Ferrell v. Wall

Decision Date08 June 2009
Docket NumberNo. 2007-291-M.P.,No. 2007-92-Appeal.,2007-92-Appeal.,2007-291-M.P.
Citation971 A.2d 615
PartiesJason FERRELL v. A.T. WALL, Warden of the Adult Correctional Institutions.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court

Aaron L. Weisman, Department of Attorney General, for Plaintiff.

John A. MacFadyen, Esq., Providence, for Defendant.

Present: FLAHERTY, SUTTELL, ROBINSON, JJ., and WILLIAMS, C.J. (ret.).

OPINION

Chief Justice WILLIAMS (ret.), for the Court.

In the fourth appeal before this Court stemming from the murder of John Carpenter on December 18, 1995, the state is asking this Court to reverse the judgment of the motion justice who reduced the sentence of the applicant, Jason Ferrell (applicant or Ferrell), and granted him postconviction relief. The applicant and several other defendants were tried by jury on several charges associated with Carpenter's murder. After a monthlong trial, the jury acquitted the applicant of first-degree murder, but convicted him of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to assault with intent to murder, and assault with intent to murder. The applicant's efforts to reverse his convictions were rebuffed by this Court in State v. Oliveira, 774 A.2d 893 (R.I.2001), and later in Ferrell v. Wall, 889 A.2d 177 (R.I.2005) (Ferrell III). Although the trial justice originally sentenced the applicant to an aggregate of forty years, in the most recent adjudication by the Superior Court, the motion justice reduced his sentence to twenty years and then set aside his convictions based on an allegation of ineffective assistance by the applicant's trial attorney. It is the motion justice's reduction of the applicant's sentence and his granting of postconviction relief that are the subjects of the instant appeal.

I Facts and Travel

Because the facts of this case previously have been recited in Oliveira and Ferrell III, we will set out only those facts that are relevant to the instant appeal. It is first necessary to summarize briefly the circumstances of the murder that serves as the origin of applicant's convictions.

Three days after the shooting death of Wayne Baptista, on December 15, 1995, John Carpenter was shot and killed in what appeared to be a vengeful drive-by shooting. Baptista's closest friends had been Gahil Oliveira, Robert McKinney, and Ferrell. Shortly after Baptista was killed, the three friends had their arms tattooed with the word "Pearl" (Baptista's nickname), the date "12/15/95," and the acronym "RIP."

On the morning of December 18, 1995, Lorenzo Evans and Carpenter were driving in Carpenter's car when, according to Evans, he heard the sound of gunshots. At trial, Evans was the key prosecution witness. He testified that he had observed a black Jeep Cherokee that began chasing Carpenter's vehicle at a high rate of speed. Gunshots were fired at both Evans and Carpenter from the occupants of the Jeep, at which time both Evans and Carpenter jumped out of the vehicle. Evans, who ran from the car and through the neighborhood, testified that he saw McKinney and Oliveira exit the Jeep carrying handguns. Evans continued to hear gunshots and saw McKinney and Oliveira approach Carpenter, who had fallen on the sidewalk. Carpenter died of fatal gunshot wounds.

Evans testified that when he next looked back at the street, he saw a white Ford Taurus with two occupants: Ferrell and Jermaine Campbell. He explained that Ferrell was sitting in the driver's seat of the Taurus, holding a "chrome object" that looked like a gun, which he was moving up and down. Shortly after this sighting, the police stopped Evans, arrested him, and took him to the police station. In his statement to the police, Evans said that he could not identify any of the shooters. However, the next day, Evans told the police that Sanders, Oliveira, and McKinney were the shooters and that Ferrell and Campbell were the occupants of the Taurus.

Oliveira, McKinney, Sanders, Campbell, and Ferrell (collectively defendants) all were indicted for the first-degree murder of Carpenter, assault with intent to murder Evans, and two counts of conspiracy to commit each of these crimes. All defendants were convicted of the two counts of conspiracy; Oliveira, McKinney, and Sanders were convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder; and Campbell was acquitted of both substantive charges. Ferrell, although acquitted of the murder charge, was found guilty of assault with intent to murder.

The travel of this case has spanned more than a decade. After the trial, applicant filed a motion to reduce his sentence under Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. Meanwhile, in 2001, this Court denied the appeals of Oliveira, Sanders, McKinney, and Ferrell.1 Oliveira, 774 A.2d at 926. Thereafter, Ferrell filed an application for postconviction relief; in 2005, the motion justice granted him postconviction relief on two grounds: (1) newly discovered evidence in the form of a videotaped recantation of evidence by Evans and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to amend a discovery request. The state appealed and this Court reversed, holding that the motion justice had erred in granting relief on both grounds. Ferrell III, 889 A.2d at 188, 191-92.

