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Santana v. Capra

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 11, 2018



          JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge

         The petitioner, Charles Santana, brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On June 25, 2010, following a joint trial at which the petitioner's brother was also tried, the petitioner was found guilty by a Bronx County jury of one count of first-degree manslaughter but acquitted of second-degree murder. Thereafter, the petitioner was sentenced as a second-felony offender to twenty years' imprisonment with five years' post-release supervision.

         In this petition, the petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of trial and appellate counsel in violation of his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. For the reasons explained below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.



         The record reflects the following relevant facts.

         At approximately 2:15 a.m. on New Year's Day in 2008, Tiffany McClinton joined her cousin Kenneth McClinton at a party. Tr. 274-75.[1] Kenneth McClinton, who had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, left the party about five minutes after Tiffany arrived. Tr. 275, 328-29.

         Sometime after he left the party, Kenneth McClinton went to his mother's house, where he met Donisha Riggins. Tr. 374, 390. Just after they left the home, Kenneth McClinton pulled out a baseball bat that he had hidden in his pants. Tr. 391. Kenneth and Ms. Riggins then met up with Anthony McClinton, one of Kenneth McClinton's cousins. Tr. 330, 347. The three of them went to an apartment building where the petitioner and his brother, Alex Santana, lived with their mother, stepfather, and younger brother. Tr. 393. Mileni Fernandez, the Santanas' mother, told the three from her window that the brothers were not there, and the McClintons and Ms. Riggins left. Tr. 393. The trio soon ran into the Santana brothers, who were on their way back to their mother's apartment. Tr. 393-94. Kenneth McClinton asked the Santanas why they were always bothering him, and that confrontation precipitated a massive street brawl involving thirty to forty people. Tr. 379, 394-97.

         During the fight that broke out, Kenneth McClinton swung the bat at petitioner, and Alex Santana fought with a number of other people nearby. Tr. 357-58. Ms. Fernandez and Virgilio Ruiz, the stepfather of Alex and the petitioner, as well as Ray Sanchez, entered the fray as well. Tr. 357-59. According to Tiffany McClinton, a group was trying to drag another McClinton cousin into a nearby building while Ms. Fernandez was hitting him. Tr. 283-85. Tiffany McClinton yelled for help, and Kenneth McClinton ran over and struck Ms. Fernandez in the head with his baseball bat. Tr. 285, 468. The Santana brothers came to their mother's aid and helped her back into their apartment building. Tr. 286.

         As the melee ended, the Santana brothers, along with Ms. Fernandez, Virgilio Ruiz, and Ray Sanchez, reemerged from their apartment building. Tr. 28 6. Someone shouted that the Santanas had a gun, and people still on the street began to scatter. Tr. 287. Although none of them was in fact carrying a gun, Alex was armed with two knives, and the petitioner and Ray Sanchez were each carrying a knife. Video 31 at 3:15.42; Video 40 at 2:43.40, 2:43.45.

         Kenneth McClinton then ran away from the Santanas' group around the corner of Walton Avenue and 183rd Street. Tr. 290. The Santanas pursued Mr. McClinton and eventually caught up to him. Tr. 290.

         Tiffany McClinton, who had been present on the outskirts of the melee, testified that she then ran around the corner at Walton Avenue as well. Tr. 290. Tiffany McClinton testified that, from across the street, she saw Ray Sanchez and the petitioner holding Kenneth McClinton up by his arms so that he seemed to have surrendered. Tr. 291-92. Tiffany McClinton testified that Alex, standing in front of Kenneth McClinton, then stabbed Kenneth in the chest. Tr. 292. The petitioner then allegedly stabbed Kenneth in the side. Tr. 292. Tiffany McClinton testified that she then turned away, and when she looked back, the Santanas and Ray Sanchez were running back to their apartment building. Tr. 293.

         Donisha Riggins had run away from the fight fleeing southbound on Walton Avenue after someone yelled that the Santanas had a gun. Tr. 383. Donisha Riggins then walked back in the direction that Kenneth McClinton had run and came upon the scene of the stabbing. Tr. 384. Donisha Riggins testified that Alex Santana and the petitioner were leaning on two separate parked cars while Kenneth McClinton lay on the ground trying to catch his breath. Tr. 385. Donisha Riggins then shouted, "[W]hy did you all do that? It wasn't even that serious, " to which Alex replied, "Don't move . . . before I stab you." Tr. 385-86. Donisha Riggins testified that Alex Santana then stabbed Kenneth McClinton in the heart. Tr. 386. Donisha Riggins stayed with Kenneth McClinton and Tiffany McClinton until the police and an ambulance arrived. Tr. 387. Donisha Riggins did not testify that she saw the petitioner stab Kenneth McClinton.

