Bryant v. Thomas

Decision Date03 August 2017
Docket Number16 Civ. 1330
Citation274 F.Supp.3d 166
Parties David BRYANT, Petitioner, v. Justin THOMAS, Superintendent, Marcy Correctional Facility, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

W. JAMES COUSINS, P.C., 3 Strawberry Ridge Road, Ridgefield, CT 06877, By: W. James Cousins, Esq., PAUL CASTELEIRO, ESQ., 200 Washington Street, 5th Floor, Hoboken, NJ 07030, By: Paul Casteleiro, Attorneys for Petitioner.

THE BRONX DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, 198 East 161st Street, Bronx, NY 10451, By: Noah J. Chamoy, Esq., Attorney for Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. SWEET, U.S.D.J.

Petitioner David Bryant ("Bryant" or the "Petitioner") has petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate his October 25, 1976, criminal conviction (the "Petition," Dkt. 1). The Petition raises issues concerning the statute of limitation bars set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2244 ("AEDPA"), the requirements of a claim of actual innocence, and the establishment of a constitutional claim of ineffective counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The difficulties presented to this Court by these always significant and sensitive issues are heightened by the chronology, the Petitioner's confession at the time of his arrest, and the knowledge today of potentially exculpatory serological evidence on which Petitioner now relies.

For the reasons set forth below, it is concluded that Petitioner is entitled to the relief he seeks.

Prior Proceedings
a. Pre–Trial Proceedings

On or about April 23, 1975, Petitioner was indicted in Bronx County, New York, of three counts of murder in the second degree, two counts of rape in the first degree, two counts of sodomy in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. (See Declaration of Noah J. Chamoy dated May 23, 2016 ("Chamoy Decl."), Ex. 1, Dkt. 10.)

On February 4 and 5, 1976, a pre-trial hearing pursuant to People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 204 N.E.2d 179 (1965), was conducted before the Bronx County Supreme Court with regard to whether to suppress Petitioner's confessions to law enforcement. On June 2, 1976, the court, at Petitioner's request, reopened the hearing for additional testimony in light of People v. Dunaway, 38 N.Y.2d 812, 382 N.Y.S.2d 40, 345 N.E.2d 583 (1975). On June 25, 1976, the court denied Petitioner's motion to suppress. (See Chamoy Decl., Ex. 2.)

b. Trial Proceedings

Petitioner's trial took place from July 21 to August 2, 1976. (A.457–1184.1 ) Evidence presented at trial by the prosecution and Petitioner included the following testimony.

John Robinson ("Robinson") testified that he was with Petitioner on March 28, 1975, starting at around 1:00 p.m., when they had played basketball. Afterward, Robinson stated they had gone to pick up some bricks to bring to Robinson's house. Robinson estimated he was with the Petitioner for about two hours that afternoon. Robinson then stated he saw Petitioner again at about 6:00 p.m., walking alone across 169th Street and Wassing Avenue, though they did not talk at that time. After that, Robinson did not see Petitioner the rest of the evening. (See A.515–16.) According to Robinson, the last time he saw Petitioner, Petitioner was wearing the same clothes he had worn while playing basketball, light color pants and a sweatshirt with writing on it. (See A.519.)

John Friedman ("Friedman") testified that same day, between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. on 166th Street and Findley Avenue, he saw Petitioner. Friedman stated that he spoke to Petitioner for "about 20 minutes." (A.505–06, A.508.) According to Friedman, while speaking to Petitioner, Friedman observed that Petitioner had a knife in a leather holster on his belt. (See A.505–06, A.508–11, A.513–14.)

Ricky Frazier ("Frazier"), a friend of Petitioner's, testified he saw Petitioner and Friedman together on 167th Street and Findley Avenue around 3:30 p.m. but that the two were arguing. Frazier stated he had to separate them by grabbing Petitioner around the waist; Frazier noted that he did not see or, while grabbing Petitioner, feel a knife on Petitioner's belt at that time. (See A.520–21.)

Frazier testified that, after separating Friedman and Petitioner, Petitioner and he went to Frazier's girlfriend's house. Petitioner remained there until around 4:00 or 4:15 p.m. and then left. (See A.520–21.) According to Frazier, Petitioner was wearing white pants, a sweatshirt with writing on it, a gray coat, and sneakers. Frazier said he did not observe Petitioner in possession of a knife. (See A.521–22, A.528, A.849.)

