United States District Court, E.D. New York
Petitioner proceeds pro se.
Respondent is represented by Thomas J. Spota, District Attorney of Suffolk County, by Michael J. Miller, Riverhead, NY.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.
Daniel Nash ("Nash" or "petitioner") petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction in the County Court, Suffolk County, State of New York, for murder in the second degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(1)), criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 220.03), operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs (N.Y. Vehicular and Traffic Law § 1192.4), and unlawful possession of marijuana (N.Y. Penal Law § 221.05). Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate period of incarceration of twenty-five years to life on his second degree murder conviction, to be served concurrently with sentences for one year's incarceration for possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, six months' incarceration for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs, and fifteen days' incarceration for unlawful possession of marijuana.
Petitioner challenges his conviction and sentence on the following grounds: (1) the hearing court incorrectly denied petitioner's motion to suppress his post-arrest statements; (2) petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel; (3) the evidence against petitioner was insufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) petitioner's sentence was harsh and excessive.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court determines that the petition for habeas corpus is without merit. Accordingly, the Court denies the petition in its entirety.
The following facts were adduced from the petition and documents attached hereto, as well as from the state court trial and appellate record.
1. The Murder
In the early morning hours of September 3, 2003, petitioner's wife Tara Nash ("Tara") was shot in the head while she sat inside her car near 500 Riverside Drive in Riverhead, New York. ( See Tr. 695.) Police officers responded to an emergency call of shots fired at 12:20 a.m. and observed a white SUV at the scene. ( Id. at 695-99.) The vehicle was still running, but the headlights were turned off. ( Id. at 699.) The doors were locked and all the windows rolled up and closed save one, which had been shattered. ( Id. ) Tara was slumped over in her seat, and one of the officers could see that she had been shot. ( Id. at 699-701.) The officer called the Riverhead Town Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and responding volunteers attempted to stabilize Tara, who was still breathing. ( See id. at 700-04, 711-12.) They could not save her, however, and Tara died at approximately 1:23 a.m. ( See id. at 2998.)
Investigators later determined that Tara had been shot twice in the head by a.38 caliber gun. ( See id. at 2572-87.)
2. Petitioner's Relationship with Tara
Although petitioner and Tara were married, the couple had been estranged for several months by the time of Tara's death. They argued over a variety of issues, including money, petitioner's failure to care for their children, extramarital affairs, and petitioner's use of Tara's car. ( See id. at 1749-53.) Tara did not receive any monetary support from the petitioner and was in dire economic straits; however, she was in the process of selling an annuity she had received from her father's estate, and she expected to receive a lump sum award of sixty thousand dollars. ( See id. at 2668-69.) The petitioner had told his new girlfriend Angela Darden ("Darden") that he maintained a relationship with Tara only because he hoped to receive some of that money in a divorce. ( Id. at 1486-87.)
On several occasions, Tara's cousin Crystal Hayes ("Hayes") observed Tara crying with bruises on her body following fights with petitioner. ( Id. at 1757-59.) On June 27, 2003, Darden saw petitioner and Tara fighting and heard hitting followed by Tara's screams. ( Id. at 2254.) At times, neighbors also saw the petitioner kicking and hitting Tara in the front yard. ( Id. at 1505-08.) A mutual friend to both parties, Ethel, also witnessed similar conflicts. ( Id. at 2398-99.) On one occasion in Ethel's apartment, petitioner was standing over Tara as he threatened to kill her and her boyfriend Terrell Faines ("Faines"). ( See id. at 2415-17.) Ethel testified that she had observed a gun in the back waistband of petitioner's pants at that time. ( See id. )
3. Events Leading to Tara's Death
The day before Tara was killed, she and petitioner fought about petitioner's use of Tara's car. ( See id. at 1770.) On the morning of September 2, 2003, petitioner arrived at Tara's house and took her to work in her car. ( Id. ) Petitioner returned to the house later that night with his friend Hardy, and there were three additional guests in the house: April Welton ("Welton"), Welton's daughter, and Welton's husband; Hayes was being paid to braid the girl's hair. ( See id. at 1779.) When he petitioner arrived, he and Tara argued first in the kitchen, then in the garage. ( See id. at 1785.) Petitioner questioned Tara about why she wanted the keys back, implying that she wanted to go out with Faines. ( See id. at 1792.) Welton and her husband witnessed this argument as they smoked outside of the house. Welton testified that they both appeared to be very angry. She also saw petitioner drop a black and chrome revolver with a black handle, and then watched petitioner stoop to pick it up. ( See id. at 1176-82.) Petitioner put the gun back in his waist band, continued the argument, and then returned with Tara into the house. ( See id. at 1188.)
Petitioner then left Tara's house with Hardy. Petitioner said to Hardy that "he wished he could kill that bitch and get away with it." ( Id. at 2073.) Hardy testified that petitioner had previously made similar statements. ( Id. at 2074.)
