United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge
pro se, Duane Coble (“Coble” or
“Petitioner”) seeks a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently in
Respondent's custody pursuant to a judgment entered
against him in County Court, Erie County (Amico, J.) of New
York State, following a bench trial, on one count Robbery in
the Second Degree (P.L. § 160.10(2)(b)).
Factual Background and Procedural History
Erie County Indictment No. 01278-2009, Petitioner, Ronald
McCoy (“McCoy”), and Rodney Harris
(“Harris”) were charged with Robbery in the First
Degree (P.L. §§ 160.15(2), 20.00) and Burglary in
the First Degree (P.L. §§ 140.30(1), 20.00). The
indictment also charged Petitioner and McCoy (but not Harris)
with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree
(P.L. §§ 265.03(3), 20.00). The charges stemmed
from an alleged home invasion on May 13, 2009, at the
apartment of Frankie and Soloana Knighton located at 73 St.
Mary's Road in the City of Buffalo.
and his co-defendants were convicted after a three-day bench
trial before Judge Amico in Erie County Court. During the
prosecutor's direct case, one of the victims, Frankie
Knighton (“Mr. Knighton”), testified that as he
was putting out the trash prior to leaving to attend a car
auction in Syracuse, he observed three masked men walking up
his driveway. McCoy had a bandana covering his face; Coble
and Harris had stockings over their faces. (T.37-39, 41). Mr.
Knighton testified that McCoy pointed a gun at his stomach,
while Coble pointed a gun at his head. (T.40). They said,
“[G]ive it up, give up everything, we know you got
it.” (T.35-42). They then forced him back inside the
inside the house, McCoy emptied Mr. Knighton's pockets of
cash after demanding to know what he “had on
him.” Mr. Knighton informed them where all of the cash
he had in the house was located, including the $1, 000 he
intended to bring to the car auction. According to Mr.
Knighton, Coble went into the bedroom where his wife, Soloana
Knighton (“Mrs. Knighton”), and their infant
daughter, Samia, were lying in bed (T.43-44), while McCoy and
the third assailant, Rodney Harris (“Harris”),
stayed with him. They took out a sandwich bag and told Mr.
Knighton, “[W]e going to fill this up.” (T.45).
Mr. Knighton insisted that there was no more money in the
house. (T.92). Harris handed the money to McCoy, who placed
it into a plastic bag. McCoy ordered Mr. Knighton to the
floor at gunpoint while Harris attempted to tie him up with
duct tape. Mr. Knighton testified that Harris spent “15
to 20 minutes” in a “halfhearted” attempt
to restrain him with duct tape, and succeeded only in getting
duct tape on one of Mr. Knighton's wrists and around his
forehead. (T.74, 97-98).
Knighton testified that it was McCoy who was the first
perpetrator to enter the room she was in with Samia. She
testified that McCoy was wearing gloves, and pointed his
handgun at her and demanded to know where the money was. At
some point, Mrs. Knighton testified, Petitioner joined McCoy
in the room with her and her daughter, and McCoy went back
and forth between the two bedrooms. Mrs. Knighton testified
that toward the end of the encounter, all three of the
defendants “kind of rush[ed] up to the front” of
the apartment and then “kind of ran off to the back,
” each into a different room. (T.128). Petitioner came
into the room she was in, and tried to escape through the
window but the bars blocked his exit. (T.128-29). Petitioner
“kind of paused, looked at [her]” and then
“started stripping off his layers of clothing. He took
his mask off and he took his gloves off and he took his coat
off and then he dropped the weapon by [her] daughter's
bassinet.” (T.128). This weapon, which had not been
displayed previously, was a knife. (T.150). According to Mrs.
Knighton, once they heard the police announce their presence,
Petitioner raised his hands and repeatedly called out,
“I'm back here, ” as if he were one of the
victims. (T.149). Mrs. Knighton did not testify that she or
her husband had been restrained with duct tape.
first Buffalo Police Department (“BPD”) officer
on the scene, Steven Stribing (“Officer
Stribing”), said the house was very quiet even after
they “holler[ed]” it was the police. (T.178).
