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Taylor v. Medeiros

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 17, 2019




         Before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Rodrick Taylor (“Taylor” or “petitioner”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his July, 2008, conviction for second degree murder in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Suffolk County.

         I. Background

         A. The Murder

         In July, 2006, Taylor was indicted by a grand jury for first degree murder.

         The Commonwealth presented credible evidence at trial that Taylor had strangled the victim, Dominique Samuels (“Samuels” or “the victim”), and burned her body in a public park days later. Samuels resided in a multi-bedroom apartment with Martin McCray (“McCray”), McCray's brother, McCray's female cousin and a male friend of McCray. Taylor is McCray's cousin and throughout the trial Taylor maintained that McCray had actually committed the murder. In the alternative, he claimed that the Medical Examiner implied that there was evidence that no murder had been committed.

         On the night in question, April 27 into the early hours of April 28, 2006, Taylor and McCray were in McCray's room, drinking alcohol and playing video games. Around 10:00 P.M., McCray left his apartment to spend the night at his girlfriend's home. Taylor remained in McCray's room.

         A number of witnesses recalled hearing screaming that night coming from the victim's apartment. The landlord's daughter testified that she heard two men laughing and dragging something after an altercation. McCray's cousin heard what she initially assumed was a sexual encounter but later believed it to be a woman in distress and then a loud boom. Despite those noises, no one residing inside the building notified law enforcement.

         The following morning, Taylor went to the apartment of McCray's girlfriend to see McCray. McCray claimed that Taylor confessed to killing Samuels at that time and showed McCray scratches on his hands and neck inflicted by Samuels. During the next few days, McCray and Taylor spoke on the phone several times. McCray alleged that Taylor sought access to a vehicle to dispose of Samuels's body. McCray also claimed that Taylor told him that he intended to burn Samuels's fingertips because his skin was underneath her fingernails. McCray testified that at 5:30 A.M. on Sunday, April 30, 2006, Taylor called him to tell him “it's done”. Samuels's body was discovered in Franklin Park 30 minutes later.

         A search of McCray's room thereafter revealed two distinct bloodstains: one containing the DNA of the victim and one containing the DNA of Taylor.

         B. State Court Proceedings

         During the trial, a juror notified the court that some of the other jurors may have been sleeping during some of the testimony. The judge offered to speak with individual jurors or with the group as a whole. Defense counsel indicated that addressing the group was sufficient and the judge then instructed the jurors to remain alert throughout the testimony. That issue was not raised again during the trial.

         The prosecutor asserted in his closing argument that the alternate theory of the defense that McCray committed the murder was not credible, stating:

if you don't believe Martin McCray because you think he killed Dominique Samuels, I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that you will have violated the oath that you took as jurors.

         He added that:

to call [the defense's theory] a rumor, to call that speculation, to call that innuendo is to give that statement too much credit . . . [and it] is a bald-face-lie.

         The prosecutor also suggested that only Taylor knew where he was when certain incriminating phone calls were placed. Specifically, he stated that:

[N]ot one witness put the defendant at Martha Laing's house, not one, not any of the witnesses [defense counsel] called. Marie Anderson doesn't say that. Martha Laing doesn't say that. And you know who else doesn't say that? The defendant doesn't say that. In his statement to the police on May 3, before any of these cell phone records came to light, what would the defendant say about his whereabouts in the early morning of April 30? He was asked a direct question: Where were you? And how did he answer? I was at home at Richfield Street. I stayed there all night. No. mention of going to Norwood.

         He also stated:

[Defense counsel] says I can't tell you that that means that he was in Franklin Park. I'm not saying he was in Franklin Park. I have no idea where he was when he made those calls. Nobody does except for the defendant. But the cell phone records prove something: he wasn't in ...

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