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Serrano v. Medeiros

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 9, 2018

William Serrano, Petitioner,
Sean Medeiros, Respondent.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         In September, 2008, a Worcester County Superior Court jury convicted William Serrano (“Serrano” or “petitioner”) of home invasion and four lesser included offenses. He was sentenced to 20 to 22 years in prison.

         Serrano petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He advances four constitutional violations that allegedly deprived him of a fair trial with due process of law. The first two stem from a missing 911 tape, the second a failure to give a jury instruction on self-defense and the third the improper admission into evidence of medical records.

         I. Background

         Petitioner's conviction arose out of an alleged home invasion in Worcester, Massachusetts in August, 2007. At trial, the prosecution and defense presented competing narratives centering on the conflicting testimony of Serrano and the alleged victim, Russell Harms (“Harms”).

         A. Harms' Account of Being Assaulted

         Harms testified that, on August 13, 2007, he answered the door of his Pleasant Street apartment in Worcester, Massachusetts and was confronted by a large masked man. The man punched and beat Harms with a two-by-four, sending him through his coffee table. During the struggle, the mask came off the assailant's face and Harms identified the attacker as Serrano. The assailant took Harm's wallet, removed his money and threw it on the floor. When the police arrived, they noticed cards scattered on the floor including a Massachusetts ID card belonging to Serrano. Harms used the card to identify Serrano as his assailant.

         B. Serrano's Alternate Account

         According to Serrano, on August 13, 2007, he was at a local bar and left with two men to buy marijuana. The men took him to an apartment complex on Pleasant Street. They told Serrano to wait in the foyer. When he attempted to pay for the marijuana the men lunged for his wallet and proceeded to assault Serrano.

         Harms ran down the stairs and began to beat Serrano with a two-by-four. One of the assailants fled while Harms and the other assailant took Serrano's wallet and ran upstairs.

         One week later, still suffering from injuries as a result of the attack, Serrano went to the hospital. Serrano had heard that there was a warrant out for his arrest and he called 911 intending to self-surrender. After the 911 call an officer came to the hospital to speak with Serrano and he surrendered on the outstanding warrant the following day.

         C. Serrano's Trial

         In a pre-trial motion, Serrano sought to compel the prosecution to provide a record of his 911 call. Initially, the Worcester Police Department could find no record of petitioner's call. As a rebuttal witness at trial, Officer Michael Freidhoff (“Freidhoff”) testified that an officer is always dispatched when a 911 call comes in and that he found no report or dispatch call involving Serrano. In closing, the prosecution focused on the 911 call and officer dispatch discrepancies to impeach Serrano's credibility, concluding

The Commonwealth's case is believable and credible. Russel Harms, believable and credible. Michael Freidhoff, believable and credible. The defendant's testimony is not . . .

         Serrano unsuccessfully moved for a jury instruction on self-defense. He maintained that any injuries he may have caused to Harms were inflicted while Serrano defended himself from the assault in the foyer.

         Finally, Serrano claims that medical statements and records used to impeach him on cross-examination were inadmissible hearsay and in violation of the Confrontation Clause.

         Serrano was convicted of home invasion, armed assault in a dwelling, armed robbery while masked, breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.

         After his conviction, Serrano made a public records request regarding the missing 911 call. A record of that call was then located and provided to appellate counsel.

         II. Procedural History

         Serrano was found guilty at trial and sentenced in September, 2008. In September, 2010, petitioner moved for a new trial. An evidentiary hearing was held and petitioner's motion was denied in August, 2011. A further motion for reconsideration based on new appellate decisions was denied in April, 2013.

         On appeal, Serrano raised six claims: 1) deprivation of his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, 2) insufficient evidence of armed home invasion and armed assault within a dwelling, 3) error in refusal to give a self-defense instruction, 4) representation by the Commonwealth that no 911 call occurred, 5) erroneous admission of medical records and 6) ineffective assistance of counsel. The Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) affirmed his conviction and denied petitioner's motion for new trial in April, 2015. See Massachusetts v. Serrano, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 1114 (Table op.), 2015 WL 1526072 (2015). Petitioner filed a timely application for further appellate review, raising claims ...

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