Billy Tylor ("Tylor"), a then-ten-year-old neighbor of Petitioner's, testified that he saw Petitioner twice on March 28.2 First, sometime prior to dinner, Tylor saw Petitioner ask Karen Smith ("Smith") for some candy, to which she replied no. Second, sometime after eating dinner that evening, Tylor returned downstairs to see Bryant and Smith in front of the building. (See A.536–38.) Tylor stated that Petitioner was wearing white pants and a grayish sweatshirt. At some point thereafter, Tylor saw Smith go across the street to a corner store and, at some point after that, saw Petitioner go around the corner as well. After waiting for some time, during which time Smith did not return, Tylor went back inside to his apartment. (See A.539–41.)

At about 7:00 p.m. that evening, Smith's mother, Christine Smith ("C. Smith"), called home from work. C. Smith's son informed her that Smith was not home. At approximately 10:10 p.m., upon returning home from work, C. Smith discovered that her daughter was still not home. C. Smith called a neighbor and had her sons go search for Smith. Still unable to locate Smith by around midnight, C. Smith reported that Smith was missing to the police. (See A.480–82.)

At around 11 p.m., Michelle Lapsley ("Lapsley"), Petitioner's ex-girlfriend, testified that she spoke with Petitioner. Petitioner and Lapsley spoke for about fifteen minutes, during which time Petitioner sounded nervous and told Lapsley that he "did something" with a girl, but did not elaborate further. (A.645.)

At approximately 1:45 a.m. on the morning of March 29, after learning of Smith's disappearance, Police Officer John Robinson ("Robinson") went towards the roof at 1285 Washington Avenue and stopped at the stair landing of the sixteenth floor. Robinson testified that the floor was dark and the lightbulb in the fixture on the landing was loose; when tightened, the light still did not work. As Robinson approached the top of the landing, he observed Smith's body on the landing, at which point she was wearing only socks and panties. A pair of sneakers, several articles of clothing, a white blood-stained garment, and a "Nestles $100,000 Bar" wrapper were also found near the body. Blood was on the wall of the landing, extending three or four feet high. (See A.491–96, A.499–501, A.663, A.666–67, A.815–16.) Police officers testified that tests of the area also found blood on the stair's step landing. The landing wall was not tested for the presence of blood but was dusted for fingerprints, as was the landing door; partial prints were obtained from the wall. (See A.662–63.) The partial prints did not have enough characteristics to make an identification. (See A.670–72.)

Dr. Josette Montas ("Montas") performed Smith's autopsy on March 29, 1975. Montas testified that Smith was stabbed 10 times. Some of the wounds were defensive in nature and located along Smith's left arm; two wounds were inflicted on Smith's neck, one was on the back of Smith's thigh, and four were into Smith's chest. One of the chest wounds penetrated Smith's chest cavity and pierced her heart. (See A.737–40, A.746–47, A.797–99.) Smith's body had "a few [four] scratches we call abrasions of the skin... over the back measuring each a half inch." (A.741.) Montas stated that all of the stab wounds contributed to Smith's death, but the one wound to the right side of the chest "went deeper in the lung and heart would be a good contributing factor." (A.740.) Montas also testified that Smith had "fresh" lacerations of her rectum and vagina, which Montas believed were consistent with being caused by the insertion of a penis. (See A.741–43.)

Police Officer Richard Clark ("Clark"), whose police patrol beat included the housing complex in which Petitioner lived, testified that, sometime on March 29 after Smith's body had been found, Clark spoke with Detective Peter Chapman ("Chapman"), who had arrived at the crime scene around 3:45 a.m.. Clark told Chapman that he had, at times in the past, seen Petitioner on the same steps where Smith's body had been found. (See A.806–11, A.817.)

Denise Friedman ("D. Friedman"), Friedman's then-sixteen-year-old daughter and Petitioner's then-girlfriend, testified that she spoke with Petitioner twice over those days. The first time was the evening of March 28 sometime between 7 and 7:30 p.m., when Petitioner told her that he was going out. (A.888.) The second time was on March 29 around 7 a.m., when she briefly called Petitioner after having breakfast. During that conversation, Petitioner told D. Friedman that he just did something to a girl, although Petitioner did not elaborate and D. Friedman did not inquire further. (See A.886–88.)

As to D. Friedman's second conversation, Willie Craig ("Craig"), Petitioner's stepfather testified differently. Craig testified that there were no phone calls at Petitioner's apartment the morning of March 29, a fact he stated he would have known because the only phone was kept in his bedroom and there were no line extensions. (See A.969–71.)

Around 8:30 a.m. on March 29, after speaking with Clark, Chapman and a few other police officers went to Petitioner's apartment. Upon arriving, the police found Petitioner in his underwear and a tee-shirt; the officers requested that Petitioner get dressed in the same clothes he had worn the evening before, at which point Petitioner put...

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