In November 2006, applicant filed a motion to amend his application for postconviction relief. He also filed a second amended application for postconviction relief and renewed his motion to reduce his sentence. After a hearing on both issues, the same motion justice who had presided over the earlier postconviction-relief hearing reduced applicant's sentence to twenty years in the aggregate.

In addressing the allegation that applicant's trial counsel was ineffective, the motion justice, in this postconviction-relief hearing, reviewed applicant's testimony, in which he had alleged that his trial attorney had asked him for money to pay the costs associated with his representation of Oliveira. The applicant also testified that during the trial, he was aware of his trial attorney's representational relationship with Oliveira. The motion justice concluded that because applicant's trial attorney was representing both applicant and his codefendant, albeit in an unrelated matter the attorney was faced with conflicting allegiances and was, in a sense, serving two masters. Specifically, the motion justice concluded that defense counsel's representation of Oliveira prevented him from engaging in effective plea-bargaining on behalf of applicant. He also determined that this conflict led to the implementation of an unsuccessful trial strategy: rather than argue to the jury that Evans's testimony was entirely false, the attorney should have argued that Evans was mistaken only about his identification of applicant and not about his identification of each of the other codefendants. According to the motion justice, applicant's trial attorney could not have pursued this course without, in effect, implicating Oliveira in the crimes in which he was charged. The motion justice, not satisfied with granting postconviction relief, also reduced applicant's sentence. He reduced applicant's sentence under count three from twenty years to ten years; the sentence on count two remained untouched because it already had been completed; and the sentence on count four was reduced to ten years probation.

The state appealed the motion justice's grant of Ferrell's application for postconviction relief to this Court, and it also petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari with respect to the sentence reduction. We granted the state's petition for a writ of certiorari. Both the judgment stemming from the postconviction-relief hearing and the judgment stemming from the sentence-reduction hearing are now before this Court. The applicant also filed a cross-appeal asserting that the numerous other grounds for postconviction relief that he had raised at the hearing below were denied improperly.

II Analysis

The state challenges both rulings of the motion justice. It contends that the motion justice erred in granting Ferrell's application for postconviction relief because applicant failed to demonstrate that his trial attorney had an actual conflict of interest that adversely affected the trial outcome. Secondly, the state argues that the motion justice should not have reduced applicant's sentence because the hearing on the sentence-reduction motion did not occur within a reasonable time from the initial filing of the motion. In his cross-appeal, applicant argues that the motion justice made six distinct errors, any one of which would entitle him to postconviction relief.

A Postconviction Relief

This is Ferrell's second application for postconviction relief. In his first application, he alleged as grounds for relief, inter alia, that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. Although applicant cited several specific instances of alleged ineffective assistance by his attorney, he failed to allege the particular claim that served as the basis for his second application, namely, that his trial attorney had a conflict of interest because he simultaneously represented both applicant and Oliveira, albeit in an unrelated criminal matter.

Before reaching the substance of Ferrell's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel allegation, we first must address a threshold issue-whether applicant's claim is barred by the well-established doctrine of res judicata. General Laws 1956 § 10-9.1-8, which applies to postconviction-relief applications, provides:

"All grounds for relief available to an applicant at the time he or she commences a proceeding under this chapter must be raised in his or her original, or a supplemental or amended, application. Any ground finally adjudicated or not so raised, or knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived in the proceeding that resulted in the conviction or sentence or in any other proceeding the applicant has taken to secure relief, may not be the basis for a subsequent application,...

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    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
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    ...the motion justice that an issue barred by the doctrine of res judicata merits consideration in the interest of justice.” Ferrell v. Wall, 971 A.2d 615, 621 (R.I.2009).The hearing justice erroneously determined that the res judicata principles enshrined in § 10–9.1–8 did not bar Tempest's w......
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    ...Superior Court a motion to reduce his sentence under Rule 35 of the R.I. Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure (“Rule 35”). Ferrell 2009, 971 A.2d at 620;Oliveira, 774 A.2d at 920 n. 26. The parties agree that Mr. Ferrell's Rule 35 motion was timely filed. See Ferrell 2009, 971 A.2d at......
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