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Martin v. Lee

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 20, 2017

ELVIS MARTIN, Petitioner,
WILLIAM LEE, Respondent.

          Elvis Martin Jordan K. Hummel, Esq. Assistant District Attorney




         Elvis Martin brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Mr. Martin is challenging his conviction for murder in the second degree in violation of New York Penal Law § 125.25(1) following a jury trial in New York Supreme Court, Bronx County. Mr. Martin contends that: (1) the trial court improperly admitted statements of non-testifying co-defendants in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation under Crawford v. Washington, 54 U.S. 36 (2004), and (2) the admission of these statements violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation under Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the petition be denied.


         A. The Crime

         Miguel Littlejohn was murdered on March 18, 2003. On that day, Mr. Martin, Royan Jackson, Marvin Forrester, and Oneil Reid approached Nickiesha Harris in 216th Street Park in the Bronx. (Tr. at 124-27).[1] Ms. Harris is the petitioner's cousin; she was sitting in the park talking with friends when the men approached. (Tr. at 124, 126). The petitioner asked her if she was acquainted with Mr. Littlejohn and if she knew where he lived. (Tr. at 128). Ms. Harris said she did know him, and she took Mr. Martin, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Forrester, and Mr. Reid to Mr. Littlejohn's apartment building at 720 East 216th Street, across the street from the park. (Tr. at 128-30). As they were returning to the park, one of Ms. Harris' friends called out to the young men, and they rushed down the block, surrounding Mr. Littlejohn in front of his house. (Tr. at 129-32). They then fired a number of shots at Mr. Littlejohn, hitting him multiple times. (Tr. at 133).

         Mr. Littlejohn was taken to the hospital, but died later that night of his wounds. (Tr. at 257-60, 395-96). In an interview with detectives the day after the shooting, the victim's brother identified the petitioner as one of the shooters (Tr. at 572-74, 579). The police also interviewed Ms. Harris on the day of the shooting, and she told them there were three shooters: Mr. Reid, Mr. Forrester, and a third man she did not know. (Tr. at 165). When she met with the police again on April 12, 2003, she identified the Mr. Martin as one of the shooters. (Tr. at 167-69). After receiving a tip that Mr. Martin was staying in a nearby hotel, the investigating officers apprehended and arrested him on April 11, 2003. (Tr. at 453-55). The officers found him in a hotel room with Ashar Forrester, the brother of Marvin Forrester. (Tr. at 455, 479). When the officers entered the hotel room, Ashar Forrester was attempting to hide one of the murder weapons. (Tr. at 479). Ashar Forrester told the police he thought the weapon had been used by Marvin Forrester in a murder on March 18, 2003. (Tr. at 479). Mr. Jackson was arrested on December 1, 2005, and Mr. Reid was arrested on January 10, 2006. (Tr. at 626-28, 636).

         B. Procedural History

         1. Trial, Verdict and Sentencing[2]

         Mr. Martin, Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Reid were charged with murder in the second degree and tried together.[3] At trial, the jury heard the eyewitness testimony of Nickeisha Harris and Tanye Fisher. Ms. Harris testified about the events of March 18, 2003, as described above. She stated that she showed the defendants Mr. Littlejohn's house and watched as they shot and killed him on 216th Street a few minutes later. (Tr. at 128-33). As she was Mr. Martin's cousin and saw him multiple times each week, she had no difficulty identifying him on the day of the shooting or at trial. (Tr. at 126).

         Ms. Harris' testimony was supported by that of her friend, Ms. Fisher, who provided a similar account of the events leading up to the shooting. She described seeing Ms. Harris talk to four young men, leave the park with two of them, and return a few minutes later. (Tr. at 287-88). After they returned, she testified that she saw the same four men leave the park again a few moments later, pursue Mr. Littlejohn down 216th Street, surround him, and begin firing. (Tr. at 290-93). However, Ms. Fisher did not identify the four men. (Tr. at 287).

         Cassandra Reynolds also testified, supplying a potential motive for the crime. She was Mr. Reid's ex-girlfriend, and she said that their relationship had recently fallen apart because she had talked to a man named Miguel, presumably Mr. Littlejohn. (Tr. at 102-04).

         In addition to the eyewitness testimony, a New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) examiner testified that the lead residue on Mr. Littlejohn's clothing meant that the shots were fired at very close range. (Tr. at 425). The doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that the stippling around the wounds also indicated that the shots were fired within a few feet of Mr. Littlejohn. (Tr. at 591). The testimony of these two experts corroborated the eyewitness accounts of Ms. Harris and Ms. Fisher, who described the shooting as occurring at very close range. Several other police officers described the events surrounding the investigation and arrest of the co-defendants. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that the cause of Mr. Littlejohn's death was gunshot wounds to the head and torso. (Tr. At 613). Ballistics experts from the NYPD testified that the guns found on the Forrester brothers were used in the shooting.

         At issue in this petition is the admission of statements Mr. Jackson and Mr. Reid made to the police. Detective Michael DePaolis, one of the detectives investigating the case, testified that after being read his Miranda Rights:

[Mr. Jackson] said that he had been hanging out with Marvin, Elvis and [Mr. Reid] at Evander Childs High School for about a half hour when they decided to walk up Barnes Avenue northbound. And when they reached 216th Street, East 216th Street, Marvin, Elvis and [Mr. Reid] made a left hand turn going in the direction of White Plains Road, he remained on Barnes Avenue. Several minutes later he heard some gunshots.

(Tr. at 632).

Mr. DePaolis also testified that Mr. Reid made a written statement after being arrested and read his Miranda rights:
On March 18th, 2003 at about twelve PM I left school and met my friends, [Mr. Jackson], Marvin, Elvis. We all went to 216th park, we played around for about twenty minutes. After about twenty-five minutes we were about to leave the park.

(Tr. at 641).

         Mr. Reid also made a video statement on January 10, 2006. The video and transcript were both shown to the jury. The primary difference between the written and video statements is that in the latter Mr. Reid added at the end of the statement “[t]hen ...

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