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Cooley v. Gaffney

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 21, 2018

EDWARD COOLEY, Petitioner,
ERIN GAFFNEY, Respondent.



         Edward Cooley, a prisoner at the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he raises two challenges to his convictions and sentences. The respondent has opposed the petition. Because his claims are meritless, Cooley's petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September 2011, following a jury trial in Hampden County Superior Court, Cooley was convicted of first-degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and wilful interference with a criminal investigation, all in violation of Massachusetts law. Commonwealth v. Cooley, 78 N.E.3d 77, 79 (Mass. 2017); Doc. No. 1 at 1-2;[1] S.A. at 1-2, 8.[2] He received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Doc. No. 1 at 1; S.A. at 8.

         The charges against Cooley arose from a shooting in Springfield. Cooley, 78 N.E.3d at 49. The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) summarized the evidence presented at trial as follows:

At approximately 12:20 A.M. on March 20, 2010, . . . a witness heard two shots fired. She looked out her window and saw two men speaking in a “panicking way”; the men then ran in opposite directions. Other witnesses also heard the gunshots, soon followed by the sound of a motor vehicle crashing. The victim's motor vehicle had crashed through a fence, struck another vehicle, and come to a stop in the yard of one of the witnesses. The victim was slumped over in the driver's seat and bleeding heavily.
As the witnesses approached the vehicle, [Cooley], wearing a leather jacket, ran up yelling, “It's my god-brother, ” and “Don't call the cops[;] the guy[']s got weed on him.” He climbed into the vehicle, pulled the victim slightly toward him while patting him down, and took the victim's cellular telephone. He also took a bag from behind the victim's seat, where police later found two bags containing marijuana. After getting out of the motor vehicle, [Cooley] told the witnesses to telephone the police and left the scene. . . . [T]he victim sustained injuries consistent with a bullet traveling through his right arm and into his chest. He was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital.
Police were directed to [Cooley], who had since returned to the area (without his leather jacket). [Cooley] was interviewed at the scene and twice more at the police station. As investigators uncovered further evidence, [Cooley] changed portions of his statement. For example, after first denying it, he eventually admitted that the leather jacket, found hidden a short distance away from where the victim and his vehicle had crashed, was his. The jacket tested positive for gunshot primer residue on the cuffs, indicating that the jacket may have been within three feet of a gun when it was fired. The jacket also was stained with blood that matched . . . the victim. [Cooley] admitted to taking the victim's cellular telephone from the motor vehicle after the crash only after police recovered it from a motor vehicle belonging to [Cooley's] girlfriend.
Other portions of [Cooley's] statements to police were proved false at trial. For example, [Cooley] stated that he had happened to meet the victim at a pharmacy store hours before the shooting, but surveillance video recordings from inside and outside the store showed the victim there alone. [Cooley's] claim that he had been on the telephone with the victim at the time of the shooting was belied by telephone records that showed that there were no telephone calls between [Cooley] and the victim at any point prior to the shooting.
The telephone records also showed that . . . both [Cooley and the victim] were in touch with a third party, who had a telephone number ending in 7471, in the hours before the killing. There were numerous calls between the victim's number and the 7471 number, culminating with a call made minutes before the shooting. In addition, the records indicated that there were calls during the night prior to the shooting between [Cooley's] number and the 7471 number until 9:42 P.M. Another call was made from [Cooley's] number to the 7471 number soon after [Cooley] finished giving his second statement at the police station.

Id. at 79-80.

         The prosecution's theory of the case was that Cooley “and an unidentified person were involved in a joint venture to rob the victim, that either one or the other shot the victim during the course of the robbery, and that [Cooley] completed the robbery after the shooting at the site of the crash.” Id. at 80. The jury returned a general verdict, convicting Cooley of murder without specifying whether they had concluded he was the shooter. S.A. at 21.

         Cooley filed a timely direct appeal challenging the trial court's denial of his motion for a judgment of acquittal on the murder, armed robbery, and firearms charges. S.A. at 9; Doc. No. 1 at 2. Shortly thereafter, Cooley's trial counsel learned from the prosecutor that, during an interview conducted by police months before Cooley's trial regarding an unrelated murder, a witness said he had heard another man (not Cooley) confess to having shot the victim in Cooley's case. Cooley, 78 N.E.3d at 82. In light of this disclosure, Cooley filed a motion for a new trial alleging a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). S.A. at 9; Cooley, 78 N.E.3d at 79. The trial court denied Cooley's motion after a hearing, S.A. at 14-32, and the SJC consolidated his appeal of that ruling with his direct appeal, Cooley, 78 N.E.3d at 79. The SJC affirmed Cooley's convictions and sentence in a July 13, 2017 decision. Id.

         In his timely federal habeas petition, Cooley advances the same two challenges considered and rejected by the SJC: 1) that the prosecution violated its Brady obligations when it failed to disclose the witness statement concerning another man's admission “to having done the murder, ” Doc. No. 1 at 5; and 2) that the evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty of murder, armed ...

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