Satcher v. Netherland

Decision Date08 October 1996
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:95cv261.
Citation944 F.Supp. 1222
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesMichael Charles SATCHER, Petitioner, v. J.D. NETHERLAND, Warden, Respondent.

John L. Hardiman, New York City, Lee Ann Anderson McCall, Greenville, SC, and Steven D. Benjamin and Betty Layne Des Portes, Steven D. Benjamin and Associates, Richmond, VA, for Petitioner.

Katherine P. Baldwin, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Respondent.


PAYNE, District Judge.

Michael Charles Satcher, having been convicted in the Circuit Court of Arlington County of capital murder, is held under penalty of death at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center in Boydton, Virginia. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Satcher filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and an Amended and Restated Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Respondent thereafter filed a Motion to Dismiss the Petition. The motion has been briefed and argued. There has been substantial supplemental briefing as a result of issues raised during oral argument, legislative amendments to the controlling statutes, and judicial response to that legislation.


At approximately 7:00 p.m. on March 31, 1990, Deborah Abel was riding her bicycle in the Rosslyn section of Arlington County on a bicycle path which runs roughly parallel to the Lee Highway and near the Air Force Association building. This section of the bicycle path is hidden from the view of motorists by a sound barrier wall approximately fifteen to twenty feet high. Abel had just passed the Air Force Association building when she noticed a man walking toward her. As they passed, they made eye contact. A few seconds thereafter, Abel was jumped from behind, pulled off her bicycle and dragged into a ditch alongside the bicycle path. The assailant beat Abel in the face and head and pulled her pants part way down. One of the attacker's early blows dislodged Abel's glasses, and thereafter he forcibly kept her head turned toward the ground.

Suddenly, the attacker stopped beating Abel, picked up her purse, and ran because, we know now, Mark Polemani, another cyclist, happened upon the scene as he was on his way to a banquet at Georgetown University which was to begin at 7:30 p.m. Polemani saw Abel's bicycle lying askew off the path and noticed a man, kneeling alongside the path, "throw a punch to the ground." This prompted Polemani to get off of his bicycle to investigate. As Polemani approached, the assailant stopped the attack, picked up Abel's purse and fled. Polemani pursued the attacker up the path, to the top of the street, but the assailant escaped. As Polemani returned to the scene, he noticed Abel, who was covered with blood and partially disrobed, emerge from the ditch. Polemani helped Abel to a nearby apartment complex where they called the police.

As a result of Polemani's report, a police officer arrived on the scene at 7:27 p.m. Shortly thereafter, several other officers arrived and, approximately one hour after the attack (8:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter), a tracking dog was brought to the area. The search of the area lasted for about an hour.

At 8:00 p.m. that same evening, Ann Borghesani was expected to arrive at her birthday party in the Crystal City area of Arlington County. Susan Cohen, Borghesani's roommate, was the last person to see Borghesani alive. According to Cohen, when, at approximately 7:10 p.m., she left the apartment which she and Borghesani shared to go to dinner with her fiance, Borghesani was ironing the clothes that she was to wear to her birthday party. It is a walk of about five minutes time from Borghesani's apartment to the Rosslyn Metro station where she would have taken a train to Crystal City. The record does not disclose Borghesani's expected route, but the most direct route to the Metro Station is along the bicycle path on which Abel was attacked. The Air Force Association building, adjacent to the bicycle path, is located between Borghesani's apartment and the Metro station.

When Borghesani failed to appear at the party, her friends became concerned because she was typically prompt; and they would have expected her to have informed them if she was running late. After alerting the authorities, several of Borghesani's friends began to search for her, looking, among other places, at her apartment and along the bicycle path between the apartment and the Rosslyn Metro station.

The efforts of her friends were unsuccessful, but Borghesani's body was found shortly after 8:00 a.m. the next morning (April 1, 1990) at the bottom of a stairwell in the Air Force Association building which is located on the north side of the bicycle path and not far from the site of the attack on Abel. Borghesani was nude from the waist down, had been raped, stabbed 21 times with a sharp-tipped object, and robbed of her jewelry and purse. The record contains no evidence of the time at which Borghesani died.

