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Wadlington v. Mitchell

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 29, 2019

LISA MITCHELL, Respondent.


          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Petitioner Vincent Wadlington (“Wadlington”) has filed a petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus (“Petition”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. D. 1. Respondent Lisa Mitchell, Superintendent of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, opposes the Petition on the grounds that Wadlington's claims either fail on the merits or are procedurally defaulted. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the Petition.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) requires this Court to review the Petition to determine whether the state court adjudication either “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law” or “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)(1)-(2). “Clearly established federal law” for the purposes of § 2254(d) “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 660-61 (2004) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)). State court decisions are “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent if they either “appl[y] a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases” or “confront[] a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrive[] at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06. State court decisions involve an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law if they “correctly identif[y] the governing legal rule but appl[y] it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.” Id. at 407-08.

         For the purposes of § 2254(d)(2), any factual determinations made by a state court are “presumed to be correct” unless rebutted by “clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). “[A] decision adjudicated on the merits in a state court and based on a factual determination will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

         III. Relevant Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are drawn from the Bristol Superior Court's rulings denying Wadlington's suppression motions and motion for a new trial, the trial transcripts for Wadlington's trial and the opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court affirming Wadlington's convictions on appeal.

         A. The Commission of the Crimes

         Shortly before Christmas in 2005, Wadlington met William Fields and Leslie Cole through a mutual acquaintance. S.A. 94, 791.[1] Fields and Cole had been planning a robbery, but their efforts were hindered because they lacked a firearm. S.A. 94. The mutual acquaintance introduced Fields and Cole to Wadlington because she knew Wadlington possessed a gun. S.A. 791. The mutual acquaintance knew Wadlington only as “Blue” and introduced him as such to Fields and Cole. S.A. 94. On December 24, 2005 the three “devised a plan to rob a drug dealer's home.” S.A. 791. To execute this plan, they travelled in Cole's car to Brockton, where they acquired a .22 caliber rifle, and then to a residence in New Bedford, where they acquired dark clothing to wear during the robbery. S.A. 791. Shortly before midnight, the trio travelled to the apartment of Christopher Busby (“Busby”) in New Bedford, which would be the target of their armed robbery. S.A. 791. Busby was there with Rudolph Santos, Busby's friend, when Wadlington, Cole and Fields approached his apartment's back door. S.A. 791. Although Busby initially denied them entry, he eventually opened the door, at which point the three were able to force themselves inside, after which a fight broke out. S.A. 94, 791.

         Cole and Fields began to fight with Busby as Wadlington fought with Santos. S.A. 791. Shortly after the fight began, Fields returned to Cole's car, “drove to a nearby house where he knew the occupants and told them to call the police because he heard gunshots.”[2] S.A. 792. While Fields was gone, Wadlington and Cole acquired the keys to the house's cellar from Santos, despite Busby's effort to stop them by wounding Cole with a samurai sword. S.A. 792. One of the men then went down to the cellar, presumably to look for drugs, but came upstairs to ask “[w]here is it? [w]here is it?” S.A. 792; S.A. 94. Busby then recalled hearing was a gunshot. S.A. 792. Fields eventually returned and the three men fled by foot. S.A. 792.

         Police arrived at the scene shortly before 1:00 a.m., where they found Santos dead and Busby covered in blood with a black sheath to a sword lying next to him. S.A. 792. Busby survived the attack, but suffered from multiple puncture wounds. S.A. 792. Two days after the robbery, Fields and Cole drove to the ocean, where they discarded the samurai sword and the clothes Cole had worn during the crime. S.A. 792.

