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Matthew Young v. Harold D. Graham

July 9, 2012


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


Matthew Young ("Young" or "Petitioner"), proceeding pro se, has filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that he is being held in state custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights. Petitioner's state custody arises from a judgment of conviction entered on September 25, 2007 in Wayne County Court of the New York State, convicting him, after a jury trial, of two counts of Assault in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("P.L.") § 120.10(1), (2)), and one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (P.L. § 265.02(1)).

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

The convictions here at issue stem from an incident that occurred on January 12, 2007, at the Deja Vu bar in Ontario, New York, in which Petitioner beat Christopher Crouch ("Crouch") about the head and shoulders with a pool cue so hard that the stick snapped into three pieces. One eyewitness described Crouch as "mangled" and was only able to identify him based on his distinctive haircut. T.237.*fn1 At the center of the dispute was Petitioner's girlfriend, Jennifer Peacock ("Peacock").

Petitioner, accompanied by Peacock, was apprehended shortly after the incident in his van by a police sergeant who had known Petitioner for about ten years. When the sergeant asked him if he had been involved in a fight, Petitioner replied, "'Yeah. I was,' and [Petitioner] said that he was out at the Deja vu and some guy was kissing his girlfriend." T.400. Petitioner told the sergeant, "I fucked him up." Id. When the officer responded that the fight could not have been too bad, Petitioner said, "no, it was like--I fucked his face up good." Id. On the ride back to the bar, the officers allowed Petitioner to use his cell phone. They overheard Petitioner say, "I beat the fuck out of him. I caught her making out with a guy and I tattooed his ass. It is pretty bad. I am probably going to prison." T.599. Petitioner repeated the "tattooed" remark several times. T.599, 606. Once at the bar, the troopers transferred Petitioner to Deputy Sheriff Baker, to whom Petitioner said, "I am sorry but when I tap you on the shoulder and ask you what the fuck, you tell me, fuck you, you deserve to get tattooed." T.566, 569.

Outside the back of the bar, Investigator Kuntz found a pool of blood, a tooth lying in the blood, and two pieces of a pool cue in the snow. A third piece of the cue lay inside the bar. T.420-21, 424. Investigator Kuntz collected the pieces and sent the thickest piece, which appeared to be bloodied, to the laboratory. No fingerprints appeared on any of the pieces. T.432. Later that morning, Investigator Kuntz sent Petitioner's right sneaker to the laboratory for testing. T.439-44. The forensic biologists determined that the pool cue and Petitioner's sneaker bore human blood containing Crouch's DNA. T.571-76, 584-92. To rebut this evidence, the defense called former police officer Robert Dillman who testified that if the cue in this matter were used in the assault, fingerprints would have been left on it. T.619, 631.

The paramedics who treated Crouch's injuries testified that his face was swollen and he was bleeding heavily, his jaw did not move evenly, and his forehead protruded over his eyebrows.

T.343-44. Crouch had sustained lacerations under his right eye and on his upper lip as well as a one- to one and-one-half inch circular contusion on his shoulder, which was consistent with a strike from an object. T.347-49.

The craniofacial surgeon, Dr. Girotto, who treated Crouch testified that Crouch had sustained multiple, severe fractures. His right globe was badly damaged, his face was split, and his right cheek bone was no longer attached to the skull base. T.468-80. To a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the injuries were consistent with a "high velocity blunt trauma" caused by multiple blows from either a "pool cue, a baseball bat, or something similar". T.485-86, 488. Dr. Chung, the ophthalmologist who treated Crouch, noted that his right eye was lacerated and so deformed that he had lost sight in it. She determined that injuries must have caused by "severe blunt trauma" from an object "such as a pool cue". T.541-46.

Crouch was in a medically induced coma for a week. When he regained consciousness, he was dependent on a respirator and a nasogastric feeding tube. T.406, 413-14. He was discharged after two weeks but his fractured jaw remained wired shut for six weeks. Crouch had lost a front tooth and was going to lose two more. Crouch now has a prosthetic right eye, and no peripheral vision on that side. T.415. At trial, Crouch testified that his upper jaw and teeth were numb and that it hurt to lean on his face because of the metal plates in his cheeks. T.416.

On July 26, 2007, the jury found Petitioner guilty of two counts of first degree assault and one count of third degree weapons possession, as charged in the indictment. T.716-17. On September 25, 2007, the court sentenced Petitioner as a second felony offender to determinate prison terms of twenty-two years, plus five years of post-release supervision on each assault count, and an indeterminate prison term of from three to seven and one-half years on the weapons possession conviction.

On December 30, 2009, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, of New York State Supreme Court, unanimously affirmed Petitioner's conviction on direct appeal. People v. Young, 68 A.D.3d 1761 (4th Dept. 2009). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Young, 15 N.Y.3d 780 (2010).

On September 14, 2011, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for a writ of error coram nobis. Petitioner did not challenge his appellate counsel's representation but instead argued that the Appellate Division, in rejecting Petitioner's Fourth Amendment claims, deprived him of a fair appeal and of equal protection of the laws. On November 10, 2011, the Appellate Division summarily denied the motion.

This timely habeas petition followed in which Petitioner raises the following grounds for relief: (1) he was denied a fair appeal and equal protection because the Appellate Division rejected his claim that the police illegally stopped his van; (2) improper expert testimony was admitted in the grand jury; (3) the court's Sandoval*fn2 ruling was improper; and (4) the evidence was legally insufficient because the prosecution failed to prove that petitioner caused Crouch's injuries with the pool cue. ...

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