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Santana v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 12, 2018

RAMON SANTANA, Petitioner,
KELLY RYAN, Respondent.



         Petitioner Ramon Santana was convicted in February 2001 of two counts of murder in the first degree, possession of a firearm without a license, armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, and armed home invasion. Presently pending before this Court is Santana's petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [ECF No. 1]. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, and construing Petitioner's pleadings liberally because he is proceeding pro se, this Court denies his petition for a writ of habeas corpus for the reasons set forth below.


         The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) provided an account of the facts as the jury could have found them, which is summarized in relevant part below. See Commonwealth v. Santana, 988 N.E.2d 825, 825-45 (Mass. 2013).[1]

         Gregory Cantela, Sr. (“Gregory Sr.”) and his friend Abraham Candelario were found shot to death in Gregory Sr.'s apartment in Holyoke, Massachusetts on January 3, 2000. Edrike Roman, Gregory Sr.'s seven-year-old stepson, discovered the bodies when he came home from school. Edrike also found his four-year-old brother, Gregory Jr., who was shot in the neck and chest, in his bedroom, where he had been watching a movie. Gregory Jr. told Edrike that his father's friend “Rev” shot him. Edrike asked his friend Louie, who had been waiting to play with him after school and was in the hallway outside the apartment, to get Louie's mother, Maritza Mattei. After Mattei got to the apartment, she attempted to comfort Gregory Jr. until medical help arrived, and Gregory Jr. told her, “[m]y father's friend shot my father, and he shot my father's friend, and he hit me in the face with the gun.” Mattei said the friend's name sounded like “Riv.”[2] When paramedics arrived, Gregory Jr. begged, “Don't let him shoot me again.” When asked, “Who did this to you?” he replied that either “Rev” or “Reb” had shot him.

         As paramedics transported Gregory Jr. to a hospital, the boys' mother, Elizabeth Garcia, telephoned from work after she had tried to reach Gregory Sr. earlier that day. Edrike told Garcia that Gregory Jr. said “Rev” shot him. When Garcia arrived home, she told police that “Rev” was a friend of her husband, and that she had known “Rev” for about five years. She went to the police station, where she identified a photograph of Petitioner as the person she knew as “Rev, ” and drove with police to several locations where “Rev” might be found. On the day after the shooting, a State trooper and a Holyoke police officer spoke with Gregory Jr. at the hospital; he told officers “Rev” shot him. The officers spoke with Gregory Jr. again on January 20, 2000 at another hospital, where he identified a photograph of Petitioner as the person who shot him, circled the photograph, and wrote his name on it. The day after the shooting, Garcia asked police about a gold chain that she had given Gregory Sr. as a birthday gift and that he wore every day, including when she left for work on the morning of the shooting. Garcia described its distinctive “Cuban link” style, and on January 20, drew a picture of the chain.

         On the afternoon of the shooting, Petitioner had planned to meet his sister Angelica Cruz outside a restaurant at 1:30 P.M., but Petitioner was twenty minutes late. While they shopped at a local mall, Petitioner gave Cruz two used PlayStation video games. Gregory Sr. and Candelario had been playing PlayStation at the time of the murder, but the cartridge was empty when police arrived at the scene. Petitioner was unemployed, had been using cocaine extensively in the previous weeks, and owed his drug connection several thousand dollars. Due to the outstanding debt, the “connect” refused to supply Petitioner with more drugs. In late December, Petitioner and two acquaintances had seen Gregory Sr. in his apartment with a large quantity of cash, and his friends knew he tended to have cash on hand. When Cruz and Petitioner returned home, their mother told Cruz that the police had been looking for Petitioner, and that he had to leave. His sister Yvette Negron found him sleeping on the couch in her New York City apartment on the morning of January 4.

         On January 5, Petitioner arrived at the home of a childhood friend, Daniel Cotto, in Jersey City. Petitioner was wearing a gold chain, but later said he needed money and planned to pawn the chain, and he stopped wearing the chain the next day. After he had been at Cotto's apartment for a few days, Petitioner told Cotto that he had “shot two dudes” named “Abraham and Greg” in Massachusetts, and he had to “get out.” He said he had shot each at least twice in the head, and showed Cotto an ammunition clip to prove he was not making it up. Petitioner also said he had to return to Massachusetts to kill the sole witness, “Joseph.” He asked Cotto if he could have Cotto's Social Security card as identification so he could go to Puerto Rico. When Cotto declined, Petitioner asked Cotto to take identification from Cotto's brother-in-law, but Cotto refused.