         B. The Police Investigation

         Following the crime, Trooper Scott A. Flaherty conducted a series of interviews, the results of which he conveyed through his affidavit in support of a search warrant of the residence of Wadlington's girlfriend's residence in New Bedford. S.A. 618-26. He attested to the substance of these interviews in his affidavit. Id. Among other things, he attested in his affidavit that Fields told him that “after formulating their plan on the evening of December 24, 2005, to commit the robbery, he, Cole, and [Wadlington] traveled in Cole's automobile to a home on County Street in New Bedford that he believed was the residence of [Wadlington's] girl friend” and retrieved the sawed-off rifle. S.A. 795. (Later, prior to trial, Fields would assert that they had traveled to a residence in New Bedford where Wadlington had retrieved the firearm, S.A. 795).

         Wadlington spoke to officers investigating the robbery and murder on January 12, 2006, while he was in custody at the Plymouth House of Correction for an unrelated motor vehicle charge. S.A. 109. Before the interview, a corrections officer informed Wadlington that two police officers wished to speak with him. S.A. 110. Further, the corrections officer told Wadlington that he would hear his Miranda rights first and that Wadlington could speak to the officers if he wanted to but did not have to. S.A. 110. Before speaking with the officers, Wadlington was informed of his Miranda rights orally and through a written form. S.A. 110-11; S.A. 794. The police also advised him of his Miranda rights, and presented Wadlington with a consent form, which included a “fifth” Miranda warning, that provided, “[i]f you decide to answer questions, you may stop at any time to consult with a lawyer.” S.A. 119. Wadlington signed the portion of the consent form that indicated he had been informed of his Miranda rights but refused to sign the part of the consent form which indicated he had not been coerced into signing it. S.A. 794-95.

         Once the interview started, Wadlington repeatedly asked the officers what prompted their visit and what they were interviewing him about. S.A. 112. Eventually, the police showed Wadlington pictures of Busby and Santos and asked whether Wadlington knew either, to which Wadlington responded that he did not. S.A. 112-13. An officer then explained that there had been a drug theft which had resulted in one victim's death and another's injury by stab wounds. S.A. 113. He further explained that he knew that Cole, Wadlington and a third man gathered on Christmas Eve on North Street, after which the men entered Cole's car and drove to get the gun and then to Hillman Street. S.A. 113. In the interview, Wadlington “denied any involvement in the killing and denied knowing Cole.” S.A. 792-93. He claimed to have been “at home with his girl friend, ” Janelle Morales, on the night of the incident. S.A. 793. Before the interview ended, the officers contacted Morales who would not corroborate Wadlington's alibi, at which point Wadlington invoked his right to stop answering questions by asking, “[c]an I please leave without my lawyer being present?” S.A. 114.

         C. Wadlington is Charged and His Pretrial and Trial Proceedings

         Wadlington was indicted on March 3, 2006, on charges of first degree murder, assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and armed home invasion. S.A. 5; S.A. 364. Wadlington moved to suppress the statements he made to police on January 12, 2006. S.A. 108. The trial court noted that “the so-called fifth Miranda warning” in the written consent form “improperly qualified Wadlington's right to stop questioning at any time by tying that right to Wadlington's consultations with a lawyer.” S.A. 119. Wadlington conceded that he understood his rights, but argued that his waiver of his Miranda rights was not knowing and voluntary. S.A. 119. The trial court concluded that Wadlington's waiver was voluntary, because Wadlington demonstrated throughout the interview that he desired to learn more about what the officers were investigating and knew the only way to gain such knowledge was by talking to them. S.A. 120. Thus, the trial court suppressed the statements Wadlington made after he asked to leave without his lawyer being present, but declined to suppress the statements he made before this request. S.A. 120, 123, 793.

         Wadlington also moved to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the execution of search warrant on his girlfriend's residence. He argued that there was “an insufficient showing of probable cause that evidence of a crime would be found at the place to be searched.” S.A. 127. The trial court denied this motion as well. S.A. 127. The court held that “[t]he affidavit here set forth sufficient facts connecting the defendant to [this residence] and established probable cause that evidence of the homicide would be located therein.” S.A. 130. It based this ruling on the finding that Wadlington had been “placed at his residence the night of the crime, where he retrieved a sawed-off rifle that was identified by Busby and Fields as being present during the robbery.” S.A. 130. Although Wadlington's location after the murder was unknown, the court concluded that it was reasonable to believe that he would have returned to his home with the murder weapon, particularly considering that the murder weapon had been retrieved from that location. S.A. 130-31.

