knife and stabbed Ellis once in the chest. Bramble then fled the scene. Ellis died as a result of the stab wound.

B. Procedural History

1. The Trial and Sentencing

Bramble was indicted in Kings County on two counts of second-degree murder -- intentional and depraved indifference murder -- and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. He proceeded to a jury trial before Justice Guy Mangano, Jr. of the New York State Supreme Court, Kings County. The People called as witnesses Juan Ellis, the victim's brother, Police Officer Victor Crespo, Detectives Paul Walsh and Leonard Cocco, and Medical Examiner Beverly Leffers. The defense called Bramble, Tanisha Morgan and Kendrick Bramble, the petitioner's brother. In addition to the counts charged in the indictment, counts of manslaughter in the first and second degrees were submitted to the jury. On July 21, 2004, the jury returned a verdict convicting Bramble of manslaughter in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. On August 11, 2004, Justice Mangano adjudicated Bramble a second felony offender and sentenced him to an indeterminate term of incarceration of seven to fourteen years on the manslaughter count and a concurrent one-year term of incarceration on the weapon count.

2. The Direct Appeal

Bramble, represented by counsel, appealed from the judgment of the Supreme Court, contending that: (1) the People had failed to disprove his justification defense beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) there was insufficient evidence on which to convict him of second-degree manslaughter, and that conviction was also against the weight of the evidence; (3) the trial court erred in failing to charge the jury that a finding of not guilty by reason of justification on any of the homicide counts would preclude guilty verdicts on the remaining homicide counts; (4) trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to request the foregoing charge and object to its omission; and (5) the trial court deprived Bramble of due process and the effective assistance of counsel by failing to inform defense counsel about and respond to a jury note requesting a read-back of Detective Cocco's testimony, which would have influenced the jury's assessment of the voluntariness of Bramble's inculpatory post-arrest statement to Cocco. On February 6, 2007, the Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed Bramble's conviction, holding that the evidence was sufficient both to disprove the justification defense beyond a reasonable doubt and to uphold the manslaughter conviction. See People v. Bramble, 829 N.Y.S.2d 205, 205 (2d Dep't 2007) ("[V]iewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we find that it was legally sufficient to disprove the justification defense beyond a reasonable doubt." (citations omitted)); id. at 206 ("Based upon the evidence, . . . the jury could have concluded that the defendant did not intend to kill the victim, but rather that he acted recklessly, with a conscious disregard of a substantial, unjustifiable, and grave risk that the victim would die." (citations omitted)). The court also exercised its factual review power and held that the guilty verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. Id. In addition, the court held that Bramble's contention regarding the jury charge was unpreserved and without merit, the ineffective assistance claim was without merit, and the contention regarding the jury note was "based on matter dehors the record, and therefore . . . not properly before us on direct appeal." Id. (citation omitted).

Bramble applied for leave to appeal from this decision but a judge of the Court of Appeals denied his application on May 14, 2007. People v. Bramble, 8 N.Y.3d 982 (2007) (Read, J.).

3. The Motion To Vacate the ...


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