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Villaran v. Moore

September 6, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martini, U.S.D.J.


Petitioner Audwin Villaran, a prisoner currently confined at the East Jersey State Prison, submitted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondents filed an answer, accompanied by relevant portions of the state record, arguing that the petition should be denied on the merits. For the following reasons, the Court dismisses the petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.


The relevant facts are set forth in the opinion of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.*fn1

On June 1, 1994, the day before her seventeenth birthday, Meika Zialcita was found dead. She had been stabbed multiple times. A jury found defendant Audwin Villaran guilty of knowing or purposeful murder contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1), possession of a weapon (a knife) for an unlawful purpose contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d, and unlawful possession of the knife contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d. [The New Jersey Superior Court] sentenced defendant as a persistent offender to a life term with a thirty-five year period of parole ineligibility for the murder conviction and merged the weapons convictions with the murder conviction. ...

Meika Zialcita resided in a two bedroom apartment in Jersey City with her boyfriend, Anthony Ortiz; his sister Raquel and her three children; defendant and his brother Jose. Defendant was Raquel's fiancé and the father of two of the three children....

On June 1, 1994, Raquel Ortiz left for work at approximately 8:30 a.m. Defendant, the three children and the victim remained in the apartment. The victim was to watch the children, aged three, two and one, for the day. At approximately 1 p.m., defendant telephoned Raquel at work to inform her that her welfare check had not arrived. Defendant then visited Raquel at her job at approximately 4 p.m., ostensibly to get keys to the apartment. ...

Raquel returned home at approximately 6 p.m. and found defendant sitting in front of the building holding a puppy. Raquel was let into the apartment by her three year old daughter, Christina. When she and defendant entered the apartment, Raquel found a knife on the kitchen floor. She picked it up and handed it to defendant who placed it in the sink. The knife was later removed from the sink and placed in the bedroom where the victim was found. Soon thereafter, Raquel discovered the victim's body lying half on and half off the bed in a "messy" bedroom. She telephoned the police who arrived at approximately 6:20 p.m. Defendant, who was on parole at the time, and his brother, who was the subject of an arrest warrant in New York, left the apartment before the police arrived.

An autopsy was performed on the victim on June 2. An external examination of the body revealed twelve stab wounds to the neck, head and chest. ... Although the exact time of death could not be determined, the medical examiner opined the victim was killed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on June 1.

A homicide investigator with the Hudson County Prosecutor's office responded to the building that evening and described the apartment as "dirty" and "disheveled," but with no indication of forcible entry or theft. Raquel Ortiz did not initially tell another investigator that defendant also lived in the apartment because he was doing so in violation of a restraining order that was filed to enable her to receive priority for public housing.

Various tenants testified they saw defendant and the victim together on June 1. At approximately 1 p.m. a tenant of the apartment building who was waiting outside for the mailman saw the victim and defendant in the window of the apartment. ... Another tenant testified that she saw the victim sometime between 10 a.m. and noon waiting for a welfare check with the other tenants of the building. ... Sometime between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. defendant knocked on her door asking to borrow a belt for his work pants and "didn't seem himself."

Another tenant who lived one floor above the apartment testified that at approximately 1:30 p.m. she heard a man and a woman arguing and what sounded like objects being turned over and someone being beaten. This tenant heard the female screaming for the male to stop and leave her alone and heard children crying. According to her, the woman referred to the man as "Ed" or "Eddie." Defendant was known as Edwin. She then heard a door slam and footsteps running down the stairs. The argument ended at approximately 4 p.m. This witness admitted to being addicted to cocaine, alcohol and marijuana at the time of the incident and at the time of trial.

Investigator Molina, assigned to the child abuse sex crimes unit of the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, related a statement given by Christina to her on June 2. At the time, Christina was three years, eight months old. Investigator Molina stated that when asked what happened to Meika, Christina responded her mother told her Meika killed herself. Christina said she did not know the difference between the truth and a lie.

During the course of the forty-five minute interview, Christina told the investigator defendant was mad at Meika for smoking, hit her in the face and cut her on the neck causing Meika to vomit on a pillow. Christina saw this peeking through a curtain that divided the bedroom from the rest of the apartment. Defendant then walked out of the bedroom and told Christina that if she was good and did not go into the bedroom he would get her a puppy. After he left the apartment, Christina bolted the door. Christina also stated there was a bent knife on the kitchen floor without any blood on it and after defendant left the apartment she peeked through the curtain and saw Meika covered in blood. Christina opened the door for her mother when she came home from work and said her mother picked up the knife and put it in Meika's room. Defendant came home with her mother but left before the police and firemen arrived. Investigator Molina described Christina as being very nervous, upset and incontinent during the course of the interview.

The jury also observed a videotape of the September 29, 1997 in camera hearing to determine the competency of Christina as a witness. Throughout her testimony, she stated that she could not remember what happened to the victim. Christina could only remember that a nightmare awoke her and she shut the apartment door. She also recalled that her mother came home from work that day and picked up a knife from the kitchen floor. She admitted that her mother told her that it was bad to talk about what happened to the victim.

A stipulation concerning physical evidence in the case was read. The jury was advised that fingerprints recovered from the knife found in the kitchen could not be identified. Blood found on the knife tested positive for human blood but no other characteristics could be identified. Tests conducted on defendant's jacket or windbreaker proved positive for blood stains but it could not be determined whether the blood was of human origin.

Defendant consented to an interview by Hudson County homicide investigators at midnight on June 2 and proceeded to give them three versions of his story. ... When neither Raquel Ortiz nor defendant's mother could corroborate defendant's story, defendant received and waived his Miranda rights at approximately 2 a.m. on June 2. ... Some time later, defendant asked investigators if they could make a sentencing deal with him in return for his cooperation. ... Shortly thereafter, defendant was charged with murder.

State v. Villaran, No. A-6376-97T3, slip op. at 1-8 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Oct. 20, 1999).

The Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied his petition for certification. Id. at 9-17; State v. Villaran, 163 N.J. 76 (2000). Petitioner then filed a petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), which the Superior Court denied. See Transcript of Record, State v. Villaran, No. A-6518-00-T4 (N.J. Super. Ct. Oct. 25, 2001) [hereinafter "PCR Hearing"]. The Appellate Division later affirmed this decision, State v. Villaran, No. A-2302-01T4, slip op. (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Jan. 17, 2003), and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification.

This petition followed. Respondents answered, asserting that the Court should deny the petition on the merits. Petitioner filed a reply in support of his petition. This matter is now ripe for disposition.


I. 28 U.S.C. ...

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