Williams v. Smith

Decision Date11 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 10-CV-03043 (JG),10-CV-03043 (JG)
PartiesDEMETRIUS WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. JOSEPH T. SMITH, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York






Shawangunk Correctional Facility

Petitioner, Pro Se


Kings County District Attorney

By: Thomas M. Ross

Alyson J. Gill

Leonard Joblove

Attorney for Respondent

JOHN GLEESON, United States District Judge:

Demetrius Williams, currently incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeking relief from his conviction of felony murder in the second degree, rendered in Kings County Supreme Court following a jury trial. Williams, appearing pro se, claims that the trial court (1) erroneously declined to submit for the jury's consideration the "non-slayer" affirmative defense to felony murder; (2) improperly permitted the introduction at trial of suggestions that Williams hadthreatened or intimidated a prosecution witness and a potential witness; (3) deprived Williams of a public trial by excluding children from the courtroom; and (4) erroneously refused to suppress statements made by Williams to the police. Oral argument was held on December 1, 2010. For the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.

A. The Government's Case at Trial
1. The Offense Conduct

Demetrius Williams ("Williams") and his co-defendant and cousin Leshawn Williams ("Leshawn") were charged by indictment with, inter alia, three counts of murder in the second degree, including felony murder, two counts of robbery in the first degree, and robbery in the second degree. The indictment charged that, on June 27, 2003, the two men, acting in concert, stole a gold chain from Joab Thompson and, in the course of the robbery, caused his death by a single gunshot wound to the head. The cousins were tried together before separate juries. Five counts were submitted to the Williams jury, including second-degree felony murder. Trial Tr. at 848-55. The jury was instructed that if it found Williams guilty of felony murder, it should not consider the other charges. Id. at 847. Williams was found guilty of second-degree felony murder, id. at 977-979, and was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of twenty years to life.

The government's evidence at trial established that, just after 10:30 p.m. on June 27, 2003, Thompson was found dead by fire department personnel on the second-floor landing of a stairwell in building "A" of the Carey Gardens Houses at 2946 West 23rd Street in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. Id. at 54-56. Thompson had been shot in the head directly above the left eye. Id. at 57-58. Thompson did not live in the building, but he visited almost daily to seehis mother, Rose Campbell, who lived on the eighth floor. Id. at 82. At trial, Campbell identified a gold chain with a medallion of the letter "D" that her son always wore. Id. at 84-85. She testified that Thompson always wore a white gold bracelet as well. Id. at 83-84.

Khadija Watkins, a woman who had grown up in the area and who lived at Carey Gardens at the time of Thompson's death, id. at 142-43, testified that she was the first person to arrive at the scene after Thompson was shot. Id. 146-47. She noticed that his chain and bracelet were gone. Id. at 251-52. Watkins testified that she was a close friend of Thompson, whom she had known for eight or nine years. Id. at 249-50. She had also known Williams and Leshawn for years, as they had all grown up together. Id. at 144, 148-49.

2. Watkins's Testimony About "Yapping" Thompson

Watkins told the jury that about two weeks before the homicide, she was in the apartment of Quantella Harrington and Danielle Jones, two friends who lived together at 2946 West 23rd Street. Id. at 147, 143. Williams and Leshawn were with the three women in the living room when Thompson entered and went to the back of the apartment. Id. at 147-49. After he came in, "[e]verbody started talking about the chain [he] had around his neck." Id. at 147-48. In particular, Leshawn said he and his cousin would "yap [Thompson] for the chain, " which Watkins took to mean Leshawn intended to steal the chain. Id. at 152-53. Williams responded to his cousin's statement by nodding his head. Id.

Watkins testified that several days later, she was standing with Williams, Leshawn, Harrington, and Jones outside the building where the murder took place. Id. at 205206. Thompson walked by the group, and as he passed, "Leshawn said he was going to yap himfor the chain." Id. Again, Demetrius "just nodded his head like, yeah, we're going to get him." Id. 1

3. The Pawning of Thompson's Chain

Andre Wise, who had grown up in the Carey Gardens housing project, had known Williams and Leshawn since childhood. Id. at 363-64, 369-70. He also had known someone named Hasan Chery his whole life. Id. at 357-58. Wise testified that on June 28, 2003, the day after Thompson was shot, Chery and Leshawn came to see him in Manhattan, where he lived. Id. at 358-60. Chery and Leshawn had with them Thompson's chain, which Chery asked Wise to pawn. Id. at 360-62, 371 (identifying as the chain he was asked to pawn the same chain Campbell identified as her son's). The three men went together to a pawn shop, where Wise pawned the chain for $418. Id. at 362A, 364-66. He gave the money to Leshawn. Id. at 364-66. Wise testified that when Chery handed him the chain, "it looked like it was popped.... One of the links wasn't together." Id. at 366.

