Quartararo v. Hanslmaier

Decision Date30 November 1998
Docket NumberNo. 94-CV-5564 (JS).,94-CV-5564 (JS).
Citation28 F.Supp.2d 749
PartiesMichael QUARTARARO, Petitioner, v. Robert HANSLMAIER, Superintendent, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

Henriette D. Hoffman, The Legal Aid Society, Federal Defender Division, Appeals Bureau, New York, NY, for Petitioner.

James M. Catterson, Jr., District Attorney of Suffolk County by Steven A. Hovani, Assistant District Attorney, Riverhead, NY, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SEYBERT, District Judge.

Petitioner Michael Quartararo petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeking to set aside his conviction for the 1979 murder of thirteen year-old John Pius. The initial charges alleged that Petitioner, along with his older brother Peter Quartararo, Thomas Ryan, and Robert Brensic, murdered Pius by shoving rocks down Pius' throat, ultimately suffocating him. After a careful and exhaustive review of the extensive record in this matter, the Court concludes that Michael Quartararo's petition must be granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND
PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Following a jury trial with his brother Peter that drew considerable public attention, Michael Quartararo was first convicted of Pius' murder in 1981. On June 9, 1981, Petitioner was sentenced as a juvenile to an indeterminate term of incarceration of nine years to life. Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division, Second Department, which affirmed the conviction, People v. Quartararo, 113 A.D.2d 845, 493 N.Y.S.2d 511 (2d Dep't 1985). Leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied. People v. Quartararo, 66 N.Y.2d 1042, 499 N.Y.S.2d 1040, 489 N.E.2d 1312 (1985).

In 1988, United States District Judge Edward R. Korman granted Petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. Quartararo v. Fogg, 679 F.Supp. 212 (E.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 849 F.2d 1467 (2d Cir.1988). Specifically, Judge Korman found that Petitioner's counsel was constitutionally deficient because he failed to object to highly prejudicial and inadmissible evidence, failed to object to a "grossly improper and inflammatory" prosecutorial summation, failed to make an opening statement, and made his own "incompetent summation." Id. at 248. This decision was heightened by the judge's determination that the evidence against Petitioner, apart from the inadmissible evidence to which his counsel did not object, was "exceedingly weak." Id. at 249. However, in a footnote, the judge rejected Petitioner's claim of insufficient evidence under the governing test set forth in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, (1979). See id. at 214 n. 3.1

Despite such "exceedingly weak" evidence, Petitioner was retried in 1990, and again was convicted of second degree murder. On May 30, 1990, Petitioner again was sentenced to an indeterminate term of incarceration of nine years to life, with a recommendation from the sentencing judge that parole not be considered until fifteen years had been served. Petitioner received credit for time served following the first conviction. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction.2 People v. Quartararo, 200 A.D.2d 160, 612 N.Y.S.2d 635 (2d Dep't 1994). Leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals was denied on November 1, 1994. People v. Quartararo, 84 N.Y.2d 939, 621 N.Y.S.2d 536, 645 N.E.2d 1236 (1994). This pro se petition for habeas corpus followed on December 8, 1994.3

The conviction of Peter Quartararo, who was tried jointly with Michael in 1981, also was affirmed and leave to appeal was denied. Judge Korman, however, granted Peter's petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that his confession was involuntary.4 Quartararo v. Mantello, 715 F.Supp. 449, 466 (E.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 888 F.2d 126 (2d Cir.1989). Following the issuance of the writ, Peter Quartararo was not retried because there was insufficient evidence linking him to the murder.

Robert Brensic was convicted following a jury trial in 1983. His conviction was affirmed by the Second Department in 1986. People v. Brensic, 119 A.D.2d 281, 506 N.Y.S.2d 570 (2d Dep't 1986). Nevertheless, the conviction was overturned by the New York Court of Appeals on the ground that Peter Quartararo's confession was improperly admitted into evidence against Brensic. See People v. Brensic, 70 N.Y.2d 9, 517 N.Y.S.2d 120, 509 N.E.2d 1226 (1987). On remand, Brensic's request for a change of venue was granted, but he pled guilty to manslaughter in the second degree prior to trial.5 According to the papers submitted with this petition, Brensic is now out on parole.

The last co-defendant, Thomas Ryan, was tried and convicted in 1983. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Ryan, 121 A.D.2d 34, 509 N.Y.S.2d 545 (2d Dep't 1986). However, following the determination that Peter Quartararo's confession was unreliable, the Appellate Division on rehearing overturned Ryan's conviction. People v. Ryan, 134 A.D.2d 300, 520 N.Y.S.2d 528 (2d Dep't 1987). Following a mistrial in his second trial, Ryan subsequently was retried a third time in Suffolk County, after his motion to change venue was denied. People v. Ryan, 151 A.D.2d 528, 542 N.Y.S.2d 665 (2d Dep't 1989). He was convicted of second degree murder on May 20, 1990. Because Ryan was an adult at the time of the murder, he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life. Ryan's leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied on August 21, 1995. People v. Ryan, 86 N.Y.2d 801, 632 N.Y.S.2d 515, 656 N.E.2d 614 (1995). Ryan's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is presently pending before this Court.

