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Winfield v. O'Brien

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 18, 2014

KEITH WINFIELD, Petitioner, Appellant,
STEVEN J. O'BRIEN, Respondent, Appellee

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Robert L. Sheketoff for appellant.

Kris C. Foster, Assistant Attorney General, Massachusetts, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, Massachusetts, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard and Kayatta, Circuit Judges, and McCafferty,[*] District Judge.


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KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal illustrates both the considerable responsibility granted to a jury, and the restricted scope of federal court review of state court convictions. A heinous crime most certainly occurred. Less certain is the perpetrator's identity. No confession, eye-witness testimony, DNA, or similar evidence pointed the finger confidently at any one person. Rather, the direct evidence simply narrowed the list of suspects. A properly instructed Massachusetts Superior Court jury then found that the circumstantial evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the suspects, Keith Winfield, committed the crimes. Now serving a life sentence for assaulting and raping a two-year-old child, Winfield filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeking to invalidate his conviction on two grounds.

First, he claims that the evidence against him was so insufficient that no reasonable jurist could have concluded that a rational jury could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, he claims that the state trial court's refusal to permit him to cross-examine the victim's mother about her potential bias arising from pending criminal charges against her constituted an unreasonable application of the clearly established Sixth Amendment confrontation right. The district court, concluding that the state courts' rejection of Winfield's claims did not constitute an unreasonable application of federal law, denied the petition. We now affirm.

I. Background

A. Factual Summary

The charges on which Winfield was convicted stemmed from the vaginal and anal rape of his two-year-old niece with a curling iron on October 13, 2005. We recount the evidence presented against Winfield largely as it was described in the opinion of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, supplementing that description, where appropriate, with other record facts consistent with the state court's findings. See, e.g., Lynch v. Ficco, 438 F.3d 35, 39 (1st Cir. 2006).

The victim, who was the daughter of Winfield's wife's sister, was born in 2003, and lived with her mother and maternal grandparents in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. In September 2005, the victim's mother, who was seeking employment, began leaving her daughter with Winfield's wife, Patricia, on those days when she was out looking for a job. Winfield and Patricia themselves had two daughters; at the time, one was four years old, and the other was eight months old. Winfield, Patricia, and their two daughters lived on the first floor of a two-family home in Melrose, Massachusetts.

On October 10, 2005, the victim's mother began a job as a radiology assistant in Burlington, Massachusetts. She arranged to have Patricia provide regular daycare for the two-year-old victim beginning on October 11, 2005,[1] for approximately $150

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per week. The victim's mother and Patricia arranged that the victim's mother would drop off the victim at Winfield's home on her way to work in the morning, and the victim's grandmother--the mother of both the victim's mother and Patricia--would pick up the victim at 3:00 p.m.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2005, the victim's mother returned home from work, and, upon changing her daughter's diapers, found bruises on her daughter's arms and legs. She nevertheless returned the victim to Patricia and Winfield's home the next day. That day, after work, she noticed additional bruising on her daughter's face, arms, and abdomen. The victim's mother called Patricia to inquire about the bruises, but both Patricia and Winfield, who was on leave from his job and would later report that he was home on that day, denied knowledge of them.

At the end of the following day, Wednesday, October 12, 2005, the victim's mother noticed more bruises on the victim's arms and stomach. The only evidence of who was with the victim that day (other than her mother) was contained in Winfield's statement to police detectives on November 7, 2005. In that statement, Winfield reported that he did not assist his wife in taking care of the victim that day. Rather, he slept late, then left for approximately four hours, returning just as the grandmother arrived to pick up the victim.

On the morning of Thursday, October 13, 2005, the victim's mother changed the victim's diaper before driving to Patricia's to drop the victim off. The victim's mother noticed nothing of concern in the victim's genital or anal area. She again dropped off the victim at the Winfield home, and went to work. Winfield was asleep when the victim was dropped off, but awoke between 10:30 to 11 a.m. Winfield's father and brother, who lived in the upstairs unit, were not home that day.

The victim's mother testified that over the course of that day, she called Winfield's home from work at least three-to four times. The first call, which went unanswered, was at 12:40 p.m. She called a second time, at 12:55 p.m., and Winfield answered. When the victim's mother asked where Patricia was, Winfield informed her that Patricia had gone to get coffee and would be home soon. When the victim's mother asked where her daughter was, Winfield replied that she was in front of him playing with his younger daughter and a toy. The victim's mother asked to speak to her daughter, and Winfield stated that he was putting her on the telephone. The victim's mother then spoke into the telephone to her daughter for " about twenty minutes," but her daughter was not responsive. The mother's testimony at trial suggested that this was unusual.

The victim's mother called a third time, immediately after hanging up, but the line was busy. The final call took place at 1:17 p.m., and Winfield answered the telephone. When the victim's mother asked Winfield if her daughter was okay, the defendant replied that she was fine and " was just sitting and playing."

When the grandmother arrived at Winfield's home to pick up the victim that afternoon, Winfield and Patricia were both at home, and the victim was sleeping. After a few minutes, the victim awoke and ran to her grandmother, crying. As they went to the car, the grandmother tried to get the victim to walk, but she refused, and continued to cry. As an explanation, Winfield offered only " maybe her legs are still asleep." The victim continued to cry all the ...

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