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Lewis v. Connecticut Comm'r of Correction

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 14, 2015

SCOTT LEWIS, Petitioner-Appellee,

Argued: October 22, 2014.

AMENDED: JUNE 22, 2015.

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In 1990, a jury convicted Petitioner Scott Lewis of murdering Ricardo Turner and Lamont Fields. The government's case against Lewis depended almost entirely on the testimony of its key witness--Ovil Ruiz. At the time of Lewis's trial, however, the State failed to disclose to the defense that Ruiz had repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the murders and only implicated Lewis after a police detective promised to let Ruiz go if he gave a statement in which he admitted to being the getaway driver and incriminated Lewis and another individual, Stefon Morant. Lewis now seeks habeas relief on the grounds that the State of Connecticut denied his constitutional right to a fair trial when it withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Charles S. Haight, Jr., Judge) granted Lewis's habeas petition on the basis of the Brady violation. We agree with the district court and AFFIRM the grant of habeas corpus.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. No. 3 Civ. 196 -- Charles S. Haight, Jr., Judge.

BRETT DIGNAM (Elora Mukherjee, on the brief), Morningside Heights Legal Services, Inc., New York, N.Y., for Petitioner-Appellee.

MICHAEL PROTO, Office of the Chief State's Attorney, Rocky Hill, C.T., for Respondent-Appellant.

Before: WINTER, WALKER, and CABRANES, Circuit Judges.


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John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge :


On October 11, 1990, Ricardo Turner and Lamont Fields were shot and killed in their apartment at 634 Howard Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut. The State charged Scott Lewis and Stefon Morant with the murders and tried them separately in Connecticut Superior Court. Morant was tried first and convicted of both murders.

I. Lewis's Trial

At trial, the State did not introduce any eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence against Lewis. The government's key witness,

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Ovil Ruiz, was the only witness who directly implicated Lewis in the murders. Ruiz testified at trial, in substance, as follows. On the night of the murders, Ruiz drove Lewis and Morant to 634 Howard Avenue and waited in the car while they went inside. While he was waiting, he heard gunshots. Lewis and Morant then returned to the car with gym bags containing drugs and cash. Ruiz later overheard a conversation in which Lewis admitted to shooting Turner and Fields. And two to three weeks after the murder, Ruiz saw Lewis throw a gun into the river near the Chapel Street Bridge.

On May 10, 1995, the jury convicted Lewis on two counts of murder and two counts of felony murder, one as to each victim. The Superior Court sentenced Lewis principally to 120 years' imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed Lewis's convictions for the murders but vacated his felony murder convictions on double jeopardy grounds. See State v. Lewis, 245 Conn. 779, 717 A.2d 1140 (1998).

II. Subsequent Testimony

On October 25 and 26, 1999, Michael J. Sweeney, a 37-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department (" NHPD" )--and one of two police detectives who questioned Ruiz on the night he first implicated Lewis--provided critical information concerning the circumstances in which Ruiz inculpated Lewis at the police station on January 13-14, 1991. At the hearing on Morant's motion for a new trial before the Honorable Judge Jon C. Blue of the Connecticut Superior Court,[1] Sweeney testified as follows.

Detective Vincent Raucci arrested Ruiz in connection with another murder on January 13, 1991 and brought him to the New Haven police station. Sweeney, Raucci's supervising officer, first questioned Ruiz about the Fields-Turner murders. Ruiz said he did not know anything about them. Then, Sweeney and Raucci jointly interviewed Ruiz, who repeated that he had no information about these murders and was not at the murder scene.

Raucci then began telling Ruiz the facts of the Fields-Turner case. Raucci described where the murders occurred, the apartment building, and a scenario in which the murderers escaped with guns in a gym bag. At that point, Sweeney asked Raucci to step outside and told him that his interrogation approach was inappropriate. When the detectives returned to the interrogation, Raucci told Ruiz that " he would let him go," and that he wanted him to say " that he was driving the car that night." S.A. 443. Raucci also warned Ruiz " that it was in his best interest to tell what happened [and] give a detailed statement as to his participation and also the other two." S.A. 443. At that point, Ruiz started changing his statement.

Sweeney again took Raucci outside and told him to " knock it off." S.A. 444. Specifically, Sweeney told Raucci " don't tell [Ruiz] parts of the case and then five minutes later let him parrot what you're saying and take it as fact." S.A. 444. When Judge Blue asked Sweeney to clarify what information Raucci gave Ruiz, Sweeney said, among other things, that Raucci told Ruiz " that he was present with the two individuals, Scott Lewis and Stefon

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Morant." S.A. 460. On cross-examination, Sweeney acknowledged that police officers frequently divulge certain facts in order to extract additional information from a potential suspect, but explained that Raucci was " detailing the whole case" to Ruiz, S.A. 414, rather than telling him " a little to get a lot," S.A. 337.

Sweeney was then pulled away on another matter, so Raucci interviewed Ruiz alone. When Sweeney returned, Raucci told him that Ruiz wanted to give a detailed statement about his involvement in the murders. Concerned by the significant change in Ruiz's story, Sweeney spoke to Ruiz alone and asked him if he was " truthful in stating that these two persons were there and [he] drove the car." S.A. 446. Ruiz said " no . . . . [h]e was not telling the truth," he " knew nothing," and " the information he did give . . . . was all information gathered from Detective Raucci." Id. Significantly, Ruiz told Sweeney that he changed his story " because Detective Raucci said he was gonna let him go." Id.

Sweeney, again, confronted Raucci. At Raucci's request, Sweeney gave Raucci one final opportunity to interview Ruiz alone. After that interview, Raucci told Sweeney that Ruiz wanted to say that he " overheard these two people talking about the case, that he wasn't present." S.A. 446. At that late point in the evening, Sweeney thought that " might be true," so he told Raucci to take the statement. S.A. 446-47. Shortly thereafter, Sweeney's shift ended, and he did not see Ruiz again.

In 1998, Sweeney retired from the NHPD and volunteered to serve as a U.N. station commander, supervising police officers in post-war Bosnia. When he returned to the United States, he read in a local newspaper that Raucci had resigned from the NHPD because of misconduct. Specifically, Raucci was linked to the New Haven drug trade; charged with larceny following an internal NHPD investigation; arrested for a domestic-violence incident; and, after fleeing Connecticut as a result of the charges against him, was ultimately arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ) after a four-hour standoff in New Mexico. Sweeney later testified during an evidentiary hearing on Lewis's federal habeas petition that he came forward because he felt Ruiz was " absolutely untruthful," A. 39, and that the story implicating Lewis and Morant was " fabricated," S.A. 37.[2] At Lewis's trial in 1990, the prosecution failed to disclose to the defense any of the circumstances of Ruiz's police interrogation to which Sweeney testified.

III. The State Habeas Proceedings

On January 9, 2001, Lewis filed a pro se habeas petition in Connecticut Superior Court. He raised three claims: (1) newly discovered evidence that Ruiz perjured himself; (2) a Brady violation based on the State's failure to disclose evidence of Ruiz's prior inconsistent statements and Raucci's coaching of Ruiz's testimony; and (3) newly discovered evidence of alibi testimony. In support of his petition, Lewis included transcripts of Sweeney's testimony at the Morant hearing.

The Connecticut Superior Court (Howard Zoarski, Judge ) (hereinafter, the " state habeas court" ) denied Lewis's petition. With ...

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