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Johnson v. Hauck

December 8, 2008


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


Petitioner Derek Johnson, a convicted state prisoner currently confined at the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, has submitted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated herein, the Petition will be denied for lack of substantive merit.


A. Statement of Facts

The facts of this case were recounted below and this Court, affording the state court's factual determinations the appropriate deference, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), will simply reproduce the Appellate Division's factual recitation, as set forth in its May 4, 1995, unpublished Opinion on petitioner's direct appeal from his conviction:

The facts of this tragic murder case are largely undisputed. Defendant does not deny that he stabbed the victim, Donyale Morton, his former girlfriend. The central dispute during trial was whether defendant possessed the requisite intent to kill or harm her and whether he acted in the heat of passion resulting from a reasonable provocation.

Defendant was born in 1962 and grew up in Teaneck with his father, a dentist, his mother and older sister. While in the Teaneck public schools, defendant was a straight-A student and excelled in sports and music. In the tenth grade, he attended Phillip Exeter Academy on a partial scholarship. However, after receiving poor grades and a period of counseling, he dropped out of Exeter. In 1980, he completed highschool at a school for gifted students. He thereafter attended New York University and Farleigh Dickinson University for brief periods, and later held various temporary jobs.

In 1982, defendant met the victim, Donyale Morton, then a junior in highschool and fourteen years of age. Donyale's friends characterized defendant as very possessive of her. Their relationship was "on again off again" and during the "off" periods, defendant would follow Donyale to her home to try and convince her to reconcile with him.

During the 1983-85 period, defendant's relationship with his father was strained, in part due to defendant's lack of career and purpose. Also, defendant's father felt strongly that defendant should not be involved with a young girl.

In 1984, Donyale became pregnant and had an abortion. Thereafter, relations between Donyale and defendant deteriorated. In 1985, Donyale began making plans to spend her senior year in high school in Spain. Defendant resisted Donyale's plans.

During the spring and summer of 1985, defendant lost approximately twenty-five to thirty pounds and, according to his mother, had lost interest in his usual activities.

Other friends of defendant noticed that he appeared gaunt and was not himself. Donyale's mother testified that during this period her family received a series of late-night calls from the defendant. She also described how he drove by the house late at night yelling that her husband was a "faggot" and that she was an "idiot."

On July 20, 1985, defendant's father and sister, Kim, were involved in an altercation. Defendant interceded. As a result, the father expelled both defendant and Kim from the home. Defendant thereafter began to live in his mother's car. During the ensuing week of homelessness, defendant's depression increased and his actions became more erratic.

On July 27, 1985, the day of Donyale's death, defendant telephoned her home and spoke to Donyale's mother. Defendant told the mother that he loved Donyale and explained to her that he wanted to tell her "something heavy." He then revealed to the mother that Donyale had had an abortion. The mother responded that it was evident to her that defendant and Donyale should not be together and that he should try to find something to do with his life. Donyale interceded in the phone conversation and told defendant that she was finished with him.

Later that day, defendant went to his parents' home intending to speak to his father. Defendant told his mother that he was not doing well and read to her an Ernest Hemingway passage which distressed her. As defendant left the house to meet a friend, he told his father that he loved him and had always loved him.

Defendant and his friend spent a few hours at a bar. Defendant had a couple of beers. He returned home and told Kim to get rid of his clothes if anything happened to him, and responded in the affirmative when she asked him if he was going to commit suicide. Shortly after this conversation, defendant's mother received a phone call from defendant's friend's mother which caused her to faint. Kim then took the phone and called a suicide hotline.

When Kim attempted to speak with defendant, he told her to stay away from him and drove from the home. Kim observed defendant holding a knife before he entered the vehicle.

At approximately 10:40 p.m. that evening, defendant confronted Donyale at Santoro's Restaurant, where she was working as a waitress. Defendant described his version of the events that followed to both Dr. Frank Riccioli, a defense psychiatrist, and Dr. Steven Simring, the State's psychiatrist. Defendant stated that he pulled up alongside Donyale's car when she was getting into it. He came around to the driver's side of her vehicle to speak with her. Both doors to his car were open and the motor was running. Defendant asked Donyale "about us, about me, about going to Spain." Defendant told her that his life depended on this, "can't you put out something extra for me?" Defendant implored her to accompany him to see a house that he liked in Weehawken, but Donyale refused and said she had to go home. She also rolled her eyes when he asked what had happened earlier in the day. Defendant then tried to get her to come out of the car and, as defendant explained to Dr. Riccioli:

I grabbed her hand to come out, the door was open, she resisted. I didn't let go. She pulled me in, we started fighting. I was choking her, she was biting me and scratching me and this was the first physical fight I ever had with her. She was yelling and screaming for help, I just want to shut --- I just wanted her to shut up and she was yelling and screaming and biting and scratching. We had fallen out on the passenger side of her car, my driver's door was open and my engine was running. I reached in my car and I grabbed the knife from the floor of the car. I used the knife to eat blueberry muffins I like. I started stabbing her because I wanted her to be quiet, to shut up, to slow down.

Defendant then stabbed Donyale three or four times in the stomach, "but it almost looked like I didn't even stab her." Donyale started to run toward a passing car for help. Defendant caught up with Donyale and stabbed her in the back. They then fell to the ground, "like a little kid beating another little kid up" and defendant stabbed Donyale in the neck. Defendant drove home, not knowing whether Donyale was dead.

Defendant gave essentially the same account to Dr. Simring, although he added that he must have "snapped" when Donyale scratched his face and he became aware he was bleeding. He also stated that the stabbing had a movie-like quality, that he felt like an automaton, and was not aware that he was stabbing Donyale.

Donyale died at 4:19 a.m. on July 28, 1985, from loss of blood from multiple stab wounds. She had sustained a major wound which had severed her neck muscles, voice box and jugular vein. A stab wound to the chest had cut the right lobe of her liver, severing her aorta and penetrating so deeply it hit the vertebral column. She had classic defense wounds on her hands.

Before she died, Donyale stated that "Derek Johnson" had stabbed her. After overhearing a police officer tell a nurse that he thought the stabbing was a result of girlfriend/boyfriend problem, Donyale stated "[y]es." When asked about the motive for the attack, she replied "Broke up." A serrated steak knife bent into a "U" or "V" shape was found at the parking lot where the attack occurred. Defendant's fingerprints were found on the front windshield, the driver's side door and around the window of the rear door of Donyale's car.

After the attack, defendant went back home, retrieved another knife, and proceeded to the George Washington Bridge. He parked his car and, at 1:40 a.m., climbed to the top of the inside barrel cables over the roadway and pedestrian walkway. Port Authority Lieutenant Anthony Whitaker joined defendant on the barrel cable and came within six to eight feet of him. Defendant warned him not to come any closer and, when Whitaker did, defendant backed up and rocked the wire supports. This action prompted Whitaker to call for New York City Emergency Services.

Eventually, two teams from Emergency Services converged on defendant from above and below. One of the officers told him not to kill himself because his girlfriend was all right. When the emergency personnel reached within a foot or two of him, defendant pulled out a knife and stabbed himself in the stomach. The officers then closed in, grabbed the knife, and handcuffed defendant at approximately 4 a.m.

Once defendant was apprehended, he was given Miranda*fn1 warnings by Lieutenant Whitaker and was turned over to the Teaneck Police. Defendant was thereupon transported to Holy Name Hospital where he was met by members of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. Sergeant Michael Carlino of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office readministered Miranda warnings. Defendant thereafter proceeded to explain that he had met his girlfriend behind the store where she worked and that they had argued because she wanted to go to Spain and break up with him. He then admitted stabbing Donyale and announced that he had a mental problem, commenting "[m]y problem is a lack of a problem." He explained that he was sad when he woke up that morning because some children had been killed a year ago and he could not help them. Concerning Donyale, he said he "love[d] her to death."

Defendant then stated his view that the police officers were prosecutors who built their reputations on prosecuting people. One of the investigators assured defendant that all they wanted was the truth. At that point, a member of the hospital staff walked into the room and defendant stated forcefully, "[t]hey're not done yet." When questioning resumed, defendant recounted that he had stabbed Donyale at least four times - - once in the stomach, twice in the neck, and once in the back. He asked the investigators whether the knife had been recovered and observed rhetorically "[i]t was bent, wasn't it?" Defendant speculated that the knife "must have cut cartilage, or bone or something."

At the conclusion of the interview, defendant refused to give a formal statement, explaining that he had "been good" to the investigators but that he was tired, had just killed someone or almost killed someone and wanted to be alone with Donyale. Defendant was thereafter transported to the Bergen Pines Hospital because Holy Name Hospital had no facility for holding prisoners.

The defense presented the testimony of two experts Dr. Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychologist, and Dr. Frank Riccioli, a psychiatrist. Both agreed that defendant was highly intelligent and that he had a narcissistic personality disorder. Schlesinger explained that individuals with such disorders have chronic difficulties in dealing with others and in functioning in life. Such individuals have "borderline traits," that is, they "function . . . at the border . . . between a psychotic individual who is out of touch with reality and someone who is more stable and in touch with reality[.]" He explained that such individuals often appear grandiose and arrogant, but internally feel weak, empty and inadequate.

Dr. Schlesinger stated that defendant exhibited "borderline" traits; he functions at the dividing line between psychosis and a stable view of reality. According to the doctor, the fact that defendant had been ordered out of his parents' home could have caused a psychotic break. He explained that, while every individual has a breaking point, defendant's personality disorder made him more vulnerable than others. However, he had no opinion as to whether defendant suffered a psychotic break at the time of the homicide and volunteered that, even if defendant had, it was possible he could still reason and form purpose and knowledge, but that it was equally possible that he could not.

Dr. Riccioli rendered the opinion that he did not believe defendant was legally insane at the time of the offense. In other words, defendant knew he was in Teaneck, knew he was talking to Donyale and understood he was plunging a knife into her. However, the doctor maintained that defendant did not know the harmful consequences of stabbing Donyale. It was his view that in stabbing the victim, defendant's "purpose" was to quiet her screams so that he could talk to her. The expert, however, believed that defendant was absolutely not able to form the purpose to kill Donyale. Also, Dr. Riccioli did not know whether defendant was aware that Donyale would bleed from the stab wounds. He acknowledged at a prior hearing he had interpreted defendant's flight from the scene as indicative both of his awareness that he had done something wrong and of his desire to kill himself.

Dr. Steven S. Simring, the State's psychiatrist, testified that defendant did not exhibit any overt psychiatric symptoms at the time of the homicide. He concluded that defendant was clear-headed, in touch with reality, and was at all times capable of forming purpose and acting with knowledge. In Dr. Simring's view, his opinion was corroborated by the admitting records at Bergen Pines, which noted that defendant was not experiencing auditory hallucinations, was "in all three spheres" and had an intact memory. Dr. Simring also noted that the report indicated that defendant became coherent and logical after continued questioning.

Defendant did not testify on his own behalf.

Based on the foregoing evidence, the trial judge granted defendant's request to charge passion/provocation manslaughter and diminished capacity. During deliberations, the jury requested that the trial judge redefined "knowledge" and "purpose" in the context of the charge of murder, and passion/provocation manslaughter. It also asked to be reinstructed on the significance of flight from the scene of the crime. The jurors also queried whether they had to be unanimous on whether defendant acted with either purpose of knowledge, or whether half could believe that he acted with knowledge and half with purpose. The trial judge reread the pertinent instructions and advised the jury that it had to be unanimous as to whether defendant acted with purpose or with knowledge.

In answer to a jury interrogatory, the jury convicted defendant of purposely or knowingly causing the death of Donyale, while not in the heat ...

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