Woods v. Medeiros

Decision Date08 June 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION No. 15-13776-WGY
Citation465 F.Supp.3d 1
Parties Thomas WOODS, Petitioner, v. Sean MEDEIROS, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Myles Jacobson, Law Office of Myles Jacobson, Northampton, MA, for Petitioner.

Susanne G. Reardon, Abrisham Eshghi, Office of the Attorney General, Boston, MA, for Respondent.




This petition for a writ of habeas corpus arrives after years of back and forth in the courts of Massachusetts. The original criminal prosecution of Thomas Woods ("Woods") for first degree murder, in which he was haled in front of a grand jury while unknowingly the target of the investigation, led the Supreme Judicial Court to introduce a new, prospective rule requiring law enforcement to warn targets of their rights. The Supreme Judicial Court did not apply this rule to Woods, and he now comes before this Court asking for relief.

The underlying facts of Woods's habeas corpus petition concern the late-night killing of his friend Paul Mullen by two masked men, and the subsequent investigation that led to his indictment as their accomplice. See Commonwealth v. Woods, 466 Mass. 707, 708, 1 N.E.3d 762 (2014), cert. denied, 573 U.S. 937, 134 S. Ct. 2855, 189 L.Ed.2d 818 (2014) (" Woods I"); Commonwealth v. Woods, 480 Mass. 231, 102 N.E.3d 961 (2018), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 649, 202 L.Ed.2d 498 (2018) (" Woods II"). A Massachusetts jury found Woods guilty of murder in the first degree in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 1. Suppl. Answer (Vol. I) ("S.A. I") 10, ECF No. 20. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Id. Woods appealed his conviction in the Massachusetts courts alleging that there was not enough evidence at trial for a jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that his grand jury testimony was introduced at trial to undermine his credibility when he was a target of the investigation and had not been warned of his right to avoid self-incrimination, and that he was deprived of his rights under Massachusetts's Humane Practice Rule. See generally Woods I, 466 Mass. 707, 1 N.E.3d 762 ; Woods II, 480 Mass. 231, 102 N.E.3d 961.

Upon denial of those claims by the state courts, Woods requests habeas relief on several grounds. See Am. Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus ("Am. Pet.") 1, ECF No. 32. First, he argues that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Woods intentionally participated in the murder, that the victim of the shooting was the shooter's intended target, and that Woods was involved in a joint venture with the shooter. Id. at 6. Second, Woods argues that the Commonwealth violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because, despite being a target of the investigation, he was not informed of his rights, not represented by an attorney, and his grand jury testimony was offered at trial against him. Id. at 8. Third, Woods argues that for the above reasons he was deprived of his rights under the Humane Practice Rule. Id. at 9; see also Commonwealth v. DiGiambattista, 442 Mass. 423, 446-48, 813 N.E.2d 516 (2004) (examining the Humane Practice doctrine and the Massachusetts jury instructions regarding voluntariness of unrecorded confessions). Fourth and fifth, Woods argues that he was the victim of both ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct because the prosecutor did not tell the judge that he was target of the grand jury investigation and his attorney unreasonably failed to object to such misrepresentation or file evidence indicating his target status. Am. Pet. 11-11A.

II. Procedural History and Relevant Facts
A. The Original Investigation and Trial

In his habeas petition, Woods does not contest the specific factual findings by the Supreme Judicial Court, but rather whether these findings are legally sufficient to support a verdict. When a federal court conducts habeas review of a state criminal conviction, "determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Thus, for its description of the facts, this Court defers to the Supreme Judicial Court.

Woods and the victim, Paul Mullen ("Mullen"), were longtime friends, but had a rift because Mullen owed Woods money. Woods I, 466 Mass. at 709, 1 N.E.3d 762. On several occasions Woods expressed his intention to "shoot" or "kill" Mullen. Id. The night of the shooting, Woods agreed with Mullen to meet at a gas station, and once there, Mullen -- while in the driver seat of Wood's car -- was shot by two masked men who were never identified. Id. at 708 & n.1, 1 N.E.3d 762. Woods was loitering inside the gas station store during the shooting, but after finding Mullen's body in his car Woods moved the body out of the car and drove to his girlfriend's house. Id. Once there, a witness saw Woods talking to a "five foot ten inch tall black man ... wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans." Id. at 711, 1 N.E.3d 762. Woods's girlfriend indicated she saw a man "walking away from [Woods] while waving at him. She described him as a thin man, standing about five feet, seven or eight inches tall, wearing dark jeans, a black hooded sweatshirt, and a Carhartt-brand jacket." Id. at 712, 1 N.E.3d 762. These descriptions coincide with witnesses’ descriptions of one of the shooters, who was also described as wearing a Carhartt jacket. Id. at 708, 1 N.E.3d 762.

