Cooper v. McGrath

Citation314 F.Supp.2d 967
Decision Date14 April 2004
Docket NumberNo. C 02-5569 SI.,C 02-5569 SI.
PartiesAaron Lyndale COOPER, Petitioner, v. Joseph McGRATH, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Aaron L. Cooper, Represa, CA, for Petitioner.

Christopher William Grove, San Francisco, CA, Alameda County Public Defender's Office, Oakland, CA, for Respondent.


ILLSTON, District Judge.


This matter is now before the court for consideration of the merits of Aaron Lyndale Cooper's pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus concerning his 1996 conviction for murder, kidnapping and carjacking. For the reasons discussed below, the petition will be granted.


Cooper was convicted of kidnapping, carjacking and murder. To summarize, the evidence showed that on August 3, 1995, three men (identified by some witnesses as Cooper, Cross and Kingdom) were in a parked blue car near an intersection in Oakland looking for Coco. A Corvette pulled up with Coco in the passenger seat. Coco got out of the car, talked to the three men briefly and was then put in to the trunk of the blue car at gunpoint. The blue car drove away with Coco in the trunk and the Corvette was driven away by a man (identified by a witness as Cooper). Coco's dead body was found two weeks later in the Oakland hills. He had been gagged and shot in the head. Cooper was arrested in Oakland seven hours after the abduction, Cross was arrested in Mississippi about a week after the abduction and Kingdom was arrested in Mississippi about three months after the abduction. Cross and Cooper were tried jointly, in a jury trial which started November 29, 1995 and which ended with a guilty verdict on January 5, 1006. Kingdom, who was arrested just about a month before the trial of Cross and Cooper, was tried separately. The police had taped statements from Cross and Kingdom admitting their presence at the crime but downplaying their roles in the crime. Cooper presented an alibi defense. All three were convicted.

A. The Crimes

The description of the evidence presented about the crimes is lengthy, owing partly to conflicting versions of the events and partly to different people seeing only certain parts. Rather than add yet another new lengthy description of the crimes, the court adopts the California Court of Appeal's description of the evidence, with which neither party has taken issue. The California Court of Appeal described the facts:

At approximately 4 p.m. on August 3, 1995, the victim, William Highsmith known by the nickname "Coco," rode as the passenger in a red Corvette driven by Kevin or "K.K." Parker to a location in front of a liquor store on the corner of 12th and Market Streets in Oakland, California. Minutes later he was abducted. Parker testified that he borrowed the red Corvette from his girlfriend, Tisha Williams, and picked up the victim earlier that afternoon to look at car auctions. Afterwards, they returned to West Oakland and he parked the Corvette in front of the liquor store. The victim got out of the car and began talking to someone in a group of people. Parker was then "grabbed from behind" and told to leave the area. He could not identify the defendants or other people at the scene. Immediately after the incident, an Oakland Police Officer, Michael McArthur, took a statement from Parker containing certain further details. Parker then said he parked behind a blue Oldsmobile with three men inside and entered the liquor store, leaving the victim in the Corvette. As he was leaving the store, he heard gunshots from where he parked the car and saw the Corvette being driven away by a single occupant. The night before, the victim had told him that "some men with guns" were looking for him because they thought he had stolen a Chevrolet IROC.

Parker's girlfriend, Tisha Williams, confirmed that, earlier that day, she had allowed Parker to drive her red Corvette, license number 2YQK292. The victim's sister, Raynetta Thomas, testified that she saw him between 3:30 and 4 p.m. at her mother's home a few blocks away from the crime scene. He arrived as the passenger of a red Corvette driven by Parker and stayed 10 to 15 minutes. He was dressed in an Adidas sweatsuit with matching tennis shoes. The parties stipulated that the red Corvette contained fingerprints of the victim and Parker.

A bystander, Rodney Love, provided a detailed account of the kidnapping, though he could not identify the perpetrators. While he was eating a snack outside the liquor store at 12th and Market Streets, a man approached him from an area where a blue 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass was parked and asked if he was "Coco." He inferred that the man was carrying a revolver in his belt because his coat was "puffed out." He told him that he was not Coco, and the man walked back to the blue Oldsmobile, in which two other men were sitting. Two of the three occupants of the Oldsmobile wore black jackets and gloves.

