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Beecham v. Lavalley

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 5, 2014

JOEL BEECHAM, Petitioner,
THOMAS LaVALLEY, Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility, Respondent.

Joel Beecham, pro se, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Stormville, NY. for Petitioner.

Glenn D. Green, Esq., Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, Riverhead, NY., Respondent.


JOANNA SEYBERT, District Judge.

Joel Beecham ("Petitioner") petitions this Court pro se for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, his Petition is DENIED.


I. Factual Background

In 2004, when Petitioner was released from prison, Kelly, [1] with whom Petitioner fathered two children, decided to pick up Petitioner at his release from Sing Sing prison in New York. (Trial Tr., Docket Entry 6-9, 1340:4-9; 1341:19-23.) The two agreed to live together in Georgia. (Trial Tr. 1339:10-13.) After Petitioner's release, the two drove to Long Island to pick up Tamara Brown and Brown's children from a shelter. (Trial Tr. 1341:24-1342:6.) While in Long Island, the group stayed in several places, including motels. (Trial Tr. 1346:8-15.)

Over a number of days, at several hotels, Petitioner punched Kelly in the face, stabbed her with scissors, dragged her by her hair, burnt her thigh, caused her to bleed, choked her, and threw Clorox in her face. (See, e.g., Trial Tr. 1354:12-1362:6; 1364:19-21.) Petitioner sodomized Kelly. (Trial Tr. 1380:13-1382:20.) Because of the injuries (which went untreated for days), Kelly's eyes were swollen shut and bruised, her jaw was locked, her nose was bleeding, and she was bleeding from several areas of her body. (Trial Tr. 1360:2-1362:6; 1379:3-5.) Police officers eventually arrived at the hotel. (Trial Tr. 1404:13-15.) Afraid of Petitioner, Kelly told the police she was a prostitute; she told the truth after she arrived at the police station. (Trial Tr. 1405:2-7; 1409:5-23.) The next day, Kelly's mother, Edna Jackson, took Kelly to Norfolk, Virginia where Kelly was examined by Dr. Latanya Gray. (Trial Tr. 1412:5-18.) Dr. Gray testified as to Kelly's injuries, documenting Kelly's two black eyes and a tear of her perineum. (Trial Tr., Docket Enty 6-10, 1746:2-8.)

In June 2004, Kelly and Petitioner drove to Long Island to a shelter where the mother of Petitioner's children, Tamara Brown, was staying. The group stayed together at a motel. (Resp't's Answer ¶¶ 31, 32.) Later that month, Brown returned to the shelter to retrieve her belongings, at which time Gloria Holder, an employee at the shelter, noticed Brown had scratches on her neck and cigarette burns on her arms. (Trial Tr. 1172:8-22.)

Sometime in late June or early July of 2004, Brown called her mother from a Long Island hotel and said she and her children were being held by Petitioner. (Trial Tr. 860:5-8.) Brown told her mother not to call the police because Brown was afraid of Petitioner. (Trial Tr. 861:8-15.) In July 2004, Brown and her children entered a homeless shelter in North Babylon, New York. (Trial Tr. 1731-33.) On July 19, 2004, Brown and her children left the shelter; she did not take her belongings with her. (Trial Tr. 1736:7-1737:21.) On July 19, Brown spoke to her father about moving to Brooklyn to live with him. (Trial Tr. 797:9-798:4.) When her father called the shelter for directions on July 20th (in order to pick up Brown), he was told that she moved out. (Trial Tr. 799:14-19.) He never heard from Brown again. (Trial Tr. 800:11-13.) On July 24, Petitioner spoke to Brown's mother and father on the phone, at which time he told them that Brown had left him. (Trial Tr. 800:17-802:6.)

On July 26, 2004, Benjamin McCall saw a body, which was later identified as Brown's, lying in the woods adjacent to Little East Neck Road. (Trial Tr., Docket Entry 6-8, 548:13-19.) McCall told two nearby police officers about the body. (Trial Tr. 548:20-24.) Peanut shells were found at the crime scene; a peanuts bag and peanut shells were also found in Brown's car. (Trial Tr. 631:13-20.) DNA tests on the peanut bag matched the bag with Petitioner. (Trial Tr. 1655:13-1356:15.)