Eventually, they testified, Mr. Knighton was the first to
approach the officers, and was “hollering the whole
time that [the defendants] broke into his house and held him
at gunpoint and held his family at gunpoint.” (T.157,
169, 208-09). Officer Stribing and Officer Gerald Sullivan
testified that Mr. Knighton's hands or wrists bound, in
front of his body, with duct tape. (Id.). Shortly
thereafter, Officer Stribing heard Mrs. Knighton
“screaming . . . that they had weapons.”
(T.190-91). McCoy was the next person to approach the
officers. (T.158, 169, 184). He was frisked and taken to the
dining room. (T.158). Officer Stribing then heard Mrs.
Knighton “hollering that [the defendants] had guns on
her and that their baby was in the room;” she was
saying, “they are trying to get out the window. They
are looking to get out the window and the windows are barred.
We just had bars put on the windows.” (T.159). The
officer observed that Mrs. Knighton “had duct tape on
her wrist with her baby in her arms.” (T.163). Officer
Stribing testified that he noticed one of the suspects
opening the window curtains and looking outside.
was the third person in the apartment to approach the
officers, which he did “maybe a minute or two”
after McCoy. (T.159-60, 204). The police ordered him to the
ground and he was brought towards the kitchen area. There was
then a struggle between Mr. Knighton and Petitioner, and
Petitioner ran from the house. (T.160, 180). Officers caught
him after a brief foot chase, and brought him back to the
Knightons' apartment. (T.216-18).
Patrick Baggott then went into the bedroom where Mrs.
Knighton and Samia were, and found Harris. (T.185). Harris
was arrested and patted down; Officer Baggott found a knife
in his back pocket. (T.197). A search of the apartment
yielded two handguns, a loaded .44-caliber revolver and an
unloaded .38-caliber revolver, which were in a basket on the
top shelf of a bedroom closet. In the baby's bedroom, he
recovered a mask, a pair of gloves, and a knife that was
lying next to the crib. Detective James Maroney recovered a
blue bandanna and black ski cap in the bedroom closet.
(T.154-160, 184-187, 249).
seized handguns were analyzed by a forensic serologist. The
DNA sample obtained from the .38-caliber (unloaded) handgun
was consistent with the DNA samples taken from both McCoy and
Mr. Knighton; Harris and Petitioner were excluded as
contributors. The .44-caliber (loaded) handgun contained only
a trace amount of DNA, which excluded Mr. Knighton and all
three co-defendants as possible contributors. (T.349, 352,
358, 365-66). Mr. Knighton's DNA was found on both items
of duct-tape, while each defendant was ruled out as a
contributor of DNA to the duct tape and the knife. (T.358,
364-66). The prosecution's DNA expert, when asked
“if someone were wearing gloves would that be
consistent with a lower number, ” responded, “I
can't tell that.” (T.353).
was the only defendant who testified. He stated that Mr.
McKnight owed him $3, 600 for marijuana which Mr. McKnight
had purchased six weeks earlier. According to McCoy, he went
to Mr. McKnights's house with Petitioner and Harris in
order to collect the money. McCoy acknowledged that he was
carrying an unloaded handgun, but denied that he ever used
it. He further claimed that Mr. McKnight voluntarily turned
over the $1, 000 to repay his drug debt, and that no robbery
had taken place. (T.380-384).
two-day adjournment, Judge Amico convicted Coble of
second-degree robbery (P.L. § 160.10(2)(b)) as a lesser
included offense. Judge Amico did not explicitly render a
verdict on the burglary charge as to Coble, although he did
say he found Harris and McCoy guilty of second-degree
burglary. At sentencing, Judge Amico sentenced Coble as if he
had been convicted of second-degree burglary (P.L. §
140.25(1)(d)) as a lesser included offense, imposing