         On January 12, 2000, Jersey City police officers arrested Petitioner on a fugitive from justice warrant on the street outside Cotto's apartment. Massachusetts State Troopers George Beaupre and Ronald Gibbons and Detective Emil Morales of the Holyoke Police Department left Massachusetts early that afternoon and arrived at Jersey City police headquarters at approximately 6:15 P.M. that evening to interview Petitioner. The interview began at 6:43 P.M. Beaupre told Petitioner he would read him his Miranda rights. Handing Petitioner a Miranda waiver card, Beaupre asked if he was able to read English. Petitioner replied that he could, and that he “knew his rights.” Beaupre read aloud from his copy of the card, asking Petitioner to initial each line if he understood the respective right, and to let Beaupre know if he did not understand. Beaupre then asked if Petitioner wished to speak to the officers. He replied, “I will talk to you, but I'm not signing anything without a lawyer.” Petitioner signed the card at 6:43 P.M. then added, “I'm not signing anything else.”

         Petitioner proceeded to answer questions for several hours. Around 10 P.M., they took a half-hour break so Petitioner could eat some takeout food the officers ordered for him. Sometime between 12:30 and 12:45 A.M., when Petitioner asked how Cruz was doing, Beaupre replied that she was worried about him, and that she had spoken with officers because she would “rather see [Petitioner] locked up, so I can see him, talk to him, and write to him. He would still be here with the family.” Petitioner broke down sobbing uncontrollably “for five or six minutes, ” then said there had never been any “bad blood” between himself and Gregory Sr., and “what's right on the street isn't always right.” After approximately five minutes, he stated he could not “say any more.” Beaupre and Gibbons left the room, and Morales stayed with him and engaged him in what the motion judge termed “conversation.” Petitioner continued to speak, saying repeatedly he “didn't do it.” Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Petitioner said that he could not “say anything more.” The interview ended.

         When the officers first arrived to interview Petitioner, his inventoried property was on a desk in the detective squad room. While Beaupre read the Miranda warnings, Gibbons “glanced” over at the desk and saw an unfolded receipt from a pawn shop, with the name “Jemma Loan Company” printed in large red and gold letters at the top. Gibbons observed that the ticket, in the name “Ismail Bonilla, ” was for a “10K chain & rel. pendant” and a “10K bracelet.” Aware of Gregory Sr.'s missing gold chain, Gibbons recognized the pawn ticket as potential evidence. The police did not individually inventory the pawn ticket on Petitioner's property log, which contained an entry for “miscellaneous papers.” The ticket remained in the custody of the Jersey City police until February 3, when Jersey City officers, acting on an affidavit from a Massachusetts officer, obtained a warrant to seize the chain, and the Massachusetts and Jersey City officers jointly executed the warrant.

         Petitioner was arraigned in Jersey City on the fugitive from justice warrant on January 13. After Petitioner waived rendition on Tuesday, January 18, Jersey City officers sent a notice to Gibbons stating that Massachusetts police must pick up Petitioner “within [ten] days of the waiver date, ” and that they must do so on a day when the New Jersey courts were in session. The officers picked up Petitioner on January 24. As the cruiser left the sally port, Beaupre again read Petitioner his Miranda rights, and asked him to sign a Miranda waiver form. After a dinner stop, Petitioner said, “I will say the whole story, I will give a statement, but I want to collect my thoughts.” There was no further questioning during the remainder of the trip. They arrived at the Holyoke police station at approximately 10 P.M. Saying he wanted “to get it done, ” Petitioner asked to make a statement before being booked so he could sleep. Gibbons typed as Petitioner spoke, and a number of times, Gibbons had to ask Petitioner to slow down so he could enter everything accurately. Shortly before 1 A.M., Gibbons printed the statement. Petitioner reviewed and initialed each page, indicating written changes on several pages, and asked Gibbons to initial the changes. Petitioner signed the statement at 1:58 A.M.

         On the first day of the trial, the judge conducted a voir dire to determine if Gregory Jr. and his brother Edrike were competent to testify. At the prosecutor's request, Beaupre asked both children if they had recognized anyone in the court room, and they named several people who had been there, but did not name Petitioner. After they left the court house, Gregory Jr. and Edrike both asked their mother, Garcia, whether “Rev” had been in the court room, and she replied that he had. Upon their continued questioning, she explained he had been sitting at the counsel table next to his attorney. Although the prosecutor learned from Beaupre shortly after the voir dire that the boys had not recognized “Rev” in the court room, he called Gregory Jr. to the stand the following day without disclosing this information to Petitioner. At the conclusion of his testimony, when asked to identify “Rev, ” Gregory Jr. pointed to the defendant's table. The prosecutor later stated he was “supris[ed]” when Gregory Jr. identified Petitioner as “Rev, ” but he did not request a sidebar or a recess in the trial proceedings prior to cross-examination. During a subsequent recess, after Gregory Jr. had been excused, the prosecutor spoke with Garcia and she told him about her conversation with her sons after they left the courthouse on the previous day.

         After Gregory Jr.'s testimony, at sidebar the prosecutor described Garcia's actions and the boys' inability to identify “Rev” the previous day. Over the defendant's objection, the prosecutor agreed to put before the jury Gregory Jr.'s inability to identify “Rev” through questioning of Garcia, the Commonwealth's next witness. The judge also allowed the defendant's motion, made before Garcia testified and then renewed after her testmony, that Gregory Jr.'s identification testimony be struck, and instructed in his charge that testimony which had been struck could not be considered. Immediately before closing arguments, the judge read a stipulation by the parties that Gregory Jr. had been unable to identify the defendant as “Rev” in the court room.