         Although a police surveillance video system was monitoring the area at the time, the stabbing itself was not within the field of view. Tr. 4 45. The surveillance system did capture the following events which preceded the stabbing. Tr. 445-46.

         The Santana family - including Charles, Alex, Mileni, and Virgilio - entered their apartment building at 2270 Walton Avenue. Video 4 0 at 2:11.55; Video 41 at 2:12.56. Kenneth McClinton, who was carrying a baseball bat, and two of his associates - presumably Tiffany McClinton and Anthony McClinton, see Tr. 391 - walked up to the front of 2270 Walton Avenue and spoke with someone on the second floor of the building, presumably Mileni Fernandez, see Tr. 393. Video 40 at 2:38.20. The group left shortly after speaking to Mileni Fernandez. Video 40 at 2:39.44.

         The outbreak of the initial melee is the next scene visible on the surveillance video. Video 40 at 2:40.38. Kenneth McClinton struck Mileni Fernandez in the head with a baseball bat. Video 40 at 2:40.44. Virgilio Ruiz wielded a hammer. Video 40 at 2:41.38. The petitioner' and Alex Santana attacked a member of the McClinton group. Video 40 at 2:41.21. Eventually the initial melee broke up, and part of the McClinton group attempted to follow the Santana group into the entrance of the apartment building. Video 40 at 2:41.58.

         Video surveillance in the entrance of the apartment building showed Alex Santana and Mileni Fernandez run out of what appears to be a stairwell door and chase after the McClinton group shortly after they had entered the apartment building. Video 41 at 2:43.32; Video 40 at 2:43.40. The petitioner followed them with a knife in his right hand. Video 40 at 2:43.40. Virgilio Ruiz and a man in a grey sweatshirt carrying a knife in his right hand -- later identified as Ray Sanchez -- can be seen following the petitioner shortly after. Video 40 at 2:43.45.

         A surveillance camera on the corner of Walton Avenue and 183rd Street shows Alex Santana chasing after a group of people with a knife in each hand. Video 31 at 3:15.42. The petitioner can be seen following him shortly afterward, carrying one knife. Video 31 at 3:15.46. Mileni Fernandez and Virgilio Ruiz followed both of them. Video 31 at 3:15.49-3:15.56. Virgilio Ruiz was carrying a hammer. Video 31 at 3:15.55. Ray Sanchez followed closely behind the Santana family. Video 31 at 3:16.00.

         The remaining video surveillance apparently captures what occurred following the stabbing. Surveillance footage from outside the Santanas' apartment building shows the group returning after having run around the corner of 183rd Street, where the stabbing apparently occurred. Video 40 at 2:44.22-2:44.58. Video from an elevator in the apartment building shows the Santana group returning to their apartment shortly thereafter. Video 41 at 2:45.12. Alex Santana and the petitioner entered the elevator with their mother. Video 41 at 2:45.17. The petitioner was wearing a long-sleeved beige shirt under a darker colored vest, and Alex was wearing a green t-shirt. Video 41 at 2:45.17. The petitioner had blood on his hands, and Mileni Fernandez was bleeding from her head. Video 41 at 2:45.17. Alex also had a bloodstain on his hand. Video 41 at 2:45.56. The petitioner can be seen briefly holding a knife and then dropping it on the floor. Video 41 at 2:45.19-2:45.20. The petitioner held his mother''s head in his hands during most of the elevator ride. Video 41 at 2:45.17-2:45.56. As the group exited the elevator, Alex bent down briefly over the narrow space between the floor and the elevator. Video 41 at 2:45.59-2:46.00.

         Police began to arrive on the scene shortly after the Santanas reentered their apartment building. Video 40 at 2:46.49. The stabbing itself does not appear in any of the surveillance footage. Tr. 445.[2]

         Officer Alejandro Ponce was on plainclothes duty in the 46th Precinct the night of New Year's Eve 2007 and into New Year's Day 2008. Tr. 191-92. Officer Ponce was with Sergeant Patrick Hennessy and Officer Joe White. Tr. 71, 192. The officers, who were on patrol, eventually responded to a "radio run(]" of shots fired near 183rd Street and Walton Avenue. Tr. 194. When they arrived, the officers saw a large group of people standing around the corner as if "there had just been an altercation or some sort of fight." Tr. 194. Officer Ponce recognized Kenneth McClinton lying in the street, conscious but unable to speak. Tr. 195. Mr. McClinton was taken to Saint Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Tr. 50-51.

