Webster v. Gray, 22-1002

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSELYA, Circuit Judge.
Citation39 F.4th 27
Parties Steven WEBSTER, Petitioner, Appellant, v. Dean GRAY, Superintendent, Respondent, Appellee.
Docket Number22-1002
Decision Date08 July 2022

39 F.4th 27

Steven WEBSTER, Petitioner, Appellant,
Dean GRAY, Superintendent, Respondent, Appellee.

No. 22-1002

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

July 8, 2022

Dana A. Curhan for appellant.

Eva M. Badway, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Barron, Chief Judge, Selya and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

In this habeas appeal, petitioner-appellant Steven Webster challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underpinning his Massachusetts convictions for first-degree felony murder and related offenses. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). Although the facts, when viewed in isolation, lend a patina of plausibility to this challenge, the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of the parts. So it is here: after careful consideration of the evidentiary record as a whole, we find that the state court reasonably applied federal law in deeming the Commonwealth's proof constitutionally adequate and, thus, affirm the district court's denial of the habeas petition.


Because this appeal presents "a challenge to evidentiary sufficiency, we rehearse the facts in the light most compatible with the jury's verdict, consistent with record support." Leftwich v. Maloney, 532 F.3d 20, 21 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781 ). In conducting this tamisage, we remain mindful that — on habeas review — "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court" is "presumed to be correct." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). This presumption extends to findings made by state appellate courts in the course of direct review. See Teti v. Bender, 507 F.3d 50, 58 (1st Cir. 2007). We thus recite the facts that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) found could have supported a jury's reasoning, supplemented by other facts in the record consistent with that recitation. See Porter v. Coyne-Fague, 35 F.4th 68, 71 (1st Cir. 2022) ; Companonio v. O'Brien, 672 F.3d 101, 104 (1st Cir. 2012).

Our tale begins on Cape Cod and, more particularly, in the seaside village of Hyannis (an enclave of Barnstable, Massachusetts). At approximately 1:20 pm on July 11, 2012, Barnstable police officers responded to reports of gunshots at 30 Otis Road — a house abutting a BMW dealership. See Commonwealth v. Webster (Webster I ), 480 Mass. 161, 102 N.E.3d 381, 384 (2018). When the officers arrived, the residue of a discharged firearm lingered in the air, and they heard screams and moaning from inside the house. As the officers approached the house, a man, immediately identified as Keiko Thomas, pulled back a curtain on a window and made eye contact with one of them. The officers heard more gunshots and a commotion inside the house before seeing Thomas and another man (identified as

39 F.4th 30

Eddie Mack) climbing out of a first-floor window at the rear of the property.

Both Thomas and Mack fled, vaulting the fence that separated the property from the BMW dealership. A third man — later identified as David Evans — also emerged from the house and took flight. A pursuit ensued.

Thomas and Evans were quickly apprehended. Mack's arrest transpired not long after: a canine officer and his dog followed a scent trail to an address one street over from Otis Road, where they found Mack and detained him. While most of the officers were in pursuit of this trio, a witness reported seeing a fourth man, not immediately identified, running in the vicinity of the house.

When the police entered the Otis Road dwelling, they were confronted by a grisly scene. A man, subsequently identified as Andrew Stanley, was face-down in a large pool of blood. His hands and feet were bound with duct tape and zip ties.1 Stanley — who had an apparent gunshot wound surrounded by powder burns on his right side — was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. An autopsy revealed (in addition to the gunshot wound) evidence of blunt-force trauma to Stanley's face, neck, torso, and extremities together with marks consistent with the application of a stun gun.

The police recovered several items from the site at which they apprehended Mack, including a quantity of marijuana, two cell phones, and $14,300 in cash. Two other cell phones were discovered nearby. Three of the recovered cell phones belonged to Stanley, Mack, and Thomas, respectively. The police also recovered a black backpack from the parking lot adjacent to the house through which Thomas and Evans had fled. The backpack contained two firearms, including a loaded .45-caliber Colt handgun, gloves, a roll of duct tape, a stun gun, an aerosol can, zip ties, and a black face mask. Testing showed that the face mask bore the petitioner's DNA.

