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LOCKE v. HENDRICKS

October 4, 2005.

EDWARD LOCKE, Petitioner,
v.
ROY L. HENDRICKS, et al., Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSE LINARES, District Judge

OPINION

Edward Locke, serving a life sentence for felony murder, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Respondents filed an Answer, arguing, inter alia, that the Petition is an unexhausted mixed petition and that the claims presented are in any event without merit. For the reasons expressed below, the Court dismisses the Petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2253(c), 2254(a), (b), (c). I. BACKGROUND

  Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered on January 9, 1995, and amended on May 2, 1997, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, after a jury convicted him of felony murder, aggravated manslaughter, first-degree robbery and second-degree burglary. The Court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment with a 30-year period of parole ineligibility for felony murder, to a consecutive term of 20 years imprisonment, with 10 years of parole ineligibility for first degree-robbery, and concurrent sentences on the aggravated manslaughter and burglary convictions.

  Petitioner appealed and by opinion filed April 29, 1997, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed the convictions and remanded for entry of an amended judgment merging the conviction for aggravated manslaughter into the felony murder conviction. State v. Locke, N. A-4116-94T4 (App. Div. Apr. 29, 1997). The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on July 11, 1997.

  On October 31, 1997, Petitioner filed a petition for post conviction relief ("PCR") in the Law Division, followed by a supplemental petition. In a written opinion dated October 25, 1999, the Law Division denied relief. In an opinion filed April 16, 2001, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying PCR. On September 20, 2001, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification.

  The Clerk received Petitioner's initial Petition October 22, 2001. The Court notified Petitioner of the consequences of filing such a Petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") and gave him an opportunity to withdraw the Petition and file one all-inclusive Petition, pursuant to Mason v. Meyers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000). On December 3, 2001, Petitioner executed an almost identical Petition. This Court construed the petition as an amended Petition and ordered Respondents to answer it.

  The amended Petition presents four grounds, which are set forth below verbatim:
Ground One: Constitutionally, the due process clause protect[s] the accused, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Supporting Facts: the events surrounding the hospitalization and death of the victim remain problematical and the actual cause of death of the victim remain[s] debatable.
Ground Two: Trial Court violated defendant due process right to a fair trial and law.
Supporting Facts: Trial court by instructing unsupported first degree murder prejudice[d] defendant, trial court abuse it[s] discretion without affording defendant full evidentiary hearing, by failure to caution jury of out of court statement deprived defendant of fair trial.
Ground Three: the right to trial by jury hold a hallowed place, the right must remain inviolated. [sic]
Supporting Facts: (1) The felony murder verdict was not properly rendered, this verdict does not set forth the finding of first degree guilt; (2) Facts can be intelligently understood by the trier of facts which province was violated.
Ground Four: Defendant [has] been denied the effective assistance of counsel.
Supporting Facts: Defendant established a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel by not investigating and failure of medical experts and develop a defense available to defendant[`s] case.
(Pet. ¶ 12.A. to 12.D.) The State filed an Answer seeking dismissal of the amended Petition, arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction over three claims because they assert violation of state law, and that the ineffective assistance of counsel claim does not satisfy the standard for habeas relief.*fn1

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  A habeas corpus petition must meet "heightened pleading requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)). The petition must specify all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner, state the facts supporting each ground, and state the relief requested. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)(1), (c)(2), (c)(3).

  Section 2254(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code gives the court jurisdiction to entertain a habeas petition challenging a state conviction or sentence only where the inmate's custody violates federal law:
[A] district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

  A district court must give deference to determinations of state courts. Duncan v. Morton, 256 F.3d 189, 196 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 919 (2001); Dickerson v. Vaughn, 90 F.3d 87, 90 (3d Cir. 1996). Federal courts "must presume that the factual findings of both state trial and appellate courts are correct, a presumption that can only be overcome on the basis of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary." Stevens v. Delaware Correctional Center, 295 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002). Where a federal claim was "adjudicated on the merits"*fn2 in state court proceedings, § 2254 does not permit habeas relief unless adjudication of the claim

 
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

  "A decision is `contrary to' a Supreme Court holding if the state court `contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases' or if it `confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result.'" Rompilla v. Horn, 355 F.3d 233, 250 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).

  Under the "`unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from th[e Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. Whether a state court's application of federal law is "unreasonable" must be judged objectively; an application may be incorrect, but still not unreasonable. Id. at 409-10. A court begins the analysis by determining the relevant clearly established law. See Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 660 (2004). Clearly established law "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams, 529 U.S. at ...


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