Jamaine Grissom v. Mee

Decision Date05 June 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 10-1468 (CCC)
PartiesJAMAINE GRISSOM, Petitioner, v. DONALD MEE, et al., Respondents
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey


JAMAINE GRISSOM, Petitioner prose


East Jersey State Prison

Lock Bag R



Counsel for Respondents

CECCHI, District Judge

This matter is before the court pursuant to a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed by petitioner Jamaine Grissom, challenging his 2001 New Jersey state court conviction. For the reasons stated below, this Court will deny the habeas petition for lack of merit.


Petitioner, Jamaine Grissom ("Grissom"), was indicted by a Essex County grand jury on April 20, 1995, on charges of second degree conspiracy to commit murder, in violation of N.U.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a; murder contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a; third degree possession of a handgun without the requisite permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; and second degree possession of a handgun with the purpose of using it unlawfully against another, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. Grissom initially was tried before the Honorable R. Benjamin Cohen, J.S.C. and a jury in January 1996, and on January 26, 1996, Grissom was found guilty on all charges in the indictment. Judge Cohen sentenced Grissom on February 15, 1996, to an aggregate term of 30 years imprisonment with a 30-year parole disqualifier.

Grissom filed a direct appeal from his conviction and sentence before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. On January 12, 1998, the Appellate Division reversed Grissom's convictions on the murder and conspiracy to commit murder counts, and the remaining convictions were affirmed.

In October and November 2000, a second trial was held before the Honorable Paul J. Vichness, J.S.C. and a jury, on the murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges. On November 3, 2000, Grissom was found guilty on both counts. On January 12, 2001, Judge Vichness sentenced Grissom to 30 years imprisonment with30 years of parole ineligibility on the murder conviction. The conspiracy to commit murder count was merged with the murder count.

On May 17, 2001, Grissom filed a direct appeal before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. On October 7, 2002, the Appellate Division affirmed both the convictions and sentence. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on December 12, 2002.

Grissom alleges that he first filed a petition for post conviction relief ("PGR") with the Essex County Superior Court on April 5, 2003. The state court then issued an order on May 2, 2003, directing that the Office of the Public Defender represent Grissom in his state PCR proceedings. The public defender withdrew as counsel for petitioner on March 15, 2005, pursuant to a substitution of attorney filed by counsel retained by Grissom's mother. On June 15, 2006, the state PCR petition was dismissed by the court because no brief in support of the petition had been filed despite numerous court reminders and deadlines. Grissom terminated counsel's representation on July 12, 2006.

On August 16, 2006, Grissom filed another PCR petition, asserting claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Vichness denied post-conviction relief on May 23, 2007. On August 24, 2007, Grissom filed a notice of appeal before the Appellate Division,challenging the order denying his state PCR petition. On February 5, 2009, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's denial of post-conviction relief. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on January 28, 2010.

Grissom filed this § 2254 habeas petition on March 18, 2010.1 The respondents filed an answer to the habeas petition on or about April 12, 2011, together with the relevant state court record. (Docket entry no. 18). Grissom filed a reply or traverse to the State's answer on May 5, 2011. (Docket entry no. 19). He filed further letters and/or addendums in support of his habeas petition on June 1, 2011, June 6, 2011, June 13, 2011 and June 30, 2011. (Docket entry nos. 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29).


The facts of this case were recounted below and this Court, affording the state court's factual determinations the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), will simply reproduce the factual recitation as set forth in the unpublished opinion of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, decided on October 7, 2002, with respect to petitioner's direct appeal from his judgment of conviction and sentence rendered on retrial:

