Williams v. Branker, NO. 5:99-HC-123-F

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtJAMES C. FOX
Decision Date27 September 2013
PartiesMARVIN EARL WILLIAMS, JR. Petitioner, v. GERALD BRANKER, Warden, Central Prison, Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent.
Docket NumberNO. 5:99-HC-123-F

MARVIN EARL WILLIAMS, JR. Petitioner,
v.
GERALD BRANKER, Warden, Central Prison, Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent.

NO. 5:99-HC-123-F

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA WESTERN DIVISION

SO ORDERED: September 27, 2013


ORDER

This matter arises from the petition for writ of habeas corpus [DE -9], pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed by Marvin Earl Williams, Jr. ("Williams" or "Petitioner"). Petitioner is a state inmate convicted of "first-degree murder . . . burglary with explosives and attempted safecracking." State v. Williams, 339 N.C. 1, 12, 452 S.E.2d 245, 252 (N.C. 1994). Presently before the court is Respondent's motion for summary judgment [DE-10]. For the following reasons, the court orders that Respondent's motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED, and the petition is DISMISSED.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

I. Background

Williams was convicted on June 4, 1990, in the Superior Court of Wayne County. Pet. [DE-9], p. 5. The following summary of the evidence presented at his trial is taken from the initial opinion of the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Williams, 334 N.C. 440, 434 S.E.2d 588 (N.C. 1993). cert. granted, judg. vac. by North Carolina v. Bryant, 511 U.S. 1001 (1994):

In the early morning of 12 February 1989, Lewis Rich, a security guard for Dewey Brothers, Inc., arrived at the company's premises for his 12:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift

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to find the guardhouse gate locked. Unable to enter the premises or locate Theron Price, the guard he was scheduled to relieve, Rich telephoned Richard Helms, the company president. Helms arrived shortly and opened the gate. Helms found the door to the payroll office partially open, a light emanating from within, and just outside the office door an acetylene torch and a cart bearing oxygen and acetylene tanks. Helms then summoned the police. Inside the payroll office, the police observed a floor safe illuminated by a gooseneck lamp. There was carbon on the safe's hinges and knob. The police determined that the torch was improperly adjusted, that it would have created a lot of smoke and carbon but would not have cut metal.
Joining the police in a search of the rest of the premises, Helms discovered Theron Price. Lifeless, Price was lying on his back in the steel shed next to the payroll office, and had blood on his face and head. Parallel lines in the dirt indicated he had been dragged into the shed. Various of his possessions, including his time clock, were nearby, as were a yellow hard hat and a welder's mask. The time clock, hard hat and welder's mask had blood on them. There were cracks in the fiberglass of the welder's mask, and, in the cracks, gray hairs. Also found on the scene were Reebok tennis shoe impressions leading to the building which housed the acetylene torches and related equipment. The lock on the cabinet where the torches were kept had been cut off.
Several days after the discovery of Price's body, an employee of Dewey Brothers named Angelo Farmer reported to his supervisors that he knew the identity of the killer. According to Farmer, he and defendant had discussed breaking into Dewey Brothers and robbing its safe in the early part of February. On 11 February, defendant asked Fanner whether he was "ready to move." When Farmer indicated that he was not, defendant said, "I'm gone. I'm on my move." The next day, after learning of Price's death, Farmer confronted defendant, saying: "Damn man. You killed a man." Defendant said he did not mean to do it. When Fanner remarked that defendant could have tied Price up, defendant replied that he had wanted to but "the man kept coming."
Having revealed this information, Farmer agreed to cooperate with the police. The police furnished him with a tape recording device. Wearing the device, Farmer engaged defendant in conversation about the crimes. During the conversation, defendant said he had tried to break into Dewey Brothers' safe using an acetylene torch he found on the premises. When surprised by the watchman, he had pulled a knife but the guard had "kept coming." He had then taken the guard's time clock and hit him with it "two or three times." Defendant further stated: "I got scared then, but then I thought about the money. I kept checking on him and he had not come back to. I knew I had done killed the m----- f----- then." Defendant had continued to work on the safe and had checked on the guard more than once. When he heard a truck pull up, and later a car, defendant had attempted to wipe away his fingerprints and hide

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some of the evidence, and had then fled.
The police obtained a warrant based on Farmer's allegations and the tape recording and arrested defendant at a boarding house called the Salem Lodge. The police seized defendant's clothing and some of his possessions. The shoes he was wearing matched the footprints found at Dewey Brothers. Other than the shoes, however, the police obtained no physical evidence tending to link defendant to the crime scene.
An autopsy of the victim's body revealed several wounds on the face and head caused by blunt force trauma and a small laceration on each hand. The wounds on the face would have caused mild to moderate pain. The wounds on the head resulted in skull fractures and could have caused death. Two of these wounds would have required the force of a five-pound steel ball dropped from seven to twelve feet. The victim may have been conscious during the infliction of all the wounds, and for two to five minutes thereafter, and may have been hit while lying on the ground. The victim probably lived for five to ten minutes after the fatal blows were struck.
Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder on theories of felony murder, the underlying felony being burglary with explosives, and premeditation and deliberation. He was also convicted of burglary with explosives and attempted safe-cracking. After a sentencing hearing, the jury recommended and the trial court imposed a sentence of death. The trial court also sentenced defendant to thirty years' imprisonment on the burglary conviction, but arrested the attempted safe-cracking judgment.

Williams, 334 N.C. at 444-46, 434 S.E.2d at 590-91.

II. Procedural History

On direct appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court determined that "the trial judge gave the jury an unconstitutional instruction on the meaning of 'reasonable doubt'" and therefore ordered that Petitioner be afforded a new trial. Id. at 446, 434 S.E.2d at 591. The United States Supreme Court granted North Carolina's petition for certiorari review and vacated and remanded to the North Carolina Supreme Court "for further consideration in light of Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1 (1994)." North Carolina v. Bryant, 511 U.S. 1001 (1994). On remand, the North Carolina Supreme Court found no error and affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. State v. Williams, 339 N.C.

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1, 452 S.E.2d 245 (N.C. 1994), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 833 (1995).

On July 3, 1996, Petitioner filed a motion for appropriate relief ("MAR") in the Superior Court of Wayne County. Resp't. Ex. M. The state court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing before issuing an order summarily denying the MAR on May 22, 1997. Resp't. Ex. O. Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for certiorari review with the North Carolina Supreme Court, which was denied. Resp't. Ex. P; Resp't. Ex. R. On March 5, 1999, Petitioner filed his initial federal petition for writ of habeas corpus [DE-4]. On April 7, 1999, Petitioner filed his corrected petition [DE-9]. Also on April 7, 1999, Respondent filed his answer to the petition and motion for summary judgment [DE-10], On March 21, 2002, the court entered an order [DE-29] granting Petitioner's motion to stay federal habeas proceedings while he prosecuted a MAR in the state courts pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-2006. On February 2, 2012, the Superior Court of Wayne County issued its ruling on Petitioner's MAR, finding that at the time he committed the offenses for which he was convicted he was "mentally retarded as defined by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-2005(a)(1)[.]" Resp't. Am. Answer [DE-53], pp. 3-4. Therefore, Petitioner's death sentence was vacated and a life sentence was imposed. Id. The State did not appeal. Id.

The parties have filed additional briefing [DE-53, 54, 57, 58] and agree Petitioner's claims pertaining to his death sentence are moot1 and should be dismissed. Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for ruling.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

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A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of initially coming forward and demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate that there exists a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

B. Section 2254(d)

The court's review of Petitioner's claims is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as modified by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104, 132, 110...

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