568 F.3d 287 (1st Cir. 2009), 08-1010, O'Laughlin v. O'Brien

Docket Nº:08-1010.
Citation:568 F.3d 287
Opinion Judge:TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Michael O'LAUGHLIN, Petitioner, Appellant, v. Steven O'BRIEN, Superintendent, Old Colony Correctional Center, Respondent, Appellee.
Attorney:Kenneth I. Seiger, for appellant. Scott A. Katz, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, was on brief for appellee.
Judge Panel:Before TORRUELLA, BALDOCK,[*] and HOWARD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 10, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 287

568 F.3d 287 (1st Cir. 2009)

Michael O'LAUGHLIN, Petitioner, Appellant,


Steven O'BRIEN, Superintendent, Old Colony Correctional Center, Respondent, Appellee.

No. 08-1010.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

June 10, 2009

Heard Sept. 12, 2008.

Page 288

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 289

Kenneth I. Seiger, for appellant.

Scott A. Katz, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, was on brief for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA, BALDOCK,[*] and HOWARD, Circuit Judges.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

On the morning of November 17, 2000, Annmarie Kotowski (" Mrs. Kotowski" ) was found in her apartment severely beaten and covered in blood. She survived, but could not remember the details surrounding the attack or the person who attacked her. After an investigation, police identified Petitioner-Appellant Michael O'Laughlin as the perpetrator.

A Massachusetts Superior Court jury subsequently convicted O'Laughlin of the following counts: (1) burglary and armed assault in a dwelling; (2) armed assault in a dwelling; (3) armed assault with intent to murder; and (4) assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The Superior Court then sentenced O'Laughlin to 35-50 years on Counts One and Two; 19-20 years on Count 3; and 9-10 years on Count 4, ruling that the sentences were to be served concurrently. The intermediate Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the judgments holding that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Commonwealth v. O'Laughlin, 63 Mass.App.Ct. 805, 830 N.E.2d 222 (2005) (hereinafter " O'Laughlin I " ). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (" SJC" ) reinstated the judgment reasoning that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Commonwealth v. O'Laughlin, 446 Mass. 188, 843 N.E.2d 617 (2006) (hereinafter " O'Laughlin II " ).

Page 290

O'Laughlin filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on grounds that (1) the SJC's ruling was objectively unreasonable because there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict and (2) that the SJC violated his constitutional right to present a defense. The district court denied O'Laughlin's petition for habeas relief. After careful consideration, we reverse the judgment of the district court and order the district court to grant the petition.

I. Background

A. Factual Summary

" We must ‘ accept the state court findings of fact unless [O'Laughlin] convinces us, by clear and convincing evidence, that they are in error.’ " Lynch v. Ficco, 438 F.3d 35, 39 (1st Cir.2006) (quoting McCambridge v. Hall, 303 F.3d 24, 26 (1st Cir.2002) (en banc)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). We note that the SJC's findings of fact may be " supplemented with other facts from the record that are consistent with the SJC's findings." Lynch, 438 F.3d at 39; see also Healy v. Spencer, 453 F.3d 21, 22 (1st Cir.2006). Thus, we recount the facts largely as they were presented in the SJC's opinion.

In May 2000, Mrs. Kotowski revealed to David Kotowski (" Mr. Kotowski" ), her husband of over twenty-five years, that she was romantically involved with James Finn. In September 2000, Mrs. Kotowski moved out of her home into the Fox Hollow condominium complex in a neighboring town.1 She resided alone. O'Laughlin, a member of Fox Hollow's maintenance staff, lived two doors down from Mrs. Kotowski. Like other members of the maintenance staff, he possessed a master key to all the buildings on the property, including a key to Mrs. Kotowski's apartment.2

The SJC noted that O'Laughlin " took some interest" in Mrs. Kotowski prior to the attack. For example, when Mrs. Kotowski's sister was visiting, O'Laughlin stood outside her apartment and asked Mrs. Kotowski if there were " any more good looking women in there[.]" Also, he referred to Mrs. Kotowski five or six times in conversations with acquaintances, citing her " beautiful antique furniture" in her apartment as evidence of her wealth and remarking that he was attracted to her " body type." 3

The day before the attack, O'Laughlin cashed a $457.16 paycheck and made $200 child support payment to his ex-wife. Also, the SJC stated that O'Laughlin was agitated when he was unable to sell his trailer to his neighbor because the neighbor could not come up with $500. The neighbor paid him the next day.

On the night of the attack, the SJC described O'Laughlin as " [n]ervous, jittery, [and] paranoid...." This was " typical behavior when he smoked crack cocaine," which O'Laughlin had done earlier

Page 291

that evening at the home of a friend, Mark Puleri.