The following facts were summarized in an unpublished opinion, State v. Grissom, No. 4810-95 (App. Div. January 12, 1998). Except for the State reading defendant's testimony into the record at the second trial, the testimony mirrored the first trial and the factual rendition previously summarized can be repeated here.
The convictions arose from the January 3, 1995 murder of Donny Ledbetter, the boyfriend of defendant's former girlfriend. It was the State's contention that defendant committed the murder either as a principal or as an accomplice of codefendant Kip Washington.2 The jury verdict does not identify which theory formed the basis for the verdict.
The convictions were premised upon the following evidence. Vonetta Wallace had dated defendant for four and one-half years, breaking up with him in August 1994 to date the victim, Donny Ledbetter. According to Wayne Hakeem Jackson, Ledbetter's cousin, one afternoon in September 1994, while Jackson was at Ledbetter's house, defendant came to the house and started arguing about Vonetta Wallace. In a "threatening" demeanor, defendant told Ledbetter that the next time he came "he wasn't going to talk...." Defendant came alone, did not have a weapon and did not engage in a physical fight with Ledbetter. Jackson acknowledged thatLedbetter owned a handgun for home protection and identified the gun found lying beside Ledbetter's body at the scene of his murder as Ledbetter's gun.
Vonetta Wallace told the jury that about a month and a half prior to the murder, she had a heated confrontation with defendant over her relationship with Ledbetter. On the day of the murder, defendant came to her house around 7:00 a.m., wearing a green goose down coat with black patches. He confronted her about Ledbetter's presence in her house the previous evening. She testified that defendant became angry and said he was going home to be with his father, who had died a few months earlier. She understood this to mean that defendant intended to commit suicide. A short time later, he returned, leaving a note on the windshield of her car which said "I hate you and you're to blame for what happened." He also drove up to the side of her car when she got into it, telling her that he was going home to be with his father and he was going to take her boyfriend too, the implication, of course, being that he intended to kill Ledbetter. On cross-examination, however, Wallace conceded that she first made this statement to police one week before trial. In contrast, her statement to the police on the day after the murder, she told them that defendant said he was going home to be with his father and she could be with her boyfriend.
Another State's witness, Jennifer Ba[y]ley, testified that she was walking to work on January 3, 1995, when she saw a small white car with two occupants. The driver was wearing a shiny green jacket and a black knit cap. The passenger was wearing a camouflage jacket and a black knit hat. It was the passenger who got out of the car, crossed in front of her and rang the doorbell at 182 Lincoln Place, Ledbetter's home. Moments later, she heard a voice say "fire" and then heard four gunshots. She ran to the corner and glanced back at a forty-five degree angle, observing a side view of the passenger's face "for about a second and a half" as he ran back to the car. About a month and a half later, she identified defendant's photograph from a photo array as the "shooter" she saw at 182 Lincoln Place. But, she also identified a green shiny jacket as the Jacket the driver wore, not the shooter. That jacket was found in defendant's possession during a later search of his premises.
. . . .Around 5:00 p.m. that same day, Jackson, Ledbetter's cousin, testified that he went to Wallace's house to ask her what had happened to Ledbetter. Although it was dark, he saw an unidentified man standing by a black car, wearing a green camouflage jacket and a black knit hat with a brim on it Defendant sat in the passenger side of the car and wore a white or beige goose down jacket with patches on the shoulders.
Shortly thereafter, Wallace went to the defendant's mother's house to speak with her about defendant. During the visit they discovered that defendant had shot himself and called' 911. that responded lying near defendant. It was later determined that that gun, a .38 caliber Colt revolver, was the same gun that killed Ledbetter.
A .38 caliber Rome revolver, however, was found at the scene of Ledbetter's murder, next to his body. A spent projectile lying m the grass in front of the house and two bullet holes (one in the aluminum siding and one in a window frame) in the north side of the house at 184 Lincoln Place, were found along with a bullet hole with an embedded round in the front porch to the left of Ledbetter's head. Three spent rounds were also found, one from the grass, one from the window frame next door at 184 Lincoln Place and one from Ledbetter's body. Ledbetter's revolver, the 38 caliber Rome, contained three live rounds and one spent casing. While an empty shell casing from the gun was also found, it could not be determined when the bullet had been fired.
The bullet that killed Ledbetter came the Colt revolver that defendant used to shoot himself. On the other

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