492 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2007), 06-1019, Pike v. Guarino

Docket Nº:06-1019, 06-1020.
Citation:492 F.3d 61
Party Name:Julie A. PIKE, Petitioner, Appellant, v. Barbara R. GUARINO, Superintendent, MCI-Framingham, Respondent, Appellee. Julie A. Pike, Petitioner, Appellee, v. Barbara R. Guarino, Superintendent, MCI-Framingham, Respondent, Appellant.
Case Date:July 02, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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492 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2007)

Julie A. PIKE, Petitioner, Appellant,

v.

Barbara R. GUARINO, Superintendent, MCI-Framingham, Respondent, Appellee.

Julie A. Pike, Petitioner, Appellee,

v.

Barbara R. Guarino, Superintendent, MCI-Framingham, Respondent, Appellant.

Nos. 06-1019, 06-1020.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

July 2, 2007

Heard April 4, 2007.

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Catherine J. Hinton, with whom James L. Sultan and Rankin & Sultan were on brief, for petitioner.

David Lieber, Assistant Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with whom Thomas F. Reilly, Attorney General, and Cathryn A. Neaves, Assistant Attorney General, were on brief, for respondent.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, SELYA and TASHIMA, [*] Senior Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Senior Circuit Judge.

These are two appeals arising out of a federal habeas corpus petition brought by a state prisoner. In the principal appeal, the petitioner--who portrays herself as a victim of battered woman's syndrome--urges us to reverse the denial of habeas relief and hold that she lacked competency to stand trial in the state court or, alternatively, that she involuntarily waived her right to present a viable theory of defense. In the cross-appeal, the respondent (the superintendent of the state correctional facility in which the petitioner is confined) urges us to revisit the district court's determinations concerning exhaustion of state remedies and the granting of a federal evidentiary hearing, as well as to consider a nascent theory of procedural default. After working our way through a procedural

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quagmire, examining a mountain of paper, and studying a complex set of legal issues, we reject both appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

This case has a lengthy and tortured history. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (the SJC) has accurately recounted the evidence presented at the petitioner's trial and in the subsequent state court proceedings. See Commonwealth v. Pike, 431 Mass. 212, 726 N.E.2d 940, 942-51 (2000) (Pike I). We assume the reader's familiarity with that opinion, rehearse here only those details that are directly relevant to our analysis, and amplify that account to reflect evidence presented before the federal habeas court.

In 1995, a Massachusetts jury found the petitioner, Julie A. Pike, guilty of second-degree murder. This conviction resulted from the interaction of the petitioner and her swain, Barry Loring, with Don Maynard. As part and parcel of what began as a plan to steal a car, Maynard was slain in his Greenfield home. The murder occurred in 1994 and suspicion soon centered on Loring and the petitioner.

Loring agreed to plead guilty and became the Commonwealth's star witness at his former girlfriend's trial. He vouchsafed that the pair had broken into Maynard's abode together; that they then agreed that Loring would kill Maynard using a gun discovered inside the house; but that, when Maynard returned home earlier than anticipated, an altercation between the two men ensued. According to Loring, the petitioner ended the scuffle by killing Maynard with a shot to the back of the head.

In addition to Loring's eyewitness testimony, the Commonwealth presented substantial physical evidence linking the petitioner to Maynard's home; evidence that she had fled with Loring; proof that she had sold some of Maynard's property at a pawn shop; and testimony from Loring's cellmate that tended to corroborate Loring's account of the relevant events.

The petitioner testified in her own defense. She admitted to her entanglement in the overall events, but maintained that she had not been present in the Maynard residence at the time of the homicide. Instead--following Loring's instructions--she had waited at a nearby bridge. Thus, the petitioner argued that her participation was limited to helping Loring clean up after the murder and dispose of Maynard's lifeless body.

At the close of all the evidence, the jury rejected the petitioner's version and found her guilty of second-degree murder. The trial justice sentenced her to life imprisonment.

During the pendency of the petitioner's direct appeal, she moved for a new trial. See Mass. R.Crim. P. 30(b). The gravamen of her motion was that the severely abusive nature of her relationship with Loring had allowed him to control her both at the time of the murder and thereafter (up to and including the time of trial). She explained that Loring was able to exert dominion over her after their arrest because the two were detained at the same jail (albeit on different floors), which permitted extraordinary levels of contact between them. In addition, the petitioner had been seven months pregnant at the time of the murder, Loring was the father, and he had minimally supervised visits with their infant child during his pretrial incarceration. The petitioner claimed that Loring used these visits as leverage against her, threatening to harm the child if she did not do his bidding.

With this predicate in place, the petitioner maintained that she was under the spell

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of Loring's pervasive influence until after the trial. Through that circumstance, he had coerced her into giving a fabricated version of the events surrounding the Maynard homicide. She proceeded to recant portions of her trial testimony. The petitioner admitted that she had been in the house prior to Maynard's death but continued to assert that she had not committed the murder.

Taking matters a step further, the petitioner maintained that the combination of Loring's continued coercion and the cumulative psychological effects of the abuse (amounting to what is commonly known as battered woman's syndrome) rendered her incapable of disclosing the abuse to her attorneys at the time of trial. 1 In her view, both the revelation of the abuse and her changed testimony qualified as newly discovered evidence. See Commonwealth v. Grace, 397 Mass. 303, 491 N.E.2d 246, 248 (1986). Furthermore, on her assessment of the case, this newly discovered evidence would have affected the outcome of the trial because it would have allowed her to explain that whatever actions she took on the day of Maynard's demise were taken under duress (i.e., coerced by Loring).

The original trial justice had retired, so a different judicial officer (whom, for ease in exposition, we shall refer to as the state court motions justice) held a four-day evidentiary hearing to supplement the affidavits and psychiatric reports submitted with the petitioner's motion. The hearing included testimony from the petitioner, the therapist who had begun to treat her, the lawyers who had represented her at trial, and Dr. Prudence Baxter (an expert on battered woman's syndrome). At the conclusion of the hearing, the state court motions justice denied the motion in a strongly-worded opinion. Commonwealth v. Pike, No. 94-091, slip op. at 2 (Mass.Super.Ct. Apr. 8, 1998) (unpublished). We offer a synopsis of the findings upon which that decision rested.

While assuming that evidence of battered woman's syndrome could in some cases support the granting of a new trial, the state court motions justice found the petitioner's version of events "implausible" and her testimony "unreliable," especially with respect to the degree of control that Loring exerted over her during their pretrial incarceration. Id. at 13. Specifically, the state court justice concluded that "[w]hile it [was] likely that [the petitioner] was subjected to some of the described acts [of abuse], at least up to the point of her incarceration, it [did] not follow that [she] meekly surrendered to Loring's inescapable control at the time of her trial." Id.

The petitioner filed motions seeking reconsideration and leave to expand the record. See Mass. R.Crim. P. 13(a)(5). In connection therewith, she proffered affidavits from correctional officers employed at the jail where she and Loring had been detained prior to trial. The state court motions justice summarily denied these motions.

The SJC allowed the petitioner's application for direct appellate review. See

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Mass. R.Crim. P. 30(c)(8). It subsequently affirmed both the conviction and the denial of the petitioner's post-trial motions. See Pike I, 726 N.E.2d at 942. With respect to the new trial motion, the SJC confirmed that, under Massachusetts law, evidence of battered women's syndrome could constitute newly discovered evidence warranting a new trial. Id. at 948. Here, however, the petitioner's quest for a new trial was properly thwarted because the state court motions justice had made a supportable credibility determination--she simply did not believe that the petitioner suffered from the ravages of the syndrome during the period leading up to the trial. Id. at 949, 951. To cinch matters, the SJC held that the motions justice was not unreasonable in refusing to consider the additional affidavits. See id. at 951.

Having been rebuffed by the SJC, the petitioner repaired to the federal district court and filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Of her several asserted grounds for relief, only two are pertinent here: (i) that battered woman's syndrome had rendered her incompetent to stand trial in state court and (ii) that her inability to disclose Loring's abuse to her trial counsel constituted an involuntary waiver of her constitutional right to present a defense.

After some procedural skirmishing (to which we shortly shall return), the district court, without any detailed explanation, ordered an evidentiary hearing. 2 The hearing extended over eight days. The petitioner...

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