Petitioner was wanted in New York for violating his parole. (Trial Tr. 912:5-8.) On August 1, 2004, Petitioner was found in Stockbridge, Georgia, where he was arrested and found with Brown's New York State benefits card. (Trial Tr. 916:3-25; 929:24-930:5.) Petitioner was taken to the Henry County Police Department for questioning. (Trial Tr. 966:6-9.) Petitioner was read his Miranda rights; he waived those rights and he signed a pre-printed Miranda card. (Trial Tr. 972:2-5; 973:6-16; 975:20-976:14.) Petitioner told the officers that Brown never stayed with him at a hotel. (Trial Tr. 986:16-23.) The officers took a break and left the room. (Trial Tr. 987:15-18.) After the interview resumed, the officers asked Petitioner if he would sign a sworn written statement, which documented what he had just told them. (Trial 989:16-23.) Petitioner refused, he said, because one of the officers had already transcribed everything Petitioner said. (Trial Tr. 989:20-23.)

Petitioner was then brought back to New York. After reading Petitioner his Miranda rights, officers interviewed Petitioner again. Petitioner waived his Miranda rights and signed the Miranda card. (Trial Tr. 1503:5-1504:23.) At this point, he admitted that Brown had been in the hotel room. (Trial Tr. 1509:4-17.) Petitioner denied having been in possession of Brown's benefits card. (Trial Tr. 1515:22-1516:4.)

II. Legal Background

On March 6, 2006, at the conclusion of a jury trial in New York County Court, Suffolk County, Petitioner was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree, two counts of Criminal Sexual Acts in the First Degree, Rape in the First Degree, Assault in the Second Degree, and Menacing in the Second Degree. (See Trial Tr. 2033:21-2034:20.) Petitioner was sentenced to: (1) three imprisonment terms of 25-years-to-life to be served consecutively, (2) seven years imprisonment (running consecutively), (3) one year imprisonment (running currently), and (4) a period of post-released supervision. (See Resp't's Answer ¶ 3.)

Petitioner appealed the conviction to the New York Appellate Division, Second Department. People v. Beecham ("Beecham I"), 74 A.D.3d 1216, 904 N.Y.S.2d 727 (2d Dep't 2010). Petitioner appeal was based upon the same grounds as the present Petition. On June 22, 2010, the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment and Petitioner's sentence. See id. The New York Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal. People v. Beecham ("Beecham II"), 15 N.Y.3d 918, 939 N.E.2d 811, 913 N.Y.S.2d 645 (2010).

III. The Petition

Petitioner asserts the following grounds: (1) Petitioner's constitutional right to remain silent was violated;

(2) the trial court improperly denied Petitioner's severance motion; (3) Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel; (4) Petitioner was deprived of his due process rights when he was found guilty despite legally insufficient evidence; (5) Petitioner was denied a fair trial when the trial court limited voir dire questions; (6) Petitioner was denied a fair trial as to certain remarks made by the prosecutor during the trial; (7) Petitioner was denied his right to be present at "all material stages of the trial"; and (8) Petitioner's prison sentence is unconstitutional. (See Pet. at 5-9, 15-16[2].)


The Court will first address the applicable legal standard before turning to the merits of the Petition.

I. Legal Standard

"The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 780, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).

The Supreme Court, a Justice thereof, a circuit judge, or a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus [on] behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.

Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

A federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner when prior state adjudication of the prisoner's case "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Id. at § 2254(d)(1). "This is difficult to meet, ' and a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'" Cullen v. Pinholster, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011) (citations omitted).

During a review of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, federal courts presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

A. Exhaustion

A state prisoner seeking federal habeas review of his state conviction is required to first exhaust all remedies available to him in state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). "Exhaustion requires a petitioner fairly to present the federal claim in state court." Jones v. Keane, 329 F.3d 290, 294 (2d Cir. 2003). Presentation means a petitioner "has informed the State court of both the factual and the legal ...

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