The police interviewed Woods twice at the police station, reading him his Miranda rights prior to the second interview. Id. at 712, 1 N.E.3d 762. During this second interview, on February 6, 2006, the police informed him that some of his previous statements were not true, to which Woods responded that he did not want to be considered a "snitch." Id. Woods testified before the grand jury four days later, on February 10, pursuant to a summons. Resp't's Mem. L. Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, Addendum 1, Plymouth County Grand Jury Summons, ECF No. 41. There, Woods presented an exculpatory version of events, and explained several inconsistencies in his prior discussions with police. Woods I, 466 Mass. at 712, 1 N.E.3d 762. At trial, the prosecution presented his grand jury testimony as evidence of his "conflicting stories and outright lies" in order to impeach his credibility. Id.

B. Procedural History

Woods’ petition comes after significant litigation in the Massachusetts courts, including two decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court. See Woods I, 466 Mass. 707, 1 N.E.3d 762 ; Woods II, 480 Mass. 231, 102 N.E.3d 961. These appeals stem from Woods’ conviction in the Superior Court on May 20, 2009 following a jury trial. S.A. I 10.

Prior to his conviction, Woods testified before the grand jury without the benefit of counsel, and the only warning of his rights was an admonition to tell the truth. Woods II, 480 Mass. at 234 & n.3, 102 N.E.3d 961 ; S.A. I 149-50. When the Commonwealth informed the court that it intended to introduce the grand jury evidence at trial, Woods filed a motion in limine to exclude the testimony "because he was a target of the investigation but did not receive ‘any warnings that he didn't have to submit to that questioning or that he could assert his Fifth Amendment privilege.’ " Woods II, 480 Mass. at 233-34, 102 N.E.3d 961. The trial judge stated that he did not know if such a warning was required in state criminal proceedings. Id. at 234, 102 N.E.3d 961. He asked the prosecutor if Woods was a target, to which the prosecutor responded he was a "person of interest" but not yet a target at the time of the testimony. Id. The trial judge then issued an oral ruling that Woods was not a target and that his rights had not been violated. Id. at 235, 102 N.E.3d 961.

Woods argued on his first appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court that the Commonwealth had presented insufficient evidence to prove he was guilty of engaging in a joint venture to murder Mullen. Woods I, 466 Mass. at 708, 1 N.E.3d 762. He also argued that the trial judge erred in not finding him to be a target of the investigation, and that he was thus entitled to a warning of his right against self-incrimination under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Id. He further requested that the Supreme Judicial Court order him a new trial. Id. at 708-09, 1 N.E.3d 762.

The Supreme Judicial Court concluded, however, that the evidence at trial was sufficient to permit a jury to find his guilt. Id. at 709, 1 N.E.3d 762. It further concluded that at the time of the grand jury testimony Woods was not a target of the investigation. Id. Most important to the current petition, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that even if Woods were a target, there was no constitutional rule in place requiring he be warned prior to his grand jury testimony. Id. at 719-20, 1 N.E.3d 762. The Supreme Judicial Court created a new rule, pursuant to its power of superintendence over the Commonwealth's courts, requiring the Commonwealth to advise targets or potential targets of their rights prior to testimony before a grand jury. Id. at 720, 1 N.E.3d 762. The court stressed, however, that Woods himself would not get the benefit of the rule because it was "not a new constitutional rule" and would be applied only prospectively. Id.

Following the Supreme Judicial Court's decision, Woods filed a new trial motion under Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 30(b). See Am. Pet., Ex. 1, Mem. Decision Order Def.’s Mot. New Trial 1 ("New Trial Order"), Commonwealth v. Woods, No. 0683CR498 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Nov. 17, 2016), ECF No. 32-1. Woods argued that because he was the fifth individual to appear before that grand jury, the prosecution would have known from the other witnesses that he was a target. Id. The motion judge credited this argument after considering the testimony of the other witnesses -- which was not...

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