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Ernest Jeffries v. James Conway

January 13, 2012


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


I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Ernest Jeffries ("Jeffries" or "Petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254 alleging that he is being unconstitutionally detained in Respondent's custody. Jeffries is incarcerated pursuant to a judgment entered against him in New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County, on April 14, 2005, following a jury verdict convicting him of one count of depraved indifference murder.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

On August 29, 2004, six-week-old Lamarah Jeffries ("Lamarah") died as the result of being thrown onto a wooden floor by her father, the petitioner in this matter. The indictment charged Petitioner with one count of New York Penal Law § 125.25(4) and alleged that under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, Petitioner recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of serious physical injury or death to another person less than eleven years old, by forcibly throwing the Lamarah to the ground and causing her head to strike the floor, and thereby causing her death.

At trial, Ubelinda Jiminez ("Jiminez"), Lamarah's mother, testified that she had brought her daughter to visit her mother, Maria Gonzalez ("Gonzalez") at Gonzalez's house on Norton Street in Rochester. T.732.*fn1 Lamarah had a fever, but was otherwise a healthy six-week-old infant. T.732-33. There is no indication that prior to the day of her death, she had been abused or neglected in any way by Petitioner.

While at her mother's house, Jiminez received a phone call from Petitioner asking her to come pick him up at the apartment they shared on Seneca Parkway. T.734. After picking up Petitioner, Jiminez returned to Gonzalez's house. Id.

Almost immediately upon their return, Petitioner and Jiminez began to argue heatedly: Petitioner wanted to take Lamarah to visit at his mother's house, but Jiminez refused, citing the fact that Lamarah had a fever and it was raining outside. T.735-39, 742. The argument between Petitioner and Ubelinda, which began inside of the home, escalated onto the porch and became so loud that it drew the attention of the neighbors living across the street.

At one point, Petitioner snatched the baby out of the carseat and held her in one hand near the level of his head while Jiminez and her mother attempted to grab the baby away from Jeffries.

T.742. Begging Petitioner to give them Lamarah, Jiminez and Gonzalez continued to try to get the baby out of Petitioner's hand. Petitioner refused, holding the baby out of their reach. T.742-43. Gonzalez recalled that Jeffries was swinging his free arm out towards her and Jiminez, keeping them away. T.743.

As the two women approached, Petitioner punched Jiminez and said, "If you don't get away from me, I am going to throw the baby." T.593, 818-19, 848. A neighbor, Samantha Wilson ("Wilson"), also heard Petitioner make this statement.

Gonzalez related that Petitioner "got madder and madder" and eventually punched Jiminez in the mouth and split her lip. As he did that he "swing [sic] the baby to [the] other side" and "just throw [sic] [her] to the other side." T.744. Gonzalez described Jeffries as having thrown Lamarah as if she were a ball. Jiminez said that Jeffries "threw her on the floor . . . he had his hand like this and shot her down."

When he threw Lamarah, Petitioner was holding her about the level of his head. Lamarah struck the floor with such force that Jiminez and Gonzalez heard her skull crack. T.745. The baby immediately stopped breathing and her skin began to turn blue. Id. Gonzalez was trying to hold onto Jeffries to keep him from leaving, but he stormed off, punching her in the forehead and kicking her leg. T.743.

As he stepped over his daughter's motionless body, Petitioner said, as he left, "Fuck the baby." T.827. Petitioner then got into Jiminez's minivan and drove off. T.746, 747-48, 827.

Jiminez bent down to check on Lamarah and began to administer CPR. While Gonzalez called 911, Jiminez carried Lamarah across the street where two neighbors, Maldonado and his girlfriend, Caceres, were getting a car to take the baby to the emergency room.

Jiminez continued to perform CPR on Lamarah during the drive to Rochester General Hospital. Upon palpating the right rear of Lamarah's head, Dr. Jeffery Everett ("Dr. Everett"), the attending pediatrician, could detect multiple skull fractures. In fact, there were sections of skull floating freely in fluid, like a "crushed egg which was being contained by the scalp itself." T.666. Lamarah's fontanel, which should have been soft and even, was bulging and firm. T.669. By this point, Dr. Everett detected signs of severe brain or brain stem damage and believed that Lamarah was suffering from an intracranial injury (i.e., an injury within the skull), as the result of blunt trauma to her head.

Because of the severity of her injuries, Lamarah was brought to Strong Memorial Hospital, a facility with more life-saving technology. Dr. Ellie Crow ("Dr. Crow"), the on-call doctor, observed that Lamarah had a great deal of swelling at the back of her head, which felt "boggy." There were "a lot of palpable fractures in her head, like a broken eggshell." T.800. Lamarah, who appeared to Dr. Crow as lifeless and limp, began to deteriorate further. The doctors were not able to insert a central line into Lamarah in order to administer critically necessary I.V. fluids. Lamarah went into cardiac arrest. Chest compressions momentarily restored Lamarah's heart rate but it was lost again. At this point, two hours and twenty minutes had elapsed since she had arrived at the second hospital, having lost all of her blood volume due to her catastrophic head injury. She was pronounced dead and disconnected from the ventilator.

The autopsy findings indicated that Lamarah had sustained a significant blunt trauma to her skull, which was not consistent with a fall. T.882-83, 930. According to the pathologist, the infant's severe injuries were typical of what one would expect to see in a high-speed motor vehicle collision, not a fall to the floor. T.921, 930. The pathologist opined that Lamarah died from blunt trauma to the skull, and that there had been a single impact.

T.919. The injuries, which appeared to have been inflicted within several hours of death, were consistent with the infant having been ...

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