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Molina v. Graham

United States District Court, Second Circuit

January 24, 2014

HAROLD D. GRAHAM, individually and in his official capacity as the Superintendent of the Auburn Correctional Facility, New York State Department of Correction Services Respondent.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Petitioner Demetrius E. Molina ("Petitioner"), through counsel, has filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of his custody pursuant to a judgment entered July 28, 2009, in New York State, Chemung County Court, convicting him, after a jury trial, of Murder in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("Penal Law") § 125.25 [2]), Manslaughter in the First Degree (Penal Law § 125.20 [1]), and Attempted Murder in the Second Degree (Penal Law §§ 110, 125.25 [1]), two counts of Criminal Use of a Firearm in the First Degree (Penal Law §§ 265.09 [1][a], [b]), and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 265.01 [1][b]).[1]

For the reasons stated below, habeas relief is denied and the petition is dismissed.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. The Trial

1. The People's Case

On the night of July 31, 2008, Cora Watkins ("Watkins") went to Lando's nightclub in Corning, New York. Trial Trans. [T.T.] 147-148. While there, Watkins noticed people she knew to be from South Carolina, including a man that she knew as "Big Boy." T.T. 148-149. She also saw Petitioner, Eric Knox ("Knox"), and Romondo Ross ("Ross"). T.T. 149-150. Just before closing time, Watkins witnessed an argument between "Big Boy" and Ross. T.T. 151. During this argument, Watkins heard "shouts" that this argument would continue in Elmira. T.T. 152-153. She was unable to identify exactly what was said because everyone was "rushing to leave because the police were there." T.T. 153. At around 1:30 a.m., Watkins left Lando's and returned to her house where she remained outside talking on her cell phone. T.T. 154-155.

Following the argument, Knox called Jarvis Harvard ("Harvard"), a friend of Petitioner, and informed him that there was some "drama going on" with the men from South Carolina. T.T. 218-223. Harvard understood that statement to mean that there was "like a fight or something." T.T. 223. Harvard, who was at home at the time of the call, told Knox that he would meet him at Hathorn Court. T.T. 223. Harvard then drove from his home in Corning to Elmira where he met Petitioner, Knox, and Ross. T.T. 225-226. The group of men walked to Woodlawn Avenue towards Hathorn Court. Upon entering Hathorn Court, they were joined by Bruce Bacome and Aaron Bacome. T.T. 227-231.

Watkins, who was still outside, saw a car park on a nearby street. According to her, three or four people exited the car and walked towards Hathorn Court. T.T. 155-156. Watkins was not able to identify the people who got out of the car, but she called "Big Boy" to give him a "heads up" and to tell him to be careful. T.T. 158-161.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., Courtney Wallace ("Wallace") was on the porch outside 352 Woodlawn Avenue in Hathorn Court. T.T. 174-175. She was with a group of friends that included Derrick Peoples ("Peoples") and other men from South Carolina. T.T. 175. The group on the porch was sitting, talking, laughing, and smoking when Wallace saw five to ten people walk across the field from her left. T.T. 177-178. Wallace was unable to see clearly enough to identify any of the people approaching from the field. T.T. 178.

According to Harvard, Petitioner then pulled a gun from his waistband and began shooting.[2] Harvard turned and ran away. T.T. 232, 234. Wallace testified that she "heard like a gun cock and then like three shots before [she] [and the others] ran in the house, " after which she heard "a few more shots." T.T. 179.

Jeremy Thomas ("Thomas"), who lived at 350 Woodlawn Avenue with his girlfriend and their children, testified that he was awakened by gunfire in the early morning of August 1, 2008. T.T. 209. Thomas testified that he looked out the window and saw four to six people running on the far side of the building across from his apartment. T.T. 210-212. He testified that he went outside and saw his neighbors and some men from South Carolina, including one man who was talking to the police. T.T. 213.

Tanisha Logan ("Logan") resided with her husband, Maurice Davis ("Davis" or "the victim"), and her children in a housing complex at 347 Woodlawn Avenue. T.T. 76, 82. On the evening of July 31, 2008, Logan, who was pregnant at the time with Davis's child, laid down on a downstairs couch while her husband watched television upstairs in the master bedroom. Logan's three children and three of her nieces and nephews were also upstairs. T.T. 77-80. At around 2:40 a.m., Logan heard "popping sounds" outside the apartment. T.T. 80. She then heard two "popping sounds" louder than the first and a loud crash from inside her apartment in the master bedroom on the second floor. T.T. 80, 84. Logan went upstairs and saw her husband, unresponsive, on the floor with "black liquid" near his head. T.T. 86-87.

