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Le v. Bezio

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 10, 2014

STEPHEN LE, Petitioner,
NORMAN BEZIO, Respondent.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Pro se petitioner Stephen Le ("Petitioner") seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis that he is being held in Respondent's custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights. Petitioner's state custody arises from a judgment entered against him on October 18, 2007, following a guilty plea to one count of first degree manslaughter (N.Y. Penal Law ("P.L.") § 125.20(1)).

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Petitioner's conviction stems from his alleged involvement, along with co-defendants Jake Winters ("Winters"), Kyle Allison ("Allison"), and Gerald Anderson ("Anderson"), in the robbery and assault of James Gilson ("Gilson" or "the victim") on April 3, 2007, at Gilson's home in West Seneca, New York. Gilson subsequently died from the injuries inflicted by Petitioner and the other co-defendants.

On May 5, 2007, an Erie County assistant district attorney approached Winters and requested that he make a controlled phone call to Petitioner and Anderson. Winters agreed, and during his conversation with Petitioner, Petitioner made a statement incriminating himself in the Gilson homicide. Petitioner was brought in for questioning by the Buffalo Police Department. After being played a recording of his phone call with Winters, Petitioner agreed to speak with the detectives and subsequently gave an oral confession admitting to entering Gilson's house with the intent to rob Gilson of money and valuables. He admitted to kicking Gilson, who had been bound with duct tape by the other co-defendants, when Gilson refused their demands to tell them where he had money hidden. Petitioner stated that he did not want to continue to be involved in the assault on Gilson, so he went into the "pot room" and began cutting the marijuana plants located there and putting them in plastic bags. According to Petitioner, the victim was still alive when he and his cohorts left the house. See Exhibit I to Petitioner's New York Criminal Procedure Law ("C.P.L.") § 440.10 Motion, submitted as part of Respondent's Exhibit ("Resp't Ex.") D.

Pursuant to Erie County Indictment No. 00935-2007, Petitioner was charged with three counts of second degree murder (P.L. §§ 125.25(1), (3); id., § 20.00), and one count each of first degree burglary (P.L. § 140.30(2)) and first degree robbery (P.L. § 160.15(1)). Petitioner ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in the first degree (P.L. §§ 125.20(1), 20.00) in full satisfaction of the indictment. He was sentenced to a determinate term of twenty-two years in prison plus five years of post-release supervision.

Represented by counsel, Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, of New York State Supreme Court, asserting the following arguments: his plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent; his appellate rights waiver was insufficient to preclude review of his sentence as harsh and excessive; and his sentence should be modified in the interest of justice. The Appellate Division summarily affirmed the conviction without opinion on December 30, 2009. People v. Le, 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 09858, 68 A.D.3d 1757 (4th Dep't 2009), lv. denied, 14 N.Y.3d 842 (2010).

On June 29, 2011, Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition asserting the following grounds for habeas relief: (1) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to (a) "explore a desirable plea with the judge as of statutory right under CPL § 220.10(2)"; (b) argue that Petitioner was interrogated "against his will without counsel"; (c) allowed Petitioner to plead guilty rather than pursue Huntley and Wade hearings; (d) argue that the police used co-defendant Winters as an "agent of the state" to record a phone conversation in which Petitioner incriminated himself; (e) appear at arraignment, which caused a conflict of interest insofar as co-defendant Winters' attorney also represented Petitioner at the arraignment; (2) the plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent; and (3) the appellate rights waiver did not preclude review of Petitioner's sentence, which was harsh and excessive. The Court (McCarthy, M.J.) granted a stay so that Petitioner could complete exhaustion proceedings with regard to his ineffective assistance claims.

On July 21, 2011, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to vacate the judgment pursuant to C.P.L. § 440.10 on the basis that his trial counsel was ineffective on the grounds mentioned in his habeas petition. In a written decision and order dated April 19, 2012, the trial court denied the motion on the merits. See C.P.L. § 440.10 Order, submitted as part of Resp't Ex. D.

Petitioner also filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis attacking his appellate counsel's performance, which was denied on December 21, 2012. People v. Le, 101 A.D.3d 1699 (4th Dep't 2012), lv. denied, 20 N.Y.3d 1101, recons. denied, 21 N.Y.3d 1006 (2013).

On April 23, 2013, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate the stay (Dkt #12) and an amended petition (Dkt #13) raising the same three grounds raised in the original petition. On May 15, 2013, the Court (Curtin, J.) issued an order (Dkt #14) lifting the stay. Respondent answered the petition (Dkt ##16, 17), and Petitioner filed a traverse (Dkt #25).

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Petitioner's claims do not ...

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