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Winebrenner v. Graham

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 4, 2017

CYRIL WINEBRENNER, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD H. GRAHAM, Superintendent of Auburn Correctional Facility, Respondent.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Cyril Winebrenner (“petitioner”), proceeding pro se, petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is incarcerated pursuant to a judgment entered March 30, 2005, in Monroe County Court (Marks, J.), following his plea of guilty to murder in the first degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(vi) and (b)). Petitioner is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         II. Factual Background and Procedural History

         By Monroe County Indictment Number 393/2003, petitioner was charged with the murder for hire of his half-sister, Tabatha Bryant. Kevin Bryant, Tabatha's husband and petitioner's brother-in-law, hired petitioner to perform the murder for a sum of $5, 000.00. On July 13, 2003, petitioner approached Tabatha, who was in her house asleep, and shot and stabbed her to death. Petitioner thereafter pleaded guilty to one count of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Monroe County District Attorney's Office initially sought the death penalty for the crime, but after the New York State Court of Appeals held New York's death penalty statute unconstitutional, see People v. LaValle, 3 N.Y.3d 88 (2004), the DA's office withdrew its notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

         Following his plea and sentence, petitioner filed a direct counseled appeal to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in which he argued that (1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate his history of mental illness with respect to a competency argument; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in failing to order a competency examination pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 730(1) before accepting his guilty plea.

         The Fourth Department unanimously affirmed petitioner's judgment of conviction. See People v. Winebrenner, 96 A.D.3d 1615 (4th Dep't 2012), lv. denied, 19 N.Y.3d 1029. The Fourth Department found that the trial court did not err in failing to sua sponte order a competency examination prior to petitioner's plea, and that the court likewise did not err in failing to subsequently order an examination because “the evidence contained in the presentence report [“PSI”] and sentencing memorandum [which the court received after the plea] did not raise any doubt about [petitioner]'s competency at the time of the plea or at the time of sentencing.” Id. at 1616-17. The Fourth Department rejected petitioner's ineffective assistance argument, finding that petitioner “failed to demonstrate the absence of strategic or other legitimate explanations . . . for the absence of a psychiatric . . . defense” and therefore denied this contention on the merits. Id. at 1617. The court also found that the ineffective assistance argument relied on matters outside the record and was therefore not properly presented on direct appeal. Id.

         On May 4, 2013, petitioner filed a motion to renew his direct appeal, arguing that his appellate counsel had denied him the right to file a pro se supplemental motion and that the trial court sentenced him vindictively when petitioner refused to testify against a co-defendant. The Fourth Department construed petitioner's motion as one for a writ of error coram nobis, and denied the motion. On September 27, 2013, the Fourth Department denied petitioner's motion to reargue. See People v. Winebrenner, 107 A.D.3d 1647 (4th Dep't 2013), rearg. denied, 109 A.D.3d 1218, lv. denied, 22 N.Y.3d 960.

         Petitioner filed a second coram nobis motion, while his first remained pending, on September 3, 2013. Petitioner argued that appellate counsel was ineffective for thwarting petitioner's efforts to file a pro se supplemental brief on direct appeal, and that counsel failed to argue that petitioner's indictment was duplicitous in violation of federal due process principles. The Fourth Department denied the motion on November 8, 2013, and petitioner did not seek leave to appeal. See People v. Winebrenner, 111 A.D.3d 1366 (4th Dep't 2013) (denying coram nobis motion).

         The instant petition contends that (1) petitioner's sentence was “unconstitutionally vindictive”; (2) trial counsel was ineffective for allowing petitioner to plead guilty without investigating petitioner's history of mental illness; (3) the trial court abused its discretion by failing to order a competency examination for petitioner before accepting his guilty plea; (4) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise petitioner's vindictive sentencing claim and for hampering petitioner's efforts to file a pro se supplemental brief; and (5) the indictment was duplicitous. For the reasons discussed below, the petition is dismissed.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) applies to this petition. AEDPA “revised the conditions under which federal courts may grant habeas relief to a person in state custody.” Kruelski v. Connecticut Super. Ct. for Judicial Dist. of Danbury, 316 F.3d 103, 106 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254). Under AEDPA, a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 only if the state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claim on the merits is “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or involved an “unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the evidence presented. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).

         IV. Grounds Asserted in the Petition

         A. Procedurally Defaulted Claims ...


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