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Linton v. Saba

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 25, 2014

DAMION LINTON, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES SABA, Defendant

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF DECISION

TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Nature of the Case

Damion Linton ("Petitioner") filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus as a person in state custody in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Following a jury trial in Massachusetts Superior Court, Petitioner was convicted of murder in the first degree by means of extreme atrocity or cruelty and was sentenced to life without parole. The conviction was affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") on April 16, 2010. Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the following grounds:

Ground One: The admission at trial of statements made by the deceased victim to her father about a prior assault by Petitioner violated Petitioner's constitutional right to confront witnesses against him.
Ground Two: The conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence and therefore violated Petitioner's constitutional right to due process.
Ground Three: Defense counsel's failure to challenge the testimony of the Commonwealth's medical examiner and to pursue a "third-party murderer" theory violated Petitioner's constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel.

Background

Petitioner was found guilty of murder in the first degree by means of extreme atrocity or cruelty for the murder of his wife, Andrea Harvey. The victim was found strangled in the apartment she shared with Petitioner on February 24, 2005. Following a jury trial in Massachusetts Superior Court, Petitioner was sentenced to state prison for a term of life without parole. Petitioner appealed to the SJC, challenging both the conviction and the order of the trial judge denying his motion for a new trial.[1] On April 16, 2010, the SJC affirmed Petitioner's conviction and the order denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial. Commonwealth v. Linton , 456 Mass. 534, 561, 924 N.E.2d 722 (2010). In its opinion, the SJC summarized in extensive detail the evidence presented at trial. Id. at 535-543, 924 N.E.2d 722. That evidence is briefly recounted below.

Facts

Petitioner began having an affair with Latricia Carter in February of 2005. Petitioner had not told Carter he was married. On the morning of February 23, Carter went to visit Petitioner at his apartment. When Carter arrived, Petitioner came down from the apartment and got into Carter's vehicle. Once Petitioner got into the car, Carter discovered that he had been in an argument with the victim inside the apartment. Still unaware that Petitioner was married, Carter demanded to know the nature of the relationship between Petitioner and the victim. Petitioner admitted that the victim lived with him. This made Carter upset, and she began to argue with Petitioner. While Petitioner was in Carter's vehicle, the victim came out to the street, saw Carter and Petitioner in the car, and exclaimed "Oh, my gosh, another woman." After being discovered by the victim, Carter and Petitioner drove away and circled the neighborhood. Carter dropped Petitioner off shortly thereafter. Carter next heard from Petitioner around 1:30 pm that afternoon. Petitioner told her that once Carter dropped him off, he and the victim argued about Carter, that he "had to pack a bag and leave" and asked if he could stay with Carter. Carter refused. A videotape and bank records admitted at trial showed that Petitioner withdrew one hundred dollars from Cambridge Trust bank at 1:30 pm that same afternoon.

In the early morning of February 24, Petitioner arrived in North Carolina and began staying with his brother. That same day, he applied for a job at a Wal-Mart where his brother was employed. Petitioner told the general manager of the store that he had had an argument with his wife in Boston and that he was moving to Raleigh and looking for a full-time job. Also on February 24, Petitioner called the victim's parents. Over the phone, Petitioner told the victim's parents that he was in North Carolina where his brother lived, he had left the apartment at 10 am the previous day, he couldn't get in touch with the victim, and he was worried about the victim. When Petitioner provided conflicting details about his interactions with the victim in the hours before he left for North Carolina, the victim's parents became alarmed and went to check on their daughter. When they arrived, the apartment was locked. After obtaining keys from the building's rental agent, they entered the apartment and discovered the victim's body on the floor. Her body was stiff because rigor mortis had set in. Police officers investigating the crime scene testified that there were no signs of forced entry into the apartment.

On February 25, Massachusetts state police interviewed Petitioner by telephone. Petitioner provided shifting explanations to the police of how and why he left for North Carolina. On February 26, Petitioner called a friend of the victim, Denise Williams, and told her that he and the victim had "got into a fight, and things went bad, and I left." Later that day he was arrested for the victim's murder.

At trial, the Commonwealth's medical examiner, Dr. Richard Evans, testified that the victim's death was due to manual strangulation. Dr. Evans offered the opinion that the victim died between eight and twenty-four hours before the time the body was photographed by police on February 24. This placed the earliest possible time of death around midday on Wednesday, February 23, the same day the victim discovered Petitioner's affair with Carter. The Commonwealth's forensic DNA analyst testified that scrapings taken from the victim's fingernails suggested that male DNA was present and Petitioner could not be excluded as a potential source of that DNA.

Procedural History

Following his conviction at trial Petitioner appealed to the SJC, raising the following claims: (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the jury's verdict; (2) the trial judge erred by admitting into evidence the victim's statements about a previous assault on her by Petitioner; (3) the trial judge erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the elements of involuntary manslaughter; and (4) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel by the failure of trial counsel to challenge certain aspects of the Commonwealth's case. Linton , 456 Mass. at 535-36, 924 N.E.2d 722. The SJC rejected each of Petitioner's claims. Id. at 735, 738, 739, 740-41, 924 N.E.2d 722. Pursuant to its duty to review the entire record in a capital case under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278 § 33E, the SJC addressed two additional evidentiary issues not raised by Petitioner on appeal: (1) whether a videotape of Petitioner withdrawing money from an ATM around the time of the murder was properly admitted; and (2) whether DNA evidence taken from the victim was properly admitted. The SJC found no error that produced a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice and accordingly affirmed Petitioner's conviction. Id. at 744, 924 N.E.2d 722.

The SJC's ruling became final 90 days later upon expiration of Petitioner's time for filing a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. See Kater v. Maloney , 459 F.3d 56, 66 n.8 (1st Cir. 2006) (citing Caspari v. Bohlen , 510 U.S. 383, 390, 114 S.Ct. 948, 127 L.Ed.2d 236 (1994)) (stating that a state conviction and sentence becomes final "when the availability of direct appeal to the state courts has been exhausted and the time for filing a petition for a writ of certiorari has elapsed or a timely filed petition has been finally denied."); see also Sup.Ct. R. 13.1 (providing that a petition for writ of certiorari is timely when filed with the Supreme Court within 90 days after entry of judgment). On July 8, 2011, Petitioner timely filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court.[2] Petitioner asserts that the SJC's rulings on (1) the confrontation clause; (2) the sufficiency of evidence; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel are contrary ...


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