         Shortly after the officers arrived on the scene, Tiffany McClinton and another young woman approached Officer Ponce in order to identify Ray Sanchez as one of the perpetrators of Kenneth McClinton's homicide. Tr. 196-97, 295-97. Officer Ponce apprehended Ray Sanchez. Tr. 198. The two women, joined by a third, also pointed to where Alex and the petitioner were standing near an ambulance tending to their mother's head wounds. Tr. 199-200. Officer Ponce then apprehended Alex Santana and the petitioner. Tr. 203. Officer Ponce vouchered for evidence a baseball bat and a number of knives that were found at the crime scene. Tr. 201, 207, 432.

         Detective Gerald Heanue was the detective on duty assigned to handle the McClinton homicide. Tr. 426, 428. At the time he was taken into custody, the petitioner was wearing a long-sleeved white or beige hooded sweatshirt with blue jeans and white sneakers. Tr. 434-35. Detective Heanue did not observe any blood on the petitioner's clothing. Tr. 434-35. Detective Heanue vouchered both the petitioner's and Alex Santana's clothing for evidence. Tr. 435, 439.

         Detective Heanue spoke with Tiffany McClinton later that night. Tr. 462. At that time. Tiffany McClinton did not tell Detective Heanue that the petitioner had stabbed Kenneth McClinton, and did not mention witnessing the stabbing in a written statement she provided to police. Tr. 463, 465.

         During the course of Detective Heanue's cross-examination at trial, Alex Santana's counsel, Robert Laureano, elicited testimony regarding Ray Sanchez's arrest, booking, and eventual release. Tr. 472-75. Mr. Laureano apparently hoped to suggest to the jury that the police released a person who should have been considered a suspect. Tr. 473-74. The prosecution objected to certain of the questions on relevance grounds. Tr. 472-73. At a sidebar, the court instructed that Mr. Laureano was free to elicit that Ray Sanchez had been arrested and released, but that if Mr. Laureano inquired into why Sanchez was released, the door would then be opened to testimony regarding Sanchez's identification of the petitioner and Alex Santana as the perpetrators. Tr. 473-74. The petitioner's counsel, Fred Bittlingmaier, did not object to Mr. Laureano's cross-examination, and did not say anything during the sidebar. Tr. 472-75. Detective Heanue went on to testify that Ray Sanchez was released from custody at the direction of the Bronx District Attorney's Office. Tr. 475. Mr. Laureano then questioned Detective Heanue about Fernando Valentine, who had also been arrested and subsequently released, and a statement Mr. Valentine made to the police while in custody about the fact that Ray Sanchez had a knife. Tr. 480-81. No. party objected to this line of questioning. Tr. 480-81.

         On redirect, the prosecutor elicited from Detective Heanue that "there was no evidence that Ray Sanchez had ever stabbed anyone in connection with" the McClinton homicide. Tr. 48 9. He also questioned Detective Heanue about the witness statement Mr. Valentine made while in police custody, including eliciting that Mr. Valentine had stated that Ray Sanchez, Alex Santana, and the petitioner had all carried knives to the scene of the crime. Tr. 490-91. Mr. Bittlingmaier and Mr. Laureano both objected to the prosecutor's question regarding whether Mr. Valentine had told Detective Heanue that anyone other than Ray Sanchez had had a knife, and the trial judge overruled those objections. Tr. 490.

         The prosecutor next attempted to ask Detective Heanue whether Fernando Valentine gave Detective Heanue "any information about in fact who did stab" Kenneth McClinton. Tr. 4 91. Mr. Bittlingmaier and Mr. Laureano both immediately objected on hearsay grounds. Tr. 4 91. At a lengthy sidebar, the prosecutor argued that the question was proper because Mr. Laureano opened the door to Detective Heanue's explanation of the police investigation by asking him whether Fernando Valentine stated that Ray Sanchez had a knife. Tr. 492-93. In response, Mr. Bittlingmaier noted that his own client was now "in an untenable position" because Mr. Laureano opened the door to testimony unfavorable to the petitioner. Tr. 493-94. The court noted that Mr. Bittlingmaier was present and said nothing at the sidebar when the court and the prosecutor pointed out that Mr. Laureano's cross-examination would "open the door" to testimony about why Ray Sanchez was released from custody. Tr. 496. Nonetheless, the court directed the prosecutor to restrict his question to whether Fernando Valentine had indicated that Ray Sanchez did not stab anyone. Tr. 496-97. Detective Heanue testified that it was clear to him after speaking with Fernando Valentine that Ray Sanchez did not stab Kenneth McClinton. Tr. 497.