THE EVIDENCE INTRODUCED AT TRIAL

At Petitioner's second trial, the prosecution advanced the theory that Pius had witnessed the four co-defendants steal a motorless minibike, and out of fear that Pius would report them to the police, the four killed Pius by beating him and shoving stones down his throat, subsequently burying his body in the woods behind the Dogwood Elementary School. T. 1145-56.

A. The Murder and Investigation

At about 8:15 p.m. on April 20, 1979, John Pius, Jr. asked his father for permission to ride his bicycle up to the Dogwood Elementary School. T. 75-76. His father told him to come back in about fifteen minutes. T. 76 Pius was last seen at about 8:25 p.m., as he was bicycling out of the driveway of his home. T. 461-62. There was no evidence of the route Pius traveled to the Dogwood Elementary School, but it usually took approximately five minutes to bicycle the quarter of a mile from the Pius home to the school. T. 402, 405.

When Pius had not returned home by 9:30 p.m., his father went to look for him at the school grounds. T. 76, 128. He continued to search for his son on and off throughout the night, calling out his name. T. 128. On two occasions, Eddie Pembroke, Pius' friend and neighbor, accompanied Mr. Pius. T. 78, 411-14, 437. The next morning, Mr. Pius was informed that his son's wallet had been found in the playground of the Dogwood Elementary School. T. 80. Mr. Pius went to the school with some family members. T. 81. His niece spotted Pius' bicycle partially buried under leaves at the bottom of the hill. T. 81. Mr. Pius stood it up against a tree. T. 81-82. At about 1:30 p.m., Pius' body was discovered buried beneath leaves, branches and logs. T. 83-84, 488, 496. Six rocks were lodged in Pius' throat. T. 342. His body had multiple contusions and lacerations from being dragged across the ground. T. 336-38, 346. The primary causes of death were traumatic asphyxia and compression of the chest and neck. T. 346.

The only fingerprint on Pius' bicycle was his own. T. 378. There was no hair or fiber evidence recovered. T. 396. A diamond, "Puma"-type tread sneaker print was found on Pius' face. T. 297, 300. Additionally, there were six footprints found within the path along which the body had been dragged. T. 288, 304. None of the prints at the scene or on Pius' face matched any of the sneakers and shoes taken from the four defendants. T. 301-02. The only match was with Eddie Pembroke's sneakers. T. 299-300. The police did not take sneakers from the initial suspects — John Sparling, Michael O'Neil and Raymond St. Dennis — or from any other potential suspects (except the four defendants) to compare with the impressions obtained from footprints at the scene and on Pius' face. T. 207, 301-02, 666-67.

According to Dr. Carlos Tejo, the Medical Examiner, the death occurred in a twelve-hour period from 3:45 p.m. on April 20th to 3:45 a.m. on April 21st. T. 345. Thus, according to the forensic evidence, Pius could have been killed as late as seven hours after he was last seen alive at 8:25 p.m., riding from his home. T. 345-46, 353.

To support its theory that Pius was murdered at approximately 8:35 p.m., the prosecution elicited the testimony of John Bailey, whose residence was adjacent to the school. Bailey was then fourteen years old. T. 519, 529. The prosecution also introduced a stipulation as to the testimony of an elderly woman, Mrs. Calia, who had been babysitting at the Bailey residence on the evening of April 20, 1979. T. 611. Beginning about 8:15 p.m., both Bailey and Calia heard the Bailey's dog, which was outside in the backyard, barking intermittently for fifteen to twenty minutes. T. 523-25, 611-12. Mrs. Calia also heard commotion and voices, but did not recognize them and could not distinguish the words. T. 610-12. The two never investigated to determine why the dog was barking. T. 531. The prosecution argued that evidence of the dog barking from about 8:15 p.m. through 8:35 p.m. proved that the death occurred during that time period, the commotion surrounding the beating and killing of Pius being the reason the dog was barking. T. 523-24, 610-12, 1155-56.

John Sparling, then seventeen years old, testified that at about 7:50 p.m., he and his two friends...

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  • Ryan v. Miller
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • August 28, 2002
    ...District granted Michael Q.'s petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on insufficiency of the evidence, see Quartararo v. Hanslmaier, 28 F.Supp.2d 749, 779 (E.D.N.Y. 1998), but the Second Circuit vacated the judgment in 1999, see Quartararo v. Hanslmaier, 186 F.3d 91 (2d Cir.1999). The S......
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    ...overturn a state court's findings of juror impartiality if those findings were manifestly erroneous"); see also Quartararo v. Hanslmaier, 28 F.Supp.2d 749, 780 (E.D.N.Y.1998). In this case, the trial court questioned the juror who presented the note asking to be excused early after "sentenc......
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