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Coutu v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 29, 2018

DAVID DANIEL COUTU, Petitioner,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS and ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY, Respondents.

          ORDER ON RESPONDENTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          F. DENNIS SAYLOR, IV UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner was convicted by a jury in 2007 of aggravated rape, home invasion, and mayhem, among other things. Respondents the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Attorney General Maura Healey have filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that at least one of petitioner's claims is unexhausted.[1] For the reasons given below, that motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts of the crimes for which petitioner was convicted are set out in detail in the first decision by the Appeals Court. Commonwealth v. Coutu, 88 Mass.App.Ct. 686 (2015).

         In brief, petitioner broke into the victim's apartment through a hole in the wall from the apartment next door in the early morning of March 9, 2006. Id. at 689-90. The victim heard noises and got up to find him going through a chest of drawers. Id. at 688. He tied her to the bed, and then beat and raped her with a crowbar. Id. at 688-89. The victim blacked out. When she came to, she smelled smoke and saw a box stuck in the hole in the wall on fire. Id. at 689. The wounds to the victim's face were so severe that she required plastic surgery, and “her vagina and rectal areas, were ‘completely macerated'” such that “[h]er ‘normal anatomy could not be identified.'” Id. Among other evidence, the crowbar with the victim's blood on it was found under petitioner's bed. Id. at 691. Blue jeans, also with the victim's blood on them, and with wallboard chips in the pockets matching the wallboard of the hole in the victim's wall, were found in the basement of petitioner's apartment building. Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         Petitioner was convicted by a jury in 2007 of aggravated rape, home invasion, mayhem, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, armed robbery, kidnapping, and attempt to burn personal property. Coutu, 88 Mass.App. at 687. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed the convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury and attempt to burn personal property, but affirmed the other convictions. Id.

         Both petitioner and the Commonwealth filed applications for leave to obtain further appellate review (“ALOFAR”) with the Supreme Judicial Court. The SJC denied petitioner's application outright. Commonwealth v. Coutu, 474 Mass. 1103 (2016). It denied the Commonwealth's application without prejudice specifically as to the reversal of petitioner's conviction for attempt to burn personal property, and remanded the issue to the Appeals Court for reconsideration in light of the SJC's then-recent decision in Commonwealth v. Labrie, 473 Mass. 754 (2016). Coutu, 747 Mass. 1103. On remand, on September 15, 2016, the Appeals Court reinstated petitioner's conviction for attempt to burn personal property. Commonwealth v. Coutu, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 227, 228 (2016). According to the petition, defendant was sentenced to a prison term of 35 to 40 years. (Am. Pet. at 2).

         Petitioner timely filed his petition for habeas relief on April 21, 2017. However, he left Question 12, which required him to “state every ground on which [he] claim[ed] that [he was] being held in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, ” blank. (Pet. at 6). Respondents filed a motion for an order requiring petitioner to comply with Rule 2(c), which, among other things, requires the petition to “specify all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner” and “state the facts supporting each ground.” Rule 2(c) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. The Court granted that motion.

         Petitioner then filed some exhibits and a letter that still did not clearly identify his grounds for relief. The Court granted respondent's second motion for a more definite statement, and petitioner filed an amended petition on December 29, 2017.

         The amended petition recites the following grounds for relief:

GROUND ONE: Amendment V(5) I beli[e]ve, it's printed: nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.
(a) Supporting facts: The panel of three appellate justices had not read, nor listened to the individually submitted appellate briefs and appellate counsel's words durring [sic] my safeguard for justice to prevail. (A safety net) The appeal was not accurately vetted, to properly evaluate. The prosecution biasness was easily seen to hold ...

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