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Knight v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 13, 2015

RANDALL DELBERT KNIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

DECISION AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before this Court is the parties' stipulation resolving Petitioner Randall Delbert Knight's pending motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (Docket No. 91.) The parties seek this Court's approval of the stipulation and the entry of an amended judgment reducing the term of Knight's original sentence of imprisonment from 288 months to 168 months.

For the following reasons, this Court finds that approval of the stipulation best serves the interests of justice and that the entry of an amended judgment results in a reduced sentence that is fair, just, and reasonable under the unique circumstances of this case.

II. BACKGROUND

On July 3, 1994, Randall Knight killed Andie Gasper. He did so by stabbing Gasper once in the chest as Gasper sat in his truck behind an Ames department store in the Town of Yorkshire, New York. Before Gasper's murder, Knight and Cheryl Gasper, the victim's wife, had been involved in an extramarital affair and had discussed killing Andie Gasper so that they could share in the proceeds of his life insurance policy. Knight was charged with and tried for second-degree murder in Cattaraugus County. He was acquitted on September 6, 1995.

About ten years later, law enforcement reopened the investigation into the unsolved murder of Andie Gasper. That investigation revealed additional evidence that Knight and Cheryl Gasper conspired to kill Andie Gasper to collect on his life insurance policy. Based on this evidence, Cheryl Gasper pled guilty to second degree murder and received a sentence of 18 years to life imprisonment. Knight pled guilty in federal court to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958, the federal murder-for-hire statute, and received a sentence of 24 years imprisonment.

After entry of the judgment in Knight's case, he timely filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence (Docket No. 21), alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, which this Court denied. See Knight v. United States, Nos. 11-CV-919S, 10-CR-179S, 2013 WL 395252 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2013). Knight then successfully appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which remanded the case for further proceedings. See Knight v. United States, 576 Fed.Appx. 4 (2d Cir. 2014).

Upon remand, this Court began an extended evidentiary hearing on January 12, 2015. Knight's trial counsel and the former prosecutor completed their testimony. Knight testified at length, but did not complete his testimony because the parties reached the stipulation resolving Knight's motion.

The stipulation calls for the imposition of a reduced sentence of 14 years imprisonment based on what the parties agree has been a strong showing that Knight's conviction is vulnerable to collateral attack on the basis that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. Specifically, as detailed in the stipulation, the parties agree that the evidence adduced thus far suggests that a strong case could be made that Knight's trial counsel's performance was objectively unreasonable in failing to consider, research, or raise, before entry of Knight's guilty plea, the following two issues: (1) whether Knight had a potential statute-of-limitations defense based on the fact that he killed Gasper before the murder-for-hire statute was amended on September 13, 1994; and (2) whether Knight was, in fact, subject to prosecution in Ohio for killing Gasper, in light of the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in State v. Yarbrough, 104 Ohio St.3d 1 (2004), which would arguably bar such prosecution. Similarly, the parties agree that the evidence strongly suggests that Knight was prejudiced by his trial counsel's failure to raise these issues.

The parties further agree that had Knight's trial counsel considered and raised these issues before Knight entered his plea, the parties would have agreed on a plea identical to the one Knight entered, except that (1) Knight would have knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to assert the statute of limitations as a defense to the offense contained in the Amended Information, and (2) the parties would have agreed that the sentencing court impose a sentence of 14 years (168 months) imprisonment, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

III. DISCUSSION

Twenty-eight U.S.C. § 2255 allows federal prisoners to challenge the constitutionality of their sentences. In pertinent part, that section provides:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral ...

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