United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
TALWANI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Steven Gonzalez’s Petition for a Writ
of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [#9].
In 2012, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder on
the theory of deliberate premeditation and was sentenced to
life in prison without the possibility of parole. He argues
that his imprisonment is in violation of federal law based on
ineffective assistance of counsel and improper instructions
given to the jury. The court finds that Petitioner is not
entitled to habeas review of his jury instruction claims
because the claims were procedurally defaulted in state court
and waived by Petitioner’s failure to brief them here.
The court does reach the merits of Petitioner’s
ineffective-assistance claim and finds that the state courts
reasonably concluded that any errors by trial counsel did not
violate Petitioner’s rights under federal law.
Accordingly, the petition is DENIED.
Brief Factual and Procedural History
was arrested, tried, and convicted for the 2008 murder of
Alexander Gautier. A complete accounting of the facts
supported by the evidence presented at the trial is provided
by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
(“SJC”) in its opinion denying Petitioner’s
following parts of this account are relevant here:
The victim [Alexander Gautier] had controlled the sale of
narcotics in the low-rise apartment buildings in the area of
244–266 Locust Street in Springfield, but left for
Puerto Rico when a warrant issued for his arrest. In the
victim’s absence, Sammy Ramos (Sammy), a friend who
operated an automobile dealership on Locust Street, took over
the drug business on the block, and permitted others to sell
drugs there, including two brothers, both named Jose
Rodriguez. Also during the victim’s absence, Jasson
Gonzalez (Jasson) began selling drugs on the block without
Sammy’s permission and had other individuals, including
Miguel Angel Nieves (known as Mikey), selling drugs for him.
. . .
. . . .
The defendant was a heroin addict who supported his drug
habit by theft, begging, and occasionally washing and
detailing vehicles for Sammy at the dealership. He lived with
his girl friend, Daneris Rivera (Daneris), in an apartment at
258 Locust Street. . . .
. . . .
Julia Rojas (Julia) is the former girl friend of
Sammy’s brother, and Sammy describes her as “like
a daughter” to him.
Commonwealth v. Gonzalez, 473 Mass. 415, 416-17
(2015) (footnotes omitted).
On October 17, 2008, the victim returned to Springfield and
made clear his intent to regain control of his drug
territory. At approximately noon, the victim met with Sammy
at the dealership and stated his interest in meeting with the
people who had been selling drugs in his territory without
. . . . While the victim was still at Sammy’s
dealership in the early afternoon, the victim spoke to the
defendant in Sammy’s presence. The victim told the
defendant that he had to “stop stealing from the
neighbors” or leave.
At approximately 5 p.m. on October 17, 2008, a man approached
the victim, Alexander Gautier, and shot him in the face at
close range with a sawed-off shotgun, killing him. . . .
. . . .
After the shooting, both Sammy and Julia gave statements to
the police. Julia described what had occurred, identified the
defendant as the shooter, and provided a description of the
shotgun used in the attack.
Id. From their reports, the jury could find the
At approximately 4:30 p.m., Julia saw the defendant, whom she
knew, speaking with Jasson and Mikey on the rear porch of the
apartment building at 258 Locust Street. Shortly before 5
p.m., the victim and Sammy walked from the dealership to the
area behind 258 Locust Street, accompanied by the two
Rodriguez brothers. Once they arrived, Sammy told Mikey to
get Jasson so they could talk. The six men-the victim, Sammy,
the two Rodriguez brothers, Jasson, and Mikey- began talking
while standing in a semicircle on the pavement behind 258
Julia was on the third-floor porch overlooking the back of
258 Locust Street, saw Sammy on the pavement with the others,
and walked down the back stairs towards him. As she
approached, she saw the defendant walk behind her wearing a
black hooded sweatshirt and a mask. Sammy, who was standing
next to the victim, also saw the defendant walk behind Julia
and approach the group. As the defendant approached, Sammy
saw him pull up a handkerchief from around his neck to cover
his face. Once he reached the group, he pulled out a
sawed-off shotgun and fired a single shot at the
victim’s face at close range, killing him. After the
shotgun blast, Jasson, Mikey, and the Rodriguez brothers