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Lao v. Roden

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 17, 2014

AGAPITA LAO, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT GARY RODEN, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NATHANIEL M. GORTON, District Judge.

This habeas petition arises out of the conviction of petitioner Agapita Lao ("Lao") for first-degree murder on June 16, 2009 in Massachusetts Superior Court.

I. Background

A. State Court Proceedings

In June, 2000, Lao was indicted for the murder of his estranged wife. He was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in state prison. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ("SJC") affirmed his conviction in 2005. In 2007, however, it granted his application for further appellate review and a new trial after finding that his trial counsel's failure to object to the admission of testimonial hearsay that violated the Confrontation Clause created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. Commonwealth v. Lao , 877 N.E.2d 557 (Mass. 2007).

A jury convicted Lao of deliberately premeditated firstdegree murder following a second trial in June, 2009 and he was again sentenced to life in state prison. In June, 2011, the SJC affirmed his conviction upon finding, inter alia, that the claims asserted in the instant petition lacked merit.

B. Federal Court Proceedings

In August, 2012, Lao filed a Petition for Relief from a Conviction or Sentence by a Person in State Custody in federal district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The instant petition challenges his state court conviction on the grounds that 1) the trial judge's refusal to instruct the jury on the so-called Bowden defense violated the Due Process Clause and his Sixth Amendment right to present a complete defense and 2) the judge's instructions on deliberate premeditation unconstitutionally lowered the Commonwealth's burden of proof by conflating deliberation and premeditation and failing to define deliberation separately.

II. Legal Analysis

A. Habeas Standard

A federal court sitting in habeas corpus is not tasked with re-examining state-court determinations of state-law issues but rather "is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Estelle v. McGuire , 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). Factual findings made by state courts on direct review are therefore entitled to a presumption of correctness and interpretations of state law are binding. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Bradshaw v. Richey , 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005).

Where, as here, the basis for a petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus was adjudicated on the merits in state court, the petition will be granted only if the state court adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence ...

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