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Gifford v. Artus

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 26, 2013

ALE ARTUS, Respondent.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Proceeding pro se, Christopher Gifford ("Gifford" or "Petitioner") filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254, alleging that he is being held in Respondent's custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights. Petitioner is incarcerated as the result of a judgment entered July 10, 2007, in New York State Supreme Court (Monroe County) following a jury verdict convicting him of one count each of felony murder, first degree rape, and intentional murder.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. Overview

On November 29, 1995, Patricia Daggett ("Daggett") was found dead behind an abandoned building on Skuse Street in the City of Rochester. On August 25, 1996, Lachelle Weaver ("Weaver") was found dead in her home on Murray Street in the City of Rochester. Both woman had died as the result of ligature strangulation. Petitioner was arrested in connection with both homicides after DNA testing performed in 2004 indicated that Petitioner had engaged in sexual intercourse with each victim hours or days prior to their deaths.

The matter was presented to a Monroe County grand jury which returned an indictment against Petitioner charging him with the intentional murder of Weaver (New York Penal Law ("P.L.") § 125.25(1)) by strangling her and/or slashing her neck. Petitioner was charged, as both a principal and an accomplice[1] (P.L. §§ 20.00, 125.25(1)), with intentionally murdering Daggett by strangling her; with first degree rape of Daggett by forcible compulsion, as both a principal and an accomplice (P.L. §§ 20.00, 130.35(1)); and with felony murder of Daggett as both a principal and an accomplice (P.L. §§ 20.00, 125.25(3)), by causing her death during the alleged rape.

Petitioner was tried before a jury in Monroe County Supreme Court (Affronti, J.). A summary of the relevant evidence proffered by the prosecution follows.

B. The Proof at Trial

1. Daggett's Homicide

On the evening of November 28, 1995, Milburn Keith Evans ("Evans") was at the Chamberlin Street residence of Frederick Walker ("Freddy"). Also present were Petitioner (a/k/a "Kilo"), Howard Wright ("Wright", a/k/a "Tuna" or "Supreme"), Daggett, and Daggett's infant child. T.532-35.[2] Evans, a self-described hustler, was selling drugs that evening; Freddy and Daggett were using cocaine. T.554. Evans knew Daggett at that time by the moniker, "Red".

At some point, Daggett left with her baby and then returned alone to Freddy's house. T.534. At about 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., Daggett left Freddy's house and drove away in her 1985 Chevrolet with Petitioner, Wright, and Evans as passengers. Daggett dropped Evans off at his apartment at 1210 North Clinton Avenue and drove off with Petitioner and Wright. T.539, 718.

At about 11 p.m., as Evans was walking to a pay phone to call 911 after his girlfriend injured him during a domestic dispute, he saw Petitioner and Wright walking down the street. Daggett was not with them, and Evans did not see Daggett's car. T.540.

Evans saw Petitioner and Wright again when he returned from the emergency room to his apartment at around 1 or 2 a.m. T.541. Evans saw Petitioner and Wright once more sometime after sunrise; this time they were riding in Daggett's car. T.543-44. Evans testified that he only saw Wright and Petitioner in the car. T.544. The next time Evans saw Daggett was when he saw her photograph in the newspaper the next day.

Another resident of the apartment building, Mildred Anderson ("Anderson"), saw Daggett's car in "the wee hours of the morning" as it pulled out of the back of the Coleman Building. T.720, 725, 730. At that time, Anderson only saw Tuna (Wright) and Kilo (Petitioner) in the car. T.721. Anderson admitted that she could not see in the back seat of the car and did not know who was driving. T.727.

At approximately 9 a.m. that morning, Robert Herko ("Herko") was at his storage business on Skuse Street when one of his employees told him that a young lady was sleeping on the porch next door. T.572-73. Herko found the woman lying "disheveled on the steps, " with "her top ripped up" and "a mark on her neck". T.574. Herko checked for a pulse and determined that "[s]he was gone". Id . He covered her body and called 911 Id.

When the police responded to Skuse Street, they found that Daggett had been bound behind her back with a black shoelace, had sustained bruising on her face, and apparently had been strangled with another black shoelace. T.578. She was not wearing shoes or socks. T.584. The autopsy results were that Daggett died as a result of asphyxia secondary to strangulation by ligature. T.687-88, 711.