One of Borghesani's shoes was found on the bicycle path between the stairwell and the intersection of Oak Street and Lee Highway by an individual who earlier that morning had placed it on a brick wall bordering the path. Borghesani's purse was found a few days later near Abel's purse in some bushes next to a parking lot which is located across the highway approximately two blocks away from the Air Force Association building. Neither purse contained any money.

Five months after the Abel attack and Borghesani's murder, Satcher was arrested for offenses committed on the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Trail, also located in Arlington County, but not the same bike trail on which the Abel attack had occurred and near which Borghesani's body was discovered. The background of Satcher's arrest bears some discussion.

At about 9:30 a.m. on August 18, 1990, Joanna Chusid was walking along the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Trail when she was grabbed from behind and forced into the woods by a black man wielding a Swiss army knife. The attack was terminated when Chusid involuntarily urinated.

Approximately two hours later, at 11:30 a.m., Regina Overholt was grabbed from behind by a black man as she walked along a bicycle path, approximately 30 yards from, but parallel to, the path on which Chusid had been assaulted. Overholt's assailant used a knife with a four-inch blade to force her off the path. The attack was interrupted when two people responded to Overholt's cries for help. After the attacker fled, Overholt and her rescuers, while looking for a telephone to report the attack, came upon Joyce Bern who recounted that she had just been "about knocked ... down" by a black man wearing an off-white shirt with faded red writing, red jogging pants, and "a black fanny pack." This description matched that given by Overholt and her rescuers.

At noon, approximately one-half hour after the attack on Overholt, Alice Rooney was jogging on the same bicycle path, about a mile from the other attacks. As Rooney crossed a footbridge, a black man gave chase. A motorcycle police officer, who previously had been alerted to the description of Overholt's assailant, observed the man running close behind Rooney, and realized that he matched the description of the suspect in the Overholt attack. The officer stopped the man who was running behind Rooney and identified him as Satcher. Another officer arrived at the scene, queried Satcher about what was in his hand and, when Satcher did not respond, the officer reached for the item in Satcher's hand. Satcher dropped the item and the officer identified it to be a white T-shirt with red letters wrapped around an open knife. Satcher then was arrested and Bern, who was brought to the scene, (about a ten minute walk from her condominium) identified Satcher as the person who almost knocked her down shortly after the thwarted attack on Overholt.

After Satcher was arrested, the police found an awl in the glove compartment of his car. Satcher acknowledged that he had owned the awl when Abel was attacked and Borghesani was murdered. The awl was not identified as the murder weapon, but in the medical examiner's opinion, the awl was "consistent with [Borghesani's] wounds." Even though nothing was said to Satcher about the Abel or Borghesani offenses upon the event of his arrest for the Overholt attack, Satcher, as he was being transported to police headquarters, responded to a police officer's question: "What's up?" with the statement that the police were "trying to frame [him] for a murder or something or a rape or something." Satcher v. Commonwealth, 244 Va. 220, 421 S.E.2d 821, 825 (1992).

Following the arrest, Satcher voluntarily gave blood, saliva, and hair samples. The serological analysis showed that Satcher is within a group comprised of seven percent of the national population who could have produced the semen found on Borghesani's pants.1 Scientific testing by a forensics expert of the hair confirmed that pubic hairs found on Borghesani's clothing were neither Satcher's nor Borghesani's. However, DNA testing established a match between Satcher and the DNA recovered from the vaginal swabs taken from Borghesani's clothing.

Immediately after the attack on Abel in March 1990, Abel gave a description of her assailant as a black male who was 25 to 30 years of age, stood approximately 5'9" to 5'10" in height, and weighed 190 to 200 pounds. He reportedly had no visible facial hair or scars and wore a short Afro haircut. Polemani was likewise asked to give a description of the attacker the day after the attack. His description of Abel's assailant was virtually identical to that given...

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