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Javon Ridgeway v. Superintendent Conway

August 18, 2011

JAVON RIDGEWAY, PETITIONER,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT CONWAY, RESPONDENT.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Javon Ridgeway ("Ridgeway" or "Petitioner") has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his detention in Respondent's custody. Ridgeway is currently incarcerated as the result of his conviction, following a jury trial in Niagara County Court, on charges of, inter alia, intentional murder and assault with a firearm.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Ridgeway was tried in Niagara County Court (Broderick, J.) on a consolidated indictment charging him with crimes committed over a span of several months against his estranged girlfriend, Lanerra Streeter ("Streeter"), and her cousin, Nicole Nabors ("Nabors").

The first incident occurred on April 1, 2006, when Ridgeway broke into Streeter's apartment. He struck her and damaged some of her property. The second incident took place on May 7, 2006, while Streeter was acting as the doorkeeper at a graduation party. Ridgeway threatened to shoot her and then struck her in the head with a gun, causing a wound which required three surgical staples.

The third incident occurred on June 6, 2006, when Ridgeway went to Streeter's apartment and kicked in her door, damaging the doorway. Streeter narrowly escaped harm by hiding from Ridgeway.

Streeter testified before the grand jury against Ridgeway regarding his escalating acts of violence against her. On July 14, 2006, Ridgeway was arraigned on an indictment charging him with numerous offenses related to these three incidents. Represented by counsel, James Faso, Esq. ("Attorney Faso"), Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty.

While he was released on bail, Petitioner assaulted Devon Wood ("Wood") and was charged with first degree assault, first degree criminal use of a firearm, second degree criminal possession of a weapon ("CPW"), and third degree criminal possession of a weapon.

On September 9, 2006, about a week after the Wood assault, Ridgeway's fourth and final attack on Streeter occurred. Ridgeway went to Streeter's apartment and fatally shot her in the head. He then shot her cousin, Nabors, three times, rendering Nabors paralyzed from the waist down.

After a twelve-day search, and while a bench warrant was outstanding on the first indictment, Ridgeway was arrested on September 21, 2006, for Streeter's murder, the shooting of Streeter's cousin, and the Wood assault.

At the pre-trial suppression hearing, Detectives Berak and Coney of the Niagara Falls Police Department testified that after waiving his Miranda rights, Ridgeway gave a statement concerning what had happened on September 9, 2006, the day he murdered Streeter and shot her cousin. Ridgeway told the police that he and Streeter had had "domestic issues" over the past two years because Ridgeway was "messing with other women." Ridgeway claimed that on September 9th, he had "accidentally" shot Streeter and Nabors while attempting to defend himself against a person named "Lamont." See Huntley Transcript ("Tr.") dated 1/17/07 at 14-16, 49-50, 71. Ridgeway admitted that there was an active order of protection against him in favor of Streeter. He also admitted that he had offered money to Streeter in exchange for her agreement not to testify against him. See Huntley Tr. dated 1/17/07 at pp. 15, 33, 59, 67-68, 79-80.

Ridgeway then was questioned about the September 2nd shooting, and he admitted that he shot Wood in an attempt to collect on a $6,500-drug debt. Id. at 20.

The discussion next turned to a series of home invasions and shootings in Niagara Falls, for which Ridgeway admitted responsibility. Id. at 24, 27-28.

After a break in the interrogation, Ridgeway indicated that he wanted to talk again and "be straight" with the detectives. Id. at 31. Ridgeway admitted shooting Streeter in the head after he "lost it" because Streeter would not accept his offer of money in return for not testifying against him. Id. at 33, 58-59.

The suppression court ultimately held Ridgeway's statements to the police regarding Streeter and Nabors to be admissible. His statements regarding the numerous other criminal acts for which he admitted responsibility during the interrogation were held inadmissible on the prosecution's direct case.

The prosecution sought and was granted permission to utilize the murder victim's grand jury testimony, on the theory that Ridgeway intentionally forfeited his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation by procuring that witness's unavailability for trial.

On June 1, 2007, the jury returned a verdict convicting Ridgeway on fourteen out of the sixteen counts set forth in the consolidated indictment. He was acquitted of counts five and six, which charged him with second degree menacing and third degree CPW in connection with the May 7, 2006 incident involving Streeter at the graduation party, although he was convicted of assaulting Streeter on that date.

Following a hearing, the trial judge determined that persistent felony offender sentencing was warranted and, on July 26, 2007, imposed the following terms of imprisonment: count one (second degree burglary), 15 years determinate with 5 years post-release supervision ("PRS"); count two (fourth degree criminal mischief), 1 year in county jail; count three (second degree harassment), 15 days in county jail; count four (third degree assault), 1 year in county jail; count seven (second degree criminal trespass), 1 year in county jail; count eight (fourth degree criminal mischief), 1 year in county jail; count nine (second degree (intentional)) murder, 25 years to life; count ten (first degree assault), 25 years with 5 years PRS; count eleven (second degree CPW), 15 years with 5 years PRS; count twelve (third degree CPW), 31/2 to 7 years; count thirteen (first degree criminal use of a firearm), 25 years plus 5 years PRS; count fourteen (second degree CPW), 15 years plus 5 years PRS; count fifteen (third degree CPW), 31/2 to 7 years; and count sixteen (aggravated criminal contempt), 31/2 to 7 years. Counts two, three, four, seven, and eight, which involved Streeter, were set to run concurrently with all the other sentences. Counts nine, eleven, twelve, and sixteen, also involving Streeter but occurring on a different date, were set to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to count one. Counts ten, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, which involved Nabors, were set to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to counts one, nine, eleven, twelve, and sixteen.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously affirmed Petitioner's conviction. People v. Ridgeway, 59 A.D.3d 1111 (App. Div. 4th Dept. 2009). Leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied.

This timely habeas petition followed in which Petitioner raises the following grounds for relief: (1) the trial court erred in admitting his statements to the police which allegedly were made in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel; (2) the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to present evidence to enable the jury to determine whether his right to counsel had attached when he made those statements; (3) his Confrontation Clause rights were violated by the admission into evidence of the murder victim's grand jury testimony concerning earlier incidents in which Ridgeway had harmed, antagonized, threatened, and attempted to bribe her; (4) the trial court improperly granted the consolidation of the indictments; and (5) his sentence was unduly harsh and excessive.

For the reasons that follow, the petition is dismissed.

III. Legal Standards Applicable on Habeas Review

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a habeas corpus petition may be granted with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court only if the state court's adjudication is "contrary to," or involved an "unreasonable application" of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ only if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law, or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ only if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but ...


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