4. Williams's Statement to the Police

Detective Michael Heinrichs of the Brooklyn South Homicide Squad, id. at 554, and Detective John Kenny of the 60th Detective Squad, Huntley Tr. at 3, testified that they apprehended Williams in the late afternoon of June 30, 2003 around Surf Avenue and 24th Street and brought him to the 60th Precinct where they interviewed him later that evening. Trial Tr. at 554, 652-53, 663. During the course of the interview, Williams told the detectives that on the evening of June 27, 2003, he had been by the ball park in Coney Island watching some fireworks. Id. at 655. Afterwards, he returned to the building in which Thompson was later shot.

Id. There, he met up with Leshawn, and the two of them entered the building and got onto the elevator with a number of other individuals including Thompson. Id. Williams told the detectives he had a gut feeling that something was wrong, because his cousin sometimes does crazy things. Id. at 657, 666-67. He noticed a crazy look in Leshawn's eye and had a feeling that something was about to happen. Id. at 688-89. According to Williams, as he and Leshawn moved to exit the elevator, Thompson attacked Leshawn with a razor. Id. at 655. While the two men fought, Williams stepped between them and began to run down the stairway. Id. Part-way down the stairway, he heard a gunshot and looked back to see Leshawn running after him and Thompson lying on the floor. Id. at 655-56, 691-92. The cousins ran out of the building. Id. at 656.

4. The Surveillance Tapes and Photographs

In June 2003, Police Officer Denise McDonald was assigned to the Video Interactive Patrol Enhancement Response unit, or "VIPER, " which had installed surveillance cameras in certain public housing developments. Id. at 426-27. McDonald's assignment was to monitor footage captured by cameras in and around the four buildings of the Carey Gardens project. Id. at 427-28.

McDonald testified that on June 28, 2003, she was asked to review the previous day's recordings to look for footage of an individual who met the description of Thompson as provided to her by another police officer. Id. at 430-31. McDonald isolated a number of clips that were subsequently burned onto a CD and introduced as an exhibit at trial. Id. at 439-40. In her testimony, McDonald described the clips as they were played for the jury. Id. at 451-57, 469-72. In the first clip, Thompson was seen entering the building, followed by Williams and Leshawn, at approximately 10:27 p.m. Id. at 453-54. In the next clip, all three men boarded theelevator from the lobby. Id. at 454. A number of other passengers were seen exiting the elevator on the second floor. Id. at 455. Thompson, Williams, and Leshawn rode to the eighth floor, where all three got off. Id. at 455-56. According to the prosecutor, the video showed Williams nodding his head repeatedly to Leshawn just before the elevator door opened on the eighth floor. Id. at 790. The prosecutor also pointed out what she described as "an unnatural bulge" tucked into Williams's waistband beneath his shirt, which she suggested was a gun. Id. at 789, 791-92.

McDonald testified that on June 28, 2003, she had also seen a clip that showed the cousins leaving the building together at approximately 10:30 p.m., but that portion of the recording had not been preserved and could not subsequently be relocated. Id. at 457-60. According to McDonald, a rip could be seen in Leshawn's shirt as he left the building. Id. at 467-68. The rip was also visible in footage taken at approximately 10:32 in a neighboring Carey Gardens building; that footage was preserved and shown at trial. Id. at 468-69. In addition to the video clips, the government introduced three still photographs, which were taken from the recordings and described by McDonald to the jury. Id. at 434.

B. The Suggestions of Witness Intimidation
1. The Suggestion that Watkins was Intimidated

Watkins gave inconsistent testimony at trial regarding her interactions with Williams, Leshawn, and Thompson in the days leading up to the homicide. When first asked by the prosecutor whether she had stood outside 2946 West 23rd Street with the cousins several days before the homicide, she said she had not, and she denied having heard them say anything about Thompson when he walked by. Id. at 154-55. The prosecutor repeated her question, and Watkins repeated her denial. 164-65. At...

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