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Steven D. Major v. Warden

January 10, 2012


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


I. Introduction

Petitioner Steven D. Major ("Petitioner"), through counsel, 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 August 20, 2004, in New York State, Supreme Court, Erie County (Hon. Ronald H. Tills), convicting him, after a jury trial, of three counts of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.25(1), (3)), Robbery in the First Degree (Penal Law § 160.15(2)), Attempted Robbery in the First Degree (Penal Law §§ 110.00, 160.15(2)), and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 265.03(2)).

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

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Petitioner was indicted by an Erie County Grand Jury and charged with three counts of second degree murder, first degree robbery, first degree attempted robbery, second degree criminal possession of a weapon, and second degree criminal solicitation. The charges arose from a shooting incident that occurred on November 15, 2001, on Kenmore Avenue in the City of Buffalo, New York.

On that date, Greg Young ("Young"), who lived in a Buffalo housing complex on Kenmore Avenue, invited the following acquaintances to his apartment: Thaddeus McDuffie ("McDuffie"), Willie Price ("Chill"), Tim Whatley ("Whatley"), "MJ", and Petitioner. Rolanda Lewis ("Lewis"), Young's cousin, was also present at the apartment. The individuals engaged in a dice game in which Whatley won the greatest portion of the proceeds. After losing his money, Petitioner brandished a handgun and demanded that Whatley hand over his winnings, which he did.

The doorbell then rang, and Young left the apartment to answer the door. After taking $160 from Whatley, Petitioner exited the apartment and descended the flight of stairs toward the apartment complex exit. Thereafter, the witnesses heard a gunshot. Trial Trans. [T.T.] 162-163, 165-177, 222-239, 273-284, 290-307, 422-445, 603-616.

At the approximate time Petitioner left Young's apartment, Jason Spikes ("Spikes" or "the victim") arrived at the entrance to Young's apartment building. T.T. 428. Spikes, who had been driven there by his girlfriend Jenna Barber ("Barber"), was going to see Young about giving or selling him a pit bull. T.T. 55-57, 421, 426. Barber parked her vehicle and observed Spikes walk to the entrance of the apartment complex. She observed two black males open the door and stand in front of Spikes. T.T. 61-63. Barber briefly turned away from the two men to look at Spikes' eight-year-old nephew, Qnique McCrimmon ("McCrimmon"), who was seated in the rear seat of the vehicle, and, as she did so, she heard a gunshot. T.T. 64-65. She then saw Spikes jump over the porch railing and run away in the general direction of her vehicle. The other two men ran in the opposite direction. T.T. 66-68.

McCrimmon testified that he saw his uncle (i.e., Spikes) knock on the door to the apartment complex and that two men came downstairs to answer the door; one was carrying a gun. T.T. 529. According to McCrimmon, the man with the gun told his uncle to "give him some money," which Spikes did not do. T.T. 529. The man with the gun, whom McCrimmon identified at trial as Petitioner, then shot Spikes. T.T. 529-530. McCrimmon testified that after his uncle had been shot, he "flipped over" the railing and ran away. T.T. 531.

After the shooting, Barber left the scene and drove around in an effort to locate Spikes. She eventually found Spikes lying in a parking lot nearby, and she remained with him until an ambulance and police arrived. T.T. 68, 70-71, 261, 535-536. Spikes was taken the hospital where he died from a gunshot wound to the heart. T.T. 413-418, 657, 705.

The individuals who had remained in Young's apartment fled after hearing the gunshot. Later, police discovered a cellular telephone which belonged to Price lying on the sidewalk in front of 1794 Kenmore Avenue, the location of the crime scene. T.T. 346, 677.

Shortly after the shooting, police investigators learned Petitioner's name and contacted him by telephone, informing him that they wanted to question him. T.T. 678-682, 690-691. About the time the police were trying to contact him, Petitioner contacted McDuffie for purposes of obtaining Price's whereabouts because he wanted to "whack [Price]." However, McDuffie did not disclose this information to Petitioner. Petitioner told McDuffie to call him if he saw Price. T.T. 454-457.

Petitioner subsequently was indicted and charged with three counts of Murder in the Second Degree, Robbery in the First Degree, Attempted Robbery in the First Degree, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, and Criminal Solicitation in the Second Degree.*fn1 The police were unable to locate Petitioner for almost two years. In September 2003, investigators received information from a federal marshal that Petitioner was in Atlanta, Georgia. T.T. 691. On September ...

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