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McEathron v. Martuscello

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 30, 2017

DANIEL MARTUSCELLO, Superintendent, Respondent.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge


         Proceeding pro se, Darren McEathron (“Petitioner”) filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that he is detained in Respondent's custody in violation of his federal constitutional rights. For the reasons discussed herein, Petitioner's request for a writ of habeas corpus is denied, and the petition is dismissed.


         Petitioner challenges the judgment entered against him on October 20, 2008, in the New York State, Steuben County Court (Furfure, J.), following a jury verdict convicting him of Kidnapping in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law (“P.L.”) § 135.20) and Assault in the Second Degree (P.L. § 120.05(6)). Briefly, the proof at trial established the during the late afternoon of August 18, 2007, the 16-year-old victim, “A.R., ”[1] was riding her bicycle on Telegraph Road near her home when a green Jeep SUV with a yellow ladder on the roof passed by her twice. When she turned down Birdseye Hollow Road, the Jeep passed her again. A.R. described the area as being was mostly wooded, with no houses. There was a pond with a picnic area, and a clearing where a camper was usually parked. As A.R. biked behind the camper, she saw Petitioner, whom she had never seen, standing behind it. Petitioner ran after A.R. and struck her on the right side of her face, causing her to fall off her bicycle and hit her forehead on the ground.

         As A.R. tried to stand up, Petitioner continued to hit her, grabbing her arm and pulling her toward the Jeep. A.R. reached down, picked up a rock, and threw it at him, while screaming for help. Petitioner let go of her, and A.R. ran around the camper to get to the road. However, A.R. stumbled and fell into a ditch, which allowed Petitioner to catch up to her. He grabbed her hair and began pulling her to the other side of the road, toward the woods.

         A.R. asked Petitioner if he would release her if she did what he wanted. Petitioner replied her that “Sandra” had to see her, and when “Sandra” was done he would let her go. A.R. asked him how “Sandra” knew her and what did “Sandra” want with her. Petitioner just said that “Sandra” wanted to see her and that “Sandra” was waiting for her. Petitioner forced A.R. to lie face down on the ground, and indicated that “Sandra” was in the woods. Petitioner called out for “Sandra” and told A.R. that she was coming. A.R., however, did not hear anyone. Petitioner put one foot on A.R.'s back and told her that he had a knife, that he was holding it to the back of her neck, and that he would kill her if she did not cooperate. A.R. did not see a knife, but she felt something pressed against her, and assumed it was the knife he referenced. Petitioner told A.R. to stay on the ground while he went to get “Sandra, ” warning her that he had a gun in the Jeep. If A.R. was not there when he returned, Petitioner threatened, he would find her and kill her. Petitioner then walked out of the woods.

         After about 30 seconds, A.R. heard the sound of a car driving by. She got up and ran deeper into the woods, losing a shoe in the process. She ran to a road where she encountered a husband and wife walking together. A.R. told them about the attack, and the husband called 911.

         During the police investigation into the incident, Petitioner's fingerprint was matched to a latent fingerprint found on a knife recovered at the crime scene.[2]

         Petitioner presented an alibi defense through his parents, James and Carol McEathron. Carol and James McEathron, testified on behalf of the defense. On August 11, 2007, Petitioner, along with his wife, Barbara, and their son, moved into the James' and Carol's home, at 12 Robie Street in the Village of Bath. Carol recalled that on August 18, 2007, she watched television with her grandson in the morning. Just before noon, Petitioner went out with his wife and son. Carol also went out; she drove James to his office and went grocery shopping. When Carol returned home before 2:00 p.m., she saw that Petitioner and his family were home eating lunch. At about 2:30 p.m., Carol saw Petitioner go outside; he came back into the house at about 3:30 or 3:40 p.m. Petitioner and his wife planned to go out to dinner and a movie, while Carol watched her grandson. Petitioner showered to get ready for the evening. As he showered, there was a commotion. Petitioner told Carol that he started to fall and put his hand down to catch himself and hurt his hand. Carol left the house at about 4:20 or 4:30 p.m. to pick up James at his office. They returned home about 4:30 or 4:40 p.m. Petitioner was home with his wife and son when Carol and James arrived. Petitioner and his wife left for dinner at about 6:00 p.m. Petitioner did not testify.

         The jury returned a verdict finding Petitioner guilty of both counts charged in the indictment. He was sentenced to an aggregate determinate term of 18 years' imprisonment and 5 years of post-release supervision. Petitioner's direct appeal was unsuccessful. People v. McEathron, 86 A.D.3d 915 (4th Dep't 2011), lv. denied, 19 N.Y.3d 975 (2012). Likewise, Petitioner's collateral motion to vacate the judgment and application for a writ of error coram nobis were denied.

         In his timely petition, Petitioner raises the following grounds for habeas relief: (1) trial counsel was ineffective because he (a) failed to impeach victim with her written statement in order to establish the merger doctrine; (b) failed to request a jury instruction on the merger doctrine; (c) failed to file a motion to suppress Petitioner's statements to the police and to suppress identification evidence; (d) failed to challenge the grand jury proceeding; (e) stipulated to certain evidence; and (f) failed to cross-examine Investigator Albright; and (2) appellate counsel was ineffective because he failed to argue that trial counsel was ineffective for (a) failing to impeach the victim's testimony and (b) failing to seek a jury instruction on the merger doctrine. Respondent answered the petition and argued that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims are unexhausted but must be deemed exhausted and procedurally defaulted. In addition, Respondent contends that the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim based on the failure to impeach the victim is also procedurally barred pursuant to the adequate and independent state ground doctrine. Finally, Respondent argues, none of Petitioner's habeas claims have merit. Petitioner filed a traverse, challenging some of Respondent's procedural default arguments and disputing some of Respondent's characterizations of the proof at trial.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that none of Petitioner's claims warrant habeas relief. ...

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