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William Coleman v. Joseph T. Smith

March 7, 2012

WILLIAM COLEMAN, PETITIONER,
v.
JOSEPH T. SMITH, SUPERINTENDENT, SHAWANGUNK CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, Circuit Judge

: MEMORANDUM DECISION

On April 29, 1998, following a jury trial, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Bronx County, entered judgment convicting petitioner William Coleman of one count of murder in the second degree and two counts of attempted murder in the second degree. Coleman was sentenced to twenty-five years to life imprisonment on the murder count and twelve and one-half years on each of the two attempted murder counts, all to run concurrently.

On August 28, 2007, proceeding pro se, Coleman petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On July 24, 2009, Coleman filed an amended petition. Coleman argues that: (1) his trial attorney's failure to call alibi witnesses and present an alibi defense constituted ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) his appellate attorney's failure to argue that his trial attorney's failure to object to purported hearsay testimony constituted ineffective assistance of counsel; and (3) he was denied his constitutional right to be present during portions of voir dire.*fn1

For the reasons set forth below, Coleman's petition is denied.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

A. The Facts

On the morning of October 24, 1996, at Taft High School in the Bronx, Coleman's friends got into an argument over a bicycle with Yatek Miles. (Hr'g Ct. Order 1-2).*fn2 Later that day, at approximately 1:35 p.m., Miles and his friends, Larry Marshall, Kendell Hayes, and Luis Morales, were on the corner of 170th Street and the Grand Concourse. (Id.). Coleman and his friends, including Emmanuel Gullet, were also present. (Id.). After a brief exchange, Miles punched Gullet in the head. (Id.). Coleman then drew a gun and fired at Miles and his friends, shooting Miles in the chest, Morales in the leg, and Hayes in the back of the leg. (Id.). Morales fell to the ground; Coleman, standing above him, continued to shoot him. (Id.). Coleman then fled as Morales died. (Id.). Marshall and Hayes witnessed the shooting. (Id.).

B. Prior Proceedings

1. Indictment and Jury Voir Dire

On November 6, 1996, in connection with the shootings, Coleman was indicted for: one count of murder in the second degree; two counts of attempted murder in the second degree; and two counts of assault in the second degree. (Def.-Appellant Br. 2). Trial commenced on October 27, 1997. (Id.). Coleman was represented by Martin Albert. (Amen. Pet. 4).

During voir dire, Coleman attended several conferences with the judge, prospective jurors, and counsel for both sides, and he participated in Albert's challenges to potential jurors. (VD Tr. 27-65, 90-91, 127-32, 214-31, 274-81). Coleman was, however, absent from some sidebar conferences. (Id. at 66, 88-90, 141-45, 188, 281). On October 29, 1997, during voir dire, the judge called both parties to the bench to discuss a juror. (Id. at 88-91). Albert stated that he was waiving Coleman's presence at the sidebar conference. (Id. at 88). Coleman did not object. (Id.). During the conference, Coleman conferred with Albert, the court called him to join Albert at sidebar, and Coleman consented to dismissing the juror. (Id. at 90-91).

2. Evidence at Trial

The prosecution's evidence at trial included several witnesses. First, Marshall and Hayes testified as witnesses to the shooting; they both identified Coleman as the shooter. (Trial Tr. 199; 295-98). Second, a ballistics and firearms expert, Anthony Tota, corroborated Marshall and Hayes's testimony, establishing that, inter alia, a single gun was used in the shooting (id. at 460-61), and the shots that killed Morales were fired from directly over Morales's body (id. at 464-66, 472-74).

Third, Police Officer Daniel Rivera testified that a few minutes after the shooting, he arrived at Andre Grier's apartment, which was approximately a block and a half from the shooting. (Id. at 404-07). Rivera explained that Coleman was at the apartment and he was "very sweaty" and "[h]is heart was beating very rapidly." (Id.). Rivera was prepared to further testify that when he arrived at the apartment, Clara Grier, Andre's mother, stated: "My son's two friends just got here and I want nothing to do with it." (Hr'g Ct. Order 12). Albert objected to the testimony as hearsay, however, and Rivera was not permitted to disclose it. (See Trial Tr. 402-03).

Finally, Detective O'Brien, the lead investigator in the case, also testified for the prosecution. (Id. at 503-61). O'Brien explained that on October 24, 1996, the day of the shooting, he showed a photograph of Coleman to two individuals who did not testify at trial: Abuki Peterson and Chase Gullet. (Id. at 514-15). The prosecution asked O'Brien if, after meeting with Peterson and Gullet, he was "looking to make an apprehension." (Id. at 515). O'Brien stated that he was looking to arrest Coleman as the lone suspect in the shooting. (Id.).

For the defense, Andre Grier testified that he and Coleman had been together on the day of the shooting. (Id. at 575-76). Andre stated that Coleman accompanied him to a McDonald's restaurant so that Andre could apply for a job; afterwards, they returned to Andre's apartment to lift weights. (Id.). A third male, Jayson Wilson, was also present in Andre's apartment. (Id. at 572-73). When the police arrived at the apartment, they asked Andre, Coleman, and Wilson to step into the hallway to talk; meanwhile, other officers searched Andre's bedroom. (Id.). Andre stated that although he was friends with Coleman, he would not lie on the witness stand to protect him. (Id. at 576-77).

3. Appeal

On August 17, 2000, Coleman, represented by Alexei Schacht, filed an appeal with the Appellate Division, First Department. On May 24, 2001, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed Coleman's conviction. People v. Coleman, 724 N.Y.S.2d 856 (1st Dep't 2001). On August 24, 2001, Judge Richard C. Wesley of the New York Court ...


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