Outside the Otis Road house, the police found a spent shell casing fired from the Colt handgun. The bullet recovered from Stanley's body was consistent with having been fired from that gun. Fingerprint and palm print evidence connected Mack to the scene.

The investigation turned up other evidence that tended to link the petitioner to the crime. The SJC, which upheld the petitioner's convictions on direct appeal, efficiently summarized that evidence2 :

Cell phone records showed that, in the days leading up to the killing, Mack, Evans, and the defendant were communicating with one another via calls and text messages. From July 1 to July 11, the defendant telephoned or sent text messages to numbers associated with Evans 231 times. On July 3, the defendant sent a text message to Evans that stated, "Got some heat lined up," and "Bring dem rollie up, in the arm rest." On July 7, the defendant sent another text message to Evans stating, "cuz if you chillen im bout, I am to go snatch my lil heat by Norfolk and cum back." On July 9, Evans sent a text message to the defendant asking, "So, what about mack?" The defendant responded, "We out their what time was u tryna head out their?" Evans replied, "We gotta see dude at nine tho." Evans asked the defendant, "What you trying to do?" The defendant responded, "stressing fam."
39 F.4th 31
The defendant also communicated with Mack seven times on July 10 and July 11.

Between July 7 and 11, there were multiple text messages exchanged between Mack and Evans and forty-five communications between Mack and Thomas. On July 8, Mack sent a text message to Evans saying, "Gotta come down so I can explain it better bro so we can get better understandin feel me." The day before the killing, Mack sent another text message to Evans asking, "Yal good?" Evans responded, "Yup. We out there tomorrow night cuz."

Cell site location information (CSLI) evidence placed the defendant's and Mack's cell phones in the Barnstable area on July 10 and 11. CSLI evidence further indicated that both of their cell phones were tracked being moved from Barnstable toward Boston approximately one hour after the homicide. At 2:21 P.M., the defendant telephoned Mack, using a calling feature to block the caller's identification. A few minutes later, a text message was sent from [Evans's phone] to Mack, which stated, "What up bro its [me, (i.e., the defendant)] hit me back." At 4 P.M., cell phones belonging to the defendant and Evans were in the Boston area.

Finally, tire impressions found in the dirt and gravel of the backyard at the scene were consistent with the pattern made by the tires of a Chevrolet Impala automobile that Evans had rented a few days prior to the murder. The vehicle was found in Boston on July 13, approximately one mile from the defendant's home. The defendant's DNA was located on the interior and exterior of the rear passenger's side door of the vehicle.

Webster I, 102 N.E.3d at 385-86 (second alteration in original).

The authorities arrested the petitioner in February of 2013. When he was interviewed following his arrest, he dissembled: he told the police that he had never been to Cape Cod and was not familiar with Barnstable. Although the petitioner acknowledged knowing Mack, he at first denied knowing Evans. Later, though, he admitted knowing Evans by a street name — but he claimed to have met him only once.

In due course, a Barnstable County grand jury indicted the petitioner and charged him with, inter alia, first-degree murder on a theory of felony murder. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 1. The petitioner was tried alongside Mack — Thomas and Evans having pleaded guilty to various charges. The jury convicted Mack of first-degree murder as well as other offenses. At the same time, the jury convicted the petitioner of first-degree murder on a theory of felony murder based on a predicate of armed robbery. The jury also convicted the petitioner of armed robbery, home invasion, armed assault in a dwelling, and carrying a firearm without a license.3 See Webster I, 102 N.E.3d at 384. The trial court sentenced the petitioner to a term of life imprisonment on the felony-murder charge and to lesser, concurrent terms of immurement on the other charges. The petitioner appealed.

The SJC affirmed the petitioner's convictions. See id. As relevant here, the petitioner argued — as he had argued in the trial court — that he was not present at

39 F.4th 32

the scene of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT