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William Brown v. Michelle R. Ricci

April 27, 2011

WILLIAM BROWN, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHELLE R. RICCI, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Petitioner William Brown ("Bro"), a prisoner confined at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, submitted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The respondents are Michelle R. Ricci and Paula T. Dow.

For the reasons stated herein, the Petition must be denied.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The relevant facts are set forth in the opinion of the

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division ("Appellate Division").*fn2 See Respondents' Exhibit ("RE") B3.

Defendant and his former girlfriend Tanya Hairston ended their two-year relationship several months before the fatal incident. It had been a stormy relationship marked with bitter charges of infidelity. They argued frequently which eventually led to their breakup. Tanya's family sought to prevent defendant from seeing her and defendant believed her brothers were out to get him. On November 4, 1994, defendant had visited Tanya earlier and left, but returned with two men. Defendant had recruited the two men to stand guard outside of Tanya's apartment while he was inside. After defendant ingested some cocaine, he began to quarrel with Tanya. Defendant began to look for lost train tickets that he needed to travel to New York. He was unable to find them and became angry and cursed at Tanya. In response, she threw an aerosol can which grazed defendant's shoulders.

The argument escalated into violence. Defendant charged at Tanya, wrapped his hands around her neck and choked her. He also inflicted incapacitating internal injuries. Tanya's body went limp. Defendant left decedent's apartment and took a taxi cab to Madison and then a bus to New York City. Later, he telephoned his mother from New York and learned that Tanya was dead. Defendant tried to gain admittance to a veteran's administration hospital in Manhattan. While there, he revealed to the authorities that he killed Tanya. He was arrested and gave a statement to the Morristown Police detailing the events.

The medical examiner performed an autopsy on Tanya. He found she sustained a two and one-half inch laceration to her liver from a blunt force trauma, causing massive internal bleeding. In addition, her hyoid bone in her neck was fractured and there were lacerations on her neck. These injuries were consistent with manual strangulation. The cause of death was found to be blunt force trauma to the abdomen and mechanical asphyxia due to strangulation. The State also produced several witnesses who testified about Tanya's character for non-violence and peacefulness. Defendant presented the testimony of Doctor Arnaldo Apolito, a psychiatrist, who testified that defendant was suffering from a substance-induced psychotic disorder at the time of the murder, and was thus unable to appreciate the nature of his behavior and the wrongfulness of his conduct. Defendant's daughter testified that the defendant and Tanya argued frequently and that Tanya would break dishes by throwing them around the apartment. She claimed that on one occasion Tanya threw a remote control at defendant and on another occasion, Tanya tried to prevent defendant from leaving the residence by pushing him away from the door. She also testified that Tanya once confronted defendant's former girlfriend and began to fight with her.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. He acknowledged he frequently quarreled with Tanya. He testified he would leave the residence whenever Tanya became upset. Defendant admitted he strangled Tanya until she lay prostrate on the floor and that he left the apartment not knowing if she was breathing.

See Appellate Division Opinion, RE B3.

B. Procedural History

Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a) on October 3, 1996. Petitioner's motion for a new trial was denied on January 31, 1997 and he was sentenced to a life term with a 30 year parole disqualifier. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial conviction on July 1, 1999 and the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on November 9, 1999. The petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR") was denied by order dated March 13, 2007. The Appellate Division affirmed on August 3, 2009 and the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification on December 1, 2009.

Petitioner filed his habeas petition on June 11, 2010.

C. Petitioner's Claims

Petitioner cites thirteen grounds for relief in his habeas petition:

1. "Since the trial court erroneously failed to address the jury question pertaining to whether 'provocation mean[s] an immediate threat or can provocation be over a period of time.' Defendant's murder conviction must be reversed."

2. "Since the sequential 'acquit first' jury instructions and verdict sheet erroneously told the jury to deliberate on passion/provocation manslaughter only after finding defendant not guilty of murder, defendant's own murder conviction must be reversed."

3. "At the very least, defendant's sentence to a lifetime of imprisonment is excessive."

4. "The defendant'd [sic] claims are not barred by the provisions of R. 3:22 as they assert constitutional issues arising under the state and federeal [sic] constitution."

5. "The Petitioner has provided prima facie proof that he suffered ineffective assistance of trial counsel."

6. "The Petitioner has provided prima facie proof that he suffered ineffective assistance of appellate counsel."

7. "Trial counsel's failure to adequately prepare and exercise normal customary skills in establishing defendant's innocence, and the lack of adequate client consultation counsel's resulted in gross ignorance of defendant's specific instructions for defense tatics [sic], so undermined the proper function of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result; in violation of defendant's right to a fundamental fair trial with effective representation. U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. 5, 6, & 14; N.J. Const. Art. 1 ¶ 12."

8. "The trial court's charge to the jury erroneously and impermissibly placed the burden of proof onto petitioner William Brown, depriving him of a fair trial."

9. "The trial court failed to instruct the jurors that the insanity defense would apply if Petitioner did not know that his conduct was normally wrong deprived Petitioner of the right to due process of law and a fair trial. U.S. Const. Amend. V, VI, XIV, N.J. Const. (1947) Art. 1 ¶ 9, 10."

10. "Prosecutorial misconduct deprived William Brown of due process rights warranting a reversal of defendant's conviction; in violation of defendant's right to a fundamentally fair trial pursuant to his constitutional rights. U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. 5th, 6th, & 14th; N.J. Const. Art. 1 ¶ 7, 8, & 10."

11. "The defendant's 14th Amendment rights giving him equal protection under the law were violated when he, a African American was subjected to a discriminatory profiling and vindictive selection for prosecution. And the degree of the intrusion violated [sic]."

12. "Defendant's right to be indicted by an independent and informed grand jury in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and ...


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