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James Bryan v. David Rock

October 5, 2011


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


I. Introduction

Pro se Petitioner James Bryan ("Petitioner") has filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his custody pursuant to a judgment entered July 31, 2006, in New York State, Chemung County Court (Hon. Peter C. Buckley), convicting him, after a jury trial, of Manslaughter in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.15 (1)) and two counts of Driving While Intoxicated (N.Y. Vehicular and Traffic Law ("V&T Law") §§ 1192 (2), (3)). Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of five to fifteen years for second degree manslaughter and to one year terms of imprisonment for each of the driving while intoxicated counts. All sentences were set to run concurrent.

For the reasons stated below, habeas relief is denied and the petition is dismissed.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

By Chemung County Indictment No. 2005-291, Petitioner was charged with Manslaughter in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 125.15 (1)) and two counts of Driving While Intoxicated (V&T Law §§ 1192 (2), (3)). The charges arose from an auto accident that occurred in the early morning hours of February 27, 2005 in the Town of Big Flats, New York. See Ind. No. 2005-291 dated 09/22/05 at Resp't Ex. A.

A. Petitioner's Trial

1. The People's Case

On February 26, 2005, between 5:30 and 7:15 p.m., Petitioner, Daniel Willent ("Willent") and Jared Wingard ("Wingard" or "the victim"), were in Wingard's auto garage, where Petitioner drank three beers. Trial Trans. [T.T.] 418. Willent and Petitioner then went to a bar, while Wingard remained at the garage. Between 7:30 and 10:00 p.m., Willent bought Petitioner three beers. T.T. 418-419. The two men then returned to Wingard's garage around 10:30 p.m. and rejoined Wingard. Willent remained at the garage for fifteen minutes to half an hour, and, during that time, Willent saw Petitioner drink another beer. T.T. 420.

Petitioner and Wingard then went to another bar. Between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m., Jonathan Peris ("Peris"), a patron at the bar, observed Petitioner with a pint of beer in his hand. T.T. 451-452. Petitioner spoke with Peris. T.T. 453-454. Kevin Fitch ("Fitch"), an acquaintance of Petitioner's and another patron at the bar, also saw Petitioner with a beer. T.T. 476. Petitioner spoke to Fitch about wanting to fight him because Fitch had studied martial arts. T.T. 474. According to Fitch, Petitioner was boisterous and his eyes were "a little glassy." T.T. 455. Petitioner and Wingard left the bar at approximately 1:15 a.m. T.T. 459, 479.

At about 1:30 a.m., Stephen Root ("Root") was getting ready for bed. He heard a car "roaring up the road really, really fast." T.T. 558-559. Root looked out his window and saw a dark-colored Camaro, traveling at approximately 65 to 70 miles per hour, heading in the direction of Route 352. T.T. 560-561, 563. By the sound of the engine, the Camaro seemed to be accelerating. T.T. 562. About seven or eight minutes later, Root heard sirens. T.T. 564.

Brian Deming ("Deming"), who had been stopped on the side of Old Narrows Road and Route 352 a couple of miles from Root's home, saw the Camaro drive past him at approximately 100 miles per hour. T.T. 564-565. Deming heard the car's tires squeal and then heard a loud bang. T.T. 574. Deming flagged down a taxicab and asked the driver to call 911. T.T. 578.

Within five to ten minutes, New York State Police Investigator Chad Deweese, Trooper Nicholas Medina, Paramedic James Allington, and Emergency Medical Technician Cory Rightmire, among others, responded to the crash scene. T.T. 301-302, 383-384, 572. When they arrived, they discovered the Camaro over the embankment. T.T. 303. The front of the vehicle was detached from the passenger compartment. T.T. 364, 303. Petitioner and Wingard, the owner of the vehicle, were belted inside. Petitioner was in the driver's seat and Wingard was in the passenger seat, and both men were slumped over, unconscious, and had labored breathing. T.T. 306, 314, 316, 365. Rescue personnel removed the men from the car and took them to a local hospital.

Wingard, who suffered a fractured spine, a skull fracture, and bleeding in his brain, went into cardiac arrest while being carried up the embankment. He died of blunt force injuries an hour after the crash.*fn1 T.T. 396, 411, 538, 642, 644-645. When Petitioner was pulled out of the car, his legs were crushed almost to the point of amputation. T.T. 387. Paramedic Allington and EMT Rightmire noticed that Petitioner had an odor of alcohol. T.T. 387, 398-399.

At about 2:00 a.m., New York State Police Investigator Joseph Kelly went to the hospital. In Investigator Kelly's presence, medical staff drew Petitioner's blood. T.T. 489, 491, 493, 508-509, 513, 524-529, 536. Forensic scientist Steven Jodush later reviewed Petitioner's blood specimen and determined that Petitioner's blood alcohol content was .14. T.T. 661-665, 673.

New York State Trooper John Harder, a collision investigator with about 320 hours of training in collision investigation, investigated the crash. T.T. 583-584. Trooper Harder examined the Camaro, including its brakes, and could not find any pre-existing defects. Trooper Harder saw no damage to the tires or evidence of under or over-inflation. Trooper Hardy determined that the car was traveling at a minimum of 76 miles per hour when the car began its skid, and that the car traveled 52 feet in the air before colliding with the tree. T.T. 593-610.

In a letter that Petitioner wrote to trial court Judge Buckley, Petitioner stated, "I am very sorry for the decision I made." Petitioner also stated in this letter, "I do feel responsible for making the choice that lead to Jared's death." T.T. 691.

2. The Defense's Case

Petitioner testified that he did not remember February 27, 2005. Rather, he was only able to remember events two days before and two months after that date. T.T. 721. Because Petitioner lost his legs and his "brain got messed up" as a result of the crash, he received government benefits. T.T. 722. Petitioner explained that his statement to a local television station that he had "screwed up" was based on the fact that the District Attorney and the police had told him that he had killed his friend. T.T. 723. Petitioner acknowledged writing the trial court judge a letter wherein he stated, "I do feel I'm responsible for making the choice that led to Jared's death." However, ...

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