During the autopsy, the medical examiner found one of Daggett's socks bunched up on the inside of her trousers, in the region of her left buttock. T.695. Two hairs were recovered from Daggett's external genitalia. The hairs were of mixed racial characteristics, dark in color, and dissimilar to Daggett's hair. T.469. Semen stains were discovered on Daggett's panties, and vaginal and perineal swabs revealed the presence of semen. T.452, 455-56. The medical examiner testified that the sperm could have been there for "perhaps" as long as a few days. T.713.

The following day (November 30, 1995) at around noon, police located Daggett's car parked on Burbank Street, one block north of 1210 North Clinton Avenue. T.587-88. Inside the vehicle, they found, among various items of detritus, a single pink sock. T.593, 596.

The case remained cold for about a decade until 2006, when DNA testing was performed on the ligatures around Daggett's wrists and neck, the hairs collected from Daggett's body, the vaginal swab, and the stain on her underwear. The DNA profiles retrieved from these items were compared to DNA samples from Daggett, her husband, Freddy, Christopher Walker, Evans, Wright, and Petitioner. T.663, 668-70. DNA testing of the neck ligature found only Daggett's DNA profile. T.665. With respect to the wrist ligature, Y-chromosome short tandem repeat ("STR") DNA testing showed a mixture of more than one male and excluded all of the tested subjects except Daggett's husband and Wright. T.804. As to the hairs recovered from Daggett's body, mitochondrial DNA ("mDNA") testing showed that the lighter hair matched P.D., whereas the black hair had the same mitochondrial profile as Petitioner. The expert witness testified that she could exclude 98 percent of the population as having the same mitochondrial profile as that found on the black hair. T.809-11.

On both the vaginal swab and the semen stain from the victim's underwear, there were intact sperm cells. T.762. With respect to the vaginal swab, the cells would have remained intact in a living woman for approximately 14 hours. T.762. There was no way to determine which of the contributors left the intact sperm cells. Id.

With respect to the vaginal swab, the DNA was a mixture of more than one male. T.752-53. Testing of the sperm fraction of the vaginal swab excluded Daggett, Daggett's husband, Freddy, Christopher Walker, and Evans. T.755. However, testing could not exclude Petitioner. T.755. The probability of randomly selecting an individual who could be a contributor of that DNA was less than one in 337 million, and excluded 99.99 percent of the population. T.757. Y-chromosome STR DNA testing of the vaginal swab could not exclude Petitioner or Wright as contributors. T.806.

The DNA found on in the semen stain on the victim's underwear had at least four contributors. T.753. Testing could not exclude Daggett, Daggett's husband, Petitioner, or Wright as contributors. T.755, 808. The probability of randomly selecting an individual who could have been a contributor of the DNA was less than 1 in 384 million, and excluded 99.73 percent of the population. T.757-58.

2. The Weaver Homicide

In August 1996, Weaver was living on Murray Street in the City of Rochester with her six-year-old daughter, J.F. On August 24th, J.F spent the evening at the home of L.W.'s close friend and next-door neighbor, Andrea Lynette Love ("Love"), with Love's three-year-old daughter. T.354-55, 372. Sometime after 11 p.m., J.F. and Love's daughter went back to Weaver's house and got into bed with Weaver. The two girls fell asleep watching movies. T.356. At some point in the night, J.F. awoke to her mother's scream, and also heard a male voice. However, J.F. went right back to sleep. T.356-57.

When J.F. awoke again, she went downstairs, where she found her mother lying naked on the floor on her stomach, with blood around her. T.357-58. The front door to the house was open. J.F. tried to close the door and then went back upstairs where she hid under the covers until morning. T.359. At approximately 6 a.m., J.F. and Love's daughter went next door to Love's house to tell her what had happened. T.359, 375. Love went to Weaver's house where she saw her friend lying dead in the living room and called 911. T.377.

When police responded to the scene, they found no signs of forced entry. T.395. Apart from a necklace on the floor and a broken Nintendo cord, there were no signs of a struggle. T.395, 409. A serrated knife lay near Weaver's body in a pool of blood. T.386, 388. A bottle of cleaning solution was on a counter near the ...

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