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Eldredge Blalock v. Joseph T. Smith

August 13, 2012

ELDREDGE BLALOCK,
PETITIONER,
v.
JOSEPH T. SMITH, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Paul Oetken, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On August 26, 2008, Petitioner Eldredge Blalock, proceeding pro se, filed a petition (Dkt. No. 1) seeking a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to vacate a judgment of conviction entered on November 28, 1999 by the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County. Petitioner is currently incarcerated pursuant to his sentence of two concurrent indeterminate terms of (1) imprisonment of twenty-two years to life for murder in the second degree and (2) imprisonment of five to fifteen years for conspiracy in the second degree. See People v. Blalock, 36 A.D.3d 540, 540 (2007) (affirming Petitioner's conviction).

Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus based on a claim brought pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). His petition argues that the state court was incorrect in determining that he was not deprived of due process because prosecutors neglected to turn over information in their possession which Petitioner could have used to further a defense theory at trial. This Court referred the petition to Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman, who issued a thorough and well-reasoned report recommending that Petitioner be denied a writ of habeas corpus. (Report and Recommendation, Dkt. No. 38 ("Rec.").) In an Objection to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation (Dkt. No. 44 ("Objection" or "Obj.")), Petitioner argues that Magistrate Judge Pitman was incorrect to review the petition with the level of deference mandated by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). AEDPA requires that the state court proceedings must have "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law" before a court may grant habeas relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Petitioner argues instead that his claim is procedurally barred and that the state court's decision constituted a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Therefore, he asserts, his petition for a writ of habeas corpus should be granted on the merits of his Brady claim.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the petition.

I. Background

A. Facts Giving Rise to Petitioner's Conviction*fn1

Petitioner's conviction resulted from the murder of Evaline Santana in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on November 25, 1997. The evidence at trial proved that Petitioner and two others attacked Santana as the result of a debt of narcotics money that Santana owed Petitioner.

Petitioner was a member of a heroin distribution organization in lower Manhattan from 1994 through 1997. Santana also sold heroin for this organization. The prosecution's main witness at trial, Betsey Laureano ("Laureano"), bought heroin from both Petitioner and Santana.

On the evening of November 25, 1997, Laureano was home in her apartment with her children and nephew when Petitioner arrived. After entering, Petitioner pushed Laureano into the kitchen, placed a gun to her head, and told her to find Santana so that he could speak with her. After Laureano told him she did not want to be involved, Petitioner threatened to hurt her children should she not comply. Laureano found Santana outside of the apartment building and invited her inside but did not alert her that Petitioner was waiting for her upstairs. When Laureano and Santana arrived back at Laureano's apartment, they found Petitioner waiting in the hallway with two other men. Petitioner told Santana that he wanted to speak with her on the building's roof.

While on the roof, Santana told the group that she wanted to leave to purchase snacks. Petitioner demanded that she pay the money owed to him for the narcotics he had given her to sell. Santana responded that she would not have the money until December 1, 1997 because she had given the heroin to someone else who had botched the deal. Santana then left to go to the store with Laureano's daughter. While Santana was gone, one of Petitioner's associates told Laureano to leave when Santana returned because Petitioner's group wished to speak to Santana alone. When Santana and Laureano's daughter returned to the roof, one of Petitioner's associates pulled out a gun and grabbed Laureano's daughter. After Laureano's daughter was released, both Laureano and her daughter left the roof.

Later that evening, Laureano went to a landing that gave her a view of the roof. From that position, Laureano saw a knife and a gun lying on the roof. Laureano also saw Santana lying on the roof with blood around her mouth and wrists, and the Petitioner sitting on top of her legs. Santana looked unconscious. Back in her apartment, Laureano went to a window in her bedroom which was next to the roof. From there she saw Petitioner and his associates dragging or carrying something. Laureano did not contact the police and stayed in her apartment for the rest of the night.

The next morning, Santana was found dead on the roof of a building adjacent to Laureano's apartment building.

B. Procedural Background

1. State Court Proceedings

On June 7, 1999, Petitioner's trial began before Justice Charles J. Tejada of the New York Supreme Court. At trial, Laureano served as the prosecution's main witness concerning the events preceding Santana's death. Other persons also testified, including Laureano's daughter, residents of Laureano's apartment building, and the police officers who investigated Santana's death. On July 1, 1999, the jury found Petitioner guilty of murder in the second degree and conspiracy in the second degree.*fn2

Petitioner's judgment of conviction was entered on November 28, 1999. Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the First Department. The Appellate Division affirmed petitioner's conviction on January 25, 2007, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on May 3, 2007.

On July 28, 2008, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to vacate his judgment of conviction pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") Section 440.10. Petitioner argued that his judgment should be vacated based on a police report containing notes from an interview of Melissa Quiles, who did not testify at Petitioner's trial. Petitioner asserted that the report constituted newly discovered evidence favorable to the defense, which the prosecution failed to disclose to defense counsel.

The police report contains an interview with Quiles in which she describes a robbery that occurred on or about November 22, 1997 at "Humpty's apartment." The report states that Quiles and Santana, along with a few others, were at Humpty's apartment during the robbery and that shortly thereafter, Santana revealed to Quiles that she was responsible for arranging the robbery.

The New York Supreme Court denied Petitioner's § 440.10 motion on October 7, 2009 on two grounds. First, the court held that the police report did not constitute Brady material because the information it contained "was clearly hearsay and trial counsel was attempting to impeach Laureano through contradiction on collateral matters." (Indictment # 3277/98 Decision and Order, included in Attachment 1 to Reply to Respondent's Answer and Memorandum of Law in Opposition, Dkt. No. 36-1 ("Sup. Ct. Decision"), at 39 of 58.) "Moreover," the court found that Petitioner had failed to submit the proper affidavits in support of his motion. (Id. at 39-40 of 58.)

Petitioner sought leave to appeal the decision to the Appellate Division, but the Appellate Division denied such leave on March 12, 2010.

2. This Proceeding

Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition, dated July 29, 2008, with this Court on August 26, 2008. (Dkt. No. 1.) The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Pitman for a report and recommendation on September 11, 2008. (Dkt. No. 3.) On June 1, 2010, Petitioner filed a motion for leave to amend his pro se petition (Dkt. No. 9), which Magistrate Judge Pitman granted on March 4, 2011 (Dkt. No. 13). The same day, Petitioner's amended petition was filed with the Court. (Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Dkt. No. 14 ("Pet.").)

a. The Amended Petition

In his amended petition, Petitioner brings two claims. First, Petitioner contends that the New York State Supreme Court incorrectly interpreted and applied Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when the court determined that the prosecutor's failure to turn over a police report did not violate Petitioner's constitutional rights. (Pet. at 12.) Petitioner's second claim challenges the trial court judge's failure to instruct the jury on the accomplice-corroboration rule, a New ...


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