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Wood v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 7, 2017

William Wood Petitioner,
Kelly Ryan Respondent.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge.

         William Wood (“Wood” or “petitioner”) was convicted of first-degree murder in Massachusetts Superior Court in 2009. He timely appealed that conviction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”). The appeal consisted of nine claims, including, inter alia, use of perjured testimony, sleeping juror, prosecutor's press release influenced the jury, use of hearsay testimony and an inconsistent verdict. The SJC affirmed Wood's convictions in August, 2014. Commonwealth v. Wood, 469 Mass. 266, 269 (2014). Wood filed this petition for habeas corpus in August, 2015, seeking federal relief from his state court conviction.

         I. Background

         Wood and co-defendant Quincy Butler (“Butler”) were tried and convicted by a jury for the murder of Betsy Tripp. Among several convictions returned relating to the incident, Wood was convicted of first-degree murder and Butler of second-degree murder.

         As a capital offense, Wood's first-degree murder conviction was reviewed by the SJC on direct appeal. See M.G.L. c. 278 § 33E. The SJC issued a decision in Wood's appeal in August, 2014. Wood, 469 Mass. at 266 (2014). Wood then timely filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus, pro se, in this Court in August, 2015.

         At trial, Wood and Butler purportedly challenged six peremptory juror strikes made by the government under Batson. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 139 (1986). Wood alleges that the trial judge did not follow the proper procedure for Batson challenges because he did not require the government to provide a neutral explanation for those strikes. Although those claims were properly preserved at trial, Wood did not raise his Batson claims in his appeal before the SJC. Wood, 469 Mass. at 269 (2014).

         Because second-degree murder is not a capital offense in Massachusetts, see M.G.L. c. 278 § 33E, Butler's direct appeal followed standard appellate procedure and was decided in November, 2016, more than two years after Wood's appeal was filed. Commonwealth v. Butler, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 599, 599 (2016). Butler's appellate brief tracked Wood's brief in large part but included the Batson claims.

         The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed Butler's conviction but the three-judge panel was split, with each judge writing a separate opinion. Id. at 599, 608, 612. Judge Rubin criticized the ruling of the Court and opined that Butler was “entitled at least to a remand to the trial court to allow the Commonwealth to explain its challenges.” Id. at 617 (Rubin, J., dissenting). Concurring “with the majority opinion in every respect” but writing to add procedural context, Judge Trainor found it “inexplicabl[e]” that Wood did not include the Batson claims in his appellate brief to the SJC. Id. at 609, 610 (Trainor, J., concurring).

         Based on the limited success of his co-defendant, Wood seeks to move for a new trial. He moves for this Court to stay his petition and hold it in abeyance pending the disposition of his motion for a new trial. If that motion is successful, his habeas petition would become moot. If it is unsuccessful, however, he plans to file a motion to amend his habeas petition to include his claims based upon Batson and ineffective assistance of counsel.

         I. Motion for Stay and Abeyance

         A. Legal Standard

         An individual who petitions for habeas corpus relief is generally required to exhaust all claims in state court before seeking federal relief. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-19 (1982). When a petition contains a mixture of exhausted and unexhausted claims, however, a court may exercise its discretion to stay the petition and hold it in abeyance until all claims are exhausted. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277-78 (2005). For a United States District Court to grant a stay, the petitioner must demonstrate that there was good cause for failing to exhaust state remedies, the claims are potentially meritorious and he is not intentionally engaging in dilatory tactics. Josselyn v. Dennehy, 475 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rhines, 544 U.S. at 278). All three factors must be established to justify a stay of the petition. Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277-78.

         When a petition does not present unexhausted claims but a petitioner plans to amend his the petition, it may be treated as analogous to a mixed petition under the Rhines framework. See Lessieur v. Ryan, No. 16-CV-10831, 2016 WL 3561877, at *1 (D. Mass. June 27, 2016)(treating a motion to stay a habeas petition to allow future amendment like a mixed petition); Roman v. Ryan, No. 12-30160-TSH, 2014 WL 5112112, at *2 (D. Mass. Oct. 10, 2014)(recognizing that a petitioner seeking further state review of an otherwise exhausted habeas petition is analogous to a mixed petition).

         B. ...

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