Logan, eager for help, ran downstairs and outside where she signaled to a neighbor who was standing on his front porch to come help. The neighbor responded and checked on Davis, and then summoned the police, who had already arrived at the scene in response to the shooting. T.T. 87. Police Officer Darin Minch went to Logan's apartment and confirmed that Davis was dead. Officer Minch called for emergency medical services and secured the premises. T.T. 123-125.

Police Captain Joseph Kane and Police Officers Patrick Fernan and Leo Timothy Dacey of the Elmira Police Department observed Davis lying on the floor in the master bedroom between the bed and furniture that was against the east wall. T.T. 350, 352, 323, 324. Officer Fernan observed a bullet hole in the exterior wall of the bedroom that lined up with a bullet hole in the headboard of the bed. T.T. 352. A bullet was recovered on the floor of the bedroom closet. T.T. 353. Officer Fernan used a trajectory stick to determine the path that the bullet traveled, and concluded that it had been shot from a distance. T.T. 354, 403, 367. In the bedroom adjacent to the master bedroom, where the children were sleeping, Officer Dacey found a bullet hole in the north wall near a set of bunk beds and a bullet on the bedroom floor. T.T. 325-328.

Shell casings were also found on the ground across the street from the victim's apartment near 348 to 358 Woodlawn Avenue. T.T. 369-374. Police Sergeant Dennis Lyons of the State Police Forensic Laboratory later compared four shell casings and determined that they were all expended from the same firearm. T.T. 465. Officer Dacey also recovered and photographed a bullet casing in the doorway of 352 Woodlawn Avenue. T.T. 331-336. Sergeant Lyons concluded that this fragment was consistent with the two projectiles recovered from the victim's apartment. T.T. 481. Officer Dacey photographed the doorway of 354 Woodlawn Avenue, which had indentations he believed to be caused by bullet strikes. T.T. 333.

Investigator Lee Stonebreaker of the State Police Department assisted with measuring and diagramming the area of the shooting. T.T. 485, 489. He opined that bullets fired from the area where the shell casings were found could have entered the apartment at 347 Woodlawn Avenue. T.T. 523-524.

On August 2, 2008, Dr. Scott LaPointe performed an autopsy on the victim's body. T.T. 446, 453-454. Dr. LaPointe determined that the victim had suffered a single gunshot wound to his head that was the cause of his death. T.T. 455, 457-458.

Police Officer Gregory James of the Elmira Police Department obtained an eavesdropping warrant on September 1, 2008. T.T. 587. Two telephone conversations between Petitioner and Knox and Petitioner and Ross were played at trial. T.T. 629-632. In the first conversation, Petitioner and Knox discussed the police investigation surrounding the shooting and their suspicion that Harvard gave the police the names of the people present during the shooting and played a voicemail message for them. In the second conversation, Petitioner and Ross discussed the merits of potential testimony that could be given against them by others, including Watkins, Harvard, Knox, and Aaron Bacome. See Record on Appeal (Resp't Ex. # 6) at 64, 71-95, 106-116, 137.

2. The Defense's Case

Bruce Bacome testified for the defense. He testified that on July 31, 2008, at around midnight, he was in Lando's Bar. T.T. 686-687. According to him, "[e]verybody was having a good time." T.T. 687. He testified that he spoke with Petitioner and saw Ross and Knox. T.T. 687-688. At some point, an altercation broke out between Ross and someone from South Carolina. T.T. 688-690. By the time he got close to the altercation, it was almost over and eventually the police came. T.T. 691. Bruce Bacome and his brother Aaron Bacome left the bar shortly thereafter and went to their mother's house. T.T. 691. He testified that, at approximately 2:00 a.m., he left to go to a party at Hathorn Court, but, by the time he arrived, the party was over. T.T. 691-692. He testified that he saw a man he knew as "GQ" and the two men walked away from the party, talked, and smoked for about ten minutes. After doing so, he was ready to go home and began walking away. As he ...

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