         After Petitioner was convicted in February 2001, he timely filed his direct appeal, but the appeal did not proceed. In 2007, new appellate counsel was appointed and, in July 2009, Petitioner filed a motion for a new trial. In November 2009, the motion judge conducted a nonevidentiary hearing, and determined an evidentiary hearing was necessary. That hearing occurred in March 2010. The judge thereafter denied Petitioner's motion. The appeal from that denial was consolidated with his direct appeal. The SJC ultimately affirmed Petitioner's convictions. On October 24, 2014, Santana filed the present petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [ECF No. 1], along with his memorandum of law in support of the petition [ECF No. 5]. On July 20, 2015, Ryan filed her memorandum of law in opposition. [ECF No. 46].


         A federal district court's review of a state criminal conviction is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). AEDPA permits federal courts to grant habeas relief after final state adjudication of a federal constitutional claim only if that adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite of that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently from the Supreme Court's decision on a materially indistinguishable set of facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent if the state court identifies the correct legal rule but unreasonably applies it to the facts. Id. at 413. An unreasonable application requires “some increment of incorrectness beyond error.” Norton v. Spencer, 351 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted). Lastly, a court bases its judgment on an unreasonable determination of the facts if the decision is “objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003); see Sanchez v. Roden, 753 F.3d 279, 299 (1st Cir. 2014) (requiring petitioner show the state court decision applied clearly established law in a way that was “objectively unreasonable”). Thus, to obtain habeas relief, “a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).


         In his petition, Petitioner presents six grounds for habeas relief: (1) the SJC's refusal to grant relief was an unreasonable application of Brady v. State of Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963) and its progeny after the prosecutor violated Petitioner's due process rights; (2) the SJC's application of Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 146, 147 (1990) to the facts of the case was unreasonable because the trial judge should have suppressed the signed statement; (3) the SJC was unreasonable in its application of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 473-74 (1966) and its progeny in evaluating the police conduct after his arrest; (4) the SJC was unreasonable in finding that if there was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights regarding the seizure of the pawn ticket, the chain, and all evidence derived from these items, it was not prejudicial; (5) other serious constitutional errors require reversal of the SJC's decision; and (6) trial counsel was ineffective for abandoning a “cocaine psychosis” defense and for failing to request a voluntary intoxication instruction.

         A. Ground One: Unreasonable Application of Brady

         In his first ground for relief, Petitioner claims the SJC unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent in holding he suffered no prejudice from the prosecutor's failure to timely disclose Gregory Jr.'s inability to identify him. Additionally, Petitioner presents three problems with the SJC's reasoning: (1) counsel lost the chance to include Gregory Jr.'s failure to identify him in his opening; (2) counsel lost the opportunity to interview Garcia prior to his opening so he could include her coaching of Gregory Jr. in his statement; and (3) counsel was unable to structure his cross-examination of Gregory Jr. so as to highlight his inability to recognize Petitioner as the alleged shooter only one year after the crime.

         “The threshold question is what constitutes ‘clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.'” Clements v. Clarke, 592 F.3d 45, 56 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 72 (2003)); Kater v. Maloney, 459 F.3d 56, 63-64 (1st Cir. 2006) (“[S]tate habeas petitioners may not seek release on federal law grounds which have yet to be clearly established.”). Pursuant to Brady v. State of Maryland, a State violates a defendant's right to due process when it withholds “evidence that is material to his guilt or punishment.” Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 469 (2009) (citing Brady, 373 U.S. at 87); see United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (1985) (holding evidence is “material” within Brady's meaning when there is a reasonable probability that, had the prosecution disclosed the evidence, the trial proceedings would have resulted differently).

         “Under Brady, the prosecutor has a duty to make available to the defense exculpatory evidence, including evidence useful for impeachment, possessed by the prosecution team or its agents.” Lopez v. Massachusetts, 480 F.3d 591, 594 (1st Cir. 2007); see Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 153-54 (1972) (noting nondisclosure of evidence affecting witness credibility falls within general Brady rules, but the rules do not automatically require a new trial whenever the defense could have possibly used late-disclosed evidence if it was unlikely to have changed the verdict). “To prevail on a federal Brady claim, ‘a habeas petitioner must demonstrate: (1) the evidence at issue is favorable to him because it is exculpatory or impeaching; (2) the Government suppressed the evidence; and (3) prejudice ensued from the suppression (i.e., the suppressed evidence was material to guilt or punishment).'” Zuluaga v. Spencer, 585 F.3d 27, 30 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Conley v. United States, 415 F.3d 183, 188 (1st Cir. 2005)). The third “prong of the Brady analysis turns on whether a reasonable probability exists that disclosure of the evidence at issue would have altered the result of the proceeding.” Zuluaga, 585 F.3d ...

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