United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Proceeding pro se, Rashawn Chapman ("Petitioner") filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner's state custody arises from a judgment, entered on October 3, 2003, in Niagara County Court (Broderick, Sr., J.) of New York State, convicting him, following a jury verdict, of Manslaughter in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law ("P.L.") § 125.20(1)) and related charges.
II. Factual Background and Procedural History
A. Petitioner's Trial
The convictions here at issue stem from the fatal shooting of Douglas Scott ("Scott") on June 20, 2001, in the City of Niagara Falls, New York. At approximately 12:30 p.m. on June 20, 2001, the Niagara Falls Police Department received a call that a man had been shot on the 400-block of 10th Street. Responding officers found 20-year-old Scott lying on the sidewalk in front of a house located at 462 10th Street, bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound to the chest. A box-cutter razor and a baseball bat were found nearby. Scott was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries. The gun used in the shooting was identified as a.357-magnum Smith & Wesson revolver.
Fourteen-year-old Demetrius Nix ("Nix"), who had a history of disputes with Scott, was identified as the shooter. Nix was friends with Petitioner, who also had had problems with Scott in the past. Nix, with Petitioner's help, evaded police for several days before being apprehended and charged with murder. During their investigation, the police developed the theory that Petitioner had provided Nix with the gun and assisted him in killing Scott. Petitioner was arrested and indicted for intentional murder and depraved indifference murder, criminal facilitation, hindering prosecution, and second and third degree criminal possession of a weapon. Nix was permitted to plead guilty to manslaughter as a juvenile offender in exchange for agreeing to testify truthfully against Petitioner.
At trial, Nix testified that he had left school after 8th grade and at the time of the shooting, basically was living on the street, accepting money from friends and selling drugs in order to support himself. One of his best friends was Lotha Goldsmith, killed on June 14, 2001, who owned a.357-magnum Smith & Wesson pistol, nicknamed "Loth". "Loth" was kept at the house of an acquaintance, Michelle Nesbit ("Nesbit"), and Nix was free to take it from the house anytime he wanted.
Nix related that he had been involved in several increasingly violent altercations with Scott. On June 20th, Nix was at his cousin Keith's house when Scott attacked him, slamming him against the porch and slashing his back and neck with a box-cutter while attempting to cut his throat. After Scott was pulled off Nix by passers-by, Nix and his cousin walked up 7th Street where they met some friends and told them what happened. Nix decided to follow Scott and confront him in a fair fight. Nix and his friends walked toward 9th Street, down Ferry Avenue, to a store where testified they met Petitioner.
Nix said that Petitioner told Nix's friends to leave, and he and Nix walked down the alley from Ferry toward Niagara Street where they stopped and talked in back of a house fronting on the alley. Nix showed Petitioner his cuts received during Scott's recent attack. According to Nix, Petitioner told him that he, too, had had problems with Scott and said, "I'm going to handle this for you." T.491-92, 496. Nix understood that "handling the problem" meant that Petitioner "was going to shoot him." T.496. Nix testified that Petitioner then directed him to go out front and look for Scott. Nix peered around the corner but did not see Scott. He went to the back of the house and informed Petitioner, who said that he would go see where Scott was. T.494-95. Petitioner began walking down the alley toward Niagara Street to look for Scott. T.495. Nix said that prior to leaving, Petitioner gave him a silver.357-magnum gun to hold "for a second." T.497. Nix leaned against the house with his back to the wall and remained there for a minute or two, looking between the houses. T.498.
Nix testified that he first spotted Scott when he was about 12 feet away. Scott appeared angry to Nix and was brandishing a baseball bat. T.570. Nix testified said that he was afraid if he tried to run, Scott would hit him with the bat, and that Scott was so close that Nix was prevented from running out of the yard. T.501-03. However, Nix did not think Scott could have hit Nix when Nix first saw Scott. T.504, 586. When Scott was about four feet away, Nix turned around, aimed, and shot him once in the chest. T.501. Scott staggered, falling back toward the alley, clutching his chest. T.504.
Nix related that after the shooting, he ran back out toward the alley and met Petitioner in the alley outside of the yard, where he returned the gun to Petitioner. Petitioner ran in a different direction but they both ended up at Nesbit's house. After telling Petitioner he would meet him at Unity Park housing complex, Nix left again through the back door. Petitioner met Nix in a field outside of the complex, after which they went to Petitioner's Uncle PeeWee's house. Petitioner gave the gun to his uncle and told him to "put it up", but Nix did not see it was placed. T.513-15. For the next several days, Nix traveled between Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Buffalo, sometimes by himself and at other times with Petitioner, staying at houses belonging to his friends or to friends and relatives of Petitioner. T.516-28. He finally returned to Niagara Falls, staying in an abandoned house on 5th street for a few hours before going to a house on Robinson Court occupied by a person known as "Benny." Nix stayed overnight and was arrested there the next day.
Anthony Brantley ("Brantley"), who had a lengthy criminal history, was the only other individual to testify for the prosecution who claimed to have witnessed any of the events surrounding the shooting. He stated that on June 20, 2001, he was sitting on his uncle's porch at 929 Ferry Street when he saw Nix stop at a store on 9th Street and Ferry Avenue to talk to Petitioner. Brantley said he was familiar with both men, although he did not testify as to how well he knew them. T.369-71. According to Brantley, Petitioner and Nix walked together into the alley between 9th and 10th Streets, as did several people in front of them, but that Petitioner did not go all the way into the alley. T.371-72. Five or ten minutes later, Brantley heard shots and saw a lot of people running, including Nix and Petitioner, who were running towards 9th Street. T.373-74. Brantley did not see a gun displayed by Nix or Petitioner and did not know where the shot originated.