         Before trial, Fields changed his story by stating “they had actually traveled to, and the defendant retrieved a firearm from, a residence in Brockton, ” not New Bedford as he had originally asserted to police. S.A. 623, 795. Within a month of Fields changing his statement, the prosecution sent notice to Wadlington's counsel. S.A. 795; S.A. 555. The prosecution reminded the attorney of this disclosure in March 2010, six weeks before trial, when defense counsel filed a motion for discovery. S.A. 796; S.A. 559.

         Wadlington's jury trial began on May 10, 2010. S.A. 91. In its opening statement, among other things, the government told the jury that blood had been collected from the scene of the crime and from Cole's car and that both samples matched Wadlington's DNA profile. T. Tr. I: 73.[3] The prosecution also told the jury that analysis done on a palm print found in the cellar would trace back to Wadlington. T. Tr. I: 73. At trial, Sergeant Kerri Gilpin, the fingerprint evidence analyst, testified as to the similarity between a palm print found at the scene of the crime and the known palm print of Wadlington. S.A. 792. She testified that, “in [her] opinion, the latent and the known print were made by the same donor.” Id. On cross-examination, Gilpin was asked how many “matching ‘lines' of friction ridges she needed to find before she could form an opinion, ” and specifically if eight lines would be enough. S.A. 798. Gilpin responded that the determination ultimately depends on “the totality of the information” but she would not be personally comfortable making a determination on such a low number of matching lines and that she “would never want to put an innocent person in jail.” Id. Amy Joy, the DNA analyst, compared a DNA profile “from a swab taken from a ‘red-brown drop' on the cellar stairs . . . with the known DNA profile of [Wadlington].” S.A. 792. Joy also compared the known DNA profile of Wadlington, who is African American, with another sample taken from a red-brown stain located in Cole's car. Id. For each comparison to Wadlington's known DNA profile, Joy testified that each sample was consistent with his DNA profile and that “the probability of a randomly selected African-American having the same DNA profile is one in 3.782 quintillion.” Id.

         Wadlington also testified at trial. S.A. 793. At trial, Wadlington stated that, on December 24, “he was in Brockton delivering Christmas presents to his aunt and visiting his father in a nursing home, and that he returned home around midnight.” Id. He said he had never been in the residence where the killing occurred” nor had he ever met Cole or been in his car. Id. This testimony differs from the statement Wadlington had originally given the police on January 12, 2006, in which he claimed to have been at home all night with his girlfriend, id., an inconsistency that the Commonwealth pointed out in its cross-examination of him. S.A. 96.

         During its closing argument, the government summarized the evidence and, among other things, argued that “[a] drug dealer, drug user or not, 19-year-old Rudolph Santos was left to die on the floor by [Wadlington] and Leslie Cole, that's what really happened, ladies and gentlemen.” S.A. 739.

         The jury was not given an unanimity instruction regarding either the identity of the victim of armed robbery or the underlying felony which served as the basis for the felony murder charge as part of the jury charge. S.A. 799. Wadlington's attorney did not object to the absence of either. Id. Additionally, the jury was instructed to find Wadlington guilty of felony murder if it found he had committed a felony inherently dangerous to human life and that the felonies of armed robbery and armed home invasion are inherently dangerous to human life. S.A. 799-00.

         On May 20, 2010, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the charges of first-degree murder (on theories of deliberate premeditation, extreme atrocity or cruelty and felony murder), assault by means of a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and armed home invasion. S.A. 91-92, 791 & n.1. (Wadlington was acquitted of the assault with intent to murder charge). S.A. 791 n.1. The judge sentenced Wadlington to a life sentence on the murder conviction and terms of years, to be served concurrently, on the other convictions. S.A. 92.

         D. Wadlington's Motion for New ...

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