United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. CASPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Steven Caruso (“Caruso”), acting pro se,
has filed a petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus
(“Petition”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 2254. D.
21. Erin Gaffney (“Gaffney”), the Superintendent
of Old Colony Correctional Center (“OCCC”),
opposes the Petition on the basis that Caruso's grounds
for habeas relief are procedurally defaulted or fail on the
merits. For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the
Petition, D. 1.
Standard of Review
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), this Court may grant a writ of habeas
corpus if the state court adjudication “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). “AEDPA erects a formidable
barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims
have been adjudicated in state court.” Burt v.
Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 19 (2013).
court decision is “contrary to” clearly
established federal law “if the state court either
‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set
forth in [Supreme Court] cases,' or ‘confronts a
set of facts that are materially indistinguishable
from'” a Supreme Court precedent and arrives at an
opposite conclusion. Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782,
792 (2001) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S.
362, 405-06 (2000)). A state court decision is an
“unreasonable application” of clearly established
federal law “if it correctly identifies the governing
legal rule but applies that rule unreasonably to the facts of
a particular prisoner's case.” White v.
Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 426 (2014). In sum, “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).
Relevant Factual and Procedural Background
Police Investigation and Charge
otherwise noted, this factual background is drawn from the
Supreme Judicial Court's decision affirming Caruso's
conviction. S.A. 1295; Commonwealth v. Caruso, 476
Mass. 275 (2017). 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). To the extent that Caruso objects to certain
findings made by the state court, see D. 23 at 3-7,
he failed to rebut same with clear and convincing evidence
and, accordingly this Court presumes these factual findings
to be correct.
August 15, 2003, Caruso was convicted after a jury trial in
Middlesex Superior Court of the first-degree murder of Sandra
Berfield (“Berfield”). S. A.
116-141. These charges arose out of the events
leading up to and culminating on January 20, 2000. Prior to
that day, Caruso had been a long-time, regular customer of
Bickford's Restaurant in Medford, where Berfield worked
as a server. S.A. 1303. At Caruso's request, Berfield
became his regular server. Caruso eventually asked Berfield
on a date, which Berfield declined. S.A. 1303. Caruso's
behavior towards Berfield changed thereafter. S.A. 1303.
Caruso began to stare at Berfield in a “hateful manner,
” repeatedly attempted to contact Berfield outside of
her workplace and vandalized Berfield's car, including by
slashing her tires and pouring battery acid into the gas
tank. S.A. 1303. On May 12, 1999, Caruso was convicted of
malicious destruction of Berfield's property. S.A. 248,
333. Caruso was also charged with, but not convicted of,
slashing Berfield's tires. S.A. 1303. Berfield obtained a
restraining order against Caruso, which Caruso repeatedly
violated. Id. On January 20, 2000, Caruso left a
package containing a pipe bomb on Berfield's porch.
Id. A neighbor examined the package containing the
bomb, which was addressed to “Passanisi” and
included a Malden return address. S.A. 1303-04. Another
neighbor later heard Berfield walk downstairs to retrieve the
package, which exploded, killing Berfield. S.A. 1304.
an interview with police, Caruso provided two inconsistent
explanations of his whereabouts earlier that morning and told
the police, among other statements, that Berfield had
“caused him a lot of problems” and he did not
“like” her anymore. Id. In executing a
search warrant at Caruso's residence, the police
discovered, among other things, battery parts, pieces of
pipes, metal fragments with human tissue or blood on them,
pieces of copper, wires and gun powder. Id. These
items were consistent with similar materials found at the
scene of the explosion. Id. A search of Caruso's
computer revealed detailed information about Berfield, her
family and past boyfriends. Id. Police also found a
document containing a postal service code concerning the mail
route to Berfield's home and a mailing label containing
the name “Passanisi, ” i.e., the last
name of Berfield's sister, with a Malden address,
consistent with the return address on the package containing
the bomb. Id. Shortly after the search, Caruso's
sister told the police that she had found a booklet titled,
“High-Low Boom Explosives, ” in Caruso's
bedroom. Id. In addition, after officers conducted a
search of the scene of the explosion, a professional cleaning
service, Aftermath, Inc. Cleaning Services
(“Aftermath”), cleaned the premises and delivered
additional items to the fire marshal. Id.
incarcerated awaiting trial, Caruso interacted with a fellow
inmate named Michael Dubis (“Dubis”), to whom
Caruso made inculpatory statements. S.A. 721, 1305. Dubis
recognized Caruso's name and face from the newspaper and
asked him questions about Berfield's death. S.A. 1305.
Dubis talked to Caruso for one and a half hours with the
intention of finding out what happened in Caruso's case.
S.A. 769, 1305. Dubis tried to win Caruso's trust during
the conversation and deliberately asked questions to be able
to pass information on to law enforcement. S.A. 1305. Caruso
made incriminating statements to Dubis, including that he had
learned to make a bomb from the internet and a friend, he
used batteries and a pipe to make the same and he explained
the package that killed Berfield would only explode when it
was opened due to a “basic separation device.”
Id. Caruso also told Dubis that he knew “[the
bomb] would kill anybody that would open it.” S.A. 750,
1305. Dubis told Massachusetts State Police
(“MSP”) Sergeant James Plath
(“Plath”), to whom he had previously provided
information in other matters, about his conversation with
Caruso. S.A. 721, 1305. Plath notified law enforcement
officials involved in Caruso's case. S.A. 1305. The trial
court later denied Caruso's motion to suppress his
statements to Dubis, which was denied and Dubis testified to
Caruso's statements at trial. S.A. 1305.
March 2000, two months after Berfield was killed, Caruso was
indicted for first-degree murder. S.A. 7.
Relevant State Court Proceedings
trial began in July of 2003. S.A. 7-14. On August 15, 2003,
the jury returned a guilty verdict of murder in the first
degree based upon theories of deliberate premeditation and
extreme atrocity or cruelty. S.A. 13, 148, 1303. The trial
court sentenced Caruso to a term of life imprisonment. S.A.
13. Caruso filed a timely notice of appeal. S.A.
direct appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, Caruso raised
six claims: actual innocence as to Berfield's murder
(“Ground 1”); violation of his Sixth Amendment
rights due to the admission of Dubis's testimony at trial
(“Ground 2”); violation of his right to
confrontation based on the trial court's admission of
Berfield's prior recorded testimony from another
proceeding as read by one of the prosecutors (“Ground
3”); violation of his right to confrontation when the
trial court denied Caruso's requests to rebut the
prosecution's hostile intent claim and to cross-examine
testimony and physical evidence from Captain John Busa and
Aftermath (which has been divided into three parts)
(“Ground 4, ” which has been further divided into
subsections); violation of Caruso's Sixth Amendment
rights based on the trial court's admission of the
testimony of the Commonwealth's wire expert
(“Ground 5”); and deprivation of his right to a
fair trial based on the admission of evidence derived from
searches of Caruso's computer (“Ground 6”).
January 13, 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court denied
Caruso's appeal and affirmed Caruso's murder
conviction. S.A. 1296, 1314.
has filed this Petition, raising claims that were addressed
in his direct appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, D. 21,
that the ...