United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
LAWRENCE J. VILARDO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
October 24, 2011, a New York State Court jury found the pro
se petitioner, Michelle Spirles, guilty of manslaughter in
the first degree in connection with the death of Andre Biggs
in Rochester, New York, on April 2, 2011. Docket Item 12-2 at
1496. The judge sentenced Spirles to twenty-five years'
imprisonment and a five-year period of post-release
supervision, the statutory maximum penalty. Id. at
December 1, 2016, Spirles filed a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York, Docket Item 1, which was
transferred to this Court on December 8, 2016, Docket Item 4.
On June 30, 2017, the state responded, Docket Items 12, 13;
and on July 13, 2017, Spirles replied, Docket Item 14.
liberally, the petition raises claims under the Fourth,
Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Because Spirles's Fourth and
Sixth Amendment claims lack merit, and because any Fifth
Amendment error was harmless, the petition is denied.
EVIDENCE AT TRIAL
Kerley, an emergency room physician at Rochester General
Hospital, testified that she treated Andre Biggs in February
2011-about a month and a half before his death on April 2.
Docket Item 12-2 at 947-48. He “had several lacerations
on his left side of his scalp and on his ear.”
Id. at 948. Biggs told Kerley that “he had
been cut by his girlfriend at home.” Id. at
next-door neighbor testified that Biggs had been
Spirles's boyfriend but that they had broken up some time
before April 2, 2011. Id. at 1295, 1307. Until then,
the neighbor said, Biggs was at Spirles's home at 123
Evergreen Street in Rochester “every day” and
lived “next door . . . with [Spirles].”
Id. at 1293, 1295. The neighbor testified that at
about 12:30 a.m. on April 2, 2011, he looked out his window
because of “some commotion outside.” Id.
He saw Biggs in a vehicle and Spirles reaching into the
vehicle. Id. at 1296. And he heard Spirles
“screaming” at Biggs: “I'm gonna fuck
you up.” Id. at 1297.
neighbor called the police because he thought he saw a drug
transaction. Id. at 1300. He testified that after
the police arrived, Biggs exited the car and walked up the
street. Id. at 1298, 1300. Spirles followed him,
repeating that “she's gonna fuck him up.”
brother-in-law, Eddie Thomas, testified that he lived in
Rochester with his son, his stepdaughter, and his
wife-Biggs's sister. Id. at 542-43. Biggs
sometimes would stay with them but usually stayed with
Spirles. Id. at 543-44.
said that on April 2, 2011, Biggs arrived at his house at
about midnight or 1:00 a.m. and left at about 3:10 a.m.
Id. at 545-46. When he left, Biggs told Thomas that
he was going to Spirles's house to pack up his things
because he was breaking up with her. Id. Biggs told
Thomas that he needed something to put his clothes in, so
Thomas gave Biggs a black gym bag. Id. at 546-47.
Thomas said that Biggs asked for the bag “so, he could
put his clothes, items in [it], so [that] he could leave
her.” Id. at 547.
prosecutor showed Thomas a photo of a bag taken from the
scene of the crime. Id. at 549. When asked if that
was “the way [the] gym bag looked when you gave it to
[Biggs] on April 2nd, ” Thomas said it was not because
when he gave it to Biggs, “there wasn't nothing in
it.” Id. But “[b]esides there being
clothes in it, . . . that [was] the way it appeared.”
testified that when Biggs left his home, Biggs was wearing an
“Elmer Fud-like hat” that had “floppy ears
and fur inside.” Id. at 547. He also was
wearing “a gray sweater that [Thomas had] loaned to
him, a white T-shirt, [and] a black jacket.”
Id. at 548. And he carried the gym bag across his
identified Biggs on surveillance videos walking back toward
the area where Spirles lives at about 3:22 a.m. Id.
at 552-53. In the video, Biggs was walking alone.
Id. at 553. Video surveillance also showed Biggs
walking unharmed outside a pawn shop about a ten-minute walk
away from 123 Evergreen Street during the early morning hours
of April 2, 2011. Trial Exhibit 80.
police dispatcher with Monroe County 911-David
Mossworth-testified that he was working during the early
morning hours of April 2, 2011. Id. at 1102-04. He
received an incoming 911 call at 4:05 a.m. from a man who
said that he was calling from 123 Evergreen Street.
Id. at 1104. Mossworth dispatched police and an
ambulance to the address after the caller “mentioned
someone was stabbed and he mentioned they [sic] weren't
breathing.” Id. at 1105.