After petitioner and Hardy left, Tara went on a date with Faines. ( See id. at 1386-89, 1831.) Tara drove Faines home at approximately 11:58 p.m. ( See id. at 1393, 1400, 1832, 1834.) Meanwhile, Darden saw petitioner at the Milbook Apartments between 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. that night while she was going out for pizza with her friend. ( See id. at 2194.) Later on that night, Darden invited petitioner back to her apartment. ( See id. at 2206.)
Darden and petitioner were in Darden's apartment at approximately midnight when Tara rang the doorbell. ( See id. at 2209.) Darden got up to answer and told petitioner that Tara was at the door. Petitioner tried to leave the apartment through a back window. ( Id. at 2213.) Once told that Tara already knew he was there, petitioner went out to speak to her. Darden opened a window to hear their argument. ( Id. at 2218.) She saw them arguing, petitioner putting his arm on Tara, either grabbing it or just touching it, and then Tara walked away. ( See id. at 2226.) Tara entered her car and drove away quickly, leaving skid marks on the road. (Id.) A witness testified that Tara seemed upset, and as if she were crying. ( Id. at 940-43, 946-49.) The same witness also saw taillights traveling in the same direction as Tara, though he could not be sure whether it was petitioner or not. ( Id. )
As discussed supra, Tara was shot shortly thereafter.
4. The Investigation
Suffolk County homicide detectives went to speak with petitioner at 5:00 a.m. on the day of Tara's death. ( See id. at 2904.) Petitioner informed the detectives that he had last seen Tara at 7:00 p.m. the previous day. ( See H. 12/20/04, at 50-52.) He claimed that he had gone to a gas station between 11:30 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., but otherwise remained at home that night. ( See id.) After speaking to the police for approximately ten minutes, petitioner asked why he was being questioned about Tara. ( Id. at 52.) He was then informed that Tara had been shot, at which point he became emotional. ( See id.) Petitioner then told the detectives that his sister had seen Tara with someone in her SUV, and that the police should investigate Faines. ( See id. at 52-53.) Petitioner complied with the detectives' request to search his car, answered all their questions, and was cooperative. ( See id. at 53-54.) The police found nothing of interest in petitioner's car. (Tr. 2921.)
The next day, the detectives visited petitioner again at the Tuthill Funeral Home, where they took petitioner's written statement. ( See H. 12/20/04, at 55-56.) In this statement, petitioner admitted to having seen Tara between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. on the night of her death while he was with Darden. (Tr. 2954.) According to petitioner, Tara had accused him of having an affair. ( See id.) He claimed that he then returned home to his mother's house by 11:30 p.m. and stayed there until the police arrived the morning of September 3, 2003. ( See id. )
While the police were conducting their investigation, petitioner attempted to withdraw money from Tara's annuity account, called her co-workers to try to retrieve Tara's last paycheck, and inquired as to what benefits he was entitled to as the living spouse of the deceased. ( See id. at 2351-52, 2486, 2497-98, 2501.) Acquaintances said that petitioner's grief following the murder was not genuine. ( See id. at 1862, 1865, 1873-74, 2093-94, 2312-21, 2501)
5. The Arrest
On September 30, 2003, New York State Troopers stopped petitioner's car because the car's rear license plate lamp was out, the driver was not wearing his seatbelt, and the car had crossed a double yellow line when it made a turn. (H. 12/16/04, at 10-13.) As the troopers pulled the car over, the passenger, Terence Lattimore ("Lattimore"), testified that petitioner said to him: "they pulling us over in the same spot I killed my wife." ( Id. at 1608.) When Lattimore questioned petitioner, petitioner changed his statement, saying that "[t]his is the spot where they found my wife killed." ( Id. at 1609.)
As the troopers approached the car, they smelled marijuana. (H. 12/16/04, at 16-17.) Both petitioner and Lattimore admitted to smoking marijuana and were arrested. ( Id. at 16-17, 21, 25.) At the troopers' barracks petitioner was read his Miranda rights, agreed to waive his rights, and consented to further drug and alcohol level tests. ( Id. at 30-33, 49-52.)
Investigator O'Sullivan ("O'Sullivan") was brought in from the East End Drug Task Force to talk to petitioner. (H. 12/17/04, at 3-6.) While speaking to O'Sullivan, petitioner said that he believed it was a sick joke that he was picked up in the same place that his wife was murdered. ( Id. at 11.) When O'Sullivan asked petitioner if he knew anything about the murder, petitioner began to cry and responded that he did not know anything about it. ( Id. ) The petitioner then became agitated and stated that he had already spoken to the detectives about it. ( See id. at 12-14)
Sometime thereafter, Detective Mercer of the Suffolk County homicide squad arrived and arrested the petitioner. ( See H. 12/20/04, at 67-70.) He placed petitioner in his squad car and advised petitioner of his Miranda rights. ( See id. at 68-76) Detective Mercer did not inform petitioner why he was under arrest. (Tr. 2971.) Petitioner waived his rights and responded to Detective Mercer's questions. ( Id. at 2975.) However, at police headquarters, ...