According to Love, Parker soon drove up in a red Corvette, with the victim in the passenger seat, and parked behind the Oldsmobile. Parker and the victim got out of the car and began talking to the men in the blue Oldsmobile. One of the three men briefly grabbed Parker by the neck but then let him go, allowing him to run into the store. The three men then "pushed" the victim into the trunk of the blue Oldsmobile and closed the trunk. One of the three people got into the Corvette. Love heard gunshots from the vicinity of the car and then both the Oldsmobile and the Corvette drove off in the same direction.

Other witnesses observed fragments of the same events. A liquor store employee, Musa Hussein, took a quick look at the street when he heard sounds resembling gunshots. He saw Parker outside the store and four men standing between a red Corvette and a blue or gray car. One of the men was a little taller than the others, maybe six feet four or five inches tall. (Defendant Cross is six feet five inches tall.) He also observed one of the men with what appeared to be a gun.

Lauren Tallerico heard four or five gunshots at about 4:15 p.m. as she drove along Market Street toward 12th Street. The shots came back from the vicinity of a blue car, an older model Cadillac or Oldsmobile, containing two Black males, which she observed turn onto Market Street ahead of her and then speed off down 13th Street toward downtown Oakland.

Douglas Wright, an inspector for the district attorney, was driving home on 12th Street at about 4:10 p.m., when he heard two gunshots and saw a man standing behind a red Corvette parked about 50 feet from the intersection with Market Street. The man came quickly around the car, jumped in, and drove off down Market Street at a high speed. Wright thought the license number of the Corvette was 2YOK933. The man appeared to be in his middle twenties, about 5 feet, 11 inches tall, and weighed about 170 to 180 pounds. After observing Cooper at trial, Wright testified that there was nothing inconsistent with his height and weight and appearance from the person he saw enter the Corvette. (Cooper is 6 feet tall, and 190 pounds, and was 26 years of age at the time of trial.)

At approximately 7 p.m. on the evening of the same day, a motorist, George Archambeau, driving west on the San Mateo Bridge saw a red Corvette stopped in the right hand lane. A Black man of average height, who appeared to come from the passenger seat of the car, was engaged in throwing a package the size of a grocery bag over the side of the bridge into the water. A second African-American male remained in the driver's seat. Archambeau drove around the Corvette but the car soon passed him driving at a high speed. He noted that the license number was 2YQK292.

At 9 p.m. that evening, Moamer Mohamed, an employee of the liquor store at 12th and Market Streets, saw a red Corvette left with the engine running in the entrance to the store's parking lot. When he went to investigate, he saw a tall, skinny Black man, wearing a checked shirt and gloves, running from the parking lot. He associated the Corvette with Kevin Parker. Upon being notified by police, Parker's girlfriend, Tisha Williams, reclaimed the car later in the evening.

Later, at 11 p.m., a late-1970's blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, which Oakland police associated with the kidnapping, was found in East Oakland near 100th Street and Voltaire Street parked in front of the residence of Juanita Walton, a critical prosecution witness. An evidence technician found vehicle registration and miscellaneous papers, which identified Miltonous Q. Kingdom, a cousin of defendant Cross nicknamed "Q," as the owner of the car.

Three employees of the E-Z 8 Motel near the Oakland Coliseum testified that defendant Cross and another man registered in room 331 on July 23, 1995, and checked out around 9 or 10 a.m. on August 4, 1995. The on-site manager, Robert Britton, identified Kevin Parker as a motel guest to whom he once advanced some money to receive a U.P.S. package and testified that he had also seen defendant Cooper on occasions at the motel. The motel's registration form, introduced as a business record, identified Cross' car as a blue IROC. Another motel employee, Henry Reel, saw defendants Cross and Cooper staying in room 331. The occupants of that room used a blue IROC, and he observed them put their belongings into this car when they vacated the room on the morning of August 4, 1995. He also saw a red Corvette parked in the motel lot 10 or 15 times during the period that Cross resided there. When shown a photograph of Kevin Parker, he identified him as a person who had stayed in room 310 of the motel at that time.

On August 16, 1995, a partially decomposed body was found in a wooded area in the Oakland hills accessible by a service road. The body was identified by the Adidas sportswear and personal belongings in a...

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