Rochester police officer-Wilfredo Carbonel, Jr.-testified
that on April 2, 2011, at 4:09 a.m., he was the first police
officer to arrive at Spirles's apartment in response to a
call about a stabbing. Id. at 573-74. Carbonal saw a
lot of blood on the porch of 123 Evergreen Street.
Id. at 577. When he entered the building, he found
Spirles frantically yelling for help. Id. at 575,
577. She was standing over Biggs who was bleeding profusely
from the neck and chest. See id. at 578-79. Spirles
was applying pressure to his neck to stop the bleeding.
Id. at 579.
son, James Torrance, also was in the apartment. Id.
at 578, 585. Carbonel identified Torrance as the 911 caller.
Id. at 585. After emergency medical services
arrived, Carbonel and Spirles went to her bedroom so that
Spirles could get dressed. Id. at 592-93. Carbonel
observed that there was no blood in Spirles's bedroom.
Id. at 593.
had a short conversation with Spirles after she was dressed.
Id. at 620. Spirles told Carbonel that she was
sleeping when she heard someone knocking on her door.
Id. at 594. When she answered the door, she found
Biggs there, and he immediately stumbled into her arms and
then fell to the floor. Id. at 594. Spirles told
Carbonel that Biggs had a key to her place despite the fact
that “they had been broken up for a period of
time.” Id. Spirles never asked for an
attorney. Id. at 596. After their conversation in
the bedroom, Spirles washed up and Carbonel had her sit in
the back of a police car. Id. at 596.
Gestring, M.D., a trauma surgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital,
testified that Biggs arrived at the hospital on April 2,
2011, with CPR in progress. Id. at 820, 823. Dr.
Gestring said that Biggs “had a stab wound to his left
neck and had apparently bled out at the scene.”
Id. at 823. He testified that “reports from
the scene was that there was a lot of blood loss” and
that this was “consistent with the amount of blood that
was covering him when he arrived.” Id. at 824.
Biggs's “heart had stopped prior to his arrival at
the hospital.” Id. Doctors at the hospital
were able to restore Biggs's heartbeat, but then the
“wound began to hose blood.” Id. at
825-26. Dr. Gestring testified that he was unable to save
Biggs's life that day. Id. at 828.
Investigator John Penkitis testified that on April 2, 2011,
he arrived at Spirles's home at about 6:20 a.m.
Id. at 1119-20. Torrance let him and another police
investigator-Cathy Lucci-into the apartment at about 7:15
a.m., id. at 1124-25, and then was taken to a
Rochester police station for further questioning while the
officers remained at the apartment for about another hour.
Id. at 1130. Later, Penkitis and Lucci went to the
Rochester police station and spoke with Torrance and another
individual. Id. at 1131.
and Lucci also interviewed Spirles at the police station.
Id. at 1131-32. That extensive interview, addressed
in some detail below, was videotaped, and most of the
interview was played for the jury. Docket Item 12-2 at
landlord testified that he had replaced the lock on the front
door on March 30, 2011. Id. at 1278. Spirles had
called [him] and said that she lost the keys or somebody took
her keys from the property and she was uncomfortable with
that fact and asked [him] to replace the dead bolt on her
front door, which is what we did. I came over there. I took
the old lock and installed the brand new one and gave her the
keys for it.
Id. at 1278.
Penkitis and several other police officers who searched
Spriles's apartment testified that they saw a duffel bag
on Spirles's couch just like the one that Thomas gave to
Biggs. Id. at 1163. And the bag had “some
clothing that was packed in it that was folded and placed
inside of it.” Id.
SPIRLES'S STATEMENTS TO LUCCI AND
Spirles's Statements Between 11:07 a.m. and 11:34
Lucci and Penkitis read Spirles her Miranda rights at about
11:07 a.m., Spirles agreed to be interviewed. Spirles said
that she had known Biggs for about nine months and at one
time had a romantic relationship with him. She said that she
and Biggs once lived together during their relationship, but
he “just disappeared” about two weeks before his
death and Spirles did not know where he went.
said that about two days before Biggs's death, his uncle
came to Spirles's house with some of Biggs's
belongings, including some sheets. Spirles told Biggs's
uncle that she did not want Biggs to come back. Nevertheless,
Biggs “just popped up” on the night of his death.
said that when Biggs showed up at her house, “he came
in the room, he stood for a minute, then he walked
back.” He then collapsed and said something about being
stabbed. When Biggs fell, Spirles screamed and Torrance ran
downstairs. She was putting pressure on the stab wound,