         Dr. Monica Smiddy, a medical examiner in New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME"), performed an autopsy on Kenneth McClinton and testified regarding the cause of death. Tr. 512, 516. She testified that Kenneth McClinton received three stab wounds to his chest. Tr. 520. One stab wound near Mr. McClinton's clavicle perforated the upper lobe of his right lung. Tr. 524. A second stab wound perforated the lower lobe of the right lung and the liver. Tr. 531. The third stab wound perforated the lower lobe of the left lung, the pericardial sac, the lower border of the heart, and the abdominal aorta. Tr. 533. These three stab wounds resulted in Kenneth McClinton losing approximately half of his blood volume. Tr. 534. Dr. Smiddy testified that any one of the two stab wounds to the lungs would have been fatal within seconds to minutes if not treated very quickly, and the stab wound to the heart would have been fatal in seconds. Tr. 536-37. Dr. Smiddy also testified that the wounds to the lungs would have made it close to impossible to breathe. Tr. 536. Dr. Smiddy testified that it was "unlikely" that the same knife produced all three stab wounds. Tr. 542-43.

         Katey Nori, a forensic scientist and senior supervisor with the OCME, testified regarding the DNA evidence gathered by police. Tr. 572-73.

         The OCME received and tested clothing from Alex Santana and the petitioner along with a baseball bat and eight knives recovered from in and around the crime scene. Tr. 57 9. The petitioner's clothing did not contain any DNA from Kenneth McClinton. Tr. 583. Two bloodstains on Alex's t-shirt and a bloodstain on his shoes tested positive for Kenneth McClinton's DNA, and Kenneth's DNA was contained in a mixture of DNA found on Alex's jeans. Tr. 583-84.

         The baseball bat contained a bloodstain that matched Mileni Fernandez's DNA. Tr. 582-8 3. Kenneth McClinton's DNA was found on a bloodstain on a knife with a bent blade. Tr. 589-90. The handle of that same knife contained "touch DNA" - DNA deposited on objects from skin cells - in minor amounts from Alex and in major amounts from the petitioner. Tr. 590, 593. The OCME identified the petitioner as a contributor of touch DNA to a second knife handle, and he could not be excluded as a provider of touch DNA to two other knife handles. Tr. 599-600. Ms. Nori acknowledged that there is no way to tell when touch DNA, or any kind of DNA, is left on an object. Tr. 598.

         The OCME also tested a bloodstain on the shirt Alex Santana was wearing the night of the murder, and that stain tested positive for Kenneth McClinton's DNA. Tr. 585-88. One of the bloodstains was deposited on the shirt in a "transfer-like pattern, " which Ms. Nori testified was evidence that the blood was "rubb[ed] or transfer[ed] from [one] item to another item." Tr. 620-21. The prosecution argued to the jury that the petitioner wiped the blade of the knife on Alex Santana's t-shirt in the elevator after the stabbing. Tr. 847-48. Kenneth McClinton's DNA was not found on any clothing collected from the petitioner. Tr. 583.[3]

         Ms. Nori did not personally conduct any examination of the t-shirt that Alex Santana had been wearing or the knife with the bent blade that contained DNA from both Kenneth McClinton and the petitioner. Tr. 638, 643, 645. The record is silent as to whether she conducted testing of any of the other physical evidence submitted to OCME. Ms. Nori testified that OCME works on a rotation basis whereby analysts are assigned to different tasks on different weeks. Tr. 644. All analysts who do DNA testing have the same training and credentials as Ms. Nori, and supervisors are always present while analysts conduct these tests. Tr. 644-45.

         The petitioner was tried on charges of murder in the second degree and manslaughter in the first degree. He was acquitted of the murder charge and convicted of first-degree manslaughter, and was sentenced as a second-felony offender to twenty years' ...

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