Victor Johnson ("Johnson"), who also had a lengthy criminal history, testified that he knew both Petitioner and Nix from the streets. Johnson recovered the gun used in the shooting for the police; in exchange, the police dropped several drug charges pending against his girlfriend. Johnson testified that the gun originally belonged to his deceased cousin, Goldsmith. T.665, 670. Johnson contradicted Nix's testimony that Petitioner had possession of the gun after the shooting inasmuch as Johnson stated that Nix told him that he (Nix) had put it in a house located next door to the one in which he was staying. T.649-50. Johnson testified that he later gave the gun to Petitioner but did not know where he took it. T.651. Later, Johnson said he was told by a woman nicknamed "Brooklyn" that the gun was in her house and that he should take it from that location. Johnson testified that he did so and hid it in a relative's house on Pierce Street where it remained until he turned it over to police. T.652-54.
The prosecution also called jailhouse informant Michael Cox ("Cox"), who was housed in the same cell block as Petitioner in November or December 2001. According to Cox, they talked "practically every day." T.693-95. Petitioner told Cox that he had seen "Mimi" (i.e., Nix) fight with someone named Doug (i.e., Scott). At the time, Petitioner had been at the "weed house". Cox testified that Mimi went inside the house where he had been staying and came outside again. Petitioner, who was accompanied by some of their friends, promised to help Mimi go after Doug. According to Cox, Petitioner said that he gave Mimi a gun while they were in an alley behind a house; the alley was Petitioner's shortcut to "Michelle's" house. Petitioner told Cox that "Mimi had to do his own shooting because it wasn't him [i.e., Petitioner] that got his ass whooped." T.706, 730. Petitioner told Cox that Mimi had wanted to shoot Doug, and that Petitioner did, too, because he himself had had issues with Doug. T.703, 705, 730. Petitioner related to Cox that Doug had come around the house, swinging a bat, before being shot. Later on the day of the shooting, Petitioner hid the gun in Michelle's house, and then Petitioner and Mimi changed clothes at Petitioner's grandmother's apartment. Petitioner asked his grandmother if Mimi could stay with her awhile, as Mimi was avoiding the police. Subsequently, Cox testified, Petitioner told him that Michelle brought the gun to "Brooklyn's" house, and Petitioner told Brooklyn to give it to Johnson.
Samuel Eaddy ("Eaddy"), another jailhouse neighbor of Petitioner's, testified for the prosecution. Petitioner was housed one cell away from Eaddy at Wende Correctional Facility where Petitioner had stayed temporarily for purposes of attending a court date. Petitioner told Eaddy that he had seen Nix fight on a porch with another person, whose name Eaddy did not recall. During the fight, Nix had been cut. He was about to leave the area when Nix stopped to talk with Petitioner. Petitioner told Eaddy that he had given Nix a gun and told him to hold it while Petitioner obtained a second gun. Petitioner explained to Eaddy that he then approached the man (i.e., Scott) who had beaten up Nix and told him that Nix had asked for Petitioner's help, that Petitioner was going to get a gun for him, and that Nix was waiting for this man. T.762, 786-88. The man asked Petitioner where Nix was, "got a stick or something", and "went charging" toward Nix, who shot him. T.762, 763. Petitioner told Eaddy that he previously had problems with the man Nix had shot.
The defense's sole witness was Michelle Nesbit, who lived with Petitioner and referred him to as her "brother". At her apartment on 9th Street in Niagara Falls, Nesbit kept a.357-magnum revolver in either the front living room couch, a couch in the back room, or a kitchen drawer. Lotha Goldsmith had brought the gun to her house before his death. Nix, whom Nesbit had known for about a month before June 2001, sometimes would borrow the gun and then return it to her apartment.
Petitioner slept at Nesbit's apartment on June 19, 2001, as did Rashi Perry ("Perry"). Sometime before noon on June 20th, Petitioner and Perry left to go buy "some weed." Nesbit was alone in the apartment when Nix came by to see Petitioner. He told Nesbit that he had been "cut" in a fight and then went to the back of the apartment. Nesbit did not see what Nix was doing there. Shortly thereafter, Nix left the apartment. About five or ten minutes later, he returned through the back door.
On June 21, 2001, Nesbit permitted the police to search her apartment. However, the police did not find a gun. Nesbit informed the police that when Scott had been murdered, Petitioner was on the other side of the city. She had paged Petitioner at 12:30 p.m. on June 20, 2001, and had had Nix speak to Petitioner once Petitioner responded to the page. Nix told Petitioner during that conversation that he would meet him across town. Nix and Petitioner also talked about finding a change of clothing for Nix.
Three months later, Nesbit informed the police that the foregoing statements were false. Nesbit gave a new statement, indicating that on the day of the shooting, Petitioner came in through the front door of her apartment, and Nix came in through the back door. "[S]omeone"-probably Petitioner-"said that somebody got shot." T.835, 872. Nesbit moved to 1028 South Avenue in about September 2001, but did not move the gun to her new apartment. She professed not to know how it eventually ended up there. Petitioner sometimes visited her at the South Avenue apartment, and Johnson visited there frequently. At some point, Nesbit paged Johnson and asked him to meet her outside of her friend Brooklyn's house, where Nesbit gave Johnson the gun.
During the police investigation of the crime scene, Niagara Falls Police Department Detective James Lincoln ("Detective Lincoln") and found a green plastic-handled box cutter razor on the sidewalk and a silver aluminum bat lying at the curb in front of the house at 462 10th Street. Detective Lincoln estimated that the distance from the front to the back of 462 10th Street was between 35 and 40 feet. He observed drops of blood on a sidewalk just to the side of the front porch at 462 10th Street. T.421-435. However, Detective Lincoln saw no blood on the sidewalk that led to the back of 462 10th Street. Nor did he find any blood on sidewalk ...