As the night wore on, O'Laughlin was " depleted of drugs and most of his cash." At 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. that evening, O'Laughlin, now at home alone, telephoned another friend, Grover Finkle, asking him for a ride to purchase drugs. Finkle, who was at Richard O'Leary's house, had previously smoked crack cocaine with O'Laughlin and knew a drug dealer. Finkle and O'Leary, a taxicab driver, arrived at O'Laughlin's apartment an hour later. However, they soon left without giving O'Laughlin a ride because O'Laughlin was unable to secure money for cab fare.4

In the early morning hours of November 17, between 12:10 and 1:43 a.m., fourteen telephone calls were placed to or from O'Laughlin's apartment. The majority of these calls were placed to known drug dealers.

Shortly before 2:00 a.m. George Whittemore, a neighbor living directly above Mrs. Kotowski, awakened to a woman screaming directly below and the sound of " wood hitting wood." According to Whittemore, a carpenter by profession, these sounds lasted for about thirty seconds.

Whittemore dialed 911 at 1:55 a.m. He stayed awake until the police arrived and flashed his apartment lights to indicate his apartment to the police. Between the time he called 911 and when the police arrived, Whittemore did not hear any vehicles arrive or depart from the area. The police later conducted a reenactment of the 911 call. Based on this reenactment, they concluded that a person standing in Mrs. Kotowski's bedroom could have heard Whittemore's footsteps as he walked to the telephone as well as Whittemore's voice, but would have been unable to make out what was being said.

Officers William Tierney and Phillip Skowron arrived six or seven minutes after Whittemore's 911 call. They were unable to find apartment number 202, the apartment reported in the dispatch, because the apartment numbers at the complex had been recently renumbered. They did not note anything unusual, but observed O'Laughlin walking from the building on a walkway leading from apartment number 19. O'Laughlin was wearing only boxer shorts and Officer Tierney testified that O'Laughlin appeared " impervious" to the near-freezing temperature.

O'Laughlin questioned the officers regarding what had happened and the officers answered that they were responding to a report of a woman screaming. When they asked him if he had heard any screaming, O'Laughlin replied that he had been awakened by screaming, but believed it to be a raccoon trapped in a dumpster.5 O'Laughlin explained that he had placed a stick in the dumpster so that it could escape. Officer Tierney then looked inside the dumpster and saw a stick, but no animal. The SJC noted that during his conversation with the officers, O'Laughlin seemed " uneasy and distant," not making eye contact with them. The police further searched the area, but left after finding nothing suspicious.

Whittemore testified that throughout the night he heard a woman moaning and crying directly below him.6 He also testified that later in the morning, he heard the

Page 292

sound of glass breaking, banging, and a man outside Mrs. Kotowski's apartment calling her name. The man subsequently yelled " Oh, my God."

The man Whittemore was referring to was Mrs. Kotowski's boyfriend, Finn, who had arrived at 5:45 a.m. at Mrs. Kotowski's apartment. On weekdays, Finn routinely joined Mrs. Kotowski for a morning coffee prior to starting his workday. On this particular morning, when Finn knocked on the door, he only heard her say, " Who is it?" in a strange voice. After failing to reach her from a nearby public telephone, Finn testified that he forced open a locked sliding glass rear door. Although the living room appeared to be in order, he found Mrs. Kotowski lying on the floor next to the bed. He testified that " there was just blood everywhere." Finn dialed 911 just before 6:30 a.m. Mrs. Kotowski, who had severe wounds on her head, was taken to Berkshire Medical Center. The police ruled out Finn as a suspect because of his alibi (which they confirmed), his reaction of shock upon discovering Mrs. Kotowski, and his cooperation with the police.

Officers who arrived after Finn's 911 call observed blood in the victim's bedroom on the bed, the pillow, the floors, the walls, and on the door jambs of the bathroom and bedroom. The SJC noted that the crime scene contained " ‘ quite a bit of blood’ that appeared to be ‘ splatters' on the comforter." Further, the bed rail was dented, with wood splinters on the ground beneath the dent. Officer Skowron testified that everything else was intact as the apartment was neat and nothing was displaced. Mrs. Kotowski's purse was on the floor, however. Officer Skowron also testified that there were no signs that the front door or the rear sliding door had been forced open (which contradicted a report by an earlier officer on the scene stating that the rear door was broken); that the drawers were closed; and that the light and figurines on the dresser were upright. Mrs. Kotowski testified